10 Interesting Facts About James Buchanan

15th President of the US, James Buchanan

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

James Buchanan had a nickname. It was "Old Buck." He was born in a log cabin in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania on April 23, 1791. Buchanan was a staunch supporter of Andrew Jackson. But, focusing on Buchanan's political affiliations won't do much to help you understand him. Discover these ten interesting facts about the life and presidency of James Buchanan in order to understand the man better.

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Bachelor President

James Buchanan was the only president who was never married. He had been engaged to a woman named Anne Colman. However, in 1819 after a fight, she called off the engagement. She died later that year in what some have said was a suicide. Buchanan had a ward named Harriet Lane who served as his First Lady while he was in office.

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Fought in the War of 1812

Buchanan began his professional career as a lawyer but decided to volunteer for a company of dragoons to fight in the War of 1812. He was involved in the March on Baltimore. He was honorably discharged after the war.

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Supporter of Andrew Jackson

Buchanan was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives after the War of 1812. He was not reelected after serving one term and instead returned to his law practice. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1821 to 1831 first as a Federalist and then as a Democrat. He staunchly supported Andrew Jackson and was outspoken against the 'corrupt bargain' that gave the 1824 election to John Quincy Adams over Jackson.

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Key Diplomat

Buchanan was seen as a key diplomat by a number of presidents. Jackson rewarded Buchanan's loyalty by making him the minister to Russia in 1831. From 1834 to 1845, he served as the U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. James K. Polk named him Secretary of State in 1845. In this capacity, he negotiated the Oregon Treaty with Great Britain. Then from 1853 to 1856, he served as the minister to Great Britain under Franklin Pierce. He was involved in the creation of the secret Ostend Manifesto.

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Compromise Candidate in 1856

Buchanan's ambition was to become president. In 1856, he was listed as one of several possible Democratic candidates. This was a period of great strife in America over the extension of enslavement to free states and territories as Bleeding Kansas showed. Of the possible candidates, Buchanan was selected because he had been away for much of this turmoil as the minister to Great Britain, allowing him to be distanced from the issues at hand. Buchanan won with 45 percent of the popular vote because Millard Fillmore caused the Republican vote to be split.

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Believed Enslavement Was a Constitutional Right

Buchanan believed that the Supreme Court's hearing of the Dred Scott case would end the discussion about the Constitutional legality of enslavement. When the Supreme Court decided that enslaved people should be considered property and that Congress had no right to exclude enslavement from the territories, Buchanan used this to bolster his belief that enslavement was Constitutional. He mistakenly believed that this decision would end sectional strife. Instead, it did just the opposite.

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John Brown's Raid

In October 1859, abolitionist John Brown led eighteen men on a raid to seize the armory in Harper's Ferry, Virginia. His goal was to foment an uprising that would eventually lead to a war against enslavement. Buchanan sent the U.S. Marines and Robert E. Lee against the raiders who were captured. Brown was hanged for murder, treason, and conspiring with enslaved people.

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Lecompton Constitution

The Kansas-Nebraska Act gave the residents of the Kansas territory the ability to decide for themselves whether they wanted to be a free state or pro-slavery state. Many constitutions were proposed. Buchanan supported and fought strenuously for the Lecompton Constitution which would have made enslavement legal. Congress could not agree, and it was sent back to Kansas for a general vote. It was soundly defeated. This event also had the key effect of splitting the Democratic Party into northerners and southerners.

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Believed in the Right of Secession

When Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election of 1860, seven states quickly seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. Buchanan believed that these states were within their rights and that the federal government did not have the right to force a state to remain in the union. Also, he attempted to avoid war in many ways. He made a truce with Florida that no additional federal troops would be stationed at Fort Pickens in Pensacola unless confederate troops opened fire upon it. Further, he ignored aggressive acts upon ships carrying troops to Fort Sumter off the South Carolina coast.

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Supported Lincoln During the Civil War

Buchanan retired upon leaving presidential office. He supported Lincoln and his actions throughout the war. He wrote, Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion, to defend his actions when secession occurred.

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Kelly, Martin. "10 Interesting Facts About James Buchanan." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-james-buchanan-104730. Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). 10 Interesting Facts About James Buchanan. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-james-buchanan-104730 Kelly, Martin. "10 Interesting Facts About James Buchanan." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-james-buchanan-104730 (accessed June 8, 2023).