James Buchanan (March 4, 1857 - March 4, 1861)

James BuchananJames Buchanan (April 23, 1791 - June 1, 1868) took office without adequately grasping the political realities of his time. Using constitutional doctrines in an attempt to close the widening rift over slavery, he failed to understand that the North would not buy constitutional arguments which favored the South. Nor did he realize how sectionalism had realigned political parties. The Democrats split and the Whigs were destroyed, giving rise to the Republican Party.

After the first seven southern states seceded, Buchanan adopted a policy of cautious restraint believing that by keeping calm he could keep the other eight slave states from leaving the union and that, if left alone, the seven Confederates states would soon disagree among themselves and come back into the fold.

When the Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, after he had left office, Buchanan wrote that Lincoln now "had no alternative but to accept the war instigated by South Carolina or the Southern Confederacy." He publicly urged his fellow Democrats to support President Lincoln in any way they could.

As secretary of state, Buchanan completed the steps needed to make Texas a state, and reached a compromise with England regarding the Oregon/Canadian border.¹


"The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there."
"What is right and what is practicable are two different things."

"The ballot box is the surest arbiter of disputes among free men."

"To avoid entangling alliances has been a maxim of our policy ever since the days of Washington, and its wisdom no one will attempt to dispute."

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