|Carroll County IAGenWeb|
Transcribed by Sharon Elijah January 8, 2021
JAMES BUCHANAN, the fifteenth President of the United States, 1857-’61, was born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, April 23, 1791. The place where his father’s cabin stood was called Stony Batter, and it was situated in a wild, romantic spot, in a gorge of mountains, with towering summits rising all around. He was of Irish ancestry, his father having emigrated in 1783, with very little property, save his own strong arms.
James remained in his secluded home for eight years enjoying very few social or intellectual advantages. His parents were industrious, frugal, prosperous and intelligent. In 1799 his father removed to Mercersburg, where James was placed in school and commenced a course in English, Greek and Latin. His progress was rapid and in 1801 he entered Dickinson College at Carlisle. Here he took his stand among the first scholars in the institution, and was able to master the most abstruse subjects with facility. In 1809 he graduated with the highest honors in his class.
He was then eighteen years of age, tall, graceful and in vigorous health, fond of athletic sports, an unerring shot and enlivened with an exuberant flow of animal spirits. He immediately commenced the study of law in the city of Lancaster, and was admitted to the bar in 1812. He rose very rapidly in his profession and at once took undisputed stand with the ablest lawyers of the State. When but twenty-six years of age, unaided by counsel, he successfully defended before the State Senate one of the Judges of the State, who was tried upon articles of impeachment. At the age of thirty it was generally admitted that he stood at the head of the bar, and there was no lawyer in the State who had a more extensive or lucrative practice.
In 1812, just after Mr. Buchanan had entered upon the practice of the law, our second war with England occurred. With all his powers he sustained the Government, eloquently urging the rigorous prosecution of the war; and even enlisting as a private soldier to assist in repelling the British, who had sacked Washington and were threatening Baltimore. He was at that time a Federalist, but when the Constitution was adopted by both parties, Jefferson truly said, “We are all Federalists; we are all Republicans.”
The opposition of the Federalists to the war with England, and the alien and sedition laws of John Adams, brought the party into dispute, and the name of Federalist became a reproach. Mr. Buchanan almost immediately upon entering Congress began to incline more and more to the Republicans. In the stormy Presidential election of 1824, in which Jackson, Clay, Crawford and John Quincy Adams were candidates, Mr. Buchanan espoused the cause of General Jackson and unrelentingly opposed the administration of Mr. Adams.
Upon his elevation to the Presidency, General Jackson appointed Mr. Buchanan, minister to Russia. Upon his return in 1833 he was elected to a seat in the United States Senate. He there met as his associates, Webster, Clay, Wright and Calhoun. He advocated the measures proposed by President Jackson of making reprisals against France, and defended the course of the President in his unprecedented and wholesale removals from office of those who were not the supporters of his administration. Upon this question he was brought into direct collision with Henry Clay. In the discussion of the question respecting the admission of Michigan and Arkansas into the Union, Mr. Buchanan defined his position by saying:
“The older I grow, the more I am inclined to be what is called a State-rights man.”
M. De Tocqueville, in his renowned work upon “Democracy in America,” foresaw the trouble which was inevitable from the doctrine of State sovereignty as held by Calhoun and Buchanan. He was convinced that the National Government was losing that strength which was essential to its own existence, and that the States were assuming powers which threatened the perpetuity of the Union. Mr. Buchanan received the book in the Senate and declared the fears of De Tocqueville to be groundless, and yet he lived to sit in the Presidential chair and see State after State, in accordance with his own views of State rights, breaking from the Union, thus crumbling our Republic into ruins; while the unhappy old man folded his arms in despair, declaring that the National Constitution invested him with no power to arrest the destruction.
Upon Mr. Polk’s accession the Presidency, Mr. Buchanan became Secretary of State, and as such took his share of the responsibility in the conduct of the Mexican war. At the close of Mr. Polk’s administration, Mr. Buchanan retired to private life; but his intelligence, and his great ability as a statesman, enabled him to exert a powerful influence in National affairs.
Mr. Pierce, upon his election to the Presidency, honored Mr. Buchanan with the mission to England. In the year 1856 the National Democratic convention nominated Mr. Buchanan for the Presidency. The political conflict was one of the most severe in which our country has ever engaged. On the 4th of March, 1857, Mr. Buchanan was inaugurated President. His cabinet were Lewis Cass, Howell Cobb, J. B. Floyd, Isaac Toucey, Jacob Thompson, A. V. Brown and J. S. Black.
The disruption of the Democratic party, in consequence of the manner in which the issue of the nationality of slavery was pressed by the Southern wing, occurred at the National convention, held at Charleston in April, 1860, for the nomination of Mr. Buchanan’s successor, when the majority of Southern delegates withdrew upon the passage of a resolution declaring that the constitutional status of slavery should be determined by the Supreme Court.
In the next Presidential canvass Abraham Lincoln was nominated by the opponents of Mr. Buchanan’s administration. Mr. Buchanan remained in Washington long enough to see his successor installed and then retired to his home in Wheatland. He died June 1, 1868, aged seventy-seven years.
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