President James Buchanan
James Buchanan (1791-1868), fifteenth President of the United States, born near Mercersburg, Pa., and educated at Dickonson College, Carlisle, Pa. He began to practice law in 1812, and became prominent both as a lawyer and a political leader. He served in the State legislature (1815-16) and the U.S. House of Representatives (1821-31). As U.S. minister to Russia (1832-1834), James Buchanan negotiated the first commercial treaty between the United States and that country. From 1834 to 1845 he served in the U.S. Senate, and during the administration (1845-49) of President James Polk he was secretary of state; his most notable achievement in the later post was the settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute with Great Britain in 1846 on terms satisfactory to the United States. James Buchanan was ambassador to Great Britain from 1853 to 1856; in the later year he nominated for the Presidency by the Democratic Party, and was elected against the opposition of the "Know Nothing" (q.v.) candidate of the nearly organized Republican Party.
During President James Buchanan's administration the slavery question steadily increased in gravity. President James Buchanan strongly favored the maintenance of slavery; his cabinet was composed mostly of advocates of the system, and he publicly supported proslavery elements in their attempt to establish Kansas as a slave State. As the close of his term approached it became evident an open, armed conflict was impending, and the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency in November, 1860, deepened the crisis. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina formally seceded from the Union, but President Buchanan, hopeful of negotiating a settlement with the South, refused to employ coercive measures. Buchanan's cabinet, torn by the sectional disputes of the day, quickly broke up. In the closing weeks of President James Buchanan's administration the indecision and inactivity of the Federal government allowed the seceding southern States to gather their forces, and most of forts and arsenals in those States were seized during the winter. After his retirement from office James Buchanan took no part in public affairs, though during the remaining years of his life he supported the Union cause in the Civil War. In 1866 he wrote a defense of his administration.