|PORTRAIT AND BIOGRAPHICAL ALBUM|
MUSCTINE COUNTY, IOWA
Presidents of the United States
Source: Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889, page 75
JAMES BUCHANAN, the fifteenth President of the United States, was born in a small frontier town, at the foot of the eastern ridge of the Alleghanies, in Franklin Co., Penn., on the 23d of April, 1791. The place where the humble cabin of his father stood was called Stony Batter. It was a wild and romantic spot in a gorge of the mountains, with towering summits rising grandly all around. His father was a native of the north of Ireland ; a poor man, who had emigrated in 1783, with little property save his own strong arms. Five years afterwards he married Elizabeth Spear, the daughter of a respectable farmer, and, with his young bride, plunged into the wilderness, staked his claim, reared his log hut, opened a clearing with his axe, and settled down there to perform his obscure part in the drama of life. In this secluded home, where James was born, he remained for eight years, enjoying but few social ot intellectual advantages. When James was eight years of age, his father removed to the village of Mercersburg, where his son was placed at school, and commenced a course of study in English, Latin and Greek. His progress was rapid, and at the age of fourteen, he entered Dickinson College, at Carlisle. Here he developed remarkable talent, and took his stand among the first scholars in the institution. His application to study was intense, and yet his native powers enabled him to master the most abstruse subjects with facility.
In the year 1809, he graduated with the highest honors of his class. He was then eighteen years of age ; tall and graceful, vigorous in health, fond of athletic sport, 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, when he was but twenty-one years of age. Very rapidly he rose 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 council, 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 lucrative practice.
In 1820, he reluctantly consented to run as a candidate for Congress. He was elected, and for ten years he remained a member of the Lower House. During the vacations of Congress, he occasionally tried some important case. In 1831, he retired all together from the toils of his profession, having acquired an ample fortune.
Gen. Jackson, upon his elevation to the Presidency, appointed Mr. Buchanan minister to Russia. The duties of his mission he performed with ability, which gave satisfaction to all parties. 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, to enforce the payment of our claims against that country ; and defended the course of the President in his unprecedented and wholesale removal from office of those who were not the supporters of his administration. Upon this question he was brought into direct collision with Henry Clay. He also, with voice and vote, advocated expunging from the journal of the Senate the vote of censure against Gen. Jackson for removing the deposits. Earnestly he opposed the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and urged the prohibition of the circulation of anti-slavery documents by the United States Mails.
As to petitions on the subject of slavery, he advocated that they should be respectfully received ; and that the reply should be returned, that Congress had no power to legislate upon the subject. "Congress," said he, " might as well undertake to interfere with slavery under a foreign government as in any of the States where it now exists."
Upom Mr. Polk's ascession to the Presidency, Mr. Buchanan became Secretary of the State, and as such, took his share of the responsibility in the conduct of the Mexican War. Mr. Polk assumed that crossing the Nueces by the American troops into the disputed territory was not wrong, but for the Mexicans to cross the Rio Grande into that territory was a declaration on war. No candid man can read with pleasure the account of the course our Government pursued in that movement.
Mr. Buchanan identified himself thoroughly with the party devoted to the perpetuation and extension of slavery, and brought all the energies of his mind to bear against the Wilmot Proviso. He gave his cordial approval to the compromise measures of 1850, which included the fugitive-slave law. Mr. Pierce upon his election to Presidency, honored Mr. Buchanan with the mission to England.
In the year 1856, a 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. All the friends of slavery were on one side ; all the advocates of its restriction and final abolition, on the other. Mr. Fremont, the candidate of the enemies of slavery, received 114 electoral votes. Mr. Buchanan received 174, and was elected. The popular vote stood 1,340,618, for Fremont, 1,224,750 for Buchanan. On March 4th, 1857, Mr. Buchanan was inaugurated.
Mr. Buchanan was far advanced in life. Only four years were wanting to fill up his threescore years and ten. His own friends, those with whom he had been allied in political principles and action for years, were seeking the destruction of the Government, that they might rear upon the ruins of our free institutions a nation whose corner-stone should be human slavery. In this emergency, Mr. Buchanan was hopelessly bewildered. He could not, with his long-avowed principles, consistantly oppose the State-rights party in their assumption. As President of the United States, bound by his oath faithfully to administer the laws, he could not, without perjury of the grossest kind, unite with those endeavoring to overthrow the republic. He therefore did nothing.
The opponents of Mr. Buchanan's administration nominated Abraham Lincoln as their standard bearer in the next Presidential canvass. The pro-slavery party declared, that if he were elected, and the control of the Government were thus taken from their hands, they would secede from the Union, taking with them, as they retired, the National Capitol of Washington, and the lion's share of the territory of the United States.
Mr. Buchanan's sympathy with the pro-slavery party was such, that he had been willing to offer them far more than they had ventured to claim. All the South had professed to ask of the North was non-intervention upon the subject of slavery. Mr. Buchanan had been ready to offer them the active co-operation of the Government to defend and extend the institution.
As the storm increased in violence, the slaveholders claiming the right to secede, and Mr. Buchanan avowing that Congress had no power to prevent it, one of the most pitiable exhibitions of governmental imbecility was exhibited the world has ever seen. He declared that Congress had no power to enforce its laws in any State which had withdrawn, or which was attempting to withdraw from the Union. This was not the doctrine of Andrew Jackson, when, with his hand upon his sword-hilt, he exclaimed," The Union must and shall be preserved ! "
South Carolina seceded in December, 1860 ; nearly three months before the inauguration of President Lincoln. Mr. Buchanan looked on in listless despair. The rebel flag was raised in Charleston ; Fort Sumpter was beseiged ; our forts, navy-yards and arsenals were seized ; our depots of military stores were plundered ; and our custom-houses and post-offices were appropriated by the rebels.
The energy of the rebels, and the imbecility of our Executive, were alike marvelous. The Nation looked on in agony, waiting for the slow weeks to glide away, and close the administration, so terrible in its weakness. At length the long-looked-for hour of deliverance came, when Abraham Lincoln was to receive the scepter.
The administration of President Buchanan was certainly the most calamitous our country has ever experienced. His best friends cannot recall it with pleasure. And still more deplorable it is for his fame, that in that dreadful conflict which rolled its billows of flame and blood over our whole land, no word came from his lips to indicate his wish that our country's banner should triumph over the flag of the rebellion. He died at his Wheatland retreat, June 1, 1868.
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