Portrait of James Buchanan

James Buchanan defeated John C. Frémont, the first presidential nominee of the fledgling Republican Party, and former President Millard Fillmore representing the American, or “Know-Nothing” Party in the presidential election of 1856. [Library of Congress]

James Buchanan - Facts

April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868

Key facts about James Buchanan, fifteenth President of the United States.

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Full Name:

  • James Buchanan

Birth Date:

  • April 23, 1791.

Birth Location:

  • Cove Gap, a village in Franklin County, Pennsylvania

Parents:

  • James and Elizabeth (Speer) Buchanan

Education:

  • Dickinson College (1809)

Occupation:

  • Attorney
  • politician

Career Summary:

  • 15th U.S. President
  • Pennsylvania State Representative
  • U.S. Congressman
  • U.S. Senator,
  • U.S. Minister to Russia
  • U.S. Secretary of State
  • U. S. Minister to Great Britain

Spouse:

  • None

Place of Death:

  • Wheatland (family home), Lancaster Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Date of Death:

  • June 1, 1868

Place of Burial:

  • Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Significance:

  • James Buchanan was the first son and second of eleven children born to James and Elizabeth (Speer) Buchanan.
  • James Buchanan’s father was an Irish immigrant who became a successful storekeeper after settling in Pennsylvania.
  • When James Buchanan was six years old, his father moved his growing family to nearby Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.
  • James Buchanan graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on September 19, 1809.
  • Following his college graduation, James Buchanan moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he studied law with James Hopkins, a prominent local attorney.
  • James Buchanan was admitted to the bar in November 1812, the same year that the United States and Great Britain went to war.
  • In February 1813, James Buchanan founded a law practice in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Less than a month later, he was appointed as prosecutor for Lebanon County.
  • When the British burned Washington, D.C., in 1814, James Buchanan enlisted in a company of volunteers known as the Lancaster County Dragoons. Although his company saw no action, Private Buchanan remained in the service until the war ended in 1815.
  • James Buchanan served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1814 to 1816.
  • James Buchanan served in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 17th through the 21st U.S. Congresses from December 3, 1821 through March 4, 1831.
  • James Buchanan served as U.S. Minister to Russia from 1832 to 1834.
  • James Buchanan served nearly ten years in the U.S. Senate from December 15, 1834 to March 5, 1845 in the 23rd through the 28th Congresses.
  • As a Jacksonian Democrat, James Buchanan distrusted big government and believed that slavery was a Southern matter best handled at the state level by Southerners.
  • James Buchanan distrusted abolitionists as extremists who jeopardized national harmony.
  • At the 1844 Democratic National Convention, James Buchanan received votes for the party’s presidential nomination on the first seven ballots before James K. Polk was ultimately selected.
  • James Buchanan served as U.S. secretary of state in President James K. Polk’s administration from March 6, 1845 to March 4, 1849.
  • James Buchanan served as U.S. Secretary of State throughout the Mexican-American War and coordinated negotiations with Mexico before, during, and after the conflict.
  • As U.S. secretary of state, James Buchanan oversaw the settlement of the Oregon Boundary Dispute with Great Britain, averting the possibility of the U.S. having to fight wars on two fronts against two countries at the same time.
  • James Buchanan was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1848 and 1852.
  • James Buchanan served as Minister to Great Britain from 1853 to 1856 during President Franklin Pierce’s administration.
  • James Buchanan helped draft the Ostend Manifesto in 1853, strongly suggesting that if Spain refused to sell Cuba, the United States should seize the island by force.
  • James Buchanan defeated John C. Frémont, the first presidential nominee of the fledgling Republican Party, and former President Millard Fillmore representing the American, or “Know-Nothing” Party in the presidential election of 1856.
  • James Buchanan served as President of the United States from March 4, 1857 to March 4, 1861.
  • James Buchanan’s primary mission when he assumed the presidency was restoring harmony to the Union.
  • As President of the United States, James Buchanan was criticized in the North and celebrated in the South for his support of the Dred Scott Decision.
  • As President of the United States, James Buchanan supported the Lecompton Constitution, which would have admitted Kansas to the Union as a slave state.
  • In 1858, President James Buchanan ordered U.S. troops to Utah after replacing Brigham Young as territorial governor, touching off the Mormon War, also known as Buchanan’s Blunder.
  • In October 1859, President James Buchanan authorized deploying approximately ninety marines, commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee, to suppress John Brown’s Raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
  • In December 1860, President James Buchanan advised the American people (primarily Northerners) that they could preserve the Union by not interfering with the rights of Southern states to manage their own domestic affairs, especially in regards to slavery.
  • In an effort to avert civil war, President James Buchanan proposed a constitutional amendment in 1860 that would assure Southerners that the federal government would never abolish slavery.
  • As the Union began to dissolve in 1860, President James Buchanan refuted the right of southern states to leave the Union. Nonetheless, he also believed that the Constitution did not empower him to stop them.
  • After the South Carolina Militia fired on the Star of the West, an unarmed merchant ship that the Buchanan administration had dispatched to deliver supplies and reinforcements to Fort Sumter on January 9, 1861, President Buchanan made no further attempts to reinforce or resupply the garrison.
  • When delegates to the Democratic National Convention assembled in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 23 through May 3, 1860, Buchanan held true to his 1856 campaign promise not to seek a second term.
  • When James Buchanan vacated the presidency in 1861 he told President-elect Abraham Lincoln that “If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland [his estate in Pennsylvania], you are a happy man.”
  • After passing the presidency and the secession crisis to Abraham Lincoln, James Buchanan returned to Wheatland, his estate in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • Although James Buchanan staunchly supported the Union during the Civil War, he was often vilified by some who held him responsible for the bloodshed.
  • In 1856, James Buchanan published a memoir entitled Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of Rebellion, which was published in 1866. In his narrative, Buchanan criticized the southern states that left the Union, but he also chastised abolitionists and the Republican Party for interfering in Southern affairs, thereby intensifying sectional tensions that led to war.
  • During the last years of his life, James Buchanan became afflicted with rheumatic gout, which was attributed as the cause of his death at age seventy-seven.
  • James Buchanan died at his home on June 1, 1868, surrounded by siblings and friends.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title James Buchanan - Facts
  • Coverage April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 27, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 28, 2021
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