Visit HarpWeek.com

   
 

 
 
   
Name:  James Buchanan

See a full text list of Biographies

   

Born:  April 23, 1791
Died:  June 1, 1868
 
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
James Buchanan was a Democratic politician and diplomat whose single term as U.S. president (1857-1861) saw seven states from the Deep South secede from the union. He is often considered to have been among the worst presidents in American history.

James Buchanan was born near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, to Elizabeth Speer Buchanan and James Buchanan, a storekeeper. He attended school at a local academy then nearby Dickinson College, graduating in 1809. He studied law in Lancaster and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1812. He proved to be a successful lawyer and an astute investor, quickly accumulating substantial wealth.

Buchanan entered politics at an early age, serving in the Pennsylvania legislature (1814-1816) as a Federalist and in the U.S. House of Representatives (1821-1831). He eventually became a Democrat and a supporter of Andrew Jackson, who as president appointed him to be the U.S. minister to Russia (1832-1833). After he returned to America at the end of Jacksonís second term, the Pennsylvania legislature elected Buchanan to the U.S. Senate. His closest friends were Southerners and he took a pro-Southern position on most sectional issues, including slavery. He believed that the institution of slavery was legally and constitutionally protected, and he endorsed the exclusion of abolitionist materials from the U.S. mails, the gag rule that tabled antislavery petitions to Congress, and the annexation of Texas as a slave state.

In 1844 Buchanan was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, but a deadlocked convention turned to dark horse candidate James K. Polk. After Polk became president, he appointed Buchanan as his secretary of state, but, dismayed with the Pennsylvanianís indecisiveness, the president largely administered foreign policy himself. In 1848 and 1852 Buchanan again unsuccessfully sought his partyís presidential nomination. Although he hoped to serve as secretary of state once more under President Franklin Pierce, he was assigned to be minister to Great Britain.

Buchanan gained notoriety in his new position when he and the American ministers to Spain and France met in Ostend, Belgium, in 1854 to draft a policy recommendation for President Pierce. They suggested that the United States try to buy Cuba and, if Spain was unwilling, to seize the island by force. When the Ostend Manifesto, as it was dubbed, was leaked to the press, it created an uproar, with supporters and detractors dividing primarily along sectional lines.

In early 1856 Buchanan resigned and returned to America in order to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. This time, he was successful. He went on to win the presidency with a plurality of the vote against two other candidates. Some southerners had threatened to secede if the Republican nominee, John C. Frťmont, won the election. During his presidential term, therefore, Buchanan attempted to appease southern concerns in order to preserve the union. His policies, however, only contributed to more sectional animosity.

In the interim between election and inauguration, Buchanan tried to exert undue influence on one of the Supreme Court justices who was deciding the Dred Scot case. The decision, announced two days after his inauguration, affirmed in sweeping terms the southern view that neither the federal nor territorial government could ban slavery in the territories. Although the president thought the decision would settle the matter, it further exacerbated sectional tensions, including within the Democratic party, and strengthened the Republican party.

Buchananís handling of the slavery issue in the Kansas territory also widened the divide between northern and southern Democrats. To the dismay of Stephen Douglas, leader of the northern wing of the party, Buchanan endorsed the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. Submitted to Congress by a rump legislature, it would have allowed Kansas to enter the union as a slave state, against the wishes of the anti-slavery majority in the territory. The Buchanan administration did everything it could to ensure passage, including a resort to bribery. While the Senate approved the Lecompton Constitution, it was narrowly rejected by the House after a bitter fight. The damage done to the Democratic party and national unity was almost irreparable.

President Buchanan pursued an expansionist foreign policy, stoking Republican fears of a political conspiracy to expand slavery. His administration failed in attempts to purchase Alaska and Cuba and to impose a protectorate on northern Mexico, but did secure trade treaties with China and Japan. The Buchanan presidency was plagued by a series of scandals, making his administration one of the most corrupt in American history. An economic depression also undermined the presidentís popularity.

Douglas had broken publicly with Buchanan over the Lecompton Constitution, so the president worked behind the scenes to derail the senatorís reelection in 1858. Douglas prevailed, but discord with the Democratic party increased. The final break came at the 1860 Democratic National Convention in Charleston, South Carolina. Buchanan aides joined forces with southern radicals to stop Douglasís nomination for president. After the convention failed to endorse a federal slave code for the territories, the southern delegates walked out and reconvened in Richmond to nominated Vice President John Breckinridge for president. The northern Democrats met in Baltimore and nominated Douglas. The split in the Democratic party allowed the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, to win the presidency.

When seven states of the Deep South left the union after Lincolnís election, Buchanan condemned northern antislavery agitators. The lame-duck president denied both a constitutional right to secede and the constitutional authority of the president to intervene and stop the process. Instead, he called for a constitutional convention to draft amendments protecting slavery in the South and in the territories. Yet, Buchanan remained a unionist and would not recognize the Confederate seizure of federal property. After the Star of the West, an unarmed

Henry Raymond was the first and long-time editor of the New York Times and a Republican politician.

Henry Raymond was born in Lima, New York, to Lavinia Brockway Raymond and Jarvis Raymond, who were farmers. A precocious child, young Raymond was reading at age three and reciting speeches at age five. He studied at a local Methodist prep school, then at the University of Vermont, where he was a standout speaker and a contributing writer for the New Yorker, edited by Horace Greeley. Raymond graduated summa cum laude in 1840. That same year he entered politics by campaigning for William Henry Harrison, the Whig presidential candidate.

Raymond moved to New York City hoping to gain full-time employment with the New Yorker. After a brief apprenticeship, he was made an editorial assistant, but had to augment his low salary by writing items for out-of-state newspapers and ad copy for patent medicines. In 1841 Greeley launched the New York Tribune, a penny paper that served as the organ of the Whig party, and Raymond followed the editor as his chief assistant. Although both men were Whigs, Raymond disagreed with his bossís affinity for reform schemes, especially socialism. In 1843 he left the Tribune for a better-paying position as associate editor for the Morning Courier and New York Enquirer, published by James Watson Webb. In 1848 Raymond joined forces with representatives from five other New York newspapers to form a cooperation news-gathering service, the Associated Press.

In 1844 and 1848 Raymond campaigned for the Whig presidential candidates Henry Clay and Zachary Taylor, respectively. He also ran for public office himself, gaining election to the New York state legislature in 1849. Reelected in 1850, his Whig colleagues in the majority selected him to serve as speaker. In that same year he also began a six-year stint as the first managing editor of Harperís Monthly. At this time he began to speak and write against the immorality of slavery and its expansion into the western territories. When Webb censored one of Raymondís Courier and Enquirer editorials, he quit. In 1851 Raymond and George Jones founded the New York Times, with Raymond serving as its first editor. It quickly enjoyed high circulation and became one of the nationís leading newspapers.

In 1852 Raymond was a major force behind the Whig nomination of Winfield Scott for president. The editor gained renown for an anti-slavery speech he delivered at the convention, even though the delegates crafted a platform that waffled on the issue. In 1854 New York Whigs nominated Raymond for lieutenant governor. During the campaign he spoke against the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise ban on slavery in the Louisiana Purchase territory. He and the Whig candidate for governor, Myron Clark, were elected by a slim margin.

The days of the Whig party were numbered, though, and like many northern Whigs, Raymond gravitated to the new Republican party. In fact, he was one of the founders of the Republican party in New York and helped draft its original charter. He transformed the Times into a solidly Republican newspaper, although it was officially independent of the party apparatus. In 1857 the Times moved into a new five-story building on the corner of Nassau Street and Park Row. In 1859 he personally covered the Franco-Austrian War for the paper, sending back realistic battle reports.

Raymond traveled to the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago as a delegate for fellow-New Yorker, Senator William Henry Seward, but loyally endorsed the partyís eventual nominee, Abraham Lincoln. During the campaign Raymond published a series of open letters to former Representative William Yancey, a southern fire-eater who was traveling through the North arguing for the constitutionality of secession. The Times editor countered with the theory that the constitution created a perpetual union that could not be dissolved, and that secession would provoke war.

During the Civil War the Times was a staunchly pro-Union paper, and it shifted from its prewar anti-slavery-expansion stance to endorse abolition as a war aim. Raymond attended some of the battles himself, including First Bull Run (Manassas) at which he prematurely telegrammed of Union victory. For protection during the Draft Riots in New York City, he installed Gatling guns on the roof of the Times building. Under his direction, the Times expanded its circulation and influence and was barely able to keep up with the demand for its papers.

Raymond was elected to the state legislature in 1861 and was again chosen as speaker. In early 1863 he hoped to take Preston Kingís vacated seat in the U.S. Senate, but Edwin Morgan was selected, instead. Raymond was in accord with Lincolnís policies and authored a campaign biography of the president in 1864 and drafted the National Union platform. That same year the Times editor was elected to Congress by a margin of less than 500 votes. He strongly supported Lincoln and, initially, his successor, Andrew Johnson, against the Radical Republicans. After voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1866, though, he voted for the 14th Amendment that granted citizenship and federal civil rights protection to black Americans. Critics accused him of inconsistency.

In 1866 Raymond organized a National Union convention, which Radicals condemned for its control by Democrats. His involvement cost the Times readership and, therefore, revenue. Within a few months he concluded that the Radicals were correct about the National Union party, and the Times endorsed the Radical Republican candidate for New York governor and began criticizing President Johnson. In Congress, however, Raymond voted against both the impeachment resolution and the Radicalsí military Reconstruction bills. After Raymondís term ended, Johnson nominated him to be minister to Austria, but the Senate tabled the nomination indefinitely. He remained as the editor of the Times until his death in 1869.

Fort Sumter, Buchanan took no further provocative action and handed the precarious situation over to the incoming president, Abraham Lincoln.

Buchanan retired to his "Wheatland" estate outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Reviled by critics, the former president published his memoirs in 1866 in which he defended his public actions as constitutional and proper.

Source consulted:American National Biography

 

 


 

 
 

 

     
 

 
     
 

 
     
 

 

 

Website design © 2001-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to webmaster@harpweek.com