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Copyright O 1962 by The Pennsylvania State University 
Library of Congress Catalog Card No, 62-12623 

Printed in the United States of America 
Second Printing 

To my Father 
H. M. J. Klein 





Wagons in the Wilderness 
Dickinson College 

2 PREFACE TO POLITICS - 1809-1819 13 

Country Lawyer 
State Assemblyman 
Counsel for the Defense 

3 BIRTH OF A BACHELOR * 1819-1820 27 

Ann Coleman 

Flight to Politics 

The Seventeenth Congress 

4 THE KING MAKER 18214827 44 

The Calhoun Band Wagon 
Three Cheers for Old Hickory 
The Disputed Election of 1824 
Buchanan's Amalgamation Party 
Bargain and Sale 


The Buchanan-Jackson Party 

The Fight for the Spoils 

The Culmination of a Congressional Career 


6 RELUCTANT DIPLOMAT . 1831-1833 78 

The Politics of the Russian Mission 

St. Petersburg 

The Conclusion of the Mission 

7 DAYS OF DECISION 1833-1834 95 

Return from Russia 
Demoralized Democrats 
Senator Buchanan 


The Wolves and the Mules 
The Election of 1836 
Relations with Van Buren 

9 THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL . 1837-1840 116 

The Second Bank of the United States 
Buchanan and the Subtreasury Bill 
The Role of the Rich Uncle 

10 WISE AS THE SERPENT * 1838-1841 129 

Trial Balloon 

The Whigs Attack 

A Regular Chinese Puzzle 

11 THIS I BELIEVE - 1834-1845 142 

The Creed of a Conservative 
Foreign Affairs 
Expansion and Slavery 


No Peace for Pennsylvania 

The Democratic Nomination of 1844 

Red Herring 

13 POLITICS UNDER POLK * 1845-1846 163 

The State Department 
The Perils of the Patronage 
The Walker-McKay Tariff 


14 CONQUERING A CONTINENT . 1845-1849 175 




The Life of a Galley Slave 


Recipe for Political Pie 
Disciplining Democrats 
Convention Blues 

16 THE SAGE OF WHEATLAND . 1849-1852 206 

Country Squire 

The Compromise of 1850- 

The Band Wagon Rolls Again 

17 A MISSION FOREDOOMED . 1852-1854 221 

Advice and Dissent 

The Man Who Was Ordered to Fail 

The Court of St. James 

The Caribbean Crisis 

18 PLAYING THE OLD TROUPER 1854-1856 234 

Cuba Pearl of the Antilles 
An Unthinkable War 
Dear Miss Lane 


The Shape of Things to Come 
The People's Choice 
Conservatives to the Rescue 

20 CHARTING THE COURSE . 1856-1857 261 

A National and a Conservative Government 
Union above Section, Party above Faction 
"I do solemnly swear" 


Bachelor in the White House 
The Captain and the Crew 
Payday for Politicians 
The Old Chief 

22 KANSAS-A TRAGEDY OF ERRORS - 1854-1857 286 

Crisis in Kansas 

A Governor of National Stature 

Popular Sovereignty in Action 


"By God, Sir, Andrew Jackson Is Dead!" 
"I Acknowledge No Master but the Law 1 * 
Drive This Bill "Naked" through the House 

24 A FLOOD OF INNOVATIONS . 1857-1860 313 

Panic and War 

Policeman of the Caribbean 

An Extravagant List of Magnificent Schemes 


A Fatal Feud 

The Loneliest Job in the World 
Downgrading the Presidency 
Democracy Dividing 

26 MR. LINCOLN IS ELECTED . 1860 3*15 

War on the While House 
How to Stop Lincoln 
Imperial Visitors 
The Election of 1860 


Spotlight on Charleston 
Strategy and Tactics 
The President Proposes 
A Challenge to Mr, Lincoln 


"We Will Hold the Forts* 1 
Swiftly Changing Circumstances 
The Cabinet Explodes 
"Mr. Lincoln, Will You Help?" 


The Star of the West 
What Will Congress Do? 
A Temporary Truce 
The Final Effort 

30 ON THE ROCK OF ST. HELENA . 1861-1868 403 

The Old Public Functionary- 
President Lincoln's Policy 
The Making of a Myth 
Mr. Buchanan's Book 
Old Man Democrat 
The Road Home 



INDEX 491 


The man who elects to play the role of peacemaker may, if he succeeds, be 
soon buried in historical oblivion, for it is the perverse tendency of man- 
kind to glorify war but to forget those who surmount crises by thought 
rather than by threat. A peacemaker who fails, on the other hand, is 
likely to receive for his efforts only resounding curses from both the 
warring camps. Such was the fate of James Buchanan. 

His presidential career was dedicated to peace, but his administra- 
tion culminated in a frenzy of secession which was immediately followed by 
a civil war of unprecedented fury. These events challenge our interest and 
curiosity. Why was Buchanan's peace policy unproductive? To what degree 
was its failure attributable to the chief executive, or to the people who 
chose him as their representative, or to the existing method of government? 
James Buchanan, fifteenth president of the United States, remains 
one of the least known statesmen of the American nation. To date the 
only useful biography of him is the two-volume documentary work by 
George Ticknor Curtis which was published in 1883 and financed by 
Buchanan's heirs. Many people remember Buchanan only as the bachelor 
in the White House who either caused the Civil War or who ought, some- 
how, to have prevented it. It is time, a century after the end of his presi- 
dential term, to re-create the life of James Buchanan and to reconsider his 
place in the American heritage. 

A good many years ago, Professor Frederick L. Schuman, then 
at the University of Chicago, put me to work on Buchanan's diplomatic 
career. Later, at the University of Pennsylvania, Professors St. George 
Leakin Sioussat and Roy F. Nichols guided me in the study of Buchanan's 
early activities in politics and encouraged me to project a biography of him. 
The present volume, which grew slowly and was completed only after many 
interruptions, is the fruit of their suggestion- 
After preparing what would have been a more extensive work, I 
concluded that it would serve a better purpose to present not an exhaustive 
but a concise account of Buchanan's career, with the primary emphasis on 


balance. Thus, while I have tried to treat at least briefly all the episodes 
which Buchanan thought important, I could not in a book of this size give 
the details of all the activities of a man who served almost continuously in 
public office from 1813 to 1861. I have sought, however, to deal with the 
subject in a constructively critical spirit; that is, to consider Buchanan's 
problems with understanding, but without any desire either to exalt or to 
degrade him for the decisions he made. The reader may decide the wisdom 
or the error of his ways. 

The Buchanan described by his own contemporaries in the years 
before 1861 is a person very different from the Buchanan portrayed by 
many writers of post-Civil War reminiscences. This biography seeks to 
present the former. Buchanan's associates up to the outbreak of the war 
judged him by values and standards then prevalent; but the war changed 
many of these patterns. Jeremiah S. Black in 1879 complained that the 
story of Buchanan's life had "never been honestly told." "Abolition lies," 
he wrote, "will take the place of history, f and none shall see the day when 
the cloud will pass away.' " The existence of sharply conflicting opinions 
about Buchanan means that the modern biographer must bear a heavy 
responsibility to prove his interpretation. Hence, this work will be docu- 
mented in detail, mostly by reference to manuscripts and newspapers of 
the pre-Civil War era. 

The presentation is chronological, and material has been selected 
for emphasis chiefly according to Buchanan's own concept of what was 
important or trivial. However, I have sketched only the main lines of 
Buchanan's extensive participation in foreign affairs; the details may be 
found in numerous specialized studies. Also, I have purposely condensed 
the treatment of the presidential years because these have been described 
very fully by many scholars, notably by Roy F. Nichols in hia Disruption 
of American Democracy. 

But very little is generally known about the first forty years of 
Buchanan's public service. Before he became president, he had already 
engaged in as long and energetic a political career *s that of Webster, day, 
Calhoun, or Benton. This era of his life, his schooling for the highest office, 
has not hitherto been adequately explored. I have tried to explain his role 
in party politics, especially Pennsylvania politics, before he came to occupy 
the White House. Judgments of Buchanan as president ought to be based 
upon knowledge of the man prior to that time. He was, after all, nearly 
sixty-seven years old when he was inaugurated. 

I have been concerned with his work as a lawyer and with the 
influence of his legal experience upon his political thinking. Also, ! have 
sought to expose the many ramifications of his personal life, his relationship 
with his friends, his management of the complicated family problems which 


engaged much of his attention, and the conduct of his private business 

I have used, in several parts of this book, some of my writing 
published earlier under the titles: The Story of 'JPkeatland (Lancaster, 1936), 
Pennsylvania Politics, 1817-1832, a Game without Rules (Philadelphia, 1940), 
"James Buchanan and Ann Coleman," Pennsylvania History* XXI (Jan., 
1954), 1-20; "The Inauguration of James Buchanan," Lancaster County 
Historical Society Journal, LXI (1957), 145-171; and "James Buchanan at 
Dickinson," in John and Mary's College (Carlisle, Pa., 1956), pp. 157-180. 

Many people have helped me gather material. The staifs of 
libraries, historical societies, and archives have given me friendly guidance 
and greatly aided me in my search. I am especially indebted to the Hamilton 
Library and Historical Society of Cumberland County, the Lancaster County 
Historical Society, the Crawford County Historical Society, the Historical 
Society of Berks County, the Northumberland County Historical Society, 
the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, the Historical Society of 
York County, the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, the Histori- 
cal Society of Pennsylvania, the Historical Society of Massachusetts, the 
Essex Institute, the Boston Public Library, the Pennsylvania Historical 
and Museum Commission, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, 
the State Library of Pennsylvania, the Library Company of Philadelphia, 
and the Libraries of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of 
Georgia, Franklin and Marshall College, Dickinson College, and The 
Pennsylvania State University. 

Those persons who kindly sent me copies of privately owned 
Buchanan manuscripts or permitted me to study their collections have been 
named in the bibliography. I wish here to express my appreciation to them, 
I am grateful to Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., for providing me with facilities 
for a protracted search of their files of early Lancaster newspapers, to the 
late E. E. Bausman for permission to use the papers that Buchanan de- 
posited with his executors, and to Louis S, May, Esq., for making his office 
available for work on these. I would like also to express my thanks to 
Horace Montgomery, Malcolm Freiberg, Sylvester K. Stevens, Sanford W. 
Higginbotham, Whitfield Bell, Jr., the late John Lowry Ruth, Talbot T. 
Speer, William A. Russ, Jr., Asa E. Martin, George D. Harmon, the late 
C. H. Martin, H. Hanford Hoskins, Maurice G. Buchanan, Annie Gilchrist, 
Henry J. Young, Charles Coleman Sellers, the Reverend E. J. Turner, 
Herbert B. Anstaett, John B. Rengier, and J. Bennett Nolan for many and 
varied kinds of assistance. In concluding this list, I want to mention 
especially the friendly help and encouragement given me by the late Philip 
Gerald Auchampaugh, the most assiduous student of Buchanan in this 

It is a further pleasure to acknowledge the useful work of some 

former students whose research illuminated many obscure points: Dorothy 
Airhart, Leon Davidheiser, Richard F. Fralick, Robert E. Franz, Robert F. 
Himmelberg, Dirck Parkin, .Margaret Strobe!, Gerald L Wagner, Guy J. 
Way, and Dale G. Wheelwright. 

Dean Roy F. Nichols of the University of Pennsylvania, Professor 
Norman A. Graebner of the University of Illinois, and Professor-Emeritus 
Burke M. Hermann of The Pennsylvania State University real the entire 
manuscript and greatly aided me in shortening it and in eliminating errors. 
Professors Holman Hamilton of the University of Kentucky and Blwurd J. 
Nichols of The Pennsylvania State University also gave me valuable con- 
structive criticism. I thank these gentlemen for their interest, their time, 
and their help. For those mistakes of fact and judgment which may be 
found in a book of this scope, I take entire responsibility. 

The Council on Research of The Pennsylvania State University 
gave financial support to this study over a number of year*, and the Social 
Science Research Center of the University aided me by the purchase of 
microfilms. For these marks of confidence I thank them. Finally, true 
to tradition, my wife, Dorothy Orr Klein, typed the manuscript in its 
entirety through several drafts and participated in all the essential chores 
from beginning to end. I acknowledge my greatest debt of gratitude to her, 

P. S. K. 

Union Mills, Md. 
August, 1961 



Worry and anxiety marked the faces of the people fleeing eastward along 
the Marietta Pike toward Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Constantly they looked 
back from their carts piled with boxes and furniture at the faint red glow in 
the darkening sky beyond Chestnut Hill, Occasionally small squads of 
horsemen came galloping out from town and headed for the Susquehanna 
River ten miles to the west. Most of the riders seemed intent on their own 
business; but where the pike ran past the spacious grounds of Wheatland, 
home of former President Buchanan, some would shout, "You damned 
rebel!" or "I hope they burn you out like they did Thad Stevens." 

It was Sunday night, June 28, 1863. The latest reports warned of 
35,000 Confederate troops at York, a southern army closing in on Harris- 
burg, and a skirmish in progress between the rebel advance guard and local 
militia at Wrightsville. The river bridge between Columbia and Wrightsville 
was said to be aflame, and the glow in the sky seemed to confirm that, but 
could Lee's army storm across the shallow Susquehanna somewhere else? 

James Buchanan had walked down from his house to the spring 
on the lower lawn which bordered the pike, his favorite spot in the evening. 
He liked to look over the low stone parapet into the clear water and watch 
the moss and white sand swirling gently in the undercurrent. Nowhere 
else in the world had he ever found the sunsets more relaxing or the world 
more serene than here, under the willow by his Wheatland spring. But not 
so this night. Would Wheatland be standing tomorrow, or in ashes? 
Would he be alive, or dead, or some kind of ridiculous trophy of this sense- 
less, unthinkable war? He did not know, nor did he really care very much. 

With the first news of Lee's advance into Pennsylvania, he had 
packed Harriet off to Philadelphia and shipped away his most important 
papers. He had tried to make Miss Hetty leave, but she said firmly that she 
would stay if he did. He had told friends who urged him to get out of the 
invasion area that he would remain at Wheatland if it should be surrounded 
by a hundred thousand rebels. He and Miss Hetty would see it through 


As he walked through the oak grove and back to the house, 
Buchanan felt the crushing certainty that his whole life had been a failure. 
Such a thought he rarely admitted to his consciousness, but tonight he 
could not banish it. The Columbia Bridge seemed the symbol of the two 
great tragedies of his career. Nearly half a century before, while trying to 
save that bridge in a law court, he had lost Ann Colt-man. Through all his 
later years, eschewing domesticity for politic?, he haw! labored to keep strong 
the bridge of understanding and mutual regard between people of the North 
and the South. The bridge was burning now, ruined as completely a his 
own life's work. 

Exactly fifty years ago, he remembered with nostalgia, he had for 
the first time accepted a public office. Since then he had served con- 
tinuously in nearly every public capacity, from the lowest to the highest in 
steady progression. He had worked unceasingly to strengthen ami to 
develop the best political society that man ever invented; but now the South 
had broken off half of it, and Lincoln's party seemed intent upon making 
the other half into a form of government that would have horrified the 
Fathers of the Constitution. Buchanan had once dared to hope that his 
presidency might rank in history with that of George Washington; now 
the very name Buchanan was one for people to curse and spit at, north 
and south. 

His father had warned him. Buchanan, with the vivid memory 
of early days peculiar to old people, recalled distinctly it letter his father 
had written to him at a time of youthful crisis ''Often when people have 
the greatest prospect of temporal honor and aggrandisement," the old 
gentleman had said, "they are all blasted in a moment by a fatality con* 
nected with men and things, and no doubt the design* of Providmre may 
be seen very conspicuously in our disappointments." 

Buchanan suddenly felt a twinge of chagrin that hix father never 
lived to see him rise to fame. In what other twiety, he wondered, could 
the child of a poor, orphaned immigrant be able to work his way up to the 
first chair of state? Some eighty years before, his father had come to 
America. He had trained his son for eminence. ff l am not dfcpmed to 
censure you for being ambitious/* he used to tell young Jamcn, and he hail 
set a good example. When he had arrived from Ireland, he had little hut 
ambition to help him. James wished that his father had told him more about 
the family background and the early years in Ireland; but he had not* 

After entering the house, Buchanan went directly to the ttudy 
and began to write. If the rebels came, they would find him at work 
preparing his story of "Mr, Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of 






James Buchanan paused often in his chores around the Irish farmstead 
during the early spring of 1783. For several years he had been thinking 
about migrating to America after the Revolutionary War. Now that the 
United States had won independence the young man faced the moment of 
decision. He had deep roots in the land of his birth. As he looked out 
over the fields toward the nearby waters of Lough S willy, he worried about 
leaving a green and settled land where the name he bore signified kinship 
with a considerable part of the local population. The Clan Buchanan had 
been proliferating in Scotland and northern Ireland for seven centuries. 

As a baby, he had been brought to the forty-acre farm in County 
Donegal called the "Big Airds," the home of his mother's brother, Samuel 
Russell. Samuel's daughter, Molly, remembered the cold, rainy day when 
her father came riding in with little James bundled up snugly under his 
greatcoat. What happened to the parents of James Buchanan remains a 
mystery. His father, John Buchanan, had married Jane Russell in 1750, 
and the couple had several children before James was born in 1761. There 
is some evidence that the mother died about that time and that the father 
then disappeared* After 1764, no trace of the parents can be found, 1 

The Russells had given a good home and a good education to their 
adopted nephew. He was twenty-two now, he had a little money of his own, 
his uncle had done all that could be expected, and America in the spring of 
1783 seemed fabulously inviting. Uncle Samuel had a brother, Joshua 
Russell, a tavern owner near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, who had written 
that he could meet the boy in Philadelphia and provide for his immediate 
care. 2 

On July 4, 1783, young Buchanan went aboard the brig Providence 
as a paying passenger. We can imagine some of his thoughts and dreams 
as he stood at the rail while the lines were cast off and the creaking ship 
slowly eased her way out of the channel from Londonderry, but even his 

wildest flights of fancy would scarcely have approached the reality of 
the future. 

Joshua Russell met Buchanan in Philadelphia and returned with 
him to the Russell Tavern on the Hunterstown road. During the leisurely 
trip on horseback, James acquainted himself with the new country and 
with his uncle Joshua. They passed through Valley Forge. Here, flamed 
Joshua, he had served as wagonmaster during the grim winter of 17774778, 
carrying flour from York to the starving Continental army. In Lancaster 
the street names sounded more European than American King, Qut*en T 
Duke, Prince, and Earl; and the names of the nearby townships reminded 
him of home Drumore, Antrim, East Earl, Donegal, Lelterkenny, Manor, 
and Coleraine. 

The broad Susquehanna, which they crossed by fiatboat at 
Wright's Ferry, sparkled in the late summer sunlight, its clear blue shallows 
studded with projecting rocks and framed with low wooded hills. West of 
the river the settlements grew sparse and the road, rough. Joshua Russell, 
having travelled it many times, had at last decided to use his experience on 
the pike as the means of an easier livelihood. He had bought a 200-acre 
tract in what was then Cumberland Township, York County, and had built 
a large stone tavern along the main road west. 

James had nearly forgotten Ireland by the time the two came in 
sight of Russell's Tavern. His uncle, he found, had become a man of 
consequence in this country; he was known by sight all along the road* 
His estate comprised not only the inn but outbuilding, quarters for eight 
Ne#ro slaves, and fenced fields for scores of cattle. Joshua'* wife Jane 
greeted him with all the warmth he might have expected from one bearing 
his mother's name, 3 

Uncle Joshua's nearest neighbor was James Sp^er, * widower with 
five children, who farmed a 270*acre tract just up the road. The youngest 
of the Speers, Elizabeth, soon stopped at the tavern to meet the fw nephew 
from Ireland, She was sixteen and ahe was pretty. James took her walking, 
trading his Irish charm for information about herself, her family, and 
Pennsylvania, Elizabeth had been raised in southern Lancaster County, 
but her father, a strict Presbyterian, had moved west because of a theologi* 
cal disagreement with his pastor* Her mother, Mary Patterson Speer, had 
died and Elizabeth now kept house for her father and four older brothers. 4 

Buchanan soon learned from the passing wagoners of an oppor- 
tunity for work at John Tom's little trading post called "the stony batter/' 
40 miles west of the Russell Tavern, Here, in Cove Gap, freight wagons 
from the East met pack trains from Bedford and John Tom handled the 
exchange. The modem pilgrim to this spot, a wild and gloomy gorge 
hemmed in on all but the eastern side by towering hills and now far removed 

from any center of commercial activity, properly asks what induced an 
ambitious young man to go there to seek his fortune. 

But Cove Gap was important in 1783. Three parallel ranges of 
the Allegheny Mountains barred the way to the West except at this point 
where a double gap pierced the two most easterly ridges, leaving Tuscarora 
Mountain the only remaining barrier. Travellers from Philadelphia and 
Baltimore headed for Cove Gap on their way to Pittsburgh. At Stony 
Batter, inside the Gap, roads ended, goods piled up, and John Tom ran his 
backwoods store. At times as many as a hundred horses jammed a corral 
there, but goods came in by wagon so much faster than they could be 
shipped out by pack train that John Tom had to run a warehouse as well as 
a trading post. 6 

After a few years as Tom's helper, Buchanan got the chance to 
buy the Stony Batter property. Legend has long had it that this transaction 
involved some sharp practice, but the court records show only that on 
December 15, 1786, John Tom offered to sell his property to Buchanan for 
200 pounds, Pennsylvania currency, promising in the contract that the 
land was "free of all Taxes, Debts, dues or demands." A few days after 
Buchanan had recorded these terms of sale, however, John Ferguson of 
Chambersburg sued Tom for over 500 pounds owing to him and guaranteed 
by the property. The December County Court confirmed this judgment 
against Tom, and the February Court ordered a sheriff's sale of Stony 
Batter, the proceeds to go to Ferguson. Buchanan bought the 100-acre 
tract for 142 pounds at the public sale on June 23, 1787. 6 

After buying Stony Batter, Buchanan rode off to the foot of 
South Mountain to claim Elizabeth Speer as his bride. She was just 
twenty-one, and he twenty-seven when they married on April 16, 1788. 
The young couple moved into Tom's log cabin which, though crude and 
rustic by later standards, was quite comfortable for their day. Their 
property included several log cabins, some barns and stables, a storehouse 
and store building, cleared fields, and an orchard. 

The Buchanans 7 first child, christened Mary, was born in 1789. 
On April 23, 1791, Elizabeth presented her husband with a son whom they 
named after his father. Tragedy marred what should otherwise have been 
a very happy year: little Mary died. The Presbyterian philosophy of pre- 
destination combined with the melancholy prevalence of infant mortality 
doubtless softened the blow, but it would have been an unnatural mother 
who after this experience did not lavish more than the usual care upon her 
surviving child. James Buchanan, from the very first year of his life, 
occupied a position of special importance in the household. His status 
might appear to have been threatened by the birth of more children, but 
the reverse seems closer to the fact. The next five additions to the family 
were girls: Jane in 1793, Maria in 1795, Sarah in 1798, Elizabeth in 1800 

(who died within a year), and Harriet in 1*12. IV wnnd ivy f the 
family, born in 1804, died the HW year. Not until the birth of William 
Speer Buchanan in 1805 was thnr another boy in tin* Buchanan homr, 
and by that time Janu* was almost rrady to Iravr for rnllrp*. Two nuw 
boys were born after lie left home in 1807. 

Thus, for the first fourteen years *>f his life, James* Hurhanun, as 
the eldest child and only hoy, retained the plare of favoritism into whii-h he- 
had been born. He lived in a woman's world at horm\ and until the family 
moved to Mereeraburjs he had no playmate* except his Mstrrs. over whom 
he exercised an acknowledged authority. While he commanded more than 
the usual child's prerogative to be waited upon, ht* afeo had more than the 
usual childhood responsibility, and he wn drvt'liprd a p'd opinion of 
himself that was daily strengthened by the ifrfmner >f the 
children. When he reached hi* < k arly teens, he nuit have been ob 
conceited and self-assured. 


Stony Batter proved a poor place to raise a family. The clearing re- 
sounded with the turmoil of stamping hcw*s drunken drovers and ruling 
wagoners. Elizabeth Buchanan dittlikwl thin raw and unrwith sorirty 
lived in constant fear for the safety of her small children who 
through the ceaseless confusion of honte*, wagon*, and ratfrr*d 
The business prospered enough that the father, in 17*1, wan able to 
buy the "Dunwoodie Farm/* a *pk*nd<i 300*acrr tract of rirh Hmwtnne 
land and timber located about five milcB cut of the Gap Along the Weat 
Conococheague Creek, near the village of Mem*r*lwrg. r 

The new farm* pleasant w a retreat, atill did not get th^ family 
out of the Gap except at the sacrifice of th<* rton> bwinr m. Therefore in 
1796, Buchanan bought a large lot in the renter t>f ^ferrer^burg and built 
on it a two-story brick house to serve both at* a hoot? and platT "f butinn*. 
Putting his brother-in-law, John Speer, temporarily in char#* >f Stony 
Batter, he moved the family to Mercersfaurg* Hen* life proved! much more 
genteel and orderly* The community of several dozen hinuuu w* alrnont 
entirely Scotch. To the Presbyterian Church, one of the dktot in the 
State, came the Campbells, Wilsons, McCMlands M^Dtmellt*, Burrs, 
Findkya, Welshed and Smitlia. Buchanan gradually tramfrrmi hifl 
business into town and soon established himself as one of ihe leading 
citizens. For a time he served as local justice of the peace* 8 

When the family moved to town, James was six; Jane* three; and 
Maria, one. Until now Elizabeth Buchanan had been their only teacher. 
In spite of her lack of schooling, she had accumulated extensive knowledge 

of literature and could quote verbatim and at length from Milton or Pope 
or Cowper. She read a good deal of theology, probably more as a kind of 
good work than as a matter of philosophical inquiry, but she had sincere 
piety which she unconsciously passed on to her children. She was a 
good storyteller and loved particularly to dwell on the career of George 
Washington, whom she painted in glowing colors which the children never 
forgot. She named her tenth child after their hero and George became her 
favorite in the latter years of her life. The Buchanans in all probability 
met President Washington when he stayed at the Russell Tavern during 
the excitement of the Whiskey Rebellion in the winter of 1794-95. 

James attended the Old Stone Academy at Mercersburg where 
he studied Greek and Latin, first under the Reverend James R. Sharon, 
later with Mr. McConnell, and finally under Dr. Jesse Magaw who had 
just completed his studies at Dickinson College and who later married 
Buchanan's sister, Maria* 

The events of that magic decade in life between the ages of five 
and fifteen impress a permanent mark on men. Any biographer would like 
to have all the information possible on those creative years; yet seldom is 
much to be found. 10 Here the tangible evidence is almost always frag- 

There were some lasting influences, however, which can be seen 
without reference to pen and ink records. The little village of Mercersburg 
was one of them. It was a homogeneous community where the tempo of 
life was leisurely and sedate. Even the scenery conduced to a sense of 
peace and calm. The rich farmscape, studded with oak groves and framed 
by the beautiful Tuscarora in the West, brought from at least one traveller 
of that day the involuntary exclamation: "What a Paradise!" James 
Buchanan lived in Mercersburg only ten years, but for the remainder of 
his life he tried when he could to duplicate those surroundings. His sym* 
pathies were always rural. His summers on Dunwoodie Farm gave him a 
personal attachment to that manner of life which he never lost; at his 
Wheatland plantation near Lancaster he re-created, in a sense, the scenes 
of his boyhood. Manufacturers and their problems he never understood; 
cities and their ways made him miserable. He was at heart an agrarian 
and never adjusted his thinking to the requirements of a growing in- 
dustrial society. 

His father's store was also a significant influence. Here he heard, 
not entirely understanding but taking it all in nevertheless, many a political 
argument. Even as a lad of eight he had no difficulty in knowing that his 
father was an uncompromising Washington Federalist; by the time he was 
fourteen he had absorbed a good many of the reasons why. 

The store also introduced the boy to the problem of keeping 
things accounted for and in their proper places. It gave him a daily object 


lesson in the practical utility of legible handwriting and of reckoning 
figures with absolute accuracy. And it illustrated the way in which money 
could grow from an exchange of property. Anyone who has taken the 
trouble to look at Buchanan's mathematics notebooks will recognize that 
he had a passion for neatness and for figures. Practically every penny that 
he gave or received throughout his life he methodically recorded in his 
account books. While American Minister to Great Britain, with an estate 
already in excess of $200,000, he kept a careful day-by Jay record of the 
petty disbursements of his valet, down to the last ha'penny for pins or 
tuppence for suspender buttons. He once refused to accept a check for 
over 815,000 from his friend Jeremiah S. Black, because there was an error 
of ten cents in it. When as president he paid three cents too little for an 
order of fine food for the White House and the merchant receipted the bill 
as paid in full, he discovered the error and forwarded the three cents, 
explaining that he wished not to pay too little or loo much but precisely 
what was due. 

His parents influenced him strongly. Buchanan, by the time 
James was ten, had become one of the leading businessmen of the Mercers- 
burg region. His heavy features, his bluff and hearty countenance, and 
his watery blue eyes suggested more of canniness than of kindness, and 
conveyed a hint of animal force guided by wariness and suspicion of his 
fellows. "The more you know of mankind/* he would say, "the more you 
will distrust them.*' Though middle age and success wer* softening him 
somewhat, he still worked like a man of restless and unsatisfied ambition. 
The community considered him a "hard man," If honest, h* was also 
unyielding. He gave credit but not extensions of credit, and he never 
loaned money except on excessive guarantee* He idolized Jamt% who h<* 
long thought would be his only son, but made him firmly toe thts mark m 
practicing the idea that hard work and scrupulous attention to business 
make wealth. John Tom had practiced neither and had lost his property; 
Buchanan practiced both and had supplanted his erstwhile employer* 

James both loved and feared his father* The squire assigned 
chores to the boy beyond the competence of his years, carefully scrutinized 
his performance, and was always more ready with criticism than with praise. 
James learned fast and outstripped those his own age in handling assigned 
work, but he rarely experienced the joyous sense of a task well done; it 
was never done well enough for the squire. The boy hungered for coin- 
mendation, but he seldom got it. There was little friendly informality and 
playtime between father and son; it was a man to man relationship between 
man and boy, full of mutual reliance and respect, but without humor 
or comradeship. 

Elizabeth Buchanan, much more easygoing and humane than her 
husband, became the center of the finer feelings of the household. Modest 


and self-effacing as the father was proud and arrogant, she tried actively to 
live the Christian life. Her philosophy was that of the Ten Commandments 
and the Sermon on the Mount, applied to every little act within her view. 
Her ambition was to get to Heaven; her life a quiet acceptance of every 
event as the particular manifestation of God's will directed to her family. 
Young James could never quite accept such blind faith or such utter 
resignation, yet it impressed him deeply and embedded itself in his inquisi- 
tive mind- It was odd: his father was never satisfied, and his mother was 
always satisfied; but anyone looking at the daily course of their lives 
without knowing their minds might guess exactly the opposite. 

Doctor John King, pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Mercers- 
burg and a trustee of Dickinson College at Carlisle, also exerted a strong 
influence. Some men have that rare combination of qualities which, 
unknown to themselves, inspires admiration and imitation in others. 
Doctor King had such qualities. He was a fine scholar but so unpretentious, 
witty, and human that no one talking with him casually would have sensed 
a formidable mind. He had strong convictions of Christian living which 
he practiced, without apparent purpose or effort, as a simple matter of 
course. He had dignity and poise which he seemed to communicate to 
others, rather than making them unhappily conscious of their own de- 
ficiencies in manner or address. When he preached, people stayed awake 
from sheer personal respect for the man. James Buchanan later wrote 
that he had "never known any human being for whom I felt greater 
reverence than for Dr. King,'* and he took with him into maturity a vivid 
memory of the conduct and the kindly spirit of his Mercersburg pastor. 11 


When Buchanan became sixteen, King urged his father to send him to 
college. He saw in the boy a dual prospect: the development of a keen 
young mind and the addition of a cash customer to the sorely depleted 
student rolls of Dickinson College. Though the elder Buchanan really 
needed his son in business and around the farm, he knew from his own 
limited experience the advantages of education. He worried about the 
future security of his growing family. In addition to James he now had 
four small daughters and a baby boy, and another child was on the way. 
If he should die or suffer a setback in his business, his own children might 
find themselves in the same unhappy situation in which he had been reared; 
they might have to be distributed around among those who could provide 
for them. 

Mrs. Buchanan would have been happy to see her son enter the 
ministry, but her husband knew better what pursuit would fit the require- 


ments. Money could be made in buying and selling property, but one 
needed a lawyer to protect it. He wanted his son to prepare for the study 
of law. The decision was soon made, arrangements were completed to 
enroll James in the junior class of college, and in September, 1807, the 
young man and his father saddled their horses for the trip to Carlisle. 13 

Dickinson College, when Buchanan went there, was slowly 
rallying from a series of misfortunes. After twenty years of effort, the 
trustees had finally been able to provide the college with "a new and elegant 
building." Scarcely six weeks after the dedication, someone carelessly 
left a scuttleful of hot ashes in the cellar and burned it to the ground. 
Then Dr. Charles Nisbet, who had been headmaster of the college since its 
inception, died, and good relations between the students, the faculty, and 
the trustees rapidly deteriorated. But the town of Carlisle posed the main 
problem. Jeremiah Atwater, the new president, reported that the pleasures 
"of high life, of parade, of the table & ball chamber'* appeared to be the 
main object of life. "Drunkenness, swearing, lewdness & duelling seemed 
to court the day." The students were ''indulging in the dissipation of the 
town, none of them living in the college/* It was folly, he concluded, "to 
expect that a college could flourish without a different state of things in 
the town;" and in a final burst of outrage he exclaimed, "I hope that as 
God has visited other states, he will yet visit Pmruykania" 1 * 

These were the circumstances to which James Buchanan referred 
when he wrote of Dickinson, many years later, that the enlist wax "in 
wretched condition" while he was a student there. When Buchanan 
arrived in Carlisle a new college building designed by Benjamin lalrabe 
had been almost completed and classes were being held in it t though no 
student rooms were ready for occupancy. 14 

Left on his own for the first lime in his life, Jimmie Burhaiian 
began to canvass his prospects in this enticing environment. Of the 
forty-two students enrolled, eight were seniors, nineteen were hia matw 
in the junior class- all of them Pennsylvanians but two and the remaining 
fifteen were freshmen or assigned to the Latin School. The college course 
did not yet include the sophomore year. 

His courses would include Latin, Greek, mathematics, geography, 
history, literature, and philosophy. Acting President Davidson wouM be 
his teacher in history, geography and philosophy; Professor John Hayes 
would be in charge of languages; and Professor McConnick, of mathematics. 
These three comprised the entire teaching staff. 

Teachers often stamp upon the student mind a more vivid and 
lasting impression of their own personality than they do of their subject 
matter. Dr. Davidson was a teacher whom the students remembered with 
discomfort during their college days but with sentimental attachment 
thereafter. He had written a geography text in very poor verso, required 



the students to buy it, and demanded that they memorize and recite from 
it verbatim. A pedagogue in school and out, formal, solemn and precise, 
Dr. Davidson was, nevertheless, a kind and gentle man. He never liked to 
take a strong stand, much less to translate it into action, and in dealing with 
administrative problems he always tried to avoid solutions by the exercise 
of authority. Whenever possible he took the line of least resistance, 
seeking to solve problems by a peaceful and pleasant meeting of minds. 
In town and on the campus he was known by the appropriate nickname of 
"Blessed Peacemaker." Such was the man who, within the year, was to 
burn an impression on James Buchanan's callow mind as with a red- 
hot poker. 18 

Buchanan especially liked Professor James McCormick who for 
years had lodged and boarded half a dozen students at his home. One boy 
recalled that "Mr. McCormick and his wife were as kind to us as if they 
had been our parents. He was unwearied in his attentions to us in our 
studies, full of patience and good nature, and sometimes seemed quite 
distressed when, upon examining a pupil, he found him not quite as learned 
as he was himself," 16 

Buchanan at first took his work as a student very seriously, 
spending most of his time in preparation and trying his best to make a good 
impression in the classroom. But it did not take him long to find that the 
life of a "grind" was no passport to comradeship among his classmates. To 
the contrary, he wrote that "to be a sober, plodding, industrious youth 
was to incur the ridicule of the mass of the students." Discovering that 
he had little difficulty In keeping up his class assignments, he began to 
participate more freely in the extra-curricular activities of the day. "With- 
out much natural tendency to become dissipated," he said, "and chiefly 
from the example of others, and in order to be considered a clever and 
spirited youth, I engaged in every sort of extravagance and mischief." 17 

From knowledge of his later activities, we may reasonably assume 
that he got into drinking bouts sufficiently rowdy to come to the attention 
of the faculty; that he smoked cigars contrary to the regulations of the 
college; and that he manifested in and out of the classroom a conceit which 
proved at first irritating and at length intolerable to his professors. On 
the Fourth of July, 1808, which the Dickinson boys celebrated with a 
huge dinner at the Glebe Farm, he downed sixteen regular toasts before 
starting on the volunteers. 18 

Despite all the distractions, Buchanan kept up with his class work, 
passed his public examinations in August, and concluded the college year 
with an excellent academic record. He returned to Mercersburg in the 
autumn of 1808, quite satisfied with himself and ready to go back to school 
in a few weeks as a senior. On a lovely Sunday morning of September he 
was lounging at ease in the sitting room of his home, enjoying those 


deliciously languorous sensations of well-being that the gods confer only 
upon college students on vacation. His reverie was interrupted by a knock 
at the door. His father answered it and returned shortly with a letter 
which he tore open with curious interest. As he began to read, his expres- 
sion changed to one of pain and anger. Whatever this was, it was un- 
commonly bad news. Buchanan senior abruptly thrust the paper at his 
son, turned, and left the room without a word. 

James looked down at the cause of this sudden shattering of his 
thoughts. The letter, in Dr. Davidson's writing, said that Dickinson College 
had expelled Buchanan for disorderly conduct. He road it again to pet it 
all. Dr. Davidson wrote the elder Buchanan that his son would have bern 
dismissed earlier except for the respect which the faculty entertained for 
the father. They had tolerated young James to the very limit of endurance 
and would not have him back under any circumstances, 

James was thunderstruck. Knowing that it would be useless to 
take up the matter with his irate father, he turned for advice to his friend 
Doctor King, who had just become President of the Board of Trustees of 
Dickinson, "He gave me a gentle lecture," aid Buchanan of the interview. 
"He then proposed to me, that if I would pledge on my honor to him to 
behave better at college than I had done, he felt such confidence in me that 
he would pledge himself to Dr. Davidson on my behalf, and he did not 
doubt that I would be permitted to return." 1 * 

While the board minutes disclose no discussion of Buchanan's 
case, it is impossible to believe that King did not know in advance that hi* 
neighbor and prot^gS from Mercersburg was getting into serious trouble- 
It is more than likely that Dr. Davidson's action had been approved in 
advance by the board, or may have originated there, as a means of bracing 
up the lad by a sound scare which would both tame his spirit and exert * 
sobering influence upon the rest of the students,* 

Chastened and with the resolution to be more circumspect in 
his conduct, Buchanan returned to Dickinson for the winter term. Un- 
fortunately* his strenuous application to work had the result of further 
inflating his intellectual vanity the trait which had been the root of his 
difficulty in the first place* Take, for example, the problem in navigation 
which he prepared for Professor McCormick, requiring the construction 
of an imaginary ship's journal in which the exact latitude and longitude of 
the point of destination were to be determined from the daily sailing data* 
Buchanan chose for his journal a trip from Boston to Madeira an island 
which he had frequently visited in fancy while quaffing iu> amber produce 
in the taverns of Carlisle* After some thirty pages of careful notations of 
traverse tables, estimates of drift, and calculations of magnetic variation 
and deviation, he found that his final figures on the location of the western 
tip of Madeira varied by only one mile from the values given on the printed 



geographical charts. The concluding sentence in this problem illustrates 
perfectly the mental attitude of the boy. "I therefore conclude," he wrote, 
"that my journal was nearly exact, and that the latitude and longitude of 
that part of Madeira were well laid down." 21 

All too soon the year was over. On September 25, 1809, the 
faculty presented to the Board of Trustees the names of fifteen young 
gentlemen whom they certified "as prepared to receive their Bachelor's 
degree, they having gone through the usual courses, and been publicly 
examined in the Languages and Sciences." Buchanan's name was on 
the list. 

In the meantime, however, trouble had been brewing over the 
award of senior honors. Two literary societies, the Belles-Lettres and the 
Union Philosophical, met weekly in rooms at opposite ends of the fourth 
floor of the college building. All the student competition of the day 
centered in these societies. Each society chose one candidate for the award 
of first honors of the college; the faculty chose the winner, and the other 
man automatically received the second honor. The award of first honors 
was not only a society victory but also gave to the successful student the 
distinction of having first place on the program of senior orations at the 
commencement exercises. 

The Union Philosophical Society unanimously chose Buchanan 
as their candidate for the first honor. But this did not satisfy James. He 
thought the Union Philosophical Society so much superior to its rival that 
it should, this year, have both the first and the second honor. He therefore 
put through a motion that the Union P. should present two candidates, 
himself for first place and Robert Laverty for the second. 

This was too much for the faculty. They had observed some 
improvement in Buchanan's outward conduct but none in his conceit, and 
they determined on this occasion to deflate it. They gave the first honor 
to the candidate of the Belles-Lettres Society, second honor to Laverty, 
and rejected Buchanan entirely on the ground that it would have a bad 
effect on the morale of the college to honor a student who had been so 
troublesome and had shown so little respect for the professors. 

This announcement completely outraged the young man. He 
wrote an agitated letter to his father, complaining bitterly of the injustice 
and prejudice of the faculty. The first honor should go to the best scholar; 
he was the best scholar, as everyone knew and the record showed. He 
refused to believe the decision was final and kept his oration ready. 

His father replied with a masterful letter of condolence, full of 
sly innuendo. He had received his son's letter, he wrote, "though without 
date*' (inexcusable carelessness!), and was mortified that James would 
receive no honors, especially as this "was done by the professors who are 



acknowledged by the world to be the best judges of the students under 
their care." He hoped that his son had fortitude enough to take the 
decision like a man. 22 James read this over carefully several times, smart- 
ing with embarrassment, but his temper subsided, and he turned to another 
polishing of his oration, very appropriately entitled "The Utility of 

In the meantime the Union Philosophical Society was in an 
uproar. Laverty withdrew as second honor man and offered the place to 
Buchanan. When he refused to consider this, the seniors of the society 
proposed that they all refuse to speak at commencement, but Buchanan 
also opposed this proposal because he did not wish others to become 
involved on his account. At length the faculty itself resolved the impasse 
by writing a kind letter to James, stating that he would be expected to 
present his oration, though not in the first place on the program. 23 By 
Commencement Day, September 19, 1809, the air had cleared. Alfred 
Foster of Carlisle would deliver the salutatory oration in Latin on "The 
Excellence of Knowledge," Buchanan would follow him on the program, 
and Laverty would deliver the valedictory. 2 * 

Buchanan wrote in his autobiography that he left college "frrling 
but little attachment towards the Alma Mater," Regardless of this senti- 
ment he could scarcely have denied that his two years at Dickinson Ml a 
lasting imprint upon his life. He learned respect for the law there. Time 
was to come when President Buchanan would assert to extremists, both 
northern and southern, in a land torn by passion: "I acknowledge no 
master but the law." He also learned respect for property, whirh he 
translated into a veritable obsession for precision in all his later hunine** 
dealings. He developed a respectful altitude toward religion, whirh he 
considered a matter of individual belief rather than a formal creed to be 
unquestioningly accepted. Finally, one can see Jn his later life the shadow 
of his Dickinson teachers. Buchanan the student played ringleader in 
making fun of old Dr. Davidson, but Buchanan the man came to resemble 
him. The description of Davidson could be applied almost withnut change 
to Buchanan in maturity: vain, formal* solemn and precise; yet withal 
kindly and gentle, always eager to settle disputes without force and solve 
problems by a friendly and pleasant meeting of minds. The 


James Buchanan as a Congressman, 
Portrait by Jacob Kicholtz, Smithsonian 

Above: Ann (Caroline Ooleman, Buchanan's fiancee, who died mvrtrriottaiy in )Hl*. 
Buchanan Foundation. W<*/': Buchanan's lu'rthplare at Stony mix**r. Tart tf thi* 
log cabin has Iwen preserved at Menrershurg Aradcmy, Mercrrt*bur^ IVnsylv 4 nti f j, 
Herbert Beard.sUjy. 

Above: East King Street, Lancaster, looking toward the square. Buchanan s law office 
occupied the second floor of the building in the center of the picture. Lancaster County 
Historical Society. Below: A sketch of Wheatland published during the campaign 
of 1856, Author's Collection. 


rp; Buchanan *s penmantthip and signature. Of Harriburg he writes, "It i not a 
to viit, if your talking apparatus S out of order.*' Pttwse Library^ Thi Penn 
State Univmity. Bottom left: Prmident Martin Van Buren. Author'* Co 
Bottom ri#ht; John Wiftn Forney, Buchanan's energetic and devoted political manager 
for twenty years. Library of Congress* 

wfew. rr'ft An7*i 

rufitrwt STTttnir Wtanitnrtwn-- 

A Whig cartoon of 1840 exploits the "Ten Cent Jimmy" lie. Buchanan ^ made to tell 
Van Buren to reduce the price of labor while unemployment reigns and children starve. 
Lancaster County Historical Society. 

the ^'Rock of Disunion.** 


on ncvcmc or A *c r ton. 

Two anti-Buchanan cartoons of 18.%. 

ucn .. Ahwe: The ha.-hri,,r ,-MtMMr *urf >n- "l'| 

"Weral coa " with its "Democratic pat.-h.-x" ami Ajfcfc". t\M 'I h- " ';' '"''"' 
t new TOtfi" Buchanan KoumU.ti.rn.' /W,mv Th- ftw-wlrrj ! -lavrr* r.-l. . ihr 
Democratic platform (Buchanan), u.u-,-rtaily M.j.p.,rt.-,l by Brnhm. 1'wr. M>| J.m 
Van Buren. Library of Coiigrws. 

He WAS elected President by ft ami *wd trickery! unJfr Ms aJ- 
ministration the Treasury was robbed 1 duplicity and cowardice 
marked bin cortwr! flnnUy, he sold hia country to u b*nl <tf 
Suutheru conspirators, and now lives to be point*! at vich tLe 
of scorn, by all true men.' and will go Jowntuh;* 

TVm: On- of th many forma of abuse of Buchanan during the Civil Wara northern 
pnveloii* charging him with Hftlling the country to "a bawl of wmHpiratoro. Smuhonian 
Imtitution (Kalph E. Bftcker Collection). Bottoms Simon Camron, a political mavftnck 
who became a powerful enmy of Buchanan after 1848. National Archives (Brady 
Collection} > 

Top: Pierre Soul of Louisiana. Library of Congrew. <^-**^*&$ft* 
Ill&ioia. National Archives (Brady OoIIectipii). Botum: William H. Swtd f New 
York. National Archives (Brady Collection). 

Two contemporary drawing* by newspaper artists. Top: East Portico of the Capitol 
during Buchanan's inaugural address. Bottom: The inaugural parade, with the model 
warship in the foreground. Library of Congress. 

Above* Minimum on iwry of Buchanan and lUrrirt bnf by J. Henry Brown. m. 
8on IwSST /MoK-7 Buchanan precis a guest at a Whit* Him* rm,*.*. l4l-r> 

of Congress. 

Ton; Washington, 1853, after the new wings had been added to the Capitol. Between 
Pennsylvania Avenue, center, and Maryland Avenue, left, appear the Smithsonian 
Institution and the projected Washington Monument. Library of Congress, fffittom: 
Th* East Front of the Capitol, 1857, with the new dome under construction. National 

Chamber of the United States HOUM , of Reprewimtive. 

a they appeared before being remodelled in the I850'. Library o 

Buchanan's Cabinet in mid- 1859. Seated left to right: Jacob Thompson, Interior; John B. 
Floyd, War; Isaac Toueey, Navy; Jeremiah S. Black, Attorney General. Standing left 
to right: Lewis Cass, State; President Buchanan; Ho well Cobb, Treasury; Joseph Holt, 
Postmaster General. Library of Congress (Brady-Hand Collection). 

Top: Black who replaced Cum in Pwrmher, 1860. National Ahiv<-* (Brady Odin-nun). 
Ctntfr: Vice-President John (I Breckinridge, Lincoln'** opponent in IHc>0. Library of 
Congress. Bottom left: Lcwia Cam wh also wrvrd t J^rkMinV <itJi. .NiUHtiuI 
Archives (Brady Collection). Bottom right; Aaron V. Br(w, PcwtiMiii<nr (;rr*l f wh> 
died in office. National Archives (Brady Collection) , 

. Library 

National Arhivi (Brady CoJlection). 

President Buchanan at th time of ;hr Kama* 
crisis, 1858. National Archive** (Brariy Ullectton). 




The most immediate question in James Buchanan's mind when he graduated 
from Dickinson College was where to find a good legal preceptor. His 
father already had the answer. He had observed James Hopkins of Lancaster 
as he tried a case in the Cumberland Valley and had been so impressed by 
the performance that he urged James to study with him. Hopkins was a 
leader of the Lancaster bar and an attorney of state-wide reputation. James 
welcomed the prospect of working at the State Capital, applied to Hopkins 
for a preceptorship, and was accepted. 1 

Lancaster, when Buchanan came there in December, 1809, to 
begin his legal career, had for generations claimed the distinction of being 
the largest inland town in the United States, though its resident population 
scarcely exceeded 6000. It lay ten miles north of Mason and Dixon's line, 
ten miles east of the Susquehanna River, and sixty-two miles west of 
Philadelphia. The Conestoga Creek which bordered the town had given 
its name to the famous freight wagons which plied the broad turnpike to 
Philadelphia, the finest road in all America. Lancaster's business rested on 
factors of long-range dependability thrifty, industrious people, fine farms, 
a thriving iron industry, and excellent travel facilities. The working popula- 
tion was mostly German, but Lancaster boasted an English aristocracy 
which rivalled Philadelphia society. Politically the town had been domi- 
nated for years by the Federalists. 

The courthouse, a small two-story building modelled roughly on 
Independence Hall, occupied the square at the intersection of the two 
main streets. It was terribly crowded, serving simultaneously as the State 
Capitol building and as headquarters for county business. King and Queen 
Streets, running off at right angles from the square, were lined by close-set 
brick houses, most of them inns. Newly arrived legislators or strangers 
like young Buchanan were greeted, when they got off the stage, by a 
complete outdoor gallery of tavern signs depicting the crowned heads of 



all Europe, Indian chiefs, and national heroes; the animal kingdom with 
its lions, leopards, stags, bulls, bears, horses, swans and eagles; and symbols 
of the crafts, such as the plough, the wheat sheaf, the grape, the cross keys, 
the compass and square, or the hickory tree. 2 

Buchanan found quarters at the Widow Duchman's inn on East 
King Street, just a block and one half from the courthouse and nearly across 
the street from Hopkins's imposing mansion at the corr-er of East King 
and Duke Streets. Within a city block of Buchanan's rooms lived not only 
his college chum, Jasper Slaymaker, but also the Governor of Pennsylvania, 
the Judge of the District Court, and iron baron Robert Coleman reputed to 
be the richest man in Pennsylvania. James Buchanan felt that although he 
stood on the bottom rung of the ladder, it was the right ladder. 

After a month he wrote home enthusiastically about his work 
under Hopkins whom he described as courteous, instructive and interested 
in his pupils. His father advised him to cultivate his preceptor's good 
opinion and told him to tend strictly to business and "not be carried off by 
the many amusements & temptations that are prevalent in that place." 
"Go on with your studies/* he said, "and endeavor to be Eminent in 
your profession." 3 

The pressure which the father put on his son to make good pro- 
ceeded not entirely from paternal pride. He really wanted James to prepare 
himself so that he might better help support his brothers and sisters, in 
case of necessity. Four more sons had arrived in the household within the 
past seven years, three of whom survived. 4 The Mercersburg family now 
consisted of four girls and three boys, the latter between the ages of one and 
six. "Your company and assistance in this family are wanted very much, 
and desired," he wrote to James when Edward Young was born, "but I am 
willing to forego all these advantages in order that you may have an oppor- 
tunity of ... preparing yourself - . . in the profession you have chosen." 
A little later he remarked, "I hope the privation I have suffered & will 
suffer in giving you a good education will be compensated by the station Jn 
society you will occupy." 5 

James worked hard. "I determined/' he said, "that if severe 
application would make me a good lawyer, I should not fail in this particular* 
* . . I studied law, and nothing but law/* Day and night he read and 
straggled to extract the full meaning from pages of print and to incorporate 
it accurately in his mind. For relaxation he got into the habit of strolling 
out to the edge of town in the evening where, while watching the sun 
descend below the gentle slope of Chestnut Hill, he tried to put into spoken 
words the material he had studied during the day. 

At length, in 1812, the term of his preceptorship drew near its 
end and he had to consider what to do next. Lancaster seemed a logical 
place to "hang out his shingle," but there were some drawbacks* The 



State Capitol was being shifted to Harrisburg, leaving Lancaster crowded 
with expert lawyers facing reduced opportunities. There would be stiff 

About this time the name Kentucky began to exercise a magnetic 
charm on Buchanan. The West had recently come into the news. The 
first Mississippi River steamboat had just opened a new two-way trade 
between Pittsburgh and New Orleans; Harrison had defeated Tecumseh at 
Tippecanoe; Henry Clay, Felix Grundy and other western "War Hawks" 
in Congress clamored for war against England- But beyond the promise of 
adventure, Buchanan saw a practical opportunity in the West. His father 
was part owner of a tract of some 3600 acres of Kentucky land. Its title 
had been recently challenged. James wanted to go to the site and handle 
the case before the court at Elizabethtown. 

The father, not eager to hazard his property to the efforts of his 
inexperienced son, tried for two months to discourage the venture. A new 
country would be a poor place for a lawyer, he wrote to James. "He may 
obtain land, but that is all. Were I commencing the practice of law & 
knew I had talents & attention, I would open an office in a county where 
both suits and money were plenty & although I might have many difficulties 
in establishing myself there, yet I would have no fears of not coming in 
for a share of the business finally. Lancaster is such a place as I describe, 
& when you first went to the place, that was one of my objects, that you 
might have an opportunity of settling there." 6 When James replied that 
he wanted to take the trip for his health, as a vacation, the elder Buchanan 
warned him that it would be nonsense to expect such a trip to benefit the 
health. It would be more likely to ruin it. " I speak from experience," 
he said. 7 

Nevertheless, James Buchanan bought a horae and started for 
Kentucky. He stopped on the way to see the family, made the acquaintance 
of his new brother, Edward, and learned with delight that his favorite 
sister, Jane, uow nineteen, had become engaged to Elliot Tole Lane of 
Mercersburg, and that sister Maria was in love with his old school teacher, 
Jesse Magaw. He got the details of the land litigation, the permission of his 
father to act as his attorney, and resumed his journey. As he jogged along, 
his pack trunk scuffing gently at the back of his saddle, he dreamed of the 
impact he would make in the shirt-sleeve courts of that wild new country. 

Buchanan spent the summer in Kentucky, most of it at Elizabeth- 
town, but he made side trips to Bowling Green and Russellville. He very 
probably encountered Thomas Lincoln who lived near Elizabethtown and 
was on the court docket for some land-title cases at this time. His son, 
Abraham Lincoln, was three years old. The Buchanan case, which had 
been in litigation since 1803, had become so entangled that any hope of a 
quick solution soon faded. Buchanan reported of a trip to court: "I went 



there full of the big impression I was to make and whom do you suppose 
I met? There was Henry Clay! John Pope, John Allan, John Rowan, 
Felix Grundy why, sir, they were giants, and I was only a pigmy. Next 
day I packed my trunk and came back to Lancaster that was big enough 
for me. Kentucky was too big." Kentucky's Ben Hardin reported that 
Buchanan told him that he had expected to be a great man there, but that 
"every lawyer I met at the bar was my equal, and more than half of them 
my superiors, so I gave it up." 8 

These reminiscences, though not quite accurate, emphasized the 
main reason for Buchanan's decision. He left Kentucky convinced that if 
the professional competition there would be as keen as in Lancaster, there 
was a great deal more wealth in Lancaster, and he might best put his wits to 
work where the fees were highest. After turning the land case over to 
Ben Hardin, he set out for home. 

James was back in Lancaster by November 17, 1812, in time to be 
admitted to the bar along with Jasper Slaymaker and two other young 
lawyers. Wishing to remain there, but uncertain whether he would be 
able to maintain an office, he appealed to Hopkins for advice. His preceptor 
suggested that he apply to Attorney General Jared Ingersoll for the post of 
deputy prosecutor (now district attorney) in newly created Lebanon 
County. "I am a young man just about selecting a place of future settle- 
ment," he wrote to liigersoll, "and your determination will have a con- 
siderable influence on my choice." 9 On February 20, 1813, Buchanan 
started his practice in Lancaster, inserting a notice in the papers that he 
would maintain his office on East King Street "two doors above Mr. 
Duchman's Inn, and nearly opposite to the Fanner's Bank." 10 A month 
later Buchanan learned that he had been appointed prosecutor for Lebanon 
County. 11 That, at least, would take care of the office rent. His father was 
pleased, but tempered his congratulations with the hope that James would 
act "with compassion & humanity for the poor creatures against whom 
you may be engaged.** 12 

Buchanan's first two years of practice barely kept him going; he 
made $938 during 1813 and $1,096 the following year. 13 The odds and 
ends of practice which were the usual lot of a young attorney came his way 
and he gratefully took whatever business the older lawyers referred to him 
and handled it promptly. 14 As he approached his twenty-third birthday he 
bought, in partnership with the town's jovial 400-pound prothonotary, 
John Passmore, the small tavern on East King Street which the two of them 
already used for offices and living quarters* Buchanan's father must have 
assisted him in this deal, or else he had a good local credit rating, for he 
paid $4000 in cash on the property in 1814 and promised to pay another 
$1000 within a year. He visited his old home occasionally during this 
period. While there he talked politics with his father* Loyal Federalists 



both, they deplored the attacks of the Democratic Legislature on Federalist 
judges, and condemned the government for its mismanagement of the war 
with England. 15 In 1813 Jane Buchanan married Elliot Lane, and James 
was probably in Mercersburg for the wedding ceremony. 


On August 24, 1814, the British army routed the Americans at Bladensburg, 
marched on Washington, and burned the public buildings almost before 
their occupants had time to flee. That same day the Lancaster Federalists 
met to nominate their slate for the fall elections. In due course delegate 
Peter .Diller arose to nominate James Buchanan as the district's choice 
for State Assemblyman. 

At that time he was serving as president of the local Washington 
Association a young Federalist organization. He had aroused enthusiasm 
in the party by his recent speech at the Fourth of July barbecue in which 
he had roundly lambasted Madison for bungling the war effort and called 
on Federalists to pitch into the fighting to force an honorable peace as 
quickly as possible. 16 The Federal party, though it had controlled Lancaster 
since 1789, had long been the minority party of the state and was growing 
steadily weaker. Its older leaders welcomed the addition to their ranks of 
a popular and forceful young man. Buchanan, on his part, wanted to enter 
politics and hoped that campaign publicity and service in Harrisburg would 
improve his law business. There was no chance of his losing the election; 
in Lancaster, the Federalist candidate always won. His father, still never 
willing to admit that his son had done just the right thing, told him he had 
made a mistake and would do better to become a leader of the bar than to 
be "partly a politician and partly a lawyer." 17 

At the very moment that Buchanan committed himself to politics, 
his first political duty bore down swiftly and unexpectedly upon him. 
When news of the burning of Washington reached Lancaster the morning 
after his nomination, he knew he would have to go to war if he expected 
to get any votes. The local Federalist party deplored the war, but its 
members would defend their country. 

At a general mobilization in Lancaster on August 25, Buchanan 
made a speech and was among the first to register his name as a volunteer. 
Two days later a company of young men of the borough, led by Henry 
Shippen, Esq., "mounted their horses, armed with sword, pistols &c., 
and marched to Baltimore, without waiting. for formal orders, to aid in 
defending that place." 18 

Shippen's Company, composed of about two dozen of the "most 
respectable young gentlemen of Lancaster," had no official status as part 
either of the militia or the regular army; it was simply a group of private 



volunteers. After arriving at Baltimore, the "Lancaster County Dragoons/' 
as the troop called itself, offered their services to Major Charles Sterret 
Ridgely of the Third Cavalry Regiment. Major Ridgely called for ten 
volunteers to go on a secret mission; Buchanan joined this squad and all 
proceeded four miles beyond the city, full of excitement in the belief they 
were on a dangerous mission until they opened their sealed orders at 
the designated point. 

They were to go to Ellicott's Mills and seize about sixty good 
horses from the residents of the vicinity, "always preferring to take them 
from Quakers." It was an assignment not particularly gratifying to the 
"young gentlemen of Lancaster," all of whom had their own mounts and 
had n^ver until now seriously considered horse-stealing. A steady deluge 
of rain added to their discomfort. That night Buchanan had the ill-luck 
to draw a bunk space next to the tent wall and got thoroughly soaked. 
They encountered no Redcoats, but by the time they had accomplished 
their mission the Marylanders of the locality had become nearly as serious 
an enemy as the British. Nonetheless, they seized the horses, rejecting 
"several pairs for ladies who were sick and required them" and paraded 
down Market Street past Gadsby's Hotel in Baltimore where the rest of the 
Lancaster volunteers gave them a burlesque salute amid guffawing laughter. 
In a few days the British withdrew from the city and Major Ridgrfy dis- 
charged Captain Shippen's Dragoons. 19 James wrote to his parents that 
night to relieve the anxiety he knew they must feel after reading the news- 
paper accounts of the British assault on Baltimore. 20 

Only a month remained until election day. The Pennsylvania 
Federalists now began for the first time in years to have some hopes of 
regaining their power. Pennsylvania's Democratic governor, Simon 
Snyder, although still popular with his party, had been losing strength 
because of the defection of disappointed office seekers. Furthermore, the 
public linked his name with the failures of the national government to 
wage effective war. 

Snyder was ie-elected, but the Federalists cut his majority to half 
of what it had been in 1811. All through the state there was increasing 
support for Federalist tickets. Buchanan was elected by a poll which 
delighted him, for he led the ticket in the borough and ran third highest 
among sixteen Federalist candidates in the full county vote- 21 

In the midst of his jubilation, James received a sobering note 
from his father, full of doubts, cautions, and admonitions. "Perhaps your 
going to the Legislature may be to your advantage & it may be otherwise,** 
wrote his parent, "I hope you will make the best of the thing now . . . , 
I ain fearful of this taking you from the bar at a time when perhaps you 
may feel it most." 22 



The stage rode smoothly from Lancaster to Middletown, but in 
the last ten miles of the trip to Harrisburg it jolted fearfully over an ancient 
path which no repair crew had ever touched. Most travellers passed this 
short distance on horseback rather than risk an upset. Buchanan thought 
that Harrisburg looked a little less like a sleepy country village since the 
Legislature had moved there in October, 1812. Front Street, shaded by a 
row of stately poplars regularly spaced, opened on the Susquehanna River 
to the west and was bordered by a wide paved footwalk to the east, a favorite 
promenade in summer but now swept with early December snow. The 
river bank, about twenty feet above the water level, afforded a fine view of 
the upriver rapids and the long ridge of the Blue Mountains to the north- 
west. The ferry landing which had been the town's origin was right next 
to the great stone mansion of founder John Harris, and a little below it 
construction work progressed on a line of stone piers stretching toward 
the opposite shore. Theodore Burr, the famous bridge architect, had begun 
his stupendous project of a two-span covered wooden bridge over half a 
mile long. If he succeeded, Harrisburg would boom. 

With a flourish, the stage drew up in front of the Golden Eagle 
Inn on Market Square. The driver, as he unloaded the baggage, growled 
that they would have to travel lighter there was a fourteen-pound limit 
per passenger. The courthouse, then serving as State Capitol, stood at the 
head of the square about three blocks from the river and overlooking it 
down the row of brick homes and business houses which faced the covered 
market stall in the center. The temporary capitol building was a brick 
structure, two stories high. It had two small wings and a semirotunda in 
front, the whole surmounted by a circular wooden cupola containing a bell. 
On its small roof was mounted a vane of copper gilt, representing an Indian 
chief as large as life, with a bow in his left hand and a tomahawk in his right. 
The Dauphin County courtroom on the first floor which served as the 
chamber of the Assembly was scarcely large enough to accommodate the 
hundred legislators. The thirty Senators were more comfortably housed 
in a second-floor room nearly the same size. 

The functions of a Pennsylvania Assemblyman, Buchanan dis- 
covered, were pettier than he had first imagined. Everyone had half a 
dozen local petitions and a few paltry private bills on the clerk's file. The 
court dockets were so jammed, judicial procedure so slow, and decisions so 
partisan (for Federalists monopolized the bench and bar) that many Demo- 
crats appealed directly to their friends in the Assembly for private legislative 
relief rather than depend upon judicial process. Buchanan had little such 
business to present, but he did press for the incorporation of new textile 
manufacturing plants in Lancaster, offered petitions to place the property 
of drunkards in trusteeship, recommended a reduction of the tax on 
whiskey, and urged the creation of new judicial districts. 23 Through 



Hopkins's influence he was immediately made a member of the six-man 
Judiciary Committee of the House. After hearing a few speeches he made 
up his mind to avoid impromptu expressions on the floor and to speak only 
after thorough preparation. 24 

His first formal speech grew out of the national crisis on military 
man power. Although Congress had rejected a conscription bill, the 
Pennsylvania Senate had adopted such a measure because Philadelphia 
feared a British attack and the Federal Government seemed helpless to 
defend the port. The Pennsylvania bill divided all draftees into groups of 
twenty-two, from each of which one man should be called to service. The 
other twenty-one then had to make up a $200 bounty purse for the con- 
script. The legislators who opposed this scheme proposed simply to raise 
six more regiments of volunteers at state expense. 

On February 1, 1815 Buchanan spoke at length against the con* 
scription plan and in favor of a volunteer bill which had been introduced 
in the House. This maiden speech proved more significant than Buchanan 
realized at the time. He attacked special privilege in the city of Philadelphia, 
championed the interests of the West against the East, defended the poor 
against abuse by the rich, and balanced the wishes of the State against the 
different interest of a minority from Philadelphia. His speech was good 
debate, but it was not good politics. So far from Federalist doctrine did it 
stray that William Beale, Democratic Senator from Mifflin County, urged 
Buchanan to change his party at once and join the Democrats, asserting 
that he would have no need to change his principles. 25 Buchanan encoun- 
tered such political repercussions from his maiden effort that when the 
volunteer bill came up for final vote in the House, he was "necessarily 
absent," Fortunately for him, the whole issue terminated when, on 
February 17, Governor Snyder announced the news of peace with England* 
For the remainder of his term, James Buchanan kept quiet. His 
speech had warned him of the danger of proclaiming private opinions from 
a political rostrum and had provoked such resentment that he doubted the 
wisdom of trying for renomination. His father advised him to go ahead; 
to put a law student in his office and get enough legislative experience to 
be ready, later, for Congress. As to opposition, he would have to expect 
that to develop in the same ratio that his fortunes improved; he had better 
depend upon Providence to shield him "from the shafts of malicious 
enemies." 26 

Thus admonished and encouraged, James decided to run again 
in 1815. In order to re-establish himself in the confidence of his party be 
planned to demonstrate the soundness of his Federalism on the Fourth of 
July in an oration at the big rally of Lancaster's Washington Association. 
He would make it a real political speech, a partisan harangue, a "rouser" 
that would clear up any doubt whether he was a Democrat or a Federalist. 



Early in the afternoon the crowd began to assemble in the front 
of the courthouse to hear young Jimmie. He was already a familiar figure 
about town, but a newcomer to the hustings. Lawyers' Row knew him as a 
conscientious, tireless plugger who was not more intelligent, but usually 
more painstaking and better prepared, than his colleagues. The tavern 
fraternity found him, in regular attendance at meetings, affable, easygoing, 
always equipped with a black cigar and ready for another glass of Madeira. 
Parlor society had discovered him, and the local Masons had their eye 
on him. 

His distinguished appearance, emphasized by a peculiar man- 
nerism, singled him out for attention in any group. A tall, broad-shouldered 
young man with wavy blond hair, blue eyes, and fine features, he had 
developed an odd posture. He had a defect in one eye. In order to com- 
pensate for it he tilted his head slightly forward and sideways in a perpetual 
attitude of courteous deference and attentive interest. The mere appearance 
conveyed so definite an impression of assent and approbation that many 
people, on early acquaintance, sincerely believed that they had completely 
captivated James Buchanan and reciprocated by attentions to him which 
he attributed to traits more complimentary to him than a wry neck. Partly 
because of this physical peculiarity, Buchanan made a good "first impres- 
sion" on almost everybody he met. Difficulties often arose when those 
who thought they were close to him realized that they had been reading his 
looks rather than his mind, and such persons would break off with a sense 
of personal injury. 

As he stood on the courthouse steps facing his friends, Assembly- 
man James Buchanan looked the part of distinction, and he knew it. With 
sonorous voice he now set out to prove his Federalism. This, he said, was 
a celebration of men who had "burst asunder the chains that bound them 
to Great Britain" and had "presented to the world a spectacle of wisdom 
and firmness which has never been excelled." On this foundation was 
built the glorious Constitution of the United States. But there was a 
powerful faction in the nation which had bitterly opposed the Constitution. 
"The individuals of which it was composed were called anti-Federalists, 
and were the founders of the Democratic party." Having failed to destroy 
the Constitution, these men transferred their hatred of it to the glorious 
Administration of General Washington, reviling and cursing both the man 
and his measures. Who were these dark and malignant characters? 
"Demagogues," said James Buchanan, "Factionaries," "friends of the 
French," men of the "blackest ingratitude" who were obsessed by "diabolic 
passions," Such were the leaders of Democracy. 

And how did the factiomsts use the power they had won by foul 
means in 1800? They began with the destruction of the navy. Then they 



declared war on commerce; not satisfied with depriving it of naval protec- 
tion, they proceeded to annihilate it by embargo. Having wrecked business 
until "the stillness of death pervaded every street,'* they proceeded system- 
atically to wreck credit by destroying the Bank of the United States and 
by stopping national taxation. 

Then, having totally prostrated the national economy, they 
declared war. Why? There was no invasion. There was no longer a 
serious question of rights on the high seas; few ships were out, the mer- 
chants made no protest, and England was already offering to adjust this 
issue. What then was the cause? It was, said Buchanan, "the over-weaning 
partiality of the Democratic party for France." Napoleon Bonaparte 
dictated Democratic party policy, and James Madison, in following this 
direction, "preferred his private interest to the public good." 

And what were the results? The country was wholly unprepared 
for war. Without any remaining basis for taxation, and now afraid to try 
new taxes, the government borrowed at ruinous rates until it was on the 
verge of bankruptcy. Instead of conquering, the nation had itself been 
invaded. "The very capital of the United States, the lofty temple of liberty, 
which was reared and consecrated by Washington, has been abandoned 
to its fate by his degenerate successor, who ought to have shed his last 
drop of blood in its defence/' 27 

The throng in the square was getting excited; young Jimmie was 
giving them more than they had bargained for. "Thanks to Heaven," 
Buchanan went on, "that we have obtained a peace, bad and disgraceful as 
it is; otherwise, the beautiful structure of the federal government, supported 
by the same feeble hands, might have sunk, like the capitol into ruins," 
The true policy of the future would be to abandon forever the wild project* 
of that "philosophic visionary/* Thomas Jefferson, and to "turn out of 
power those weak and wicked men* who have abandoned the political path 
marked out for this country by Washington." 28 

The speech was a political success. The Washington Association 
ordered a large number of copies to be printed for state distribution,, and 
the local Federalists within a month had named Buchanan to k*d again 
their ticket of Assemblymen. But the attack provoked a hatred of Buchanan 
among the Jeffersonian Democrats of Lancaster County which wa* destined 
to endure from that moment to the day of his death- Even James's rabidly 
pro-Federalist father thought his attack was too severe and wouW hurt 
the feelings of his friends of the opposite party. 50 

Buchanan's speech on the theme "turn the rascal* out'* put him 
in tune with the national political movement to rejuvenate the Federalist 
party by alliance with disgruntled conservative Democrats. This combina* 
tion would soon promote DeWitt Clinton for the presidency and a little 
later would take control of Pennsylvania. 30 




On his return to Harrisburg in December, 1815, Buchanan again sat with 
the Judiciary Committee and was named also to the Committee on Banks. 31 
Most of the session was devoted to banking problems which had grown out 
of the chartering, the year before, of 41 new state banks, few of which 
could now redeem their note issues. A majority of the Committee on Banks 
recommended that the state, by law, should require banks to redeem their 
notes in specie by a given date or forfeit their charters. Buchanan prepared 
a minority report urging the legislature to stay out of the matter until the 
banks had been given more time to solve their own problems. With the 
same laissez-faire point of view, Buchanan opposed the recharter of the 
United States Bank which was then under hot discussion in Washington. 

Although the Assembly took no action on the Bank proposals, the 
discussions bothered Buchanan and made him reconsider his political 
ideas. The impetuous, unstable and mob-produced actions of the radical 
Democracy he found revolting, sometimes frightening. Control of business 
and politics by a closed corporation of the wealthy he could not accept as 
just. He had respect for the will of the majority, but he had an equal 
respect for individual rights in property. He believed that the greatest 
glory of the American Constitution was that it embodied this dual concept; 
that it drew a careful balance between the demands of persons and of 
property. But no existing political party accepted both of these doctrines. 
With his ideas, Buchanan was not sure in which party he belonged. 

Nor was he certain, at the end of the session, what to do next. 
The Lancaster Federalists believed in passing around the loaves and fishes; 
one term in the Assembly was usual, two the maximum tolerated by local 
tradition. His friend Jasper Slaymaker was next in line for the job. He 
was not even sure that he wanted to return to Lancaster, for it had been 
less cordial to him since he had entered politics. He had angered some 
leading Federalists by his militia biU speech and infuriated practically all of 
the Democrats by his Fourth of July oration. For a time he dallied with the 
thought of going to Philadelphia to practice, but his father counselled him 
against making rash and hasty changes. 32 After struggling with the decision 
until he got an attack of bilious fever, which generally accompanied his 
emotional crises, he determined to go back to Lancaster and try to improve 
his practice. He was still making only $2000 a year and had notes to meet. 83 

During the next four years, therefore, Buchanan plunged into 
"unremitting application to the practice of the law/' His cases covered the 
whole range of a country lawyer's practice. He engaged in criminal and 
civil suits, tried cases, consulted, settled estates, served notices, arranged 
property transfers, drew up articles of incorporation, unsnarled tax con- 
troversies, and, in short, took up any litigation or question of legal opinion 



which came his way. Although most of his business was transacted in the 
Lancaster courts, he frequently appeared before the bench in York, 
Dauphin, Lebanon, and Cumberland Counties. 34 

Slowly, by dint of sheer mental labor and the application of time 
to his business, Buchanan built up a reputation for thoroughness and 
competence which brought more and more property work to his desk. His 
arguments before court and addresses to juries were anything but brilliant 
or spell-binding, but they achieved their object by sheer mass of data tightly 
knit by logic. Some called him a hair-splitter. He did not, however. 
emphasize detail at the expense of the main point. He carried argument 
into areas so minute they were boring, but he never lost connection with 
the basic issue. This habit was to affect his political speeches, from which 
it is extremely difficult to extract any sentence without materially damaging 
a train of thought. He was long-winded, but in planned papers never re- 
petitive. A Lancaster judge wrote of him: "he was cut out by nature for a 
great lawyer, and I think was spoiled by fortune when she made him 
a s 


Buchanan was at this time called to a case which tremendously 
enhanced his legal reputation. The Democrats in the Pennsylvania 
Legislature for years had been warring upon the Federalist judges of the 
state by bringing indiscriminate charges against them. Tho root of the 
problem was political, stemming from the efforts of the Jffferson Adminis- 
tration in the early 1800's to get rid of Federalists in the courts. Judges, 
both state and federal, held life tenure in those days, subject to "pood 
behavior," but were removable for cause by impeachment. The Pennsyl- 
vania Democrats had been gunning for Judge Walter Franklin for years; 
now they thought they had him. 

After the Pennsylvania militia had ham mustered into Federal 
service in July, 1814, a Lancastrian named Houston refused to serve. A 
state militia court-martial convicted and fined him. Houston appealed the 
case through the courts, and Judge Franklin gave him a favorable verdict, 
on the ground that state authority ended when the militia entered the 
national army. The Supreme Court of the United States reversed this 
decision, and the Democratic legislature impeached Franklin for rendering 
a faulty opinion. 36 

Franklin selected Buchanan to handle his defense for many 
reasons. He had been outspoken against the judge-hunting activities of 
the Legislature, he was a personal friend and neighbor of Franklin, he had 
had recent experience in the Assembly, and he would certainly spare no 
effort in preparing his argument. It was nonetheless remarkable that the 
sole responsibility was handed to a twenty-five*year-old attorney. 

Buchanan argued that if a legislature destroyed a judge merely 
because it objected to the legal opinion he expressed in a trial, without any 



hint of crime or misdemeanor, it equally destroyed the constitution which 
established the legislature and judiciary as independent and co-ordinate 
branches of government. A witness in the Senate wrote that the argument 
"was conducted with great ingenuity, eloquence, and address. It made a 
deep impression." 37 The impeachment managers were nonplussed and 
adjourned the trial for several weeks until they could prepare their reply- 
It was not convincing, and the Senate acquitted Franklin. 

But this decision did not end the matter. On February 24, 1817, 
a committee of the House drew up another set of impeachment articles 
against Franklin and his lay associates, this time on the grounds that 
Franklin had refused to force two Lancaster attorneys, W. C. Frazer and 
Patton Ross, to turn over a $300 judgment they had collected for a plaintiff, 
having kept the sum as a part of legal fees due them. The House entered 
a two-to-one vote for impeachment. Buchanan again conducted the defense, 
hut this time he requested the assistance of his preceptor. They achieved 
an acquittal before the Senate by a vote of 21 to 9. 38 

As if this were not enough, still another set of articles of impeach- 
ment against Franklin was adopted by the Legislature in March, 1818. 
Franklin wrote Buchanan to collect half a dozen witnesses he would need 
from Lancaster and come to Harrisburg on March 5th or 6th. Buchanan 
tried to secure the help of Hopkins and Parker Campbell of Philadelphia, 
but neither was able to be at Harrisburg at the required time. "Of course," 
wrote Campbell, "y u will have to proceed in the case of the Judges per se. . . 
You will have to 'cry aloud and spare not.' If some of the principal actors 
in this disgraceful scene are unmasked, it may prevent a recurrence of 
their sinister projects," 39 

This trial terminated in a fight between the House and the Senate 
which threw the impeachment into the background. The Senate originally 
agreed to sit as a court in the House chamber, with the House in attendance 
in Committee of the Whole; but after a few days the Senators decided to 
meet in their own chamber, inviting the House to sit with them there. 
This the House chose to consider an intentional insult, perpetrated in 
defiance of parliamentary rules. The House held an indignation meeting 
in its own hall and when sufficiently inflamed by oratory, tumultuously 
invaded the Senate, bursting through the door, climbing through the 
windows, jamming the gallery, and packing the aisle. Everyone began 
shouting at once. Eventually the leaders of both groups exchanged apolo- 
gies, and the trial reconvened, but by that time the Legislature was so much 
absorbed in its own contest over rules of order that the impeachment 
seemed a perfunctory interruption. 40 Franklin was again acquitted. 

Buchanan's success at these trials greatly extended his reputation 
and expanded his practice. Probably not many people read his arguments, 



but everyone knew that a lawyer who had three times in three years success- 
fully defended the President Judge before whom he tried most of his cases 
would be a good man to have as counsel. Buchanan's income rose from 
$2000 in 1815 to $8000 in 1818. He now began to experience, as his father 
had predicted, the kind of whispering campaign which commonly centers on 
a young man who progresses fast. 





Buchanan's associations in Lancaster rapidly broadened as he settled down 

to practice. His first close friend in town, except for Jasper Slayznaker, 

was Amos Ellmaker, a Yale graduate who had later studied law under 

Judge Reeve at the Litchfield School in Connecticut and finished his 

training in James Hopkins's office while Buchanan was a student there. 

Through Ellmaker, Buchanan met Molton C. Rogers, son of the Governor 

of Delaware, who had also studied at Litchfield and was admitted to the 

Lancaster bar in 1811. Buchanan dined at the same bachelor mess as 

Rogers and in 1816, when these two formed a loose partnership, Rogers 

moved into Buchanan's law offices on East King Street Many local 

Dickinson alumni expanded the circle of Buchanan's acquaintances, some 

of them men of influence like Judge Alexander Hayes and William Norris 

and others, young men of prominent families such as Henry Shippen, 

George Ross Hopkins, and William A. Boyd. James saw much of Gerardus 

Clarkson, son of the Episcopal Rector, and of John Reynolds, both officers 

of the Farmers Bank. He associated in many law cases with William 

Jenkins, a Hopkins student of 1801 who had grown rich in the iron business. 

By October, 1816, Buchanan had progressed along the road to 

acceptance in Lancaster far enough to be named as one of the managers for 

the annual society ball. In November he petitioned for admittance to the 

Masonic Lodge and was sponsored by Rogers and Reynolds. After his 

initiation on December 11, 1816, he rose rapidly to Junior Warden, 

Worshipful Master and after a few years to Deputy Grand Master of the 

First District. As his responsibilities in the community grew, he spent 

less and less time with the footloose young men who nightly frequented 

the back rooms of the local taverns. He had enjoyed their company as an 

escape from work and loneliness, but he had no talent for stories, hated 

gambling, and had too often made a fool of himself by getting drunk and 

winding up dancing on a table top. He now received more invitations to 



dinner and often spent evenings at fashionable homes. He did have a 
talent for making himself agreeable to families of standing in the town and 
for raising the hopes of their unmarried daughters. As the years passed 
and his reputation as a promising young lawyer continued to grow, he 
became Lancaster's most eligible bachelor. He relished the role. 1 

Sometime in 1818, Molton Rogers began courting Eliza Jacobs, 
daughter of Cyrus Jacobs who had amassed great wealth as an ironmaster 
and now lived at Pool Forge, east of Lancaster. Eliza's brother was studying 
law under Buchanan at the time. Before long Rogers proposed that 
Buchanan should join him some evening as an escort for Eliza's cousin, 
Ann Caroline Coleman. He was delighted with the suggestion. 

Ann Coleman was the belle of the town and the daughter of one 
of the richest men in the country. A willowy, black-haired girl with dark, 
lustrous eyes, she was by turns proud and self-willed, tender and affec- 
tionate, quiet and introspective, or giddy and wild. That she remained 
unmarried at twenty-two may have been because she was emotionally 
unstable, but more likely it was due to the stubborn insistence of her 
parents that she make an advantageous marriage. 

Her father, Robert Coleman, had been born near Castle Finn, 
in County Donegal, Ireland, not far from the ancestral home of Buchanan. 
Migrating to America in 1764 as a youth of sixteen, he had worked first as 
a laborer and then as a clerk for ironmaster James Old of Reading, Pennsyl- 
vania, and later married his daughter. By 1800, he had come into possession 
of half a dozen fine iron properties and ranked as one of the nation's first 
millionaires. A strong-willed, hot-tempered and vindictive man, he had an 
inordinate pride in his wealth and was continually suspicious that others 
had designs on it. He was sensitive about social prestige, possibly because 
he had once had none, and enjoyed public deference. He had served as a 
lay judge of the Lancaster County court, was a trustee of Dickinson College, 
and a warden in the local Episcopal Church, 2 

Coleman moved to Lancaster in 1809 and established his family 
of five sons and four daughters in a town house on East King Street, half a 
block from the square. 8 The eldest daughter, Margaret, married Judge 
Joseph Hemphill of Philadelphia, commonly known as "Single-Speech 
HemphiU" because his maiden speech in the 7th Congress proved also to 
be his last For years Ann Coleman had watched Jimmy Buchanan, the 
Handsome six-footer from Mercersburg, walking between his office and the 
Courthouse past her front window. They undoubtedly met before 1818 
at one or another of the annual balls in the great room of the White Swan 
Inn, but there is no indication that they saw much of each other until then* 

Now Ann and Buchanan began a serious courtship, and things 
moved rapidly. The winter of 1818-1819 must have been a revelation to 
him. Once he had penetrated the mysterious circle of the iron families, a 


BIRTH OF A BACHELOR* 1819. 1820 

whole new world opened. Robert Coleman seemed to have as many 
mansions as kings had castles. Buchanan could visit with Ann at the 
Elizabeth Furnace Mansion, or at Cornwall, or at Speedwell Forge, or 
Hopewell Furnace, or Colebrookdale, or Martic Forge and always be within 
the family. Or they might go on a sleigh-ride with Rogers and Eliza Jacobs 
to Pool Forge and stop by on the way home at the Jenkins' estate, Windsor 
Forge. Everywhere there was food, wine, brandy, gaiety and an invitation 
to stay a few days. Buchanan sometimes wondered whether he was not 
aspiring too far above his station, for he could not return such hospitality. 

James and Ann became engaged during the summer of 1819. 
About the same time, Molton Rogers gave his heart to Eliza Jacobs, Lan- 
caster ladies whipped up a whirlwind of excited speculation and gossip 
about the possibility of a double wedding, with two of the community's 
richest fathers footing the bill for what would surely be a festive occasion 
unmatched in the past. But not everyone viewed the prospect with 
pleasure. Mrs. Coleman did not approve of her daughter's choice and her 
father, now 71 years old, also had his doubts. It is very likely that as a 
trustee of Dickinson, he wondered whether Ann ought to marry a man who 
had been once dismissed and twice under faculty discipline there. As 
a careful businessman he probably disapproved of the wager on the 1816 
election, by which Buchanan lost three tracts of Warren County land to 
Rogers. 4 He may also have been dismayed by the antics of some of Bu- 
chanan's associates, such as Jasper Slaymaker and John Reynolds, who had 
gained notoriety a few years before by a practical joke which cost them 
$6700. These two, while riding past a public sale in a carriage, had shouted 
out a bid, then whipped up the horse and driven off. They were recognized, 
and the auctioneer knocked down to them as high bidders a hotel and 
ferryboat line in Columbia. 5 According to Robert Coleman's lights, these 
were not the ways to protect or develop a fortune. 

In the latter part of the summer, Buchanan drove to Mercersburg 
to tell his parents about his bride-to-be and then set out for Bedford Springs 
for a brief rest. He had gone there for the past two summers and had been 
delighted with the sparkling waters, the beautiful serpentine walks up 
Constitution Hill and Federal Hill, the quiet artificial lake, and the magnifi- 
cent hotel with its broad verandas. He thought he would try the new 
Pennsylvania turnpike and got as far as Sideling Hill when he encountered 
a short unfinished stretch of the road which proved impassable. As he 
was about to turn back, a young Irishman from a group of nearby workmen 
came up and offered to have his crew carry the gig over the rocks and get 
him on his way again* In fifteen minutes they had done the job, "My 
name is John Hughes," said the genial foreman. 6 Many years hence 
Buchanan would have occasion to remember that name. 



On his return to Lancaster, Buchanan found his office in pande- 
monium. The autumn of 1819 had developed into a nightmare for men of 
property and the lawyers who handled it. The delirium of the financial 
panic had reached its peak, land was selling so fast and cheap that even the 
sheriff's fees could not be realized, and Buchanan was frantically busy. 
One complex case proved a particularly heavy drain on his timea suit 
upon which depended the continued existence of the Columbia Bridge 
Company, an enterprise in which many of his local friends had a financial 
interest. William Jenkins and the Farmers Bank were deeply involved, 
and the case had ramifications which required Buchanan to go to Phila- 
delphia several times. 7 

As if this were not enough, the political scene was in turmoil. 
The local Federalist party was falling apart and had turned to its young 
men for help. Furthermore, the Missouri Compromise question was at 
this moment alarming the country "like a fire bell in the night." During 
the week of November 23, Buchanan attended public meetings and served 
on a committee with James Hopkins and William Jenkins to prepare official 
resolutions instructing the District Congressman to oppose the extension 
of slavery to Missouri. 8 

With these preoccupations, he did not spend very much time 
courting during October and November. Always conscientious and willing 
to serve, he applied himself to business without pausing to recognize the 
implications of his activity. The town did otherwise. Since his engage- 
ment to Ann Coleman, he had become a major subject of conversation and 
his every act or omission was subjected to special scrutiny. The teacup set 
soon agreed that Buchanan was in love not with Ann but with the Coleman 


Sometime in November, Ann began to worry about this gossip, 
which inevitably found its way into the Coleman household. When her 
parents further poisoned her mind on the subject, she gradually began to 
believe "that Mr, Buchanan did not treat her with that affection that she 
expected from the man she would marry, and in consequence of his coolness 
she wrote him a note telling him that she thought it was not regard for her 
that was his object, but her riches." 9 

Ann's letter put Buchanan in a difficult dilemma, and her reflec- 
tion upon his integrity hit him where he was most sensitive; it hurt his 
pride and self-respect. He must have felt that, in the light of Ann's 
suspicions, any marked quickening of his interest thereafter would only 
be construed by her as additional proof of her charge* Hurt and frustrated 
he answered Ann's note politely but in a tone of injured innocence and 
made no apology or explanation. There was as yet, however, no formal 
breach, and matters might have been happily resolved had not another 
incident occurred. 


BIRTH OF A BACHELOR 1819 - 1820 

This event is best explained in the words of a niece of the lady 
who unwittingly precipitated the crisis. "Some time after the engagement 
had been announced," she wrote, "Mr. Buchanan was obliged to go out of 
town on a business trip. He returned in a few days and casually dropped in 
to see ... Mrs. William Jenkins, with whose husband he was on terms of 
intimate friendship. With her was staying her sister, Miss Grace Hubley, 
... a pretty and charming young lady. From this innocent call the whole 
trouble arose. A young lady told Miss Coleman of it and thereby excited 
her jealousy. She was indignant that he should visit anyone before coming 
to her. On the spur of the moment she penned an angry note and released 
him from his engagement. The note was handed to him while he was in 
the courthouse. Persons who saw him receive it remarked afterward that 
they noticed him turn pale when he read it. Mr. Buchanan was a proud 
man. The large fortune of his lady was to him only another barrier to his 
trying to persuade her to reconsider her rejection of himself." 10 

For several days thereafter Ann was so distressed and low-spirited 
that her mother persuaded her to go to Philadelphia hoping that a change 
of scene would improve her mental state. Her vitality was already low, 
and she caught cold on the way to the city. She left Lancaster on Saturday, 
December 4, in company with her younger sister, Sarah, to visit with sister 
Margaret, apparently intending to see the series of plays and operas cur- 
rently being offered at the Philadelphia Theatre. 

After Ann's departure, Buchanan immersed himself in business. 
On Monday, December 6, he succeeded in getting a settlement out of court 
of the Columbia Bridge Company case. He was at the prothonotary's office 
for a considerable part of the day, entering the decisions of the arbitrators, 
getting signatures of the principal parties to the agreement, and winding 
up the details. 11 It was a great triumph for him. 

Early Thursday morning, December 9, the thunderbolt struck, 
A special messenger from Philadelphia brought the shocking news that 
Ann Coleman had died suddenly at her sister's home shortly after midnight. 
Judge Thomas Kittera of Philadelphia, who knew the Colemans, recorded 
in his diary the events of that fatal day which changed the course of 
James Buchanan's life and with it possibly the course of American history. 
"At noon yesterday," wrote Kittera, "I met this young lady on 
the street, in the vigour of health, and but a few hours after [,] her friends 
were mourning her death. She had been engaged to be married, and some 
unpleasant misunderstanding occurring, the match was broken off. This 
circumstance was preying on her mind. In the afternoon she was laboring 
under a fit of hysterics; in the evening she was so little indisposed that her 
sister visited the theatre. After night she was attacked with strong hysteri- 
cal convulsions, which induced the family to send for physicians, who 
thought this would soon go off, as it did; but her pulse gradually weakened 



until midnight, when she died. Dr. Chapman, . . . says it is the first instance 
he ever knew of hysteria producing death. To affectionate parents sixty 
miles off what dreadful intelligence to a younger sister whose evening was 
spent in mirth and folly, what a lesson of wisdom does it teach. Beloved 
and admired by all who knew her, in the prime of life, with all the ad- 
vantages of education, beauty, and wealth, in a moment she has been 

cut off." 12 

Judge Kittera might well have added, what crushing intelligence 
to her ex-fianc& The news swept through Lancaster like a soul-chilling 
wind. One gentleman wrote of it as "the most affecting circumstance that 
has ever taken place here since I have been an inhabitant. 1 ' 13 There im- 
mediately arose the hint of suicide, though no one could produce any valid 
evidence of it. The hideous part was that nobody apparently did know 
exactly what had happened, and it is entirely probable that James Buchanan 
lived out his whole life haunted by doubts and self-accusations. But people 
thought and talked even if they did not have the facts. One Lancaster lady 
wrote of the public reaction against Buchanan: "I believe that her friends 
now look upon him as her Murderer." 14 The Colemans seemed to feel 
that way about it. 

Buchanan immediately wrote an anguished letter to Ann's father 
requesting permission to see the corpse and to walk as a mourner. The 
letter, despatched to the Coleman home by messenger, was refused at the 
door and returned unopened. In tins note, Buchanan had written: "It is 
now no time for explanation, but the time will come when you will discover 
that she, as well as I, have been much abused. God forgive the authors of 
it . , . I may sustain the shock of her death, but I feel that happiness has 
fled from me forever." 15 

As he came face to face with the bitter hatred of the CotananH 
and the insidious suicide rumors, Buchanan slowly began to recognise the 
fuU horror of his situation. Unable to endure solitude* and even les able 
to confront people on the street, he fled to the rooms of Judge Walter 
Franklin, who was then living next door to the Coleman home. Here he 
tried to compose a fitting last tribute to Ann for publication in the Lancaster 
Journal. A printer's devil from editor Dickson's office, who was sent for 
the copy, recalled finding Buchanan "so disturbed by grief that he was 
unable to write the notice." Judge Franklin finally composed it himself. 16 

The Hemphills brought Ann Coleman's body to Lancaster on 
Saturday, December 11, and on the Sabbath she was buried in the St. James 
Episcopal churchyard in a ceremony witnessed by a vast number of people. 
Buchanan tried unsuccessfully to get a grip on himself and go back to work. 
A Lancaster girl's report suggests what he had to face* "After Mr, Buchanan 
was denied his requests/ 9 she wrote, "he secluded himself for a few days 
and then sallied forth as bold as ever. It is now thought that this affair will 


BIRTH OF A BACHELOR 1819 - 1820 

lessen his Consequence in Lancaster as he is the whole conversation of 
the town." 17 

A few days after the funeral, James Buchanan stepped from the 
rear door of his quarters into the gloomy morning darkness of December, 
made his way carefully across the cobblestone courtyard back of the 
Leopard Tavern, passed under the stone archway which led out to Duke 
Street, and there climbed aboard the early stage for the West. Huddled in 
his greatcoat, he made no effort to lean forward when the coach passed by 
the St. James churchyard. 

In later years he could not have reconstructed if he had wished 
that agonizing, endless ride from Lancaster to Mercersburg. His mind was 
numb;, his spirit, in utter confusion. What now? He could not stay in 
Lancaster, nor could he leave without tremendous sacrifice. And in the 
background of his thought there dinned one half-formed yet persistent 
conclusion: that this tragedy marked the end of James Buchanan. What 
he would be hereafter would have to be, somehow, different from what he 
had been before. Buchanan shivered from more than the cold, and let his 
thoughts merge with the bleak greyness of the winter dawn. 

The family impressed itself upon him this Christmas in a way he 
had not before appreciated. In it he found warmth and sympathy, trust 
and admiration, expectation of great achievement from the eldest son and 
brother as well as the assumption that he, very soon, might be their guardian 
and provider. The realization of his increasing importance within the 
family and of the responsibility that he bore for others gave to James a 
renewed sense of purpose in life. It appealed to his already strong concept 
of personal duty and pleasantly nourished his ambition for eminence, 
giving to both a gratifying quality of unselfishness. While the Coleman 
marriage would probably have eased the path and quickened his pace to 
achievement, position, and wealth, he did not doubt after the first shock 
of the tragedy had passed that with determination and application he could 
attain these objects without outside help. In fact, the gossip attending 
Ann's death made it almost a mandate that he prove himself, in order to 
maintain his self-respect 

But even such rationalization could not quite overcome James's 
reluctance to face again what he knew must await him when he returned. 
His pride and vanity were wounded lo a degree that he had to have some 
armor to protect him. His mother supplied the material for it. She had 
that kind of faith which assumed that whatever happened was an act of the 
Deity intended especially for her instruction and benefit. On one occasion 
when a fire destroyed the homes of several neighbors and her own was 
saved by a sudden shift in the wind, she had written: "Our situation was 
indeed deplorable, but that Omnipotent being who governs all nature 
graciously interposed in our behalf. 1 * 18 



On this solid rock of faith, James Buchanan built his protective 
wall. His armor would be an unquestioning acceptance of what is, as the 
manifestation of divine order. There now began to appear in Buchanan's 
correspondence those sentences which, over the years, he was to repeat 
incessantly: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." "It is better to 
bear the ills we have than to fly to others we know not of.'* He used them 
as a statement of resignation, as a balm for personal disappointments, and 
as a convenient means of side-tracking the necessity of seeking original 
courses of action. Today he would do the routine work for today; God 
would take care of tomorrow. This attitude brought peace of mind but 
stifled imagination; it lowered emotional tension but destroyed zest for 
any cause; it counselled patience but obscured the importance of right 
timing in human affairs; it eased adjustment but eliminated experiment. 
It was fortunate that his desk was piled high with unfinished 
business when he got back to his office in January, 1820. He plunged into 
preparations for the February session of court and found that attention to 
the troubles of others distracted him from his own. He spent some time 
developing his "casebook," a bound volume in which, with meticulous 
neatness, he transcribed the main facts of cases he had tried, noting at the 
end the judgment of the bench and the general principles of law which 
applied. He indexed this volume in another notebook in such a manner 
that he could continue into the future, making the references cumulative 19 
Before long it became fairly apparent that his recent notoriety 
would improve his law business. His tragedy had resulted, in part, from 
his neglect of private affairs in order to attend to the interests of his clients. 
This was good advertising. He also found cases coming to him from those 
who had no love for the Colemans and from persons who sympathized with 
his plight at the same time that they trusted his legal ability. 

Several trials, unimportant in themselves, contributed to his 
expanding reputation. A man charged with threatening the life of another 
retained Buchanan to defend him. When the plaintiff took the stand 
Buchanan asked him: 

"Well, sir, suppose you were a man of more nerve, a man not 
easily frightened by threat put yourself in the position of a courageous 
man would you have cared for the threat of my client?" 

"I am a man,*' replied the plaintiff, "of as much courage as any* 
body, sir." 

"Then you were not frightened when my client threatened you?" 
"No, sir." 

"You are not afraid of him?" 
"No, I am not" 

"Well, then, what did you bring this charge for? I move ** 


BIRTH OF A BACHELOR 1819 - 1820 

The court dismissed the case. 20 

In another case, tried in Harrisburg, Buchanan was retained by 
the plaintiff in an action of ejectment. After examining the deeds to the 
property, James told his client that he had no case that a link in the title 
was missing. The client insisted, however, that Buchanan go ahead with 
the case. At the trial the attorneys for the defendant overlooked the weak 
point in the title. When, after the conclusion of testimony, they saw and 
tried to remedy their error, Buchanan held that under the rules then in 
force they could not introduce further evidence. The court so charged 
the jury, and Buchanan's client won. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania 
later upheld the verdict of the lower court. 21 

An observer in the courtroom during the famous property trial of 
Bowman v. KBnigmacher in 1820 wrote: "I never heard better pleading in 
the Court House of Lancaster before: Hopkins & Jenkins for Konigmacher 
& Buchanan for Bowman, who argued very ably." 22 Judge Alexander L. 
Hayes of the County Court stated that "he never listened to an advocate 
who was equal to Mr. Buchanan, whether in clear & logical arguments to 
the Court, or in convincing appeals to the reason and sympathies of the 
jury." 23 This developing reputation brought to Buchanan not only personal 
gratification and more business but led to an increasing number of applica- 
tions by young law students to take their preceptorship under him. James 
was particularly pleased when ironmaster Cyrus Jacobs engaged him as his 
legal advisor in June, 1820. 2 * 


In the meantime, Pennsylvania politics built up to a high pitch of excite- 
ment. Many persons, it is true, referred to the election of 1820 as an 
"era of good feeling," but this expression had a very special meaning and 
was limited to the presidential canvass. There was little "good feeling" 
among political rivals for state and local office. 

The Pennsylvania contest for the governorship in 1820 developed 
into a bitter, violent fight which the Federalists confidently hoped to win 
because of a split among the Democrats. William Findlay, a neighbor of 
the Buchanans in Mercersburg, had served one term as Democratic governor 
and was standing for re-election. The Federalists now coalesced with a 
disgruntled portion of the Democrats to form a party called the Independent 
Republicans, who nominated Joseph Hiester, a Revolutionary veteran and 
an old Federalist. 26 

The Federalists of Lancaster, casting about for a Congressional 
candidate to head their ticket for the district comprising Dauphin, Lebanon 
and Lancaster Counties, settled on Buchanan. The election contest hinged 
almost wholly upon the office of governor and by midsummer had become 



acrimonious and bitter, as campaigns always do when a large party splits 
and a portion of it allies itself with the traditional enemy. Buchanan's 
opponents not only dragged out the Coleman affair but also brought his 
father prominently into the mud-slinging. 

One long effusion of July, in the form of a public "Letter to 
James Buchanan, Esquire" made cruel reference to his recent tragedy and 
blamed him for a vile attack on Findlay for ownership of a Negro slave, 
Hannah, alleging that Hannah had formerly been the property of Bu- 
chanan's father. As a final touch, the letter was signed "Colebrook," to 
suggest authorship by one of the Colemans. 

If Buchanan was angry at the crude references to Ann, he was 
furious that his father and old Hannah should be dragged into a political 
smear. Until the Findlays took her, Hannah had been his childhood nurse, 
ignorant, innocent and devoted. His father had become responsible for 
her as executor of an estate, and had eventually fixed her with the neighbor- 
ing Findlay family who provided a home for hen Buchanan hat! an affection 
for the old lady and never left Mercersburg without visiting her and taking 
her some little remembrance. 26 The newspaper charge that he had assailed 
Governor Findlay for enslaving old Hannah made him see red/* 7 His father 
cautioned him, "That piece is well calculated to irritate & hurt your 

feelings Let not your passions get the better of your sober judgment. 

If you are the author, meet the dispute with firmness and truth, & if you 
are not the author, let them expose themselves a little further that they 
may be taken in their own snare. I will be anxious to hear from you on 
this subject." 28 Buchanan categorically denied that he had anything to 
do with the "Hannah" stories, but the episode abated some of his youthful 
idealism about politics. 20 

On the evening of August 25, the Lancaster "Fwleral-Rtf publican" 
delegates got together to select formally the slate agreed upon privately 
long before. They named Buchanan for Congress and Edward Coleman, 
Ann's brother, for the State Senate. The whole ticket was pledged to work 
for the election of Joseph Hiester to the governorship. A few w*tk later 
the conference committee of the three counties comprising the district 
nominated Buchanan and John Phillips of Dauphin County for Congress 
as "friends of reform." The terminology was significant. Locally Bu- 
chanan's supporters were "Republican Federalists'* signifying the coalition 
back of Hiester; but for national office his supporters were "friends <f 
reform," a designation which openly recognized the current uaetatsneiftR <f 
party labels in Washington. On September 1, the supporters of Findlay 
held meetings and reported a "Democratic ticket'* including Jacob Hibeh- 
man of Lancaster for Congress, and Molton C. Rogers for State Senator. 30 

Buchanan stayed aloof from the rough and tumble political fight. 
He made only a few formal speeches and sent no contributions to the 


BIRTH OF A BACHELOR 1819 - 1820 

newspapers, letting the editors write on his behalf. His political metier 
was not the hustings and the editorial column; it was the private letter and 
the personal conference. He liked to discuss strategy but left it to others 
to execute the tactical maneuvers. The Findlay men tried hard to draw- 
Buchanan into an open skirmish, but he always parried by a purposeful 
disdain to join in a newspaper brawl. His editor friends, explaining his 
refusal to stump the district, wrote: "Those acquainted with the gentleman, 
know that his time is more usefully as well as more profitably employed." 
For a conservative constituency this was psychologically sound. In the 
fall election Buchanan and Phillips carried their district by a comfortable 
majority, and Federalist Joseph Hiester became governor. 

Buchanan would not go to Washington for more than a year; 
the session of Congress to which he had been elected would convene in 
December, 1821. In the meantime he faced a heavy schedule of cases at 
court, and had to familiarize himself with his approaching duties as Con- 
gressman. December court awarded him a decision in the long drawn out 
case of Bowman v. Konigmacher, In January he defended a group of men 
charged with manslaughter, 31 and in May scored one of his greatest court- 
room triumphs by successfully defending William Hamilton against a 
charge of the murder of Ann Piersol. 32 

On June 11, 1821, Buchanan's father died. The old gentleman 
was just entering the driveway of his Mercersburg home in a rig he had 
driven from Dunwoodie Farm when the horse bolted, throwing Mr. 
Buchanan out of the carriage. His head struck the iron tire, and he died 
soort thereafter. James went to Mercersburg immediately to take charge 
and found, to his chagrin, that his father had failed to leave a will. James 
spent the resc of the summer working out details of the settlement of the 
complicated estate in a manner that would enable his mother to get along 
with as little worry as possible, finance the education of the three boys, 
William, George and Edward, and care for the unmarried girls, Sarah 
and Harriet 


Late in November, James left by stage for the national capital, entrusting 
his King Street rooms to a housekeeper. Rogers would stop in occasionally, 
he told her, to pick up some wine and jugs of apple brandy. He wanted the 
rooms kept clean but otherwise undisturbed, as he would be back in 
Lancaster from time to time to attend to his practice. 

In Washington he found quarters at the establishment of a 
Mrs. Peyton in company with Representatives Andrew R. Govan of South 
Carolina, Henry D. Dwight of Massachusetts, and George Blake, aBostonian 
friend of Daniel Webster. 33 The capital city itself was a disappointment 



he had been forewarned to expect. The national Capitol stood unfinished 
since its destruction by the British, in 1814. From Capitol Hill stretched 
Pennsylvania Avenue, lined with poplars and conveying a hint of dignity 
when viewed at a distance, but it presented only a morass of mudholes to 
those who had to travel it on their way to the president's house at the 
other end. The White House had been rebuilt and repainted, and at each 
of the corners of the square it occupied stood one of the department 
buildings. Between here and the Potomac stood a small group of shabby 
houses near the Navy Yard and another along the river's edge farther north, 
A few fine edifices, mostly private homes or foreign embassies, dotted the 
terrain north of Pennsylvania Avenue, but most of the buildings were small 
and shoddy even the hotels. 

On December 3, Buchanan and a number of other new members, 
including John Tod of Pennsylvania and George McDuffie and Joel Poinsett 
of South Carolina, were introduced to the House. The chamber itself was 
poorly designed for its purpose. The gallery was simply rf a platform raised 
a foot or two above the floor, which gave the honorable members an excel- 
lent opportunity of attending to the ladies who had come to listen to 
them." 34 Huge pillars so blocked the view that no one could see the whole 
assembly and many legislators could not see the Chain 

Buchanan found a few familiar faces John Findlay from Franklin 
County, Joseph Hemphill of Philadelphia, Ben Hardin of Kentucky and 
John Sergeant with whom Buchanan had associated in legal work in 
Philadelphia. Sergeant, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, briefed 
him on the various members. "I well remember Mr. Sergeant putting me 
on guard against Mr. Randolphs friendship," 35 he wrote, John Randolph 
of Roanoke, brilliant, eccentric and vitriolic, was the showman of Congress, 
a man who could always electrify the gallery but he was not considered a 
"business member** of the House. 

Philip P. Barbour of Virginia occupied the Speaker's chair, and 
Henry Baldwin of Pennsylvania had been named chairman of the powerful 
Ways and Means Committee. Buchanan quickly got acquainted with 
Ninian Edwards of Illinois, an old Dickinson alumnus. But William 
Lowndes of South Carolina commanded his chief interest. He had learned 
of Lowndes through Langdon Cheves, former President of the Second Bank 
of the United States, a South Carolinian who had for several years been 
living in Lancaster. The news that the South Carolina Legislature had just 
unanimously nominated Lowndes for the presidency in 1824 gave special 
interest to his presence in the House. 

Buchanan made Lowndes his ideal, for he displayed those qualities 
which James admired and tried to cultivate in himselfsincerity of 
purpose, full command of information, gentleness of address, an aversion 
to giving offense to an opponent, and utter fairness in debate. Randolph 


BIRTH OF A BACHELOR 1819 - 1820 

once remarked after hearing Lowndes present the argument of an adversary 
prior to demolishing it, "He will never he ahle to answer himself." 36 

Buchanan quickly showed that he planned to be a "business 
member" of Congress. He was appointed to the Committee on Agriculture 
two days after the House organized, and he made his first speech ten days 
after his arrival. Within three weeks he had taken the floor formally on 
three occasions. Writing to Judge Franklin of his early impressions, he 
confided that after hearing various members speak, he was "forcibly struck 
with the idea that the reputation of many of them, stands higher than it 
deserves. 5 * His own speeches, he reported, had received a "tolerable share 
of attention, which in a very great degree I attributed to the curiosity of 
the Members," though he himself had felt much embarrassed. Most im- 
portant, he could make himself distinctly heard, a rare achievement because 
of the poor acoustics of the hall. 37 

Just before Congress adjourned for Christmas, Buchanan received 
news from Harrisburg that gave him something to think about during the 
brief recess. The State Legislature had just elected William Findlay to 
the United States Senate by an overwhelming majority. That meant that 
Buchanan's party was defunct in Pennsylvania. The confused Washington 
scene would doubtless provide new issues and bases of allegiance, but these 
would have to be worked out. At the moment he was literally a man 
without a party. 

A few days before Congress reconvened, several gentlemen called 
on Buchanan with a proposition. They wanted him to accept the notes 
collected by Lowndes on the War Department Deficiency Bill, construct 
them into a speech, and deliver it. Lowndes was ill and unable to do this 
job himself. He wished to save John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War, from 
his present embarrassment. Would Mr. Buchanan take over? He would, 
indeed! With the most exquisite pleasure. 38 

There was in the House at this time a group calling itself the 
Radical party whose object was to limit the activities of the federal govern- 
ment to the narrowest possible range. One means to this end was re- 
trenchment, a rigorous cutting down of the expenses of government. 
William Harris Crawford of Georgia led this party, which was particularly 
hostile to John C. Calhoun. The root of their antagonism was doubtless 
their conflicting ambition for the presidency, but the immediate source of 
trouble was Calhoun's alleged extravagance in administering the War 
Department. Congress had appropriated $100,000 for Indian Administra- 
tion for the year 1821 only half the usual amount provided for this 
purpose. The Secretary of War had spent $170,000 which was less than 
usual but $70,000 more than Congress had provided. The Deficiency Bill 
on which Lowndes had planned to speak would enable Calhoun to pay the 
debts incurred by the Indian Bureau of his Department. 



To be asked to do a favor for both Lowndes and Calhoun during 
his first month in Congress indicated fast progress. It gave Buchanan the 
opportunity he wanted to stake out some political lines in Washington. 
Rumors that Buchanan would speak for Lowndes leaked out, and the House 
listened with careful attention to his remarks. 

This speech revealed Buchanans debating technique and identified 
his particular talents in the forum. He entered the problem tentatively, 
without convictions, admitted the plausibility of the opposition view, and 
asserted his personal opinion with modesty and calculated understatement. 
This introductory statement had the ring of sincerity and created a sympa- 
thetic attitude in the audience a lawyer's bid for the jury. 

He then stated the general principle from which the rest of the 
reasoning would flow. "It ought to be a maxim in politics, as well as in 
law, that an officer of your Government, high in the confidence of the 
people, shall be presumed to have done his duty, until the reverse of 
the proposition is proved." 

From this platform Buchanan launched into the details of his 
problem, examining every possible meaning and ramification, ?*nd tracing 
all to the stage of reductio ad absurdum except the one he supported, which 
at length stood out like a beacon of sanity and good judgment by contrast. 
Had Calhoun violated the Constitution? No. Was he to pay the bills of 
his Department out of his own pocket? No. Was he intended to be a seer, 
able to predict precisely the expenses of the army for years in advance? No. 
Would the nation be safe if every executive officer ceased to function when 
the previously voted funds ran out? Should the president admit the 
invader because Congress had failed to budget for an invasion? Was it 
reasonable to expect that the Indian Bureau, after a generation of activity, 
could suddenly cut its program in half? If that were done, would not the 
Secretary of War then be compelled to legislate in deciding what portions 
of his functions, defined by statute, should be performed? Would this 
decision not destroy the function of Congress in defining the scope of 
executive action? Did Congress intend to force the executive to alter the. 
laws of the land? If as a result, the border settlements were exposed to 
Indian massacre, would Congress approve? Or did Congress expect the 
executive to be endowed with the power to perform miracles to do the 
accustomed work without funds? Even if the Department of War had 
erred, did Congress plan to repudiate contracts honestly entered into by 
individuals with responsible agents of the United States Government, 
punishing the innocent instead of the guilty? "Why, then, considering 
this question in every point of view in which it can be presented, is there 
any objection against voting $70,000 to supply the deficiency in the appro* 
priation of last year?" 39 



This speech serves as a fair sample of Buchanan's platform 
manner. Reason, supported by quantities of illustrative and supporting 
data, embellished by pathos ("the shrieks of helpless women and children 
under the scalping knife!"), converged upon an inevitable answer. In a 
reasoned debate, Buchanan could so exhaust a subject that any reply was 
bound to be a reiteration. Against wit or ridicule he was helpless, but in 
serious debate he was formidable. 

Many complimented him on his defense of the Deficiency Bill 
which quickly passed by a large majority, despite a sarcastic sally by John 
Randolph. Buchanan then settled down to work on the two main objectives 
of his current tenure: to achieve re-election and to keep in touch with 
presidential politics. 

He obtained free public documents for the home constituency. 
When these were unavailable for distribution, he laboriously copied some 
in longhand for particular friends. He worked, through the War Depart- 
ment, for the appointment of some Lancaster boys to West Point. He 
demanded an inquiry to determine who had pocketed Pennsylvania's 
militia fines and got himself appointed chairman of a select committee to 
conduct the probe. 40 He introduced a group of resolutions to extend the 
post-road system throughout his Congressional district; and he busied 
himself in other ways to keep his name in the newspapers and show that he 
was an active public servant. 41 Returning home at the end of the session, 
Buchanan learned that he was to be the guest of honor at the Federalist 
celebration of the Fourth of July at Swenk's Spring, along the wooded 
Conestoga. At the party enthusiastic supporters assured him that his 
services were duly appreciated and would be "long remembered by his 
constituents.** 42 The toasts, written in advance by the arrangements 
committee, were indications of renomination. In fact the Federalists, 
meeting at the end of August, did renominate him. It was quite a distinc- 
tion to be run for Congress a second time, for the local Federalist practice 
had always been to pass this job around among deserving workers. Bu- 
chanan felt certain that in this case it was his industry that had broken 
the precedent. 

James kept his ears open for rumors on the presidential race. 
William Lowndes soon drifted out of the picture because of a serious illness 
which forced him to leave Congress early in 1822. "Whose chance from 
present appearances is best for the office of President?" Buchanan wrote 
in March. "In my opinion should the election take place tomorrow the 
contest would be chiefly between Calhoun and Crawford. I consider Adams 
out of the question ... his disposition is as perverse and mulish as that of 
his father." 43 Among the members of Congress Buchanan found not the 
slightest trace of distinction between Federalist and Democrat; the names 
persisted, but they no longer signified anything* Many Democrats held 



Federalist ideas, while as many nominal Federalists were Democratic in 
principle. He thought that Monroe's administration, though Democratic 
in name, generally pursued the Federalist policy. 44 

Two events during this first session of the 17th Congress showed 
new trends in Buchanan's political thought. The Bankrupt Bill raised the 
question whether the federal government should admit to bankruptcy 
proceedings all classes of citizens farmers, laborers, artisans and others- 
or whether bankruptcy procedures should be restricted to the mercantile 
class, as had been customary. Federalist John Sergeant sponsored the bill 
and during the Christmas recess of 1821 persuaded Buchanan to support it; 
but as debate proceeded, James wavered and in March made a long speech 
in opposition which contributed to the defeat of the measure. As Buchanan 
had a strong personal attachment to Sergeant, his action must have been 
based on some serious political soul-searching. What had he discovered? 
A simple but, to him, a basic assumption: that in an organized society 
property rights had to take precedence over human rights. He did not 
develop this idea in its full implications, but he had the main point. To 
extend .the bankruptcy privilege would destroy property because of the 
impossibility of controlling abuse of the privilege if it were extended to all 
classes. To destroy property would be to destroy government and society, 
He began dimly to see that human rights might conceivably be developed 
together with property rights, but that without the security of property 
every man would be doomed to the law of cannibalism in which no right 
of any kind could be guaranteed. 

This speech- has usually been cited as the beginning of Buchanan's 
adherence to the doctrine of States' rights. It is true that in his compre- 
hensive argument he warned that to give the federal courts jurisdiction 
over bankrupts from the entire population would lead to federal cf>n<>lida 
tion. But this was a subsidiary argument. His main theme was that the 
bill would increase the perpetration of fraud because man was basically 
criminal and would give way to temptation. "Rest assured/ 11 he concluded, 
"that our population require the curb more than the rein." This was 
Hamiltonian, not Jeffersonian, 

A second Congressional event that also arbused Buchanan to 
some original thinking was President Monroe* 1 * veto message of a bill to 
finance repairs on the Cumberland Road by permitting the federal govern* 
meat to collect tolls, Buchanan had supported several proposals to improve 
the Cumberland Road because he thought the road would strengthen the 
Union and benefit Pennsylvania, but Monroe's veto pointed out the Con- 
stitutional difficulties involved in a federal effort to collect a local tax* 
Buchanan was so impressed by his own failure to see what a Pandora's box 
of federal intervention this would open that he tried repeatedly thereafter 
to have the whole Cumberland Road rctroceded to the individual states, 


BIRTH OF A BACHELOR 1819 - 1820 

In this instance, he did lean to the States' rights view, defending the domain 
of state jurisdiction from invasion by federal authority. 

What political complexion did Buchanan hold in 1822? Was he 
Federalist or Democratic in principles? It seemed that he was both. 
Fortunately for him, so were many of his constituents. 


THE KING MAKER 1821 - 1827 

Since 1800 New York and Virginia had divided the honors of control of the 

national government, Virginia teWag the presidency and New York the 
lion's share of the federal patronage. This "dynastic alliance" always 
controlled presidential nominations by the old scheme of the Congressional 
caucus and planned again to exercise its power by selecting William Harris 
Crawford as the presidential nominee in 1824. As there would be no 
Federalist candidate, the Democratic nomination would be equivalent to 
election; it would be, at least, unless someone contested the nomination. 
Pennsylvania's younger politicians readied themselves for just such a 

To overcome the New York-Virginia alliance they thought it 
necessary to establish a counteralliance and to manage a nomination by 
some means other than the traditional method* Pennsylvania had no 
favorite son ready for the presidency in 1821, but she had a unique and 
original system of making nominations which, together with her 28 votes 
in the electoral college, might very well upset Crawford and elect someone 
of her choice. The Pennsylvanians proposed to use the method of nomina- 
tion by a state convention of delegates chosen for the purprme, the same 
procedure by which they had picked their gubernatorial candidates in 
1817 and 1820. 

Buchanan found the prospects fascinating, "I have long thought 
that the general government have rested so secure in the support of 
Pennsylvania that they have thought it unnecessary to do her common 
justice, 7 * he wrote in 1821* 1 Along with others, he welcomed the plan of a 
combination of Ohio, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania to take the measure 
of New York and Virginia, John C Calhoun, Secretary of War, would be 
the logical leader of such a coalition. He waa a striking man with piercing 
eyes and thick black hair, brushed back defiantly, a man of experience and 
leadership; a nationalist, a friend of internal improvements, of a national 


THE KING MAKER 1821 - 1827 

bank, and of a protective tariff; a man of honor who would not slight his 
friends. If he were to become president, Pennsylvania's turn could not 
be far behind, and some cabinet offices would be scattered along the road 
to the White House. 

Calhoun visited Pennsylvania's Bedford Springs in 1821 and made 
a tour of observation until mid-September. He returned to Washington 
full of rosy hopes for the future, for in the course of his expedition he had 
signed up the leading representatives of the Family party of the state, an 
organization which was destined to guide Pennsylvania politics and to 
plague James Buchanan for many years to come. 

George Mifflin Dallas of Philadelphia, patrician son of Alexander 
J. Dallas, created the Family party which got its name from the fact that 
nearly all the lieutenants were kin to their captain. Favored with reputa- 
tion, money, brains, and political ties strengthened by blood and marriage, 
Dallas nourished the hope of outstripping in distinction his famous father. 
Samuel D. Ingham of New Hope along the Delaware, William Wilkins of 
Pittsburgh, Richard Bache, Thomas Sergeant, and John Norvall of Phila- 
delphia, Thomas J. Rogers of Easton, and a few others formed the backbone 
of the Family party's leadership. 

During Buchanan's first weeks in Congress in December 1821, 
the Family Congressmen from Pennsylvania called on Calhoun in a body 
to invite him formally to stand as a candidate for president. After his 
grateful acceptance, the Family spread pro-Calhoun literature all over 
Pennsylvania and systematically attacked John Quincy Adams. Plans to 
secure a nomination of Calhoun by the State Legislature proved premature 
in 1822, but Dallas and Ingham indoctrinated their followers with the idea 
that support of Calhoun would be one of the main issues of the 1823 contest 
for the governorship. 2 By January 1823, George McDuffie thought ^ that 
Pennsylvania would "unquestionably support Calhoun" and nominate 
him at a state convention. 3 

Buchanan became interested in Calhoun's prospects, partly 
because so many of his Pennsylvania colleagues were talking about the 
subject and partly because he happened to live with George McDuffie. It 
was probably no accident that Buchanan's first real speech was a ringing 
defense of Calhoun's administration of the War Department, and the rather 
unusual attention accorded to this effort, which mystified the orator, may 
have proceeded from genuine curiosity whether Calhoun had carried 
Pennsylvania's Federalists into camp. Buchanan refused to commit himself 
to Calhoun, but kept a position from which he could at any time go along 
with the movement without apparent inconsistency or embarrassment. 

Early in 1823, Buchanan's friend Stephen Pleasanton dropped a 
hint that a change in Monroe's Cabinet was imminent. "Poor Penna./' 
he wrote, "has not a man in the dominant party ... fit to be placed in the 



Cabinet. All the large states can have a man in the Cabinet but her. If 
she had a prominent man she would clearly be entitled to the Appt. of 
Secretary of Navy Can v you name one?" 4 

It was extremely odd that such a letter should have been addressed 
to Buchanan. He assumed that Calhoun was back of it and used it in the 
way in which Pleasanton presumably intended. He consulted with his 
Democratic law partner, Molton Rogers, in framing a reply which was 
prepared for Calhoun's eye. Calhoun, he wrote, could gain the presidency 
by pressing Pennsylvania's claim for recognition in the Cabinet, or destroy 
his chances if he disregarded the Keystone State. This exchange brought 
Buchanan almost within the ranks of pro-Calhoun Democrats. 5 As it 
developed, the incumbent Navy Secretary, S. L. Southard, surprised every- 
one by keeping his Cabinet place in preference to the offer of a seat on the 
Supreme Court. Calhoun promised, however, that Buchanan could count 
him cc among the friends of the state here" whenever the occasion de- 
manded. 6 

George McDuffie wrote Buchanan a flattering letter at this same 
time, commenting that "though you are called a federalist & myself a 
republican, we agree upon almost every question of importance . * . not 
excepting the interesting question of who shall be the next president." 
McDuffie then proceeded to instruct Buchanan on the ''safest course" for 
those who were backing Calhoun's prospects. He wanted to obtain a strong 
public expression from Pennsylvania; that would bring Ohio along im- 
mediately. 7 

Buchanan at this point would probably have come out openly 
for Calhoun except for complications created by the state election of 1823, 
The Federalists would have to run a candidate for governor; they rould not 
at the same time back a presidential candidate already appropriated by 
the opposition. 

The pro-Calhoun Democrats selected John A, Shuhe as the 
Democratic candidate for governor. Although Shulze said nothing on the 
subject of the presidency, his backers spread the word that a vote for 
Shulze in 1823 meant a vote for Calhoun in 1824 Except for the fact 
that Shulze's chief competitor for the Democratic nomination, George 
Bryan of Lancaster, had been double-crossed at the convention, there 
probably would have been no Federalist nomination and no contest* but 
Bryan's friends were so outraged that it seemed sure that they could be 
induced to bolt. The Federalists* therefore, placed a candidate in the 
running and succeeded in influencing the angry Bryanitcs to join them.* 

These activities put Buchanan in a quandary. He tried to keep 
the presidential question out of the state election and also to keep himwlf 
clear of it. Before the Federalist nominating convention, he strongly dis- 
suaded John Sergeant from standing as a candidate for governor because he 


THE KING MAKER 1821 - 1827 

knew that if his friend Sergeant ran, he would be compelled to campaign 
actively. 9 After Sergeant declined and Andrew Gregg accepted the Feder- 
alist nomination, Buchanan gave only perfunctory attention to his party's 
canvass. 10 His colleagues censured him for his conduct. "It is bruited 
about that you have rather held back in this business which rumor is I 

presume no secret to you, nor the cause of it The presidential question 

is assigned as the cause of this backwardness." 11 

It was certainly a frustrating summer for everybody. Although 
the presidential issue was officially taboo and not to be mentioned formally, 
everyone privately talked of nothing else. The frequent appearance of 
Jackson's name during the summer came as a surprise to the politically 
informed, for his candidacy seemed to spring out of thin air. No one of 
standing sponsored him, but on the only occasion when his name was 
publicly brought forward at the state convention which nominated Shulze 
for governor the chairman had to smother the wild demonstration which 
greeted the pro-Jackson resolution by calling loudly for a vote on a different 
subject. 12 

Buchanan had hoped to escape part of this awkward political 
campaign by going to Boston in June with Mrs. George Blake, one of his 
dining companions for the past two years at Mrs. Peyton's. Mrs. Blake 
teased him about his apparent aversion to the fair sex, persuaded him to 
escort her to public functions in Washington, and conducted a vigorous 
campaign to find a wife for him. But he had to forego the Boston trip at 
that time because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had scheduled an 
adjourned session for the first three weeks of July, and he was concerned in 
nearly every case on the docket. He wrote Mrs. Blake in midsummer that 
Lancaster was as dull as could be and that, like the children of Israel in the 
wilderness, he longed after the fleshpots of Egypt 

He had been having a good time in Washington where, among 
the ladies, the knowledge of the Ann Coleman affair had given him a kind 
of romantic appeal. He had not forgotten Ann, nor had he lived the life of 
a recluse. Washington was full of lovely maids and matrons, but person- 
able young bachelors were few. Buchanan knew the Van Ness girls, Cora 
Livingston and Catherine Van Rensselaer of New York, the Crowninshield 
misses from Vermont, Priscilla Cooper, who became the wife of his friend 
Robert Tyler, the Caton sisters from Baltimore, and many others, including 
a sprightly Julia and a giddy Matilda about whom he wrote glowing en- 
comiums. He spent August with the Slakes in Boston; but despite the best 
efforts of his kind hostess, he returned home no closer to matrimony than 
he had been before. 13 

In Lancaster he learned that the Federalist campaign for governor 
had fallen apart. In October Shulze won the governorship by the largest 
majority in the history of Pennsylvania. 




The first few months of the new Congressional session, from December 1823 
to March 1824, were filled with the excitement of president-making. 
Calhoun thought that his election was certain if only Pennsylvania would 
nominate him; but Ingham, Dallas, and his other friends in the Family 
party hesitated, for they had not been able to bring Governor Shulze into 
their plans. Meanwhile the cry for Jackson spread wildly. 

In February, 1824 the Congressional caucus in Washington 
nominated Crawford according to plan. A rump affair, boycotted by all 
but two or three Pennsylvania representatives, it would not be an important 
factor in Pennsylvania. On the other hand the caucus made it startlingly 
clear that there would have to be either a knockdown fight between the 
friends of Jackson and the friends of Calhoun or some kind of jointure 
between them, for supporters of these two seemed to be divided fairly 
evenly. The Family party, however, considered it safe to push a plan for a 
State nominating convention in Harrisburg on March 4 at which they 
intended to introduce Calhoun's name as presidential candidate, with 
Jackson as his running mate. 

After carefully sounding out public opinion, Buchanan now 
abandoned his earlier preference for Calhoun. Some of the Federalists had 
taken hold of the sprouting Jackson movement and stood a good chance of 
appropriating the management of it. This was too good an opportunity to 
ignore, particularly since many western Democrats had become enthusiastic 
Jacksonians but lacked leadership. Even Judge John Bannister Gibson, a 
Democratic party regular, wrote to Buchanan in January: "Heaven knows 
what will be the upshot ... but it seems to me that Jackson is carrying it 
away from all the rest. Next to J. C. Calhoun he is my man/* 14 During 
this time of uncertainty, Buchanan kept his own counsel. 

In February, four days after the Crawford nomination, Callxum's 
friends in Pennsylvania held a meeting in Philadelphia to select delegates 
to the Harrisburg convention. Their courage broke at this point arid 
George Dallas himself urged the meeting to select delegates favorable to 
Jackson, with Calhoun as their second choice. 15 This was a bombshell to 
Calhoun, and made Jackson the choice of all parties in Pennsylvania. From 
here on it would be a scramble to see who could gain control of the whole 
Jackson movement and thus control the Pennsylvania patronage. Three 
groups of Pennsylvania politicians accepted the fact of Jackson's popularity, 
and each of these became a Jacksonian faction determined to dominate 
the whole. 

The first to propose Jackson's candidacy were a number of small- 
fry editors and country politicians who were the real "original Jacksonian**' 
of the Commonwealth. The second group of Jacksonians had been the 


THE KING MAKER 1821 - 1827 

supporters of Governor Hiester in 1820; they were men of both Federalist 
and Democratic parties who called themselves the Independent Republicans 
and were soon to adopt the name "Amalgamators." These men, after the 
Jacksonian movement had gotten fairly well started in the West, assumed 
for themselves the title of ''original Jacksonians." Among the Democrats 
were Henry Baldwin of Pittsburgh, Molton C. Rogers of Lancaster, Isaac D. 
Barnard of West Chester, Robert Patterson of Harrisburg, and others 
opposed to the Family or Dallas faction of their party. Among the promi- 
nent Jacksonian Federalists were Andrew Gregg and James Buchanan. 

Finally leaders of the Family party, belatedly observing which way 
the wind was blowing, pledged themselves to Jackson and claimed the 
privilege of dictating to all the others. They became known as the "Eleventh 
Hour Men.*' Everyone assumed that their object was to put Jackson into 
the White House for one term only, as a necessary preliminary to the 
election of their favorite, Calhoun. 16 

The Federalists renominated Buchanan for a third Congressional 
term in the fall of 1824. The nomination was a tribute to his work in 
Washington, for the Lancaster party had never before endorsed anyone 
for a third successive term. But another influence was also at work* Many 
Federalists admitted that, sooner or later, they would have to make a clean 
break with the past, either by starting a new party or by joining some faction 
of the traditional enemy. Buchanan endorsed the latter plan and ran on a 
ticket labelled "Federal-Republican." Some of the old-guard Federalists 
resisted by throwing away their votes in the election, but Buchanan won 
his race with the support of "amalgamators" of both parties. The varied 
preferences for president which the rival candidates for Congress held 
played no part in this campaign. The local elections continued to be fought 
on the traditional local issues. 

In the presidential election, held three weeks later, the popular 
vote surprised even the winners in Pennsylvania. Jackson's poll was 
35,929; Adams's, 5,436; Crawford's, 4,182; and Clay's, 1,705. 17 But the 
Electoral College vote showed no such landslide. There Jackson received 
99 votes; Adams, 83; Crawford, 41; and Clay, 37. Since no candidate had 
a majority, the choice devolved upon the House of Representatives which 
had to make a selection from the three strongest candidates. Clay was free 
to throw his influence where he wished. 


Exactly what happened in Washington in the interim between the meeting 
of the Electoral College and the vote by the House of Representatives will 
probably never be known. Politicians from all over the Union swarmed 
into the national capital to add their voices to the Congressional hubbub, 



and those from Pennsylvania were perhaps more involved in it than any. 
James Buchanan, George Kremer, Samuel Ingham, Philip Marklcy, Molton 
Rogers, Walter Lowrie, William Findlay, and even Albert Gallatin, had a 
finger in the presidential pic. 

James Buchanan was one of the most willing "fixers'* of the 
Pennsylvania delegation. Two rumors current about the capital in 
December gave him the impetus to action. One was that Henry Clay would 
use his influence to elect Adams if Adams would promise to appoint him as 
Secretary of State. The other was that Jackson, if elected, would continue 
John Quincy Adams in the State Department. Buchanan felt that these 
rumors placed Jackson at a disadvantage in his contest with Adams, and 
put Clay in an awkward situation. The premiership in the Cabinet had 
become' a stepping stone to the presidency, and Buchanan thought that if 
Clay's friends could be informed that Jackson had not determined to appoint 
Adams (implying that Jackson might appoint Clay), a good many Clay men 
would support Old Hickory. Only this backing could elect him. 

Buchanan disliked Adams and, like most Pennsylvania politicians 
had to support Jackson whether he liked him or not. It was natural, 
therefore, that he should have been anxious to prevent an Adams- Jarks< m 
alliance. In the fall of 1824 Buchanan was supporting Jacknn with Clay 
as his second choice. 18 

Congressman Philip S. Markley, an ardent Pennsylvania supporter 
of Clay, urged Buchanan to get a statement from Jackson that he had not 
promised to appoint Adams. "The friends of Jackson/ 1 he wrote* "or 
rather the people of Pennsylvania feel a more than ordinary interest in thr 
election of GenL Jackson by Congress. I have heard many of the most 
influential and prominent republican* of the State , * , expreft* their *inrrf 
desire that the friends of Mr, Clay cooperate with the friends of Jackson in 
his election as Mr, Clay is at present decidedly the second choire of IVnna, 
They hope that his friends on the present occasion will not take a course 
which will mar his future prospects in this State, 1119 Mohnn C Rogers, 
now Secretary of the Commonwealth and Chairman of the Jackson State 
Committee assured Buchanan that f 'it would give great pleasure to a number 
of the friends of Mr, Clay in this State, if he should use his influence in 
favor of Jackson. In that event he might hope for the vote of Pennsylvania 
on some future occasion-'* 20 Buchanan later denied under fire that he had 
ever been a political agent of Mr. Clay, but it was no secret in Washington 
in the winter of 1824-1825 that Buchanan** particular wih was the election 
of Jackson by the aid of Henry Clay, and it was a natural assumption that, 
should this occur, Buchanan would later welcome Gay's elevation. 

By the last week in December Buchanan decided the time for 
action had come. In the hope of getting the support of Clay's friends for 
Jackson and in the hope also of preventing Clay from consummating what 


THE KING MAKER 1821 - 1827 

he felt would be a fatal move (alliance with Adams) Buchanan determined 
to learn from General Jackson's own lips whether or not he had ever said 
that Adams would head his Cabinet. 21 Not wishing to act entirely upon his 
own responsibility, however, he wrote to Rogers at Harrisburg, inquiring 
whether to ask the proposed question. "I can perceive no impropriety in 
Gen. Jackson making the declaration you mention," Rogers replied, "if it 
will contribute to his election. Although I have the highest opinion of 
Mr. Adams' qualifications for Secretary of State, yet, I would not endanger 
Gen. Jackson on that account." 22 

Thus reinforced, Buchanan approached Jackson's friend, Major 
John Henry Eaton, with his question; but receiving no satisfactory answer, 
he prepared to interview General Jackson himself. On December 30, 1824, 
Buchanan called on Jackson. After the company which was present had 
left the apartment, Jackson asked Buchanan to take a walk with him. The 
General could scarcely have been unprepared for the propounding of some 
proposition of more than ordinary importance; even if Eaton had not fore- 
warned him he must have noticed that Buchanan was purposely waiting 
out the other guests. Jackson's practiced eye must surely have seen the 
tension under which the young man was laboring. 

The Hero of New Orleans, now Senator from Tennessee, was 
something of an enigma in Washington. Albert Gallatin described him as 
"a tall, lank, uncouth looking personage, with long locks of hair hanging 
over his face, and a cue down his back tied in an eel skin; his dress singular, 
his manners and deportment that of a backwoodsman." 23 Josiah Quincy 
called him "a knightly personage," and "vigorously a gentleman," but not 
a man with whom to differ because he thought that "Heaven would not 
suffer his opinions to be other than right. 9 ' 241 James Parton characterized 
the Old Hero as "honest, yet capable of dissimulation; often angry, but 
most prudent when most furious; . . . among dependents, all tenderness . . .; 
to opponents, violent, ungenerous, prone to believe the very worst of 
them." Some thought Jackson a boor, a villain and a murderer, others a 
paragon of the virtues of an honest freeman, but all agreed that he had a 
mysterious presence, that he looked the part of a leader of men, and that he 
possessed a dangerously unpredictable temper. He was no one to trifle 
with. Buchanan, when he went directly to Old Hickory with the delicate 
question that the whole capital had been covertly asking, took up a task 
which wiser men had been unwilling to risk. 

After some desultory conversation, Buchanan spoke of the 
presidential situation and of the rumors current in Washington. These 
had already done some harm, he said, and would do more- He repeated 
what Marldey had said: that many of Clay's friends would like to vote for 
Jackson, but they were distressed by the rumor, which had never been 
contradicted, that the General had made up his mind to put Adams into 



the State Department. Then Buchanan "popped" the question. Had 
General Jackson "ever declared that in case he should be elected President 
he would appoint Mr. Adams Secretary of State?" Without hesitation 
Old Hickory rejoined that he had never said whether he would or whether 
he would not make such an appointment, "that these were secrets he would 
keep to himself he would conceal them from the very hairs of his head/' 
Buchanan asked if he were at liberty to repeat this answer and, after being 
assured that he was, terminated the interview. "I need scarcely remark," 
he said later, "that I afterward availed myself of the privilege."- 5 

A few days later Buchanan called on Congressman George Kremer 
of Pennsylvania and repeated to him the gist of Marfcley's conversations 
and the outcome of his talk with Jackson. Buchanan's object was apparently 
to get the Jacksonians to refine on the statement already made; that is, to 
change the negative declaration that Jackson had not decided to appoint 
Adams into a positive one: he had decided not to appoint him. Buchanan 
certainly hinted to Clay that Adams would not be the appointee. On one 
occasion and in Clay's very lodgings, Buchanan "introduced the subject 
of the approaching Presidential election, and spoke of the uncertainty of 
the election of his favorite (Jackson), adding that 'he would form the must 
splendid cabinet that the country ever had.' " When one of the group 
present asked how it would be possible to have one more distinguished than 
that of Mr. Jefferson, Buchanan replied, looking at Mr. Clay, that he "would 
not have to go out of this room for a Secretary of State." Buchanan was 
worried. On January 2 he wrote to Thomas Elder: "If I were to inform 
you that I consider [Jackson's] . . . election certain, it would not he what 
I believe myself/' But he had done all he could and more than he should. 
He now sat back to await developments. 26 

James was pleased with his little excursion into the turbulent 
waters of presidential politics. He had been prudent and remained on 
terms of friendship with the three chief prospects of the future: Calhoun, 
Jackson, and Clay. He had helped each and hurl non*. Whatever happened, 
he had laid his groundwork well. 

But Buchanan had embarked on deeper waters than he knew. 
Had he been aware of the full extent of the bargaining, intrigm% and bribery, 
he would have felt more apprehension at being involved in the business at 
all If anyone got caught, everyone associated with him would be in for a 
hard time trying to prove his innocence, Ingham was busy with Cook of 
Illinois, whose vote would control that state, guaranteeing him a territorial 
governorship for his support of Jackson* Some of Buchanan's friends spent 
their time peddling the idea that a Jackson victory now would mean sure 
success for Clay the next time. The Jackson promoters, of course, had 
one basic advantage over the others. They alone could legitimately claim 
that they wanted to honor the mandate of a majority of the nation's voters, 


THE KING MAKER 1821 - 1827 

If adherents of minority candidates intrigued, it could be set down as 
corruption, but for the Jackson men to do it would seem merely an effort 
to execute the will of the people. 

On January 24, three weeks after Buchanan's interview with 
Jackson, the Clay-controlled Kentucky and Ohio delegations publicly 
announced their decision to support Adams. It was a bold decision in the 
face of threats that the election of Adams would bring violence, Lafayette, 
who was on a triumphal tour of the United States at the time, probably 
thought he was going to see action on the old stamping grounds again, for 
his chronicler reported that "the Pennsylvania militiamen talked of laying 
seige to Washington if Jackson were not chosen," 27 

On January 28, the Columbian Observer of Philadelphia published 
a letter from Congressman George Kremer an Ingham satellite baldly 
charging that Clay had offered to vote for whoever would give him the 
State Department; that Jackson had turned him down; that Adams had 
signed the bargain; and that Clay would be announced as Secretary of 
State shortly. Clay called Kremer a liar and challenged him to a duel but 
backed down after Kremer started the rumor that he would duel with 
squirrel rifles. 

In due course, the House elected Adams, and he appointed Clay 
to the State Department. The Jacksonians did not revolt, but some of them 
vented their fury by burning Clay and Adams in effigy. Two Pittsburghers 
who sent a barrel of whiskey to treat the fellows were indicted for inciting 
a riot "That is to say for holding out inducements to other persons, to 
roast in effigy a Kentucky Gambler over a burning tar barrell," but the 
County Commissioners quickly disposed of the case by announcing they 
would pay no witness fees. 28 The Jacksonian editors in Pennsylvania 
bannered their papers with the huge, black headline: "Shameful." 

James Buchanan was prudent. He said nothing. 


If ever a man needed the talent of compromise, that man was James 
Buchanan in the years of the presidency of John Quincy Adams. During 
those years, he tried to weld into a single political organization as motley 
a political assortment as anyone ever attempted to control It would be a 
personal party, a Buchanan party; one based on his reputation for personal 
integrity, his concrete achievements for his constituents, and his promises 
for the future. Jackson would be the cement of this miscellany, but when 
it took form it would stand solidly as a monument to Buchanan. 

The challenge fascinated him, demanding techniques well suited 
to his personality. In the first place, party-making was a bookkeeping 
matter. Each county leader, in this confused state of politics, had his own 



following. Buchanan knew the votes each commanded as well as the 
strength of his local opposition. He kept accounts; determined where he 
needed strength and how much; figured the percentage of increase from 
particular appointments; pondered what approach would influence local 


The man who had the patience and the sharpness of eye could 
assemble into a meaningful picture this mathematical jigsaw puzzle. Un- 
troubled by the distractions of poverty or parenthood, Buchanan had the 
time to devote to such a task. He followed up careful calculation by careful 
action: a complimentary letter here, a mild disengagement there, a letter 
of recommendation to this man, an appearance at one strategic meeting, 
and meaningful absence from another, a loan to a newspaper editor, a hint 
that so and so would be good material for a vacant judgeship, a batch of 
public documents to one, a bundle of National Intelligencers to another, 
some whiskey to a third these were the things that absorbed James 
Buchanan in the years of the Adams Administration. 

They were busy, tantalizing, frustrating, exhilarating yeans full 
of political promise. His planning was as arduous, devious and logical as 
that of a chess game, and as devoid of the appearance of emotion. Like a 
chess player, Buchanan worked single-handedly. He had associates col- 
leagues, partisans, and friends, but he took none of these as a partner in 
his political activities. Not even his brother George, though his trusted 
agent, was his confidant. He had the added advantage of private means 
and thus could follow a political career without depending on it for a living. 
Since his father's death he had been making money fast by purchasing 
property around Lancaster at sheriffs sales. Values had been rising at a 
fantastic rate. Pennsylvania land that had gone for 62 cents an acre in 
1814 now brought $400 an acre. Just recently he had bought several 
buildings on the southwest corner of the square in Lancaster, because he felt 
that they would be a sound investment. He would use some of hi* cash 
to play politics instead of playing politics to make money. 

In the Pennsylvania elections of 1826, the Federalists left the 
state scene, as ten years before they had withdrawn from national politics. 
Shube was unanimously nominated on March 4, 1826, by the Democratic 
convention in Harrisburg and the Federalists ran no candidate, ShubeVi 
72,000 votes indicated that he had the Democrats plus the rapport of ail 
the rest* Buchanan's aid to Shulze was his personal statement that, while 
not yet a Democrat, he certainly was no longer a Federalist, 

At the level of the Congressional District and the county, how- 
ever, the old party names stuck* Buchanan was nominated and elected to 
Congress again on a Federalist ticket of the 4th Distrust, along with his 
friend Charles Miner of West Chester, now an ardent Adams man. The 
Democratic Congressional candidates, who were Jacksonians, lost. Their 


THE KING MAKER 1821 - 1827 

defeat was almost incredible in a region where, on the presidential question, 
the people would have voted a twenty-to-one majority for Jackson. 

After the 1826 elections Buchanan planned to cut loose from the 
old party names and to begin his fight for control of the Pennsylvania Jack- 
sonians. Using the pressure of the approaching presidential campaign, he 
proposed to amalgamate into a voting bloc the Federalist German farmers 
of the East and the Scotch-Irish frontier Democrats of the West. Though 
formerly political antagonists, these two groups now both enthusiastically 
acclaimed Jackson and both resented the Philadelphia-centered control of 
the Family party. They could do one of three things: endorse Adams, 
follow Ingham and Dallas who worked mainly for Calhoun and'kept all the 
offices to themselves, or join Buchanan's Amalgamation party which stood 
solidly for Jackson and promised to share its power with the yeomanry of 
the State. 

Buchanan's associates in the Amalgamation movement were men 
to be reckoned with. Henry Baldwin of Pittsburgh could stand eye to eye 
with William Wilkins, the Family's only strong representative there. 
Molton C. Rogers of Lancaster had just finished a tenn as Secretary of the 
Commonwealth. General Isaac D. Barnard who had served brilliantly 
during the War of 1812 before settling down to the practice of law in 
West Chester, had been among the first prominent Pennsylvanians to come 
out for Jackson and had demonstrated his power by frightening Dallas out 
of his plan to nominate Calhoun at Harrisburg in March, 1824. In 1826, 
Governor Shulze gave him Rogers's place as Secretary of the Common- 
wealth and in 1827 the Legislature selected him as United States Senator. 
Barnard's connection with the Amalgamation group gave the Family 
something to worry about. George B. Porter, a young Lancaster lawyer of 
great influence among the lower classes, a militia general, a man of explo- 
sive, picturesque language, and of political ambition, abandoned the Family 
party to join Buchanan. 

Many others prominent in Pennsylvania came to the support 
of Amalgamation and through it became, for the time, co-workers of 
Buchanan: Calvin Blythe of Mifflin County, Secretary of the Common- 
wealth after Barnard's election to the national Senate; George G. Leiper, 
veteran Congressman from Delaware County; Daniel Sturgeon of Fayette 
County; John Wurts and Thomas Kittera, Federalist Congressmen from 
Philadelphia; John B. Sterigere of Montgomery County; Joshua Evans, 
Congressman from Chester County; and of special importance, Henry A. 
Muhlenberg of Berks County* 

These men defined the nature of the Amalgamation organization. 
It included those high in the state administration, many of the Federalist 
Congressmen, a number of old-line Democrats who were disgusted with 
or excluded from the Ingham group, and key representatives in every 



portion of the Commonwealth. They were all for Jackson, all for the 
creation of a new party, and nearly all for the future elevation of Henry 
Clay to the White House, though this phase of Amalgamation was purposely 

left vague. 

One of the leaders of the Family party, observing these develop- 
ments, wrote that the rapidly growing Amalgamation scheme was "fairly 
attributable to Mr. Buchanan, who has for some years past been fond of 
being considered a Democrat in the liberality of his principles, whilst he 
desired the support of the federalists as their Magnus Apollo/' The day 
would come, he feared, when "Mr. Buchanan would have 'bestridden our 
narrow world like a Colossus' with the patronage and power of Pennsylvania 
at his feet." 29 


Buchanan was congratulating himself daring the week before the state 
election of 1826 upon how nicely the Amalgamation plans were progressing. 
He began to see the whole prospect unfolding before him in logical, in- 
evitable steps that must shortly sink the Family claims to control in 
confusion and bring him to the forefront as one of the top managers of a 
triumphant Jackson organization in Pennsylvania. Then he got that letter. 
It was from Duff Green, Calhoun's campaign manager, dated 
October 12, 1826. 

You will discover from the Journal & Telegraph that Mr. Clay & 
myself are at issue. The part taken by you on the occasion 
referred to, is known to me; and a due regard to your feelings has 
heretofore restrained me from using your name before the public. 
The time, however, Js now approaching when il will become the 
duty of every man to do all in his power to expose the bargain 
which placed the Coalition in power. Will you, upon the receipt 
of this, write to me and explain the causes which induced you to 
see GenL Jackson upon the subject of the vote of Mr. Clay & hi 
friends a few days before it was known that they had conclusively 
determined to vote for Mr. Adams; also advise me of the manner 
in which you would prefer that subject to be brought before 
the people. 30 

He read it and his vision collapsed. If that "bargain and sale" 
business was ever opened up again in a formal way, he was done for, not 
because he had done anything wrong but because all the appearances would 
be against him. He had done it again* had tried to act in good faith, but 
he had proceeded in a manner that laid him wide open to misinterpretation 
and every kind of malicious gossip. 


THE KING MAKER 1821 - 1827 

Who was responsible for disinterring this dead cat and tying it to 
his coattails, he wondered. Green and Calhoun probably wished a re- 
hashing of the political deal for the purpose of guaranteeing to Jackson 
his single term and of blasting forever Adams and Clay in order that Calhoun 
might be the only presidential candidate with unsinged reputation in 1832. 
Ingham, too, was certainly in it. He knew that no public discussion of 
president-making in the first two weeks of 1825 could go very far without 
embarrassing his rival, Buchanan. Ingham would find this move especially 
serviceable: not only would the candidates opposed to Calhoun be ruined, 
but Buchanan and his Amalgamators, sympathetic to the future prospects 
of Clay, would be completely upset in Pennsylvania. 

Buchanan worked for four days phrasing a reply that would suit 
the requirements: one which would assert his innocence and at the same 
time threaten unpleasant consequences, should the issue be forced. "The 
facts are before the world," he wrote, "that Mr. Clay & his particular friends 
made Mr* Adams President, & that Mr. Adams immediately thereafter 
made Mr. Clay Secretary of State. The people will draw their own in- 
ferences from such conduct & from the circumstances connected with it. 
They will judge the cause from the effects. I am clearly of opinion that 
whoever shall attempt to prove by direct evidence any corrupt bargain 
between Mr. C. and Mr. A. will fail; for if it existed the parties to it will 
forever conceal it." 31 

With this the matter simmered for a while, but the following 
summer Jackson himself came out against Clay alleging, in a public letter 
to Carter Beverly of Virginia, that a Congressman had sought to make a 
corrupt bargain with him on Clay's behalf. Clay then demanded to know 
who was this Congressman. Now Ingham began a correspondence with 
Buchanan to force him into as unfavorable a position as possible. 

"It is useless now to regret," he wrote, after everything had been 
made public but Buchanan's name. "Shd Clay demand of Genl Jackson 
his author he will have no alternative, nor could he have had from the 
first. . . : You will therefore be joined into the battle under a fire, but I 
see no difficulty in the case if you take your ground well and maintain 

it boldly.'** 

If Ingham saw no difficulty, Buchanan saw a great deal. He now 
had the hard choice of publicly confessing agency in a dirty bargain attempt, 
or of openly calling Andrew Jackson a liar. After a month of agonizing, he 
brought the "bargain and sale" controversy to its climax by a long letter 
to the public, in which he denied the truth of Jackson's charge: "I called 
upon General Jackson . . . solely as his friend, upon my individual responsi- 
bility," he wrote, "and not as the agent of Mr. Clay or any other person." 83 

Everyone interpreted the affair according to his own lights. "It 
places Jackson in a most awkward predicament," wrote a friend of Adams. 



"I am surprised at his indiscretion It turns out exactly as I suspected . . . 

that the author of the communication would prove to be a warm partisan 
of the opposition. ... But what surprises me more than anything else is 
the situation in which the General places his friend. From this statement 
he not only carried the proposal but advised him to accede to it; and yet 
he is still worthy of esteem. Buchanan is ruined if anything can ruin a man 
who is a partisan in party times.'' 34 Another gentleman^of the same party 
wrote: "Buchanan ... is in a pitiable predicament. Nothing short of a 
miracle can save him. His advice [to Jackson] is perfectly understood by 
the public. I wish that rascal Ingham was in his place. I doubt if in fact 
he is not more steeped in guilt than any of them." 35 

Henry Clay declared that while Buchanan labored to "spare and 
cover General Jackson" he failed in every essential point to sustain him. 
"Indeed," he continued, "I could not desire a stronger statement from 
Mr. Buchanan." 36 R> P. Letchcr held the same tone, writing that he was 
truly delighted that Buchanan had extricated himself from the dilemma in 
which Jackson had placed him and had "come forth victoriously/' 37 
William Rawle of Philadelphia confided to his diary on the night Buchanan *s 
public reply was received: "The question must now turn upon the veracity 
of Mr. Buchanan or of Gen. Jackson. If we believe the former, General J. 
must have quite misapprehended or wilfully misrepresented the con- 
nection. If the latter, the Gen. had reasonable grounds for believing that 

Mr. Clay's friends collectively authorized Buck to make the overture 

Jackson appears to great disadvantage unless we discard all that is assertetj 
by Buchanan." 38 

John C. Calhoun felt that the Buchanan letter would "procure a 
reaction" against Jackson, but that it would not be so serious* as to jwtpaniusp 
his election- "Mr. B. it is clear feels the awkwardness of his utuatittu" 
he said, "which has throughout modified hits conception of the tai<* t>f the 
case. Hence we see throughout the statement an effort to get d>ar of all 
conception of agency on his part, and to give a character of innoceiicy to 
the whole aflat,'** 

By and large the Jackson press agreed to say that Buchanan's 
letter did support General Jackson in all his charges agamst Gay. 40 Not so, 
however, the Jacksonians of the Amalgamation branch in Pennsylvania 
who were wild with rage. Molton Rogers told Buchanan : r "My own < pmion 
is that Jackson's prospects for the presidency are much taueiitti, if "<>t 
totally destroyed by his impolitic if not unkind conduct in relation to you 
in this affair. There is as far as I have been able to learn, but one opinion. 
The Governor is indignant at his conduct, & there would be no difficulty 
in bringing him out decidedly on the occasion, together with all the officer* 
of the Government. . . You owe it to your own character to defend your- 
self, and I would suggest a meeting in Lancaster to express this opinion on 


THE KING MAKER 1821 - 1827 

the subject. , . It will be impossible for you to support Genl. Jackson. 
He has left you and your friends no alternative." 41 The situation had 
changed. Temporarily, at least, it appeared as if Buchanan held the pivotal 
position. The Adams men threw open their arms in the hope that Buchanan 
would rush into their embrace, and there were many who, when asked what 
side they would take if the matter were made a sheer issue of veracity, 
replied in the words of James Stevenson of Pittsburgh, "Why, by God, 
I will believe Buchanan in preference to Gen. Jackson." 42 

To Ingham, Buchanan wrote: "If General Jackson and our 
editors should act with discretion the storm may blow over without injury. 
Should they on the contrary force me to the wall and make it absolutely 
necessary for the preservation of my own character to defend myself, I 
know not what may be the consequence. ... It is in your power to do 
much to give this matter a proper direction. . . . My friends here are very 
indignant but I believe I can keep them right." 43 To Duff Green, who had 
thought it prudent two weeks before to apologize for making so much 
trouble, Buchanan wrote stiffly that although he would never join the 
Adams party, he could not be responsible for damage to the Jackson cause 
that might result from a further attempt to pin the bargain on him. 44 

The controversy did not destroy Buchanan, but it did earn for 
him the life-long distrust of General Jackson, and it cooled noticeably the 
ardor of his friends for Old Hickory. Buchanan wrote of Jackson's state- 
ment that it was "a most extraordinary production so far as I am con- 
cerned;" 45 Jackson, on his part, confided to Amos Kendall that Buchanan's 
address was "such a production as surely I had not a right to expect from 
him." 46 Jackson, too, may justly have felt some irritation with the Calhoun 
leaders who for a year had known the ground on which Buchanan stood, 
although they had never troubled to point out the wide difference in their 
views. Van Buren assured Jackson that "Although our friend Buchanan 
was evidently frightened and therefore softened and obscured the matter, 
still the fact of your entire aversion to all and any intrigue or arrangement 
is clearly established." 47 The widespread publicity given the affair probably 
strengthened the belief of the average voter on each side that the opposition 
was crooked and added bitterness to an already violent campaign. As a 
result Buchanan became more secretive and cautious than ever in his 
subsequent political maneuvers. 





Buchanan now staked his political future on an outright change of party. 
He would, after having been four times elected to Congress as a Federalist, 
run as a Democratic candidate for the same office. "It will require the 
greatest excitement of party feelings, to induce many of the Jackson 
Democrats to vote for a Jackson Federalist/' wrote one of his friends. 1 

He opened his personal campaign in 1828 by a speech to Congress 
on February 4 in which he broke his usual habit of keeping election politics 
out of policy speeches and joined the Adams-baiting pack in the House, 
As the attack on the Administration progressed, Buchanan at length 
jumped into the fight and made a truculent speech against the President. 
While moderate in comparison to the efforts of many of his Jacksonian 
colleagues, it still was a deliberate political onslaught. Buchanan brought 
to bear against Adams not epithets and slander, but a lawyer's marshalled 
evidence which proved the more damning for its restraint of phraseology 
and the evidences of scholarship it suggested. It was not a rant; it was the 
presentation of proof, wrought into argument, that the Administration had 
been despotic, unconstitutional, dishonest, immoral, corrupt, and would 
imperil the nation if continued in office. It set Buchanan before the 
country as a powerful champion of Jackson and initiated the Amalgamation 
campaign in his own election district. 2 

During the last week of May, 1828, Federalists and Democrats 
favorable to Jackson met at the Lancaster Courthouse. Their resolutions 
announced Buchanan's new organization which had, until now, been only 
a prospect: 

Resolved: That at the county meeting to be held on the 27th 
day of August next, the Delegates be requested to nominate and 
settle such ticket, as will give as general satisfaction as possible 
to the friends of Andrew Jackson throughout the county & 



district, without reference to the political distinctions which 
have heretofore divided us. 3 

There it was, out in the light of day, over the signatures of twoscore men 
who, for a generation past, had run against each other for office under the 
labels of Federalist or Democrat. 

After the storm signal went up, it took less than a week for the 
hurricane to descend. Its violence was aggravated by informal agreements 
which could not be kept secret regarding the candidates who would be 
chosen in the fall. As the new Jackson party had to choose between leaders 
of two groups, it was inevitable that there should be twice as many claimants 
as there were nominations to be made. John McCamant, for example, who 
had been a frequent Democratic candidate for Congress, had to move aside 
in favor of Buchanan. McCamant was broad-minded enough to understand 
the necessity and to retire gracefully. He accepted (against the advice of 
his friends) a nomination to the State Legislature. 4 

Other plans terminated less happily. E. C. Reigart, who had long 
been a Congressional aspirant of the Federalist party, but who had been 
turned down at every nomination meeting in favor of Buchanan and at last 
had gone over to the Adams party, was beside himself with rage. He became 
obsessed with the determination to ruin Buchanan, and through the summer 
months poured forth in the Marietta Pioneer such slander as Lancaster 
County had never known in an election. 

Benjamin Champneys, a brilliant young lawyer of Lancaster who 
had formerly worked closely with the Family party, had been persuaded to 
join the Amalgamation movement by General George B. Porter. Champneys 
grudgingly accepted a place on the state assembly ticket He felt that this 
post was far beneath his dignity and took the assignment only as a means 
of keeping in the public eye. 

In Chester County, Charles Miner, who had been a Federalist 
colleague of Buchanan for two terms, wrote to his wife that he planned 
not to stand for Congress again. Miner had become an Adams supporter, 
despite his recognition that Adams would undoubtedly lose in Chester. Why 
not retire now rather than wait and "risk being run out?" "Buchanan," 
he concluded, "is really a strong man, and much as we differ on the presi- 
dential question, I should be sorry to see him out of Congress. This to 
your private ear. 1 ' 5 But Miner's friends would not hear of his retirement, 
and it was not long before he was placed in the Congressional race against 
Buchanan, with whom he had been accustomed to run in double harness. 6 

By July 4 the campaign reached full tide. Buchanan managed to 
be at three meetings that day at Yellow Springs, later at Downingtown, 
and at the end of the day at a huge Jackson banquet in the woods of Langdon 
Cheves's residence, "Abbeville," in Lancaster, 7 



The toasts at these affairs fairly well summarized the particular 
points of Buchanan's political strength in his district. His backers praised 
him for his successful support of duties on iron, hemp, molasses, and liquor 
during the tariff debate of the spring; for his exertions to get the Pennsyl- 
vania militia fines of 1814 turned back to the state; for obtaining a large 
refund from the federal government to Pennsylvania distillers who had 
been overtaxed; for exposing corruption in the Adams Administration; 
for aiding the Irishmen of the district by moderating the naturalization 
laws; for asserting the rights of farmers and manufacturers; for supporting 
local internal improvements; for endorsing a system of public education; 
and most particularly for the early and loyal fight for Jackson. 

Buchanan expected to face violent opposition, but the reality 
exceeded anything he had imagined. His old partisans portrayed him as 
the architect of the whole "bargain and sale" plan. They circulated a 
garbled account of his 1815 speech against Jefferson and Madison, mis- 
quoting him as saying on that occasion: "If I ever hat! a drop of Demo- 
cratic blood in my veins, I would let it out." The Adams men also published 
handbills recalling Buchanan's former presidency of the Lancaster Wash- 
ington Society, the official committee of the Federalist party. 8 

They represented his speeches on the tariff as antagonistic to 
protection and favorable only to the wishes of southern freetraders. They 
characterized his part in the inquiry into the conduct of Adams's Adminis- 
tration as an example of his political profligacy and eagerness to promote 
himself by tearing down the reputation of others. They charged him with 
being a friend of slavery and of the slave trade a charge particularly 
effective in the Quaker and Pennsylvania German regions and they 
claimed that he frequently absented himself from Congress to attend lo his 
private law business, although he drew pay during his absence. 1 * 

Buchanan kept out of the mess, letting his* party editurn handle 
all rebuttal until the Marietta Pioneer of August 15 came nut with the 

Fathers! Husbands!! Brothers!!! 

Read. Pause. Reflect. AndThm 

Vote for James Buchanan if You Can! 

The article charged that Buchanan had asserted, "within the hearing of two 
or more respectable witnesses, that Mrs. Adams, the wife of the Chief 
Magistrate, was born out of wedlock." 10 

Upon seeing this Buchanan sat down and wrote a letter to the 
presumed author, demanding all particulars of the charge, names of the 
people claiming to be witnesses, and details of the occurrence* 21 Editor 
Reigart replied in phraseology which quite failed to support the charge in 



the original article. Later a number of Buchanan's friends who had been 
at Yellow Springs stated that they had heard Buchanan speak of the lady 
"in terms of the most unqualified praise." 12 

Reigart was not the only editor who helped to make this national 
campaign notorious for scandal-mongering and slander. Many Adams 
papers broadcast that Jackson's mother had been a common prostitute with 
the British Army, that the General was the son of a Negro, and that his 
wife was a bigamist. It was then that the Jackson press retaliated with 
the canard about Mrs. Adams. 

Buchanan refuted the charge about absence from Congress so 
thoroughly that his enemies came back with another accusation: he had 
started the inquiry himself in order to have the advantage of showing his 
rebuttal. With characteristic precision, Buchanan had kept an account 
book listing every day spent in Congress. He proved that he had reported 
every absence to the Treasury, and had his pay for these days deducted 
from his salary. He had missed only one roll call of importance because of 
a case in court, and in that instance the fate of the bill had not depended 
upon his vote. 13 

The tariff question had become extremely important to citizens 
of Pennsylvania by 1828. In the Keystone State, protection had ceased 
to be an economic issue interesting only to manufacturers; as early as 1824, 
when the tariff problem seriously entered politics, the farmers of the state 
also wanted high duties. By 1827 nearly every economic class and every 
political party favored the protective system. 

Jackson, Calhoun, Adams and Clay all posed as the ardent 
champions of protection in Pennsylvania, but the first two came from the 
South where the protective tariff now encountered heavy opposition. 
Adams and Clay were strongest in New England which was devoted to 
protection. Buchanan had to develop a position on the tariff which would 
coincide with Jackson's, be competitive with the view of Adams and Clay, 
and satisfy Pennsylvania. He had already devised the required formula. 
In his first speech on the tariff he laid down ideas which he never there- 
after abandoned, even though he was at times under strong political pressure 

to do so. 

Buchanan advocated a national economy based upon self- 
sufficiency. A tariff, he believed, should first, protect agriculture, and 
particularly agricultural products which were the raw material of domestic 
manufactures; second, protect those manufactures which used domestic 
raw materials or were essential for national defense; and third, guarantee 
some equality of protection for the products of every section of the country. 
Buchanan opposed prohibitive tariffs, tariffs which would tend to give any 
type of producer a monopoly, and rates which would give an exclusive 
advantage to any single region or whose impact would affect chiefly the 



poor. All of these viewpoints he had clearly defined in speeches in 1823 
and 1824. 

The tariff question came to the forefront in 1827, when the 
Woolens Bill was introduced in Congress. This bill taxed the cheapest 
woolen goods at the highest rate; the most expensive were not taxed at all. 
It provided for duties on raw wool, but they were much lower relatively 
than those on imported cloth. 

The proposed statute put Pennsylvania's Congressmen in a 
dilemma. It worked hardship on everyone who bought woolen cloth and 
brought relief to only a few wool raisers of western counties. It also gave 
a monopoly of wool manufacture to the New England States, without any 
quid pro quo for other sections. It was an Adams measure which, if opposed 
by Jacksonians, would give the Adams Coalition a wonderful opportunity 
to assert that it was for, and Jackson against, the protective principle. In 
Pennsylvania this idea would possibly be fatal to Jackson's popularity. 

Buchanan considered the Woolens Bill so bad that he would not 
support it even in exchange for new duties on Pennsylvania's favorite 
commodities: iron, hemp and molasses. It was exclusively a New England 
bill. If it passed, Pennsylvania would need a tariff against New England 
more than against Old England, It taxed the poor of the whole Union to 
give New England exclusive control of the cloth market. Let his opponents 
call his course inconsistent: he would not sacrifice American farmers and 
the interests of three sections of the Union South* Middle and West to 
the greed of a few New England manufacturers. They had been at the 
committee hearings by the drove. But how many farmers were thrre to 
testify? How many westerners or middle state men? None. The bill 
was a New England fraud from start to finish. 

This line of debate got a cool reception at home, Buchanan wan 
one of only seven of Pennsylvania's 26 Congressmen to vote against the 
Woolens Bill. Many of those who supported it, Buchanan charged, dis- 
approved it, but "believed their constituents to be so Tariff mad that they 
were afraid to vote against it." w Ingham, too, opposed it: the Jadksanian 
leaders agreed that they could not afford to permit it to pass under Adminis- 
tration auspices and believed they had grounds enough to justify their 
opposition because of the defects in the details of the proposal. 

But the measure passed the House. In the Senate Martin 
Van Buren, now a staunch Jackson adherent, caused a tie by refusing to 
vote, thus forcing Vice-President Galhoun to make the decision and incur 
the odium of one side or the other. Calhoun, venom in his heart against 
Van Buren, took the only course he could: he sided with his own section 
and voted down the bill In Pennsylvania, newspaper editors let loose with 
the headline: "John C. Calhoun The Arch Traitor" and under this printed 



the names of the seven Congressmen who had opposed the bill, labelled 
"The seven Traitors of Pennsylvania " Buchanan headed the list. 15 

Pennsylvania reacted sharply to the defeat of the Woolens Bill. 
A state convention in favor of tariff protection which met in Harrisburg on 
June 27 assumed the aspect of a Clay-Adams electioneering meeting and 
became the basis for a second at the same place on July 30, which was 
advertised as a national convention of all friends of protection. Henry Clay 
was scheduled to be there, and all friends of the manufacturing interest 
were invited. The Jacksonians boycotted both meetings, stating that the 
program was "actuated only by a desire to seduce Pennsylvania from the 
cause of Jackson, under false pretences that himself & friends are opposed 
to the. Tariff, while Mr. Adams is in its favor." 16 Buchanan's brother 
George wrote worriedly from Pittsburgh, "The Woolens Bill is the great 
handle of Mr. Adams's friends here." 17 

During the summer, as the tide against Jackson continued to rise, 
Buchanan began to receive letters of this tenor: "I now prefer Mr. Adams 
. . , from a conviction that the interests of Pennsylvania are more likely 
to be promoted by the ascendency of northern men & northern measures 
than of southern men and southern measures." 18 

In order to meet the charge of "southern men and southern 
measures" Buchanan seized upon the only real stand Jackson had ever 
taken in regard to the tariff, his Coleman letter of 1824, and made as much 
of it as he dared. 

In a letter to the Lancaster JTecMy Journal, he wrote: 

Although the mass of the population of the Southern states may 
be hostile to the tariff policy, yet some distinguished individuals 
have risen above the prejudice by which they are surrounded. 
Among them I take pleasure in mentioning . , . General Jackson 
... I do know and I wish to be understood as speaking from 
personal knowledge, that General Jackson not only voted for the 
Tariff [of 1824], but that he was its decided and efficient friend. 
He did more to reconcile many of the Southern members of 
Congress to it than any other man in the country did or could 
have done. 19 

True, but Jackson supported this bill because he thought it 
necessary to the national defense; he did not support it because he believed 
in the protective principle, and he urged his southern colleagues to support 
it for the same reason. 

Buchanan had to show, somehow, that the New England States 
and the Adams Administration were opposed to a tariff. Early in July 1827, 
while on a brief electioneering trip to western Pennsylvania, he dropped a 
remark which foreshadowed the plan. A communication to the Franttln 



Repository signed "Agricola" quoted him as saying: "We [meaning 
Jackson's friends] will next session bring before Congress a tariff bill so 
larded with other than protection to wool growers and manufacturers of 
wool, and involving principles which we know the East will not agree to, 
[that] we will . . . throw the odium of its rejection off the South on ... 

the East." 20 

The story of the Tariff of Abominations is well known. But as 
soon as the trick bill was proposed Pennsylvania took it up with an enthusi- 
asm which had not been anticipated. All the Pennsylvania Jacksonians 
worked hard for it, and the Adams men supported it. The bill, once passed, 
was received with joyful acclaim in Pennsylvania. By midsummer of 1828, 
reports were widespread that the cause of Jackson was "rising rather than 


The result was a good deal of an impasse. Neither side could 
daim a clear victory on the tariff issue, but the important thing for the 
Jacksonians was that a tariff bill of their making had passed. In the North 
this was used as prima facie evidence of Jackson's soundness on the ques- 
tion. But the individual Congressmen who had voted against the 1827 
Woolens Bill had not been forgiven. Every one of them faced a hard 
struggle to retain his place in Congress, and none more so than James 

James wrote that "the persecution against me in this county has 
exceeded all reasonable bounds. Some of the leaders of the Adams party 
have transferred all their abuse from Genl. Jackson to me. The purest & 
most disinterested acts of my life have been misconstrued, & out of them 
charges have been raised to destroy my reputation/* 

In view of the state of public feeling, the tactics of the campaign 
were of great importance. Anything might happen in such an emotionally 
charged atmosphere, and the letters Buchanan got from his lieutenants in 
various parts of the state showed no assurance that Jackson would carry 
the state, or that Buchanan was safe in the district. 21 

In the local election early in October, however, Buchanan demon- 
strated the strength of his hold on the voters of Lancaster by polling 1371 
votes in the city against 309 for his opponent; and 5203 in the District 
against 3904. These results, which carried through the entire local ticket, 
showed that the Amalgamation plan of uniting Jackson Federalists and 
Jackson Democrats had been a resounding success. 22 In the presidential 
election of November Jackson defeated Adams in the Lancaster County 
District by a majority of 1467 out of a total of 8905 votes* 23 


Sitting in the quiet of his study on East King Street* Buchanan reviewed 
the course of recent events and tried to sketch out in his mind the imme- 



diate future. He could not stand many more contests like this one. What 
had been accomplished? The most remarkable thing was his own election 
as a Democrat after having been elected to Congress four times as a Feder- 
alist. That was a gratifying testimony to his personal reputation and had 
been worth the violence of the campaign. The battle had left a good many 
wounded veterans, but the important thing was that it had been won and 
the victory proclaimed the existence of a strong new party in Pennsylvania 
of which James Buchanan was the leader. 

Pennsylvania cast so impressive a vote for Andrew Jackson that 
everyone took it for granted that the Keystone State would have a dis- 
tinguished place in the new Cabinet, but to find a man combining personal 
capacity and political availability proved a thorny task for the new Adminis- 
tration. Old Hickory would "have his own trouble with Pennsylvania," 
wrote one of Buchanan's editors from Harrisburg; there were "more 
quarters than one" in which "something like a vice-royalty will be ex- 
pected." 24 As the original Jackson men cut no figure in state politics, it 
was certain that the main struggle for influence would develop between 
Buchanan's Amalgamators and the Family party, neither of whom appealed 
particularly to General Jackson. The Amalgamators were tainted by their 
partiality for Henry Clay, the support of the Federalists, and Buchanan's 
part in the "bargain and sale" scandal The Family party suffered from 
the deserved stigma of its nickname, "Eleventh Hour men." It represented 
the city and business element of politics, which the western frontier voters 
hated, and openly proclaimed its intention to put Calhoun in the White 
House as soon as possible* 

Buchanan had worked out a comprehensive plan for his party: 
get Henry Baldwin into the Cabinet; promote Senator Isaac Barnard for 
governor in 1829; after his election, let him use his influence to persuade 
the Legislature to send Buchanan to the Senate as the replacement; and 
run George B. Porter for Congress in Buchanan's place to assume direction 
of the Amalgamation men in the House. The scheme showed clearly that 
Buchanan had advanced from the county and district level, and had 
broadened his view to encompass the state and the nation. The new 
program appealed to the rural and poorer class of Pennsylvanians against 
the urban and richer class. The voting strength of the western frontiersmen 
led by Baldwin, the latent power of the German farmers, organized by 
Buchanan and Henry A. Muhlenberg, and the class consciousness of the 
newly aroused workingmen of Philadelphia would be combined to challenge 
the political and financial monopoly which Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, now 
controlled by the Family party, had long imposed on the Commonwealth. 
Buchanan went to Washington shortly after the presidential 
election to superintend the details. He had been rooming with Senator 
Barnard for a year, but the two of them now moved to Mrs. Cottinger's 



where they could be joined by Congressmen James S. Stevenson of Pitts- 
burgh and John B. Sterigere of Chester County. 25 Buchanan was in poor 
shape for the job which had to be done; he had been violently ill for several 
months during the latter part of the election campaign with bilious fever. 
These attacks, which seized him whenever he faced a hard fight, gave him 
nausea, violent headache, and diarrhea and kept him near the slop bucket 
into which he vomited bile until he was empty and then painfully retched 
air. He was scarcely well when he returned to Congress in December, and 
by the beginning of the new year suffered a recurrence of the fever which 
lasted throughout February. 26 

Rumor had early picked Samuel D. Ingham and Henry Baldwin 
as the two Pennsylvanians most likely to be honored by a Cabinet post and 
until February, 1829, it was a question who would succeed. Buchanan had 
no hopes for himself, but he did expect that Jackson would select Baldwin 
for the Treasury Department. 27 He had defended Jackson in 1819 when 
he had been under attack for his Florida expedition, had been the first 
Pennsylvaman to ask him formally to be a presidential candidate, and had 
worked ardently for the cause ever since. Baldwin's son had recently 
bought a plantation next to the Hermitage in Tennessee and had been on 
terms of intimacy with Jackson throughout the summer of 1828. 

The prospects seemed so good that the Amalgamators failed to 
exert themselves as hard as circumstances demanded When Buchanart 
had discussed with Baldwin the possibility of nominating him for governor 
in the spring of 1829, he had positively declined under an assurance from 
Jackson that he would be placed at the head of the Treasury, and when the 
president-elect invited Baldwin to come to Washington for a conference in 
February, it was assumed that the appointment would now be offered 
to him. 38 

On the other hand, Ingham appeared to have little chance. Just 
a year before he had been defeated in the contest for United Stales Senator 
by a vote of 11 to 108 in favor of Barnard. Furthermore, Ingham was now 
so ill at his home in New Hope that his friends feared for his life, 

But Buchanan and his partisans did not know that the Eleventh 
Hour Men had sowed all manner of doubts about Baldwin among Jackson's 
advisors, and that a few of them had called upon Jackson, representing 
themselves as spokesmen for the whole Pennsylvania delegation, and had 
demanded the highest place for Ingham. Calhoun's friends joined in the 
effort 29 Their strongest argument was that the appointment of Ingham 
would ensure the nomination of a strong pro-Jackson governor of Pennsyl- 
vania. The Amalgamators, warned the Calhoun men, hoped to see Clay 
in the White House, and if they got control of the state administration 
they might succeed. 



Late in February Jackson announced the appointment of Ingham 
as Secretary of the Treasury. The loss of this key appointment to the 
enemy was bad enough, but for Buchanan it was only half of the disaster. 
Baldwin, cut to the core by the ridicule heaped upon him by the Family 
press, considered himself entirely crushed and announced his "complete 
withdrawal from political contests." 30 To lose the services of Baldwin in 
the western region would nearly cripple the Amalgamation plan. 

Buchanan could do little to help in Washington because Jackson 
distrusted him and he had been counting on Baldwin to be his direct channel 
to the White House. He tried to promote the appointment of his faction's 
candidates for various federal offices, but Jackson gave the appointments 
to the Dallas men. 

By June, Buchanan's enthusiasm for Andrew Jackson had cooled 
perceptibly. The love and admiration which Pennsylvanians had expressed 
for Jackson personally had not, he wrote, "been transferred to his ad- 
ministration/' 31 The Amalgamators had lost the fight in Washington and 
had to salvage what they could in Harrisburg. 

On March 4, 1829, while a howling mob wrecked the White House 
in an effort to congratulate the newly inaugurated president, his friends in 
Pennsylvania congregated in Harrisburg to stage a bitter grudge fight for 
control of the state Jacksonian party. 

Buchanan stayed away from the Harrisburg convention. He 
had worked out the strategy, informed everyone of the task to be done, 
and now left it up to the county workers to go into the fight and win. But 
these men were no match for some of the old and skillful politicians work- 
ing for Ingham, whose convention delegation was managed by Dr. Joel B. 
Sutherland of Philadelphia. Barnard, after leading a field of ten candidates 
through thirteen ballots, finally lost the nomination for governor to the 
Family candidate, George Wolf, by the unexpected switch of three western 
delegates. The defeat was particularly galling to the Amalgamators, not 
so much because the final three votes which nominated Wolf had been 
bought by Sutherland as because Barnard's own five-man delegation froip 
Chester County had been barred from the convention on the first day in 
favor of a contesting Family delegation. The Barnard men shouted "foul," 
called a general party conclave to condemn the Harrisburg proceedings, 
and planned another convention in May to place Barnard in the field. They 
denounced Wolfs nomination as the result of "intrigue and management 
in order, if possible, to secure the vote of Pennsylvania at the next presi- 
dential election for John C. Calhoun." 32 It seemed clear that the nomination 
of Wolf would be contested and that Barnard, or even Shulze, might be 
selected to run against him. 

Buchanan wrote hastily to Barnard, expressing his mortification 
at the proceedings of the convention. There should have been an imme- 



diate protest, he thought, but now that the convention had adjourned, it 
was too late; they would all have to support Wolf. "There is no course 
left but submission. . . . Your enemies would be delighted if you should 
consent to be a candidate. This, however, I feel certain you will not do." 33 

By April, matters approached a crisis, for Barnard's friends 
seemed determined to hold another convention in May. By valiant work 
Buchanan at last managed to avert an open split among the Jacksonian* 
and to prevent the meeting of the proposed convention. He saw no ad- 
vantage in fighting the men supported by the Jackson Administration, 
especially at this time. Anti-Masonry had rapidly come to the fullness of 
its mushroomlike growth and, in alliance with the old Adams party, would 
certainly defeat a Democracy split in two, 

Buchanan therefore urged the Amalgamators to abandon all 
formal opposition to Wolf and develop a campaign to gain some influence 
over him. Barnard should remain quietly in the Senate; Shulze should 
make all the removals he could, filling the places with supporters of Wolf 
so that the new governor would be placed in the predicament of bring 
unable to give office to men of his own choice without firing political 
friends. 34 Buchanan's county organizations would circulate the idea that 
Wolf was strong for Calhoun but lukewarm for Jackson. This would give 
them some leverage at Harrisburg after the election. 

In June 1829, the anti-Masons nominated Joseph Ritner for the 
governorship. He had the advantages of residence in the western part of 
the state, Pennsylvania-Dutch Wood, and a reputation as an ardent pro- 
tectionist, but the Jacksonians felt these were more than counteracted by 
his support of Adams in 1828, his ridiculous conduct when Speaker of the 
state House of Representatives, and the deplorable absence of delegates at 
the anti-Masonic nominating convention. The Family party did not fear 
Ritner; it feared the defection of the Buchanan men. 

Buchanan worked throughout the summer trying to keep hta 
partisans in line, a task very much complicated by the type of fallowing he 
had purposely created. Diverse elements could be held together under the 
pressures and expectations of 1828, but it was a different matter to keep 
them united in the face of defeat and without proHpirt* of reward. 3 '* 
Barnard made no real effort to keep the Amalgamation group intact in 
Chester County, letting his followers drift to the anti-Masons or the Family 
without protest. He occupied himself chiefly with the buttle, trying t* 
forget his recent defeat, "For God's sake/' Buchanan wrote to htm, 
"summon up that resolution which belongs to your character & abandon 
the practice forever- . . . You have been but once disappointed; & dis- 
appointment is the common fate of public men* The Senate of the United 
States is a theatre as exalted a$ that to which your friends wished IP elevate 
you. * . , Pardon my frankness & attribute it altogether to 



Barnard, however, never recovered. He was a dead weight on the Amal- 
gamation party and became useless in the Senate from which, within a 
little more than a year, he resigned. 

Buchanan took his two-week vacation at Bedford Springs as usual, 
but returned home in mid-August to take the stump for Wolf. He talked 
mostly at meetings of Barnard men, telling them that, although he had 
not been in favor of the nomination of Wolf, it was now the duty of all 
Jacksonians to support him. His speeches placed him on perfectly open 
ground with Wolf, but hardly quieted the apprehensions of the Family 
party that Barnard's friends, for revenge, would vote anti-Masonic or not 
vote at all. 

The poll in October gave shocking evidence that Joseph Ritner 
had support other than that of the anti-Masons. Wolfs victory was no 
landslide, and explanations of why it was not were soon pouring in from 
every direction. Buchanan wrote, 

Anti-Masonry has overwhelmed us like a tornado in this county. 
Until within a few days of the election none of us had an idea of 
its extensive influence. . . . The majority against us will exceed 
1500. It was 1300 in our favor last election. ... In the face of 
our enemies, it would be miserable policy to divide ourselves into 
hostile, opposing factions. 37 

The Amalgamators, while they knew that they could expect no 
voluntary favors from the new governor, did feel that they were sufficiently 
strong to demand recognition and hoped to benefit from Wolfs fears if not 
from his gratitude. Unless he conciliated them, said they, he would not 
have a chance of re-election in 1832, and the only policy which could 
possibly save him from being run out at the end of one term was a dis- 
tribution of the offices between the two factions. The alternative was 
anti-Masonic victory. 

During November and December, Buchanan wrote letters every 
day or two to Governor Wolf, recommending friends for office. 38 Tfhe 
major struggle of the Amalgamators centered on the Attorney-Generalship, 
an appointment they determined to make a test of the governor's attitude 
toward them. Wolf displayed great political acumen when he side-stepped 
the factional fight by declaring that he would make residence at Harrisburg 
a sine qua non for this appointment. Thus, he summarily eliminated every 
candidate except the one of this choice, Samuel Douglass. 39 

The contest between the friends of Champneys and Buchanan in 
Lancaster touched off a fight which illustrated the state of feeling between 
the rival factions throughout the state. The Wolf Democrats held a victory 
meeting after election, whereupon Buchanan's friends resolved' likewise to 
celebrate. They selected the courthouse as a meeting place and made 



preparations to gather immediately upon the adjournment of the current 
session of the court. Champneys, in the hope of effecting a reconciliation, 
agreed to appear on the platform with Buchanan and G. B. Porter, but the 
harder core of the Wolf party and the local sheriff determined that there 
would be no celebration. The minute court adjourned they rushed to 
the building, had the bell rung, surged into the court room, hoisted the 
sheriff into the chair, and enacted a scene "seldom witnessed in a civilized 
country." The would-be speakers, teetering; atop the judges' bench, 
attempted to harangue the crowd but became a target for flying inkstands, 
pitchers, glasses, and spittoons. 40 

The opponents of Amalgamation blamed Buchanan, stating that 
nothing less than riot could be expected from an effort to unite red-blooded 
Democrats with Federalists and that Buchanan's hostility to Wolf was the 
reason for the outbreak. Buchanan made haste to write to the governor 
to "learn whether my enemies have made any impression against me on 
your mind" since the famous meeting at Lancaster. "I anticipated no 
disturbance," he said, "and . . . attended for the single purpose of uniting, 
not of dividing the party, as my preamble and resolutions abundantly 
testify, ... I confess I think my case a very hard one. Having actively 
supported not only your election, I>ut that of the whole county tidkrt. . . . 
I find myself now denounced as if I had been your cold friend if not your 

enemy It is my determination firmly to sustain your administration 

Having long since announced my determination to retire from Om^n^s at 
the close of the present term, I have no interest but the pood of the country 
& the party in desiring to save the District . . from the #ra*{> of anti- 
Masonry. This can be done, only by a thorough union & pre-ron<rtrted 
action of your friends, under the name of Democrats. I'liion is 
absolutely necessary to our auorcffift. Nothing shall l>e wanting on my part 
to promote a reconciliation of your friends, provided 1 **an interfere with 
any reasonable hope of accomplishing so desirable a purponi*."* 1 

This letter lacked something of candor, ami Wolf knew it. In 
fact, there lay on the governor's desk half a duacrn others from friend* hr 
trusted explaining in minute detail that "in every county when** (the 
Amalgamators] had any influence," that party "playml iw false/' 4 * But 
when it was all said, Wolf still faced the plain fact that Buchanan's {>arty 
held a balance of power which could destroy him. Reluctantly the govr rni r 
asked Champneys to swallow his pride and to "act cordially with Porter 
and Buchanan." When Champneys resisted, an administration spokesman 
wrote more urgently: "My intention was with deference to intimate my 
own opinion that no sacrifice of personal feeling on your part which might 
produce a strong Union & ultimate success could puwibly place you in a 
less enviable situation. I do not now, nor have I ever supposed that 
fBuchanan] will ever very cordially support us. Still I have hoped that 



something like the course I have suggested might give a little hetter aspect 
generally to the politics of Lancaster, and essentially strengthen the real & 
sound democracy at home." 43 

Buchanan succeeded better in forcing the idea of union on the 
governor than he did on his own partisans. Scarcely had the ink of his 
protestations of friendship to Wolf dried on the page when he was invited 
to a Chester County meeting called for the specific purpose of rejecting 
resolutions favorable to the state administration. Barnard remarked to 
him at this affair that "any attempt to identify you with the Gov. was cal- 
culated to do you mischief." 44 A little later the anti-Wolf Democrats of 
Philadelphia invited Buchanan to a dinner. The committee had purposely 
extended invitations only to persons living in the city in order that the 
governor would not have to be invited (a ruse intended to mock Wolfs 
"residence rule" for naming the Attorney General), but it informed 
Buchanan that "if you, Barnard, &c. should happen to be here, the Com. 
would at once call upon you." 45 

The situation, indeed, appeared to be hopeless. Buchanan, 
observing the political chaos, formally announced in the spring of 1830 
that he would retire from politics; he knew he could be nominated only by 
his own faction, and he knew with equal certainty that this faction could 
not elect him. The death of Judge John Tod of the State Supreme Court 
led him to hope for that appointment. Many of his friends wrote to Wolf 
that Buchanan might be persuaded to accept the position if it were "offered 
to him without a recommendation being presented," but that he would 
not seek it. 46 This peculiar approach originated with Buchanan himself; 
the mere thought of rejection affected him like salt on a snail's back. Wolf 
eventually named John Ross of Bucks County to the judgeship, thereby 
giving to Ingham an unexpected and staggering blow, for Ross and Ingham 
for years had been at loggerheads with each other. The governor wrote 
later that Buchanan "wanted me to appoint him," and that the "refusal to 
do so has made xne appear very contemptible in his eyes." 47 

In December, 1830, William Wilkins was elected to the United 
States Senate by a last minute coalition of the warring Democrats who, on 
the twenty-first ballot, got together rather than permit the imminent 
victory of the anti-Masonic contender. A year later, upon the resignation 
of Senator Barnard because of ill health, the Pennsylvania Legislature 
named George M. Dallas to fill the unexpired term. 

Buchanan glumly reviewed the ruins Baldwin shelved, Barnard 
retired and dying, himself withdrawn until the storm should blow over; 
the Family installed in Jackson's Cabinet, in control of the governorship, 
and in command of both seats in the United States Senate; the Democratic 
party in Pennsylvania split hopelessly and facing inevitable defeat by a 
political rag, tag, and bobtail united in the weird idiocy of anti-Masonry. 



Life was a vast joke, and hope was futile. The situation was nearly as 
ridiculous as it was painful. 

"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." At least he could 
finish his work in Congress with some 6elat and distinction. There was 
important work to do, and he would be called upon as a veteran to direct it. 
Without any certainty of the future, and without a great deal of interest in 
it, Buchanan settled down to his last two years as a legislator. 


The first session of the Twenty-first Congress, which convened in December 
1829, found Buchanan in an unusually dour and touchy frame of mind. 
He grumped about a departure from the customary mode of selecting a 
Clerk of the House, and let go a blast at Congressman James K. Polk, a 
young member from Tennessee, which was quite out of keeping with his 
normally placid deportment. Polk had made a speech on an important 
resolution, concluding with a motion to lay the matter on the table, a 
motion which, by rule, admitted no debate. Buchanan requested Polk to 
withdraw his motion and allow him to say a few words, but Polk refused. 
The House then voted down the motion to table, and Buchanan got the 
floor. He was aorry, he said, that he had to bother the House with a vote 
because his colleague lacked common courtesy. The gentleman from 
Tennessee was withiu his rights but very ungracious, after speaking at 
length himself, .to conclude with a motion which, if successful, would 
prevent anybody else from saying anything. Polk flushed with angry 
embarrassment. A little incident; a little incident such as a man never 

One of the most conspicuous contributions which James Bu- 
chanan ever made to the government of the United States was his Minority 
Report opposing a proposal to abrogate the 25th Section of the Judiciary 
Act of 1789. The motion to repeal went to the House Committee on the 
Judiciary of which Buchanan was now chairman, succeeding Daniel 
Webster. A large majority of the Committee, representing a comparable 
majority in the House, favored the repeal and reported a bill for the purpose. 
But Buchanan showed that "though he may have quit the Federalist Party, 
he had not abandoned Federalist doctrine.'* He prepared his report* got 
the signatures of two of his committee members, and took his case to 
the House. 49 

The Constitution gave to the federal courts jurisdiction in "all 
cases in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the 
United States, and treaties." The 25th section of the Act of 1789 further 
defined this general grant, assigning to the Supreme Court final judgment in 



three classes of cases: 1) those in which a state court should decide that 
a law or treaty of the United States was void; 2) those in which the validity 
of a state law was called in question on the ground that it violated the 
federal Constitution; and 3) cases involving appellate jurisdiction on con- 
struction of the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States when 
their protection had been invoked, but denied, to parties in state suits. 

Buchanan rested his defense of these jurisdictions of the Supreme 
Court upon three propositions. First, he said, "it ought to be the chief 
object of all Governments to protect individual rights." Without the 25th 
Section, state courts could deny any or all of the rights supposed to be 
guaranteed to citizens by the federal Constitution, and the citizen so de- 
prived of his rights would have no recourse. 

Second, there could be no uniformity in the construction of the 
federal Constitution, of the laws of Congress, or of treaties, without the 
ultimate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Without the 25th Section, 
each state could decide for itself the meaning of a phrase in the Constitution 
or federal statute or treaty. Thus, a federal law or international agreement 
might be valid in one state and in another be held void. 

Third, the only alternative to these jurisdictions of the Supreme 
Court was disunion. "The chief evil which existed under the old con- 
federation, and which gave birth to the present constitution, was, that the 
General Government could not act directly upon the people, but only by 
requisition upon sovereign States. The present Constitution was intended 
to enable the Government of the United States to act immediately upon the 
people of the States, and to carry its own laws into execution by virtue of 
its own authority." 

"We have in this country," he concluded, "an authority much 
higher than that of the sovereign States. It is the authority of the sovereign 
people of each State. In their State Conventions, they ratified the Con- 
stitution of the United States; and so far as the Constitution has deprived 
the States of any of the attributes of sovereignty, they are bound by it, 
because such was the will of the people. The Constitution thus called into 
existence by the will of the people of the several States, has declared itself 
. , to be 'the supreme law of the land'; and the judges in every State shall 
be bound thereby." 60 

Buchanan presented the case for the Minority Report with such 
force that the House adopted it by a vote of 138 to 5L Buchanan properly 
considered it "a most signal and permanent victory for national unity and 
federal sovereignty." Personally it was a victory of the constitutional 
lawyer over the party politician, but in a larger sense it preserved the 
national jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Had the popular sentiment for 
repeal of the 25th Section prevailed, wrote a modern judge, "who can say 
that the eloquence of Webster or the political skill of Lincoln or the mUitary 



genius of Grant would have availed to save the Union from disintegra- 
tion?" 51 More likely, none of these would ever have had the chance to 
try his powers. 

As a final flourish to his Congressional career, Buchanan acted 
as chief manager of the prosecution of Judge James H. Peck of Missouri, 
against whom the Judiciary Committee reported articles of impeachment 
in March, 1830. Judge Peck had imprisoned and disbarred a St. Louis 
attorney, Luke E. Lawless, citing him for contempt because Lawless had 
written newspaper articles which criticized Judge Peck's opinions. Bu- 
chanan conducted the prosecution in collaboration with Henry R. Storrs of 
N, Y., one of the readiest debaters in the House, George McDuffie of South 
Carolina, Ambrose Spencer, for twenty years a Judge of the New York 
Supreme Court, and Charles Wickliffe, a lawyer from Kentucky. William 
Wirt and Jonathan Meredith acted as attorneys for Judge Peck. 

The Senate acquitted Peck by a vote of 22 to 21. John Quincy 
Adams confided to. his diary that it was "highly probable that Jackson did 
not wish to see an impeachment of a Judge, commenced by Buchanan, 
successfully carried through." 52 

The chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee and the imprach- 
ment proved a welcome distraction to Buchanan in the dismal days after 
the election of Governor Wolf and the triumph of the Family, but as the 
Jackson Administration grew older some new rays of hop*' bepan to shine 
for the Amalgamators. On January 4, 1$JO, President Jaek.<wi appointed 
Henry Baldwin to a seat on the Supreme Court left vacant by the death of 
Judge Bushrod Washington in November, 1829. The Family had pushed 
hard to have John Bannister Gibson appointed, but the Buchanan men 
pressed for Baldwin, urging as a main reason for choosing him tlu* fact 
that the Calhoun newspapers in Pennsylvania and the national capital had 
been denouncing Baldwin so bitterly/ 3 In the Senate, Baldwin's nomination 
was approved by everyone except the two members from South Carolina. 

Within eighteen months, events occurred which completely 
destroyed Calhoun's chances for the presidency as a successor of Jackson, 
estranged the Calhoun forces in Pennsylvania from the president, and 
revived the influence of Buchanan and his Amalgamator*. The* violent 
threats of South Carolina to nullify the federal tariff laws, the dramatic un- 
closeting of the long-hidden skeleton of Calhcwn's attack on Jaekwm during 
the Florida war of 1818-1819, and the breakup of the Cabinet over the 
Peggy Eaton affair, which for months had been the main topif of drawing 
room conversation in Washington, made it clear to all that Jackson and 
Calhoun had come to the parting of the ways. The vice-president's break 
with Jackson left the Family party of Pennsylvania with little influence in 
the national capital. As the feud sharpened it became a certainty that 
Jackson would accept a second term. Much as the Family party tried to 



prevent it, Buchanan and his associates joined with Jackson's promoter, 
William B. Lewis, to have Pennsylvania take the lead in calling for the 
renomination of "Old Andy" and got the State Legislature to issue a formal 
call on February 3, 1831. 5 * 

By the spring of 1831, at Van Buren's suggestion, the national 
Cabinet dissolved and all the Calhoun men in it, including Ingham, quit 
the Jackson Administration. This set-back to the prestige of the Family 
proved a life-giving tonic to the Amalgamators, who now tried to get 
Jackson to appoint Buchanan to the Attorney-Generalship, or possibly to 
the Treasury Department. 65 Van Buren astutely obtained for George 
Washington Buchanan, James's brother, an appointment as federal attorney 
for the Pittsburgh district. 56 

At the same time Buchanan's friends began to plug him for the 
vice-presidency, as running mate to Jackson in 1832. Newspapers in 
Amalgamation counties in Pennsylvania and in nearby states where 
Buchanan had supporters placed his name on their mastheads under 
Jackson's and called public meetings to endorse the plan. Buchanan had 
already announced his determination to retire from politics and had turned 
down an invitation to run for the State Legislature, but the vice-presidency 
was a little different. The Calhoun movement which had long dominated 
the Pennsylvania scene now lay prostrate; but Buchanan's party was still 
very much alive and he decided to let the vice-presidential business boom 
a little just to prove it. 





At the very time that there was so much talk about Buchanan for a Cabinet 
post or Buchanan for the vice-presidency, he received a letter from John 
Henry Eaton. In it Eaton invited him to become the Minister to Russia. The 
offer of the Russian Mission was a distinct letdown, sine** this assignment 
was a sort of genteel exile for those political figures who could neither be 
ignored nor trusted, and it came at a most inopportune moment. Buchanan 
had no desire to leave the United States when the political scene was so 
exciting. Ingham was out of the picture; his absence had created a vacuum 
in Pennsylvania politics, and Buchanan stood poised to fill it. Now that 
Ingham was also out of the Jackson Administration, people wanted to know 
what place Buchanan would have in it. For the time being he rould give 
no hint of his plans for the immediate future, because Eaton had informed 
him that the invitation was to be considered entirely confidential. 1 

Buchanan replied to Eaton that he ought not to accept. He did 
not know French; he was very busy with his law practice and could not 
leave for some time without grave injury to his clients, 2 Eaton responded 
that the president would not ask him to leave for a year, "unless something 
more than is now expected arises.** With this foggy assurance Burhanan 
had to be satisfied. He accepted the mission on June 12> and asked again 
that he be allowed to make public the appointment. His preparations for 
departure and his sudden interest in the study of French would give it away 
anyhow. "Is there any reason why I should * . defer these pre parations?" 
he plaintively inquired, Jackson scrawled an impatient note to Eaton 
which the Major forwarded: "Say to him in reply, to go on and make his 
preparations and let the newspapers make any comments that they may 
think proper, and mind them not It is only necessary that he should not 
give them any information." There would be no announcement of the 
appointment until the present minister, John Randolph of Roanoke, 
returned to America; and no one knew when that would be.* 



Throughout the summer of 1831 hints of all kinds of appoint- 
ments, including the right one, circulated widely in the press, as did stories 
that Buchanan had been snubbed by Jackson. 4 His vice-presidential 
prospects continued to boom, but they were considerably hampered by the 
unconfirmed rumors that he would get a mission. 5 Another manifestation 
of Jackson's kindness which perturbed Buchanan was the appointment of 
his colleague in the Amalgamation plan, George B. Porter, to the governor- 
ship of Michigan Territory in place of General Lewis Cass, who was now in 
charge of the War Department. With Ingham "sacked" and Porter and 
Buchanan about to be shipped out, Pennsylvania's Democratic party was 
without leadership. The whole development appeared to be no accident; 
the parts fitted together too well The object was to build a Van Buren 
party on the wreckage of both the Family and the Amalgamation factions. 

During July Buchanan had a bilious attack. He used it as an 
excuse to travel north under doctor's orders. In late August and early 
September he went "wandering about among the New Yorkers & the 
Yankees," centering his activities at Saratoga and Boston, while he tried 
to learn about American trade problems with the Baltic and the Black Sea. 6 

By the time he got back to Lancaster on September 9, he knew 
that his vice-presidential hopes had gone aglimmering. Pennsylvania would 
probably name Dallas as its candidate. Buchanan wrote to Jackson: "Now 
I have no wish to be a candidate for the Vice Presidency, on the contrary 
my nomination was got up without my consent & it is my intention to 

decline I think no man ought to hold that office but one of mature age 

who has obtained the confidence of the American people by distinguished 

services In short, he ought to be next in the confidence of the people 

to the President himself," 7 Shortly after Jackson received this, he publicly 
announced the appointment to Russia. 

Buchanan's mother now learned for the first time of the assign- 
ment. "Would it not be practicable even now to decline its acceptance?'* 
she asked, "Your political career has been of that description which ought 
to gratify your ambition & as to pecuniary matters, they are no object to 
you. If you can consistently with the character of a gentleman & a man 
of honor, decline, how great a gratification it will be to me. . . . P.S. At 
what time do you intend paying us that visit, previous to your departure 
from the country which gave you birth, and I expect, to me, the last visit? 
Do not disappoint me, but certainly come," 8 Elizabeth Speer Buchanan 
was sixty-six. 

For the next several months, Buchanan tried to pull together all 
the loose ends of his many activities in preparation for a two-year absence. 
He visited Jackson in Washington and his mother at Mercersburg. He 
worked actively among Pennsylvania politicians to try to salvage something 
from the chaos which the previous months had brought, and answered 



Jackson's effort to create a new Pennsylvania leadership by joining forces 
with his old rivals, Wolf and Dallas. Governor Wolf was in the worst 
predicament of all. Immediately upon hearing of Ingham's dismissal from 
the Cabinet, he had written asking Ingham to swallow his anger and refrain 
from attacking Jackson. Otherwise, everyone would assume "that the 
Administration of the State was in hostility with that of the Union a 
position in which for the present I have no desire to be placed." 9 

In the Pennsylvania election for Senator on December 13, 1831, 
Buchanan agreed that his friend, Henry A. Muhlenberg, should throw his 
floor ballots to Dallas in order to prevent the election of an anti-Mason or 
an Adams man. Ironically, it was Barnard's seat which was to be filled* 
Nonetheless, anything but support of Dallas meant a complete destruction 
of the Jackson party, which would carry all down with it. Pennsylvania 
had an obligation to look out for her own interests, interests which a 
Van Buren control would readily sacrifice, 

On January 12, 1832, Buchanan's nomination to the Russian 
Mission was almost unanimously confirmed by the U. S. Senate. On the 
13th Van Buren's confirmation as Minister to Great Britain was defeated 
by the casting vote of Vice-President Calhoun sweet revenge for Uttle 
Van's trick on the Woolens Bill vote of 1827. Within a week. Governor 
Wolf wrote a letter to Jackson which Benjamin Champneys showed to 
Buchanan prior to sending it to its destination. Wolf urged Jackson to 
appoint Buchanan to the English Mission* in place of Van Buren. l( * 

Buchanan understood perfectly the meaning of the epistle and 
the mode of its delivery, Champneys had become the most unrelenting foe 
of Amalgamation. His visit was the olive branch, and Wolfs letter itself 
was a declaration to Andrew Jackson that the Democrats of Pennsylvania 
stood united for him, but not for Martin Van Buren. 12 As to the proposal, 
Buchanan sent his thanks to the governor and acknowledged that "London 
would to me be a pleasant exchange for St. Petersburg," but he added that 
he had no intention of pressing the suggestion. 

In the meantime, he completed preparations for his new duties 
and for the supervision of his personal affairs during his absence. Edward 
Livingston, Secretary of State, wrote him detailed instructions for managing 
the Legation 12 and suggested that Buchanan, in case he did not wish to 
continue John Randolph Clay as Secretary of Legation, avail himself of 
the services of a department clerk, Dr. Robert Greenhow, who knew 
languages and had travelled much in Europe. 15 Buchanan selected Clay. 
He gave power of attorney to two Lancaster friends, John 
Reynolds, editor of the Lancaster Journal, and Dr. Nathaniel W. Sample, in- 
structing them to sell his library and all his personal property in Lancaster, 
to superintend the management of his real estate, to collect his dividends 
and interest, and to conduct prosecutions of all who failed to pay on time. 



He authorized them to invest his income in state and federal bonds or in 
Lancaster real estate. 14 

On March 21, 1832, he left for Washington. He was in a dismal 
frame of mind, reasonably certain that he was permanently severing his 
connection with Lancaster and positive that he was about to embark on a 
pursuit "in which my heart never was: to leave the most free and happy 
country on earth for a despotism more severe than any which exists in 
Europe." 16 

In Washington he visited his friend Stephen Pleasanton of the 
Auditor's office and got the details of his pay straightened out. He would 
receive $9000 per year, an "outfit" fee of one year's salary, and also the 
cost of passage home. The Legation was provided with a special contingent 
fund for the purchase of postage, newspapers, minor gifts, and stationery. 16 
He made final arrangements for John W. Barry, of the U. S. Army, a son 
of Postmaster General William T. Barry, to accompany him as private 
secretary, and acquired the services of a mulatto servant, Edward Landrick, 
as valet. 

Returning to Lancaster he found everything in order except his 
arrangements with the English Presbyterian Church, where he was a 
regular worshipper, although as yet not a member. While attending 
service on April 1, his last Sunday in Lancaster, he was reminded that his 
rent for Pew 35 was due, and wrote a check to cover the matter. 17 


At New York the following Sunday he boarded the "Silas Richards." "I 
suffered from seasickness during nearly the whole voyage," he confided to 
his diary. He was particularly impressed and respectful of Captain Henry 
Holdridge, who had crossed the Atlantic 88 times. "An excellent seaman," 
he called him, and "possessed of much more information than could have 
been expected from one in his profession." After a 25-day voyage, they 
arrived at Liverpool, where Buchanan presided at the passengers' dinner 
for Captain Holdridge at "The Star and Garter." A year later, however, 
after he had had more sailing experience, he began to refer to Holdridge as 
"the Yankee captain with whom I crossed the Atlantic, who would cany 
sail in a hurricane.** 18 

Buchanan's two-week sojourn in England was a whirl of sight- 
seeing and social life to which he responded with a combination of the 
eager enthusiasm of a touring schoohnarm and the steely-eyed appraisal of 
an investment banker. Mr. Ogden, the consul at Liverpool, inaugurated 
his exclusion into high life by having him invited to the estate of Mr. 
William Brown, the international banker. "Both its external and internal 



appearance," wrote Buchanan, very much impressed, "prove the wealth 
and the taste of its opulent and hospitable owner/' Ogden warned Bu- 
chanan of the need for security in diplomatic activity and gave him a special 
cipher he had invented "so that my secretary may decipher one letter 
and yet know nothing about any other." 19 

After five days in Liverpool, he set out for Manchester on the 
railroad his first ride in this new contrivance: "a distance of thirty miles 
in one hour and twenty-five minutes," and through two tunnel?. On 
the way to London he made the basic stops Birmingham, Kenilworth 
Castle, Warwick Castle, Stratford upon Avon, Blenheim, and Oxford. 
After several weeks in London he proceeded to Hamburg and on May 24 
set sail for Lubeck and St. Petersburg, arriving at Ins destination on June 2. 

The Russian capital, built by order of Peter the Gu at a century 
before, was at this time one of the most brilliant cities in the world: a center 
of literature, music, the theater and ballet. Built cm the drlta through 
which the Neva River flows into the Gulf of Finland, it serve*! as Russia's 
"window looking out on Europe/' Along its main avenue, the Nevsky 
Prospekt, stood the Winter Palace and the Mariinsky Palatv, the* great- 
domed cathedral of St. Isaac, and the Admiralty Palare crowned with 
delicate spires. Buchanan had learned something of St. Petersburg from 
the charming Mrs. George W. Campbell who had been a pnat favorite of 
the late Czar Alexander while her huaband served as Ameriran Minister to 
Russia some years before. lie had abo talked with Baron Krudcner, 
Russian Minister to Washington, and to his delicate blonde* wife who, in 
earlier days, had been a power at Alexander** Court, He had been prepared 
for lavish splendor, but the reality exceeded his* expectation*. 

By the middle of June he hud rented as Legation headquarters the 
Ville Dame Brockhauser at Watwilinfthoff on the Grand Neva *t5 % a rite 
which commanded a delightful view of the river and of al! thr activity of 
the port, though it was considerably removed from the activities of tin* 
government. The villa was spacious, with a courtyard, HUM** for *ix 
horses, a carriage and sleigh houae, and a special apartment fur the nervanK 
Buchanan took it furnished with bronzes, marble*, fciMw, buffet*, rflvar- 
ware, linen, pottery, porcelains, crystal, cooking utenrih, and othr 
household appurtenances enough equipment to provide regular nettings 
for six and occasional parties? of thirty. 90 

On June 11 he presented his letter of credence to the Emperor 
Nicholas L After the usual exchange of civilities* the monarch rather 
surprised the new envoy by coming forward, shaking hands with warmth 
and cordiality, and wishing him a happy stay in the city. The Kmpre**, 
too, was congenial, and very talkative. She thought the American* werw 
wise to keep out of European troubles, because they had enough of their 
own at home, especially with the southern states and their resistance to 



the tariff, C 'I endeavored in a few words to explain this subject to her," 
said Buchanan, "but she still persisted in expressing the same opinion, and, 
of course, I would not argue the point." 21 

Nicholas, who had assumed the throne upon the death of his 
elder brother Alexander in 1825, had been trained more for war than for 
statecraft. Although he liked to pose as ce a simple, honest officer and 
servant of the state," his political ingenuity scarcely extended beyond the 
imposition of police rule throughout his domain. Just the year before 
Buchanan's arrival, he had ruthlessly crushed a liberal uprising in Poland 
under the slogan, "orthodoxy, autocracy and national unity." In foreign 
policy he was especially interested in maintaining the integrity of Turkey 
in order that no other powers could force an entry into the Black Sea. 

Buchanan soon had a long conversation with Count Nesselrode, 
the Russian Foreign Minister, about the objectives of his mission. He 
found that Nesselrode already knew a good deal about him from Prince 
Lieven, the Russian Minister in London, and Baron Krudener, the Minister 
to the United States who was happily on furlough at St. Petersburg that 
summer. There was little new business to introduce. John Randolph, in 
his short sojourn in the city, had already presented to the Foreign Office a 
complete file of papers covering the wish of the United' States to conclude 
a treaty of navigation and commerce and a treaty concerning maritime 
rights with Russia. As the Russian Ministry had been in possession of all 
the documents for over a year and had given no hint whether it wished to 
treat on either subject, Buchanan determined for the present not to ask 
Count Nesselrode for any answer to the propositions made by Mr. Randolph. 
W I shall wait until I become better acquainted with the views and wishes 
of the Imperial Ministry," he said, "before I introduce the Negotiation to 
their attention, or do any act which can subject me to the charge of im- 
portunity." 22 

The first months were both leisurely and exciting. Buchanan had 
occasional conferences with Baron Krudener and with Count Nesselrode, 
feeling out their sentiments on the pending negotiation, but mostly he sat 
in the Legation studying French, reading international law, writing letters 
home, and wishing for mail. In fact, he had not been in St. Petersburg 
twenty-four hours before he wrote to Secretary of State Livingston the 
extraordinary fact that the American Legation had received no news from 
the home country for over a year, and its personnel had no idea what might 
be going on in the United States. He requested the immediate inauguration 
of a monthly courier service to London. 

To his friend, John Reynolds, he gave a pretty clear picture of 
his state of mind and mode of life. "I would much rather for my own part 
occupy a seat in the Senate or in the House; I say this not from despond- 
ency, for that would be without reason; but simply from the circumstance 



that a man devoted to free principles cannot be happy in the midst of 


"So far as it regards my own person I shall dress so as not to 
compromise the Republican simplicity of my country. Over my equipage 
I have in a manner no control. I must submit to the established customs, 
or forfeit many of the most essential privileges of a foreign minister. If I 
were to drive through the streets of Lancaster in the same style I do here, 
I should soon have a mob of men, women & children in my train. I must 
drive four horses; otherwise I could not go to court. My driver like the 
rest is a Russian with a long flowing black beard, dressed in the peculiar 
costume of his country. There is a postilion on the leader: but what is the 
most ridiculous of all is the Chasseur who stands behind. He is decked 
out in his uniform more gaudy than that of our Militia Generals with a 
sword by his side & a large chapeau on his head surmounted by a plume of 
feathers. It is this dress which constitutes the peculiar badge of a foreign 
minister. The soldiers at their stations present arms to the carriage, on 
the streets they take off their hats to it, & it is everywhere received with so 
much deference, that I feel ashamed of myself whenever I pass through the 
City. It is ridiculous flummery. , . . 

"What a dunce I was not to have learned the German language! 
It would have been almost as useful to ine here as the French. I now 
understand the latter tolerably well; but it will be long before I shall speak 
it fluently* 

"When you write, do not say anything which would be offensive 
to the Government. They are not very delicate about opening letters here. 

You had better perhaps give this caution to my other friend* We can 

send out what we please by American Captains, but everything which 
comes in must pass through the Pom-Officer." 1 * 3 

The treaty negotiation proceeded in a mast peculiar and erratic 
manner. Buchanan, after study of the documents, discovered that Ran- 
dolph's arguments all urged the benefits of th<t projected treaty to the 
people of the United States but failed to present the corresponding ad- 
vantages to Russia. Buchanan proposed to convince the Imperial Ministry 
that the treaty would also promote the best interests of Russia, 24 Good 
diplomacy always emphasized the quid pro quo. 

In an unofficial talk with Baron Krudencr he taunted, with some 
surprise, that Russia was much irritated by the American tariff of 1828 and 
held it accountable for a sharp decline in trade, Buchanan got lute statistics 
to prove that Russo-American trade had greatly increased in 1831 and 1832; 
the sugar refining plants around St, Petersburg had received almost 
all of their imported raw sugar from the IL S. ships alcmt. He made it 
plain that with a treaty giving security to commercial enterprise, hundreds 
of American vessels would ply the rich Black Sea area, bringing in needed 



raw materials from all over the world and taking back hemp and bar iron. 
At St. Petersburg the sugar import trade would be greatly enlarged, and the 
wool export comparably increased. Russian internal manufacture would 
be greatly diversified by the import of more raw materials and Russian 
shipping would be stimulated by the export of her excess raw materials 
to America. 

Krudener insisted, however, that Russia desired a relaxation of 
the tariff of 1828. It was with some excitement, therefore, that Buchanan 
received New York newspapers which contained a draft of the Tariff Bill 
of 1832, proposing reduction of duties on hemp, sail duck, and hammered 
iron. He informed Krudener of it immediately and received a call from 
him the next day. He said that this was pleasing news, and that Count 
Nesselrode was at that moment on his way to Peterhoffto bring the question 
of the commercial treaty to the attention of the Emperor. 

For two weeks thereafter, the Russians pointedly ignored and 
avoided Buchanan. He was at a loss to know why until he gathered from 
some source that they had taken offense at some comments in the recently 
arrived batch of American newspapers (which the Russian government 
agents had perused with care before delivering them to the American 
Legation). Obviously, Krudener and his colleagues had known of the 
tariff revision before Buchanan did. 

Eventually, Krudener called and stayed to dinner but appeared 
"studiously to avoid every allusion to the proposed negotiation." After 
they rose from the table, the Baron casually remarked that the Emperor 
had referred the American proposals to Count Cancrene, the Minister 
of Finance. 

This news dumfounded Buchanan. Noting his confusion, 
Krudcner asked: "Do you not consult your Secretary of the Treasury 
on similar occasions?" 

"But you mean," replied Buchanan, "that the Treaty has been 

before the Emperor?" 

"Yes, certainly," replied Krudener, laughing. 

Buchanan promptly obtained an audience with Count Nesselrode 
and found Baron Krudener already in the chamber. They talked freely, 
and both Russians conveyed the impression that it was almost a certainty 
that a commercial treaty would be concluded. Buchanan now believed 
that if the tariff bill passed, "without any essential change in the duties 
proposed on Russian productions, ... we shall obtain a Treaty without 
much difficulty** 725 

Baron Krudener left for the United States in the middle of 
August Buchanan hurried off letters to his friends Reynolds, Reigart, and 
Jenkins, inf onning them that the Baron intended to visit Lancaster County 
to examine its agriculture and urging them to "treat him kindly and with 



special distinction He is fond of the good things of this life & certainly 

I have not yet seen any place where they abound more than in Lancaster." 26 

On August 19, an American ship brought news to Buchanan that 
the Tariff of 1832 had passed both houses of Congress and had become law 
without the president's signature. He promptly transmitted to Nesselrode 
the information that duties on iron were down from S22.-10 to $18 per ton; 
on sail duck, from 12H cents per square yard to 15 per cent ad valorem 
(a radical reduction); and on hemp, from $60 to &JQ per ton. He hoped 
the commercial treaty would now be speedily negotiated in order that it 
could be acted upon by Congress soon enough to give shippers time to 
prepare for spring voyages. 

Then a month and a half passed without a word. Rumor said 
that the treaty would be rejected, and Buchanan heard several times that 
"it was vain for any nation to attempt to conclude a Treaty of Commerce 
with the Russian Government, whilst Count Cancrene continued as Minister 
of Finance.*' 27 Nonetheless, the American Minister tried to use his time 
to advantage. He contrived an interview with Baron Stieglits, the Court 
Banker, who was a good friend of both Nesselrode and Canerene and, 
perhaps of more importance, financed most of the Russian trade* with the 
United States. He maintained a New York office and had large personal 
interests in the Black Sea area which improved trade would stimulate, 
Buchanan repeated all the arguments to him, invited him to dinner several 
times, and was gratified to discover later that Stifglitfc had carried th<* con- 
versation back to Nesselrode. 28 

The time passed pleasantly. Buchanan wa much entertained, 
and responded by giving a series of stag parties. He found Russian society 
to be a strange compound of barbarism and civilization. The Russians* 
employed the best French cooks but usually ate a sour soup that would 
have repulsed a Delaware Indian. The Russian ladies of high c*xe w*r* 
beautiful and educated, yet they seemed hugely entertained when Buchanan 
told them fairy stories to which they responded like children. 29 Perhaps 
their credulity was not so remarkable when one considered that part of the 
reverence for Russia's patron saint, Alexander Nevsky> stemmed from th* 
tradition that he once sailed up the Neva on a grindstone. 30 

Buchanan was greatly surprised to discover that the Russian 
nobility drank very little and that the ladies regularly wit with the nirn 
after dinner. "They have been too quiet for me!** he wrote to Reynold*. 
The lower classes were more convivial and drank e *a species of hot white 
brandy enough to kill the Devil** 1 

One morning Captain Barry rushed into Buchanan's quarter* in 
great agitation. He had just seen one of the Legation servants, a Russian, 
going through the papers in the record room* Buchanan frowned and told 
Barry to sit down. "Let him go/* be said "It can't possibly do u y 


harm, and it just might do some good." He had known, before he ever got 
to St. Petersburg, that there was no security of information in Russia, and 
he had made it a point never to put in writing anything that could give 
offense or disclose a secret. In practically every document he wrote, 
official and private, he included some comments highly complimentary to 
the Emperor. 32 

Then, in October, Buchanan received a formal note stating that 
his Imperial Majesty declined to negotiate a commercial treaty. It was a 
blow, but it was not entirely unexpected. The note suggested several 
reasons for the negative decision: the project did not sufficiently protect 
Russian masters against the desertion of their seamen in American ports; 
reciprocity was not clearly provided in all cases; and there was an implied 
limitation upon the right of the Russian government to change its tariff 
duties at will. Buchanan drafted a reply giving his solutions to the various 
problems and went to bed discouraged. He was certain that the reasons 
offered were not the real ones. The personal opposition of Count Cancrene, 
Minister of Finance, and Mr. de Bloudoff, Minister of Interior, had led the 
Emperor to reject negotiations. 

A few days later, in response to a call from Count Nesselrode, he 
went to the Foreign Office and engaged in a conversation so amazing that, 
as he told Livingston, "you will, I think, be satisfied that but few more 
singular occurrences have been recorded in the history of modern di- 

Nesselrode reviewed the rejection of the treaty, and mentioned 
emphatically that Cancrene and de Bloudoff had brought the Emperor, 
very reluctantly, to their point of view. Then he dropped his wary diplo- 
matic manner, became "frank and candid," and told the astonished Bu- 
chanan that if he should rewrite his modifications to the treaty, stressing 
certain points which the Count would mention, he would take it straight 
to the Emperor, with the hope that it would be accepted. 

Buchanan returned to the Legation with his head swimming. 
Although he had too much to do to spend time speculating on this odd 
turn of events, he could not doubt that Nesselrode, for some Reason, 
planned to put through the treaty against the wishes of the Cabinet, and 
that the Emperor was sympathetic. All day Tuesday he worked, and on 
Wednesday, after a short absence, found a card in the tray from the Baron 
de Brthmow, a Counsellor of State and confidential friend of Nesselrode. 
Thursday Brtinnow came again and this time sat with Buchanan for half 
the day, carefully coaching him on the phraseology of his proposed note. 
Where Buchanan had written: "In pursuance of the wish expressed by 
His Excellency the Vice Chancellor," Brttnnow wrote: "In pursuance of 
the conversation between his Excellency and the Vice Chancellor, &c." 
BrOnaow must have laughed at Buchanan. To announce in the formal 



note that Nesselrode had engineered this plan would wreck the Counts 
career and destroy the possibility of further negotiations. The matter was 
to be kept in strictest secrecy, and the English Minister, m particular, 
must get no hint of what was maturing. 33 ,,, 

Buchanan wrote happily to Livingston that he had the fairest 
prospect of speedily concluding a Commercial Treaty," but despite the 
apparent rush of mid-October, nothing happened during November. He 
a~in began to wonder whether he had been hoaxed and complained to 
Nesselrode that Mr. Clay, his Legation Secretary, had already miwtd the 
last boat of the season while waiting to take the treaty to America. In 
December Buchanan had an idea. The Emperor's birthday was on the 18th 
of thatmonth, an occasion celebrated with agrand fete. "I thought it might 
expedite the conclusion of the Treaty, ... to manifest a wish that it m.ght 
be signed on that anniversary," he said. Nesselrode was delighted, but he 
questioned whether copies could be prepared in time. Buchanan put extra 
secretaries into service to make the necessary drafts in English and in 
French and on December 15 learned that Nesselrode had been authorized 

to sign the treaty. 34 ,. , 

On Tuesday morning, December 18, the whole diplomatic corp* 
went to the Emperor's birthday feufe The corps wa arranged in line to 
receive the Emperor and Empress, with Mr. Bligh, the newly arrived British 
Minister, in the lowest station. "You may judge of my astonishment, 
wrote Buchanan, "when the Emperor accosting me in trench, in a tour of 
voice which could be heard all around, staid, 'I signed the order yesterday 
that the Treaty should be executed according to your wirfiw, & then 
immediately turning to Mr. Bligh asked him to become the interpreter f 
this information. ... His astonishment and embarrassment were o 
striking, that I felt for him most sincerely. . . . There can be no dwubt hut 
all that occurred was designed on the part of the Emperor. . . . After the 
Emperor had retired, Mr. Bligh, in manifest eonfuwon . . . artrt mr what 

kind of a Treaty we had been concluding with RUM Thw incident 

has already given rise to considerable speculation among the knowinjt <* 
of St Petersburg." That afternoon Buchanan went to the F.mgn < >mce 
and signed the treaty. 38 

The treaty opened a new era in Russian diplomacy. It was the 
first agreement of its kind which the Imperial Government had made wh 
any nation, though others had long sought such a compact. It put the 
ships, cargoes, and crews of each country on a basb of nviprncity. * 
shippers of the one country were to receive the wme treatment in the port* 
of the other that they received in their home port*. Furthermore . mwi 
favored nation" dause had been included. It vr perfwlly well known 
that more than a hundred American ships vfeitwl Rwwton port* for every 
Russian vessel sailing to America and that Russian discrimination against 



foreign shippers was much more extensive, petty, and exasperating than 
the American practice. Therefore, Buchanan and others could well ponder 
why the treaty had been made at all. 

There were many aspects of high policy and domestic planning 
which formed a part of the decision. Europe was a powder teg, and Russia 
needed friends who could carry supplies to her if she became involved in 
war. England had just reached an agreement with France on the Belgian 
question, a coalition that weakened Russia's position in the balance of 
power. Russia desired to improve the economy of her southern regions 
around the Black Sea, to increase her merchant marine, and to achieve 
greater internal diversification. A fight for cabinet prestige between 
Nesselrode and Cancrene had something to do with the result. But 
probably most important of all was the Polish question. Only later did 
Buchanan begin to understand what the Emperor really expected of him. 
Buchanan noted an immediate change in the attitude of the 
Russian nobles who now summoned him from his comparative isolation 
across the Neva to their balls and parties. He reported becoming "a 
favorite in several of their first families," 36 and that both the Emperor and 
Empress had "been marked in their attentions" to him, "indeed, so much 
so as to excite some little observation & perhaps envy." Baron Cancrene 
made the amende honorable, praising the treaty and paying Buchanan 
compliments "of such a character," he wrote, "as I know I do not deserve, 
and therefore I shall not repeat. 7 ' 37 On several occasions, the Emperor 
while walking along the streets of the city in plain dress, as was his custom, 
encountered the American Minister and made it a point to stop and chat 
with him, calling him "Buchanan/* 38 The Empress, whom Buchanan 
praised as a fine dancer, often took him as a partner at court balls. 39 It 
was no wonder that Buchanan found his prestige miraculously mounting. 
For a time he took all these attentions at face value, though somewhat 
astonished, for he knew he possessed "but few of the requisites for being 
successful in St. Petersburg society." 40 Then an aflair began to develop 
which suggested some ulterior reasons for his lionization. 

Emperor Nicholas was terribly sensitive to criticism which 
foreigners directed against him personally for ^ instigating the horrible 
atrocities of the Polish War and for the enslavement of the Polish people 
thereafter. The newspapers of England and France heaped abuse upon 
him as the brutal author of the outrages, and the British Parliament had 
taken up the cry. For democratic insurgents all over Europe this was the 
best possible ammunition and they fired it broadside with abandon. 

Buchanan's remarks in all his letters and notes to the State 
Department had been very temperate on the Polish issue, and in several 
instances he had stated that the atrocities proceeded only from the age-old 
hostility of the peoples and had been inflicted by unruly officers at the 



front; he indicated that the Emperor was not the author of the system; that, 
given the violent, unreasoning disposition of the Poles, the Emperor had 
no alternative but to use force with them. If Buchanan represented the 
United States, or could have any influence there; if the United States took 
a view of the Polish struggle more temperate than that of the western 
Europeans, this would have an important quieting effect on the revolu- 
tionary impulse, the Emperor reasoned. America was its home; America 
was its spokesman. If America saw mitigating factors, it would moderate 
the frenzy of European revolutionaries on the subject. 

Two days after the treaty had been signed, Count Nesselrode 
began a conversation with Buchanan on an entirely new subject and in a 
manner so formal and solemn that Buchanan was wholly nonplussed. In 
two minutes more he was completely flabbergasted. The Washington 
Globe, it appeared, had been reprinting from the French and English 
journals some of the worst attacks against the Emperor. That these should 
appear in the administration organ at the very moment that the new treaty 
was in transit seemed in very poor taste. Would Buchanan not write to 
Jackson and request him to have the editor of the Globe stop printing this 
kind of material and to direct him to publish some compliments about the 
Emperor? Nesselrode had a note on the subject already prepared which 
Buchanan could send to the president. 

Buchanan saw in an instant what he was up against. He tried to 
explain that in the United States even the president could not tell & news- 
paper editor what to print; there was no government control; in fact, the 
Constitution forbade such control. Why, Buchanan askrci, did not the 
Russian papers print some denials of the French and English article* and 
have them translated and circulated so that the American editors would 
have the other side of the story? He himsdf had tried to get at the truth 
of recent events in Poland but had not been able to learn anything even in 
St. Petersburg. He would welcome the true story, and he was nur< that 
the American editors also would. 

But Nesselrode persisted, wondered why the Globe WAR called an 
"official" paper if it was entirely independent of the government, and 
suggested "that General Jackson himself must certainty have some in- 
fluence over the editor." Buchanan finally concluded the subject by 
telling a story about Baron Sacken who had> on one occasion complained 
to Jackson of the attacks which had been made upon the Emperor in the 
American newspapers. In reply, the president requested him to examine 
the papers again, and "if they did not contain a hundred articles abusing 
himself to every one that attacked His Imperial Majesty* he would then 
agree there was cause for complaint/* 41 Nesselrode laughed heartily, 
passed to other matters, and Buchanan thought he had disposed of the 
problem. He was wrong. 


On January 9, a cart drew up before #65 Grand Neva, where the 
draymen removed three large boxes, struggled with their load into the 
Legation, and presented a bill for 1638 rubles $330, for postage! Until 
this day, James Buchanan had never received a single piece of mail from 
the Department of State; now he got nearly half a ton of it: files of American 
newspapers, journals of the House and Senate, books, dispatches, and 
letters. "Such a mass was never sent by Mail before from Havre to St. 
Petersburg," he exclaimed. 

By the time Buchanan had waded through the most recent of 
this material he learned a few things. Baron Sacken, temporarily in charge 
of the Russian Mission at Washington, had become involved in a squabble 
with Livingston and Jackson which Nesselrode presumably knew all about. 
The Baron had again asked for some action to put an end to the Globe 
articles. When he received no satisfaction, he wrote a note, charging 
Jackson with insincerity; he proclaimed friendship for Russia in his 
messages to Congress but encouraged the Globe to print articles abusive of 
the Emperor. This was a pretty mess to be brewing at the very time that 
the treaty was about to come up for discussion in the Senate! 

Livingston, apparently, expected Sacken to send a letter with- 
drawing the charge against Jackson, but it had not yet been received. 
Buchanan talked to Nesselrode about this unfortunate business and learned 
that no disavowal was likely to be made, primarily because Sacken insisted 
that he had shown his letter informally to the Secretary of State before 
sending it, and that Livingston had read and approved it! 42 Buchanan 
thought that there must be some misunderstanding, and he promised to 
get more exact information. What was the news of the treaty? asked 
Nesselrode. The Emperor had acted with great dispatch; he was very eager 
to know when the United States would ratify. Buchanan had no idea. The 
only late word he got from America was through "scraps contained in 
English newspapers kindly furnished ... by Mr. Bligh, & an occasional 
remark in the letters received from the United States by Baron Steiglitz." 

The last three months of the Mission were like scenes from a 
comic opera, Buchanan's position, as he came to learn with shock after 
shock, was that of the only man in the cast who did not know the plot 
beforehand- The cause was the combination of the assininity with which 
the State Department handled its communications and the assiduity with 
which the Russian secret police tapped them. 

Not until July 31, for example, did Buchanan receive any infor- 
mation from Livingston, He had indeed read the Sacken letter in advance 
and had not objected to itl This took all the wind out of Buchanan's sails. 
It was obvious that Nesselrode had had a copy of Livingston's note for 
months, for the American chargS at Paris "a jack-ass" Buchanan called 
him with kindness had placed all the dispatches in the hands of the 



Russian Embassy to be forwarded. The Russians copied everything, sent 
duplicates to their own Ministry, and delivered the originals, with all seals 
broken, to Buchanan four months later. 

Apparently the Russians read everything before Buchanan did. 
Nesselrode had known about the passage of the American tariff three 
weeks before Buchanan had gotten word of it and that from unofficial 
sources. Buchanan pleaded with the State Department never to send 
dispatches by mail "unless they be of such a character that they may be 
perused & copied not only at St. Petersburg, but in all the Governments 
through which they may have passed/* Never once, he said, had he 
received a piece of mail which had not been opened. 'The letters have 
been sent to me either almost open, or with such awkward imitation of 
the seals as to excite merriment. The Post Office Eagle here is a sorry 

By the end of May Buchanan had still not heard officially that 
the treaty had been ratified by the Senate. The Emperor, at an audience, 
inquired "with a good deal of earnestness in his manner" about the ratifica- 
tion, and Buchanan had to answer lamely that he had no official verification, 
but he had heard indirectly that the treaty had been ratified some months 

Worst of all, the State Department failed to send any reply to 
Buchanan's Dispatch #8, describing the inside mechanics of th.e commercial 
treaty negotiation and requesting instructions about the treaty on maritime 
rights, which was still pending. Buchanan feared that a reply might have 
been "transmitted through the Russian Post office/* Eventually the 
answer came, but it was too late. 

The maritime treaty was intended to define the legal nature of 
blockades, to enumerate articles constituting contraband of war, and to 
establish the principle that "free ships make free goods/' When Buchanan 
proposed that talks be instituted on the maritime treaty he soon discovered 
that Nesselrode was "not disposed to enter upon the subject/* Buchanan's 
disappointment was all the more bitter, for Jackson had written, not too 
enthusiastically, after the conclusion of the commercial treaty "(it) is 
as good a one as we could expect , . * , and if you can close the other aa 
satisfactory, it will be a happy result/ 1 ** But Nesaelrode had shut the 
door, and there was no use pushing at it. 


More happily* Jackson had given Buchanan permission to come home 
whenever he wished. He had feared he was in for a two-year tour of duty, 



but he might be able to get out of Russia that summer and be home in time 
for the next senatorial elections. Feeling that he had done all he could, he 
took advantage of the tempbrary lull in Legation business to travel to the 
interior of Russia. During June he went to Novgorod and Moscow. At the 
end of the month he was back at the Legation, refreshed by his vacation, 
and ready to make plans for his return home. 45 

Buchanan's personal world had changed with astonishing and 
sobering rapidity. His sister Harriet had married without even telling him 
in advance, and he chided her for her neglect. * C I felt toward you both as a 
father & as a brother. ... Do not for a moment suppose that I am offended; 
I am only disappointed. I confess I did not feel very anxious that you 
should be married. This indifference was no doubt partly selfish. I had 
often indulged the hope that we might spend the evening of our days 
together in my family." 46 His youngest brother, Edward, had joined the 
ministry largely to gratify the hope of his mother that one of her children 
should be a clergyman. He, too, had married. He did not mention the 
girl, though James later learned it was Ann Eliza Foster of Pittsburgh, 
whose brother was the young song writer, Stephen Collins Foster. 47 

His favorite brother, George, a brilliant young lawyer with whom 
James had hoped to share practice, had died of tuberculosis. In July, 
just before leaving St. Petersburg, he received the news that his mother 
had died two months earlier. His best drinking crony in Lancaster, George 
Louis Wager, was critically ill. Washington Hopkins, son of his old pre- 
ceptor and a close friend, had died. To Reynolds he wrote: "How many 
of my friends and acquaintances shall I miss from the social circle after an 
absence of less than two short years. . . . Truly this is not our abiding 

place/' 4 * 

Since he was to return much earlier than he had expected, 
Buchanan now turned his thoughts to his private business. During his 
absence Reynolds and Sample had managed his estate well. They had 
bought a house for him in Lancaster; it was the former home of Robert 
Coleman. "Although I do not think it was a great bargain," he wrote to 
Reynolds, "I feel as much indebted to you & the Doctor as if you had got 
it cheaper/' 40 

Reynolds reported that he had banked $12,268 from Buchanan s 
local enterprises: about $5,000 interest from investments such as bonds, 
mortgages, and loans and the rest from the collection of debts. He had 
purchased several properties for investment and had finally sold the Sterrett 
Gap property for $6,500. Furthermore, he had paid for the Coleman estate 
and insured it. Financially, it had been a fairly good year for Buchanan. 

Buchanan had his last audience at Peterhoff on Monday, August 5, 
1833- Of this occasion he wrote that the Emperor "bade me adieu- and 
embraced and saluted me according to the Russian, customa ceremony 



for which I was wholly unprepared, and which I had not anticipated. Whilst 
we were taking leave, he told me to tell General Jackson to send him 
another Minister exactly like myself. He wished for no better . . . Thus 
has my mission terminated." 50 


DAYS OF DECISION * 1833 - 1834 


Buchanan took a tour of the Continent on his way home, travelling hy 
steamboat from St. Petersburg to Lubecfc, then to Hamburg, Amsterdam, 
the Hague, Brussels, Paris, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, 
and at last to Liverpool for passage to Philadelphia. At Hamburg he 
visited for several days with Henry Wheaton, the international lawyer, 
before starting his tour of the Low Countries and the Rhine Valley. "Al- 
though not given to ecstasies," he wrote, "I felt a little romantic in descend- 
ing the Rhine. ... I never took much to the Rhenish until I got into its 
native country. There I became acclimated to it & now feel that the taste 
will accompany me through life. But I have some talent in this line." 1 

In Paris he had to resume the role of an active diplomat for he 
discovered that he was the only American Minister in western Europe and, 
with a threat of war on the horizon, he had to act as spokesman for his 
country. Lafayette called on him, and the French Foreign Minister, the 
Duke de Broglie f sought him out, as did Count Pozzo di Borgo, Russian 
Ambassador at Paris. 2 

over the recent claims dispute and hoped that the French Chamber of 
Deputies would soon appropriate funds to meet the provisions of the 
American Treaty and terminate the difficulty. Count Borgo of Russia made 
fun of the French "a turbulent and restless people. 77 Buchanan should 
sit in on some sessions of the Chamber of Deputies "They were like cats, 
all in a passion, and all making a noise, and afterwards laughing; wholly 
unfit for liberty/* They wanted Napoleon and glory again, not liberty. 3 
In case of war, the central Europeans would stick together; there was no 
telling what would happen with England and France except that England 
would try to raid neutral commerce and set up illegal blockades. He hoped 
the United States would not stand for such nonsense. Buchanan agreed 
and reminded him that this was the object of the maritime treaty he had 



tried to negotiate. The very reason why it was refused, replied Borgo. It 
would have been an obvious attack by Russia on England; would have set 
her aflame, possibly have been a trigger for the very war all were trying 

to avoid. 

In London, Buchanan found himself in the heart of European 
power politics. All the members of the London Conference to settle the 
fate of Belgium were still in residence. At dinner at Prince Lieven's in 
the Russian embassy he sat with Talleyrand of France, Esterhazy of Austria, 
Biilow of Prussia and Lord Palmerston of Britain. Talleyrand, in conver- 
sation later, asked him about the family of Alexander Hamilton and told 
him the story of the day Aaron Burr had sent up his card, "I returned the 
card," said Talleyrand, "with a message that I had the portrait of General 
Hamilton hanging up in my parlor.*' 4 

Buchanan conferred and dined with Palmerston and found him 
unusually interested in promoting friendly relations between England and 
the United States. Esterhazy and Biilow assured Buchanan that their 
governments hoped soon to open diplomatic relations with the Americans. 
"Our position in the world is now one of much importance," he wrote to 
Jackson. "Indeed, the freedom and friendship with which I have been 
treated everywhere are an evidence of the high character of our Country 
abroad." 5 

Buchanan finally journeyed to the Emerald Isle where he visited 
the home of his ancestors at Ramelton. "There I sinned much in the 
article of hot whiskey toddy which they term punch," he wrote to Reynolds. 
"The Irish women are delightful." 

The autumn passage of the North Atlantic gave Buchanan some 
time to reflect upon recent events and his political prospects. He had gone 
to St. Petersburg as a used-up politician and was returning something of a 
hero. Though a tyro in diplomacy he had, with a little practical common 
sense, knowledge, and downright honesty, met successfully on their own 
ground the most adroit and skillful politicians in the world. The emperors 
and empresses, the dukes and counts, the chancellors and ministers who 
wore the medals and ribbons seemed to him not much better informed than 
he was. For the first time in his life he began to think seriously about the 
presidency. Why not? He could do Jt 7 


The politics of Pennsylvania had changed during Buchanan's absence. 
After he had pulled out of the vice-presidential race, Senators Wilkins and 
Dallas had jumped into the contest and got the endorsement of the Penn- 
sylvania convention in 1832. Van Burea, in ten ballots at Harroburg, 


DAYS OF DECISION 1833 - 1834 

never received more than 4 out of 132 votes. 8 But at the national Demo- 
cratic Convention at Baltimore in May, Pennsylvania's entire block of 30 
votes went to Van Buren. Simon Cameron took credit for this astonishing 
defiance of the instructions of the state convention, "I had more enjoy- 
ment," he told Buchanan, "by pestering the folks at Harrisburg, until they 
actually swallowed the dose of Van Burenism, than I ever had in anything 
connected with politics." 9 Dallas and Wilkins completed their downfall 
by voting in the Senate for a recharter of the Bank of the United States. 
After Jackson's veto of the recharter bill, and his triumphant re-election 
with Van Buren as vice-president, the political stock of Wilkins, Dallas and 
Co. fell to a record low. 

Buchanan took it for granted that Van Buren would succeed 
Jackson in 1836, but he told Reynolds that he had "some misgivings upon 
this subject," and would remain uncommitted "because I cannot see clearly 
the course of duty." "I shall support the candidate of the party who may 
be regularly nominated," he said. "To Mr. V. B. I have no personal 
objection." 10 

Pennsylvania deserved a Cabinet post as reward for her steady 
support of Jackson, but the internal politics of the state made it more 
difficult than ever to find the right man. Jackson made the Treasury post 
available, but he would not have Wilkins or Dallas and was dubious about 
Buchanan. Buchanan, on his part, gave no chance for a rejection when he 
learned his name was under discussion, writing that he would not for a 
moment accept "a Department so thankless, so laborious & so perplexing 
as that of the Treas." 11 He did not want to be the agent to destroy the 
Bank of the United States. The president eventually appointed William J. 
Duane of Philadelphia, a friend of Van Buren, who was not deeply involved 
in the state power stru^le. 

Buchanan considered himself lucky to have been out of Congress 
during 1832 and 1833. The violent controversies over nullification and 
the Bank had battered the fortunes of many legislators, especially those 
from Pennsylvania. The folks back home, with careless illogic, wanted 
the Bank rechartered, and their hero, Old Andy, re-elected an easy 
combination for a backwoods farmer to vote for but a devilish hard program 
for a Congressman to live with at Washington. The Bank vote was a test, 
there; any friend of the Bank was an enemy of Jackson. 

Buchanan wanted to be a Senator and therefore had to clarify his 
stand on the Bank and nullification. He told Jackson that he was pleased 
with the Bank veto, but added that he had been "inclined to be friendly to 
the recharter of the Bank of the United States." He promised to vote for 
no Bank bill that did not remedy the objections raised in the veto message. 12 

South Carolina's Ordinance of Nullification of November 24, 
1832, declaring the tariff laws of 1828 and 1832 "null, void, and no law," 



threw the nation into a panic. One of Buchanan's friends wrote: "I am 
firmly of the opinion rebellion will be the order of the day, accompanied by 
all its horrors." Duff Green was calling for recourse to the sword, and 
tempers were so inflamed that it was "indeed time for the people seriously 
to think of a civil war." Secretary of State Louis McLane reported that 
there was good reason to believe that the southerners were planning to set 
up a separate confederacy. 13 

Buchanan considered the nullification doctrine "against both the 
letter & spirit of the Constitution, as well as absurd in itself." He was not 
so sure about the question of secession; that problem was shrouded in 
"shadows, clouds & darkness." He had no sympathy for South Carolina 
in this nullification affair, but he would stand on his principle of strict con- 
struction and would not go along with some of his friends in toasting 
resolutions to a consolidated government. 14 The question of secession, he 
feared, would "be the touchstone of the party for the next twenty years/ 9 
Secession was much more reasonable than nullification; it was no half-baked 
measure, but it meant revolution and dissolution of the nation. For this 
very reason Buchanan felt the fear of it would tend to destroy sectional 
parties, since no party would openly stand for war on the government. 15 

In Pennsylvania, George Wolf, who had been re-elected governor 
in 1832, wanted to keep on good terms with the national Administration. 
This meant he could no longer favor Wilkins and Dallas, both of whom had 
discredited themselves by supporting the Bank and opposing Van Buren. 
Dallas's short term as senator was about to expire, and all through the 
spring of 1833 the State Legislature had been balloting in vain to try to 
choose his successor. Dallas himself had no chance. Governor Wolf 
supported one of his cabinet, Samuel McKean, but he could not muster a 
majority partly because Buchanan's friends had lambasted McKean, de- 
spite Buchanan's intimation that no senator could be elected in opposition to 
the Governor. Finally the Legislature adjourned without naming a senator 
and postponed the decision until the next session in December 1833. 16 

Buchanan's friends worked hard for him. Had he been at home 
during the spring, they said, he would surely have won. To such ktters, 
Buchanan replied that he could probably not win and did not much care; 
his public career was finished, and he was concerned only about what to do 
after his return, "To recommence the practice of the law in Lancaster 
would not be very agreeable. If my attachments for that place as well as 
my native state were not so strong, I should have no difficulty in arriving 
at a conclusion* I would at once go either to New York or Baltimore; and 
even if I should ever desire to rise to political distinction, 1 believe I could 
do it sooner in the latter place than in any part of Pennsylvania. What do 
you think of the project?" 17 It was quite obvious what his political 
managers would think of it. They would think that they had better get 


DAYS OF DECISION 1833 - 1834 

busy and line up the votes for that senatorship, or they would lose a good 
meal ticket. They went to work at the Fourth of July party barbecues 
where they proposed toasts to Buchanan for U. S. senator, for vice-president 
and, as George Plitt reported, even "for the Presidency itself." 18 

The "Susquehanna" docked in Philadelphia on November 24, 
1833. A crowd of friends met Buchanan at the gangplank, escorted him 
to his quarters, and explained the details for a homecoming celebration 
a huge $5-a-plate dinner that night. Dallas and his friends had refused to 
attend, but nonetheless the banquet hall was jammed. 19 

The balloting for senator would be renewed on December 7. That 
left two weeks for work. Simon Cameron, electioneering like a demon in 
Harrisburg, reported that he had drummed up thirty sure votes against 
McKean and thought that the Legislature would concentrate, after a few 
ballots, on Buchanan, but Buchanan remained fairly certain that McKean 
would win. The results of the election caused considerable astonishment. 
McKean was elected on the third ballot by a majority of 74 out of 130 votes, 
while Buchanan polled only five votes. There was more here than met the 
eye. The day before, Cameron asserted he had 43 votes promised against 
McKean, which were presumably to go to Buchanan. It was quite clear 
that Buchanan himself insisted that he did not want to tangle with the Wolf 
Administration at this moment. 20 

Between his return from Russia and the election, Buchanan had 
been to Washington to talk to the president. Jackson wanted Wolf and 
Buchanan to work together. The party needed them both; a split between 
them would throw Pennsylvania to the anti-Masons. Buchanan would get 
his chance later, for Jackson said he planned to send William Wilkins to 
Russia leaving the senatorship vacant, and Buchanan would then succeed 
Wilkins in Washington. 21 Buchanan knew this before McKean's election. 
He wrote to one of his backers: "Mr. Wilkins will soon obtain an Executive 
appointment. , . , I must be greatly mistaken if in that event I should not 
be elected to the Senate without difficulty." "All's well at Harrisburg," 
he concluded. "The party are firm & decided in support of Gen. Jackson's 
administration & in opposition to the Bank." 22 

The picture was clear. The Pennsylvania Senators who had 
voted for the Bank would be out, the anti-Bank men in; the State Adminis- 
tration would be at peace with the Buchanan party, and both groups 
reconciled to Van Buren. What could be a happier prospect for the 
election of 1836? Buchanan would join McKean in the Senate and stood 
a good chance for the vice-presidential nomination. Much as the Pennsyl- 
vania voters had formerly resented Van Buren, a union of Wolf and 
Buchanan in support of him should bring his opponents into the fold, 23 




The year 1834 proved a busy one for Buchanan. He furnished and moved 
into the house where he had so often visited Ann Coleman. At night he 
lay awake thinking about the past and imagining what might have been. 
Damn the whole episode, he thought. They had both acted like lunatics. 
He still had Ann's letters tied in a packet with silk ribbon, but he wished 
sometimes that he could forget about their courtship and its aftermath. 
Now he had to find someone to take care of his house. For a while he had 
part-time servants, but he anticipated a tour of duty in Washington before 
long and wanted a permanent and trustworthy caretaker. He often ate his 
meals at the old White Swan Hotel on the town square. The proprietor, 
had a niece, Esther Parker, who was helping around the inn that summer. 
She had just turned 28, was clean, neat, happy in disposition, and a fine 
cook and housekeeper. Buchanan mentioned that he was looking for 
someone to manage his establishment at 42 East King Street and was a 
little surprised when Parker asked if he would consider Esther, or Miss 
Hetty, as he called her, for the job. 24 

Buchanan talked to the girl and set up a tentative arrangement: 
she should stay at the White Swan but work part-time at the King Street 
house during the summer and fall. If he should be elected to the Senate 
they would then decide whether she would take a permanent position as 
housekeeper, in which case he would, of course, expect her to move in t for 
he would be away most of the time and wanted the house occupied in his 
absence and ready for him on quick trips home. 25 

In the course of the summer he visited Washington, Philadelphia, 
Harrisburg, and New York. He also went to see hfa sister Jane, now 
Mrs. Elliott T. Lane, at Mercersburg, and while there inspected the grave- 
stones for his mother and brother George at nearby Spring Grow Cemetery. 
After a stop at Bedford Springs, he made a trip to Greensburg and saw his 
sister Harriet who had married the Reverend Robert Henry. There 
Buchanan learned to his dismay that Henry's family in Sheperdbtown, 
Virginia, owned two slaves. This was political dynamite, and he lost no 
time in informing his brother-in-law that he wanted to buy thowfr slam 
into freedom- Buchanan drew up a deed of transfer, known as a f 'deed of 
complete emancipation" in Virginia, and a "deed of conditional manu- 
mission*' in Pennsylvania, providing for the sale of Daphne Cook, aged 22, 
and Ann Cook, aged 5, by Ann D. Henry to James Buchanan, under the 
provisos that they should leave Virginia, that Daphne should give service 
to Buchanan for seven years and then become free, aa provided in Penn- 
sylvania law; and that Ann should be bound until the age of 28 seven 
years past the age of maturity. Terms of the sale were to be arranged later. 
Anyway, thought Buchanan, this might help to solve his house-servant 


DAYS OF DECISION 1833 - 1834 

problem. 26 He found sister Harriet in poor health but rejoicing in her 
infant son, James Buchanan Henry. 

At Pittsburgh he called on his loyal political manager, David 
Lynch, a hard-drinking, hard-hitting son of the canal-digging Irish, who 
had worked his way into politics by outroaring and outfighting the opposi- 
tion. Davy was not much appreciated by Pittsburgh society, but he 
rounded up votes whenever they were needed. He was postmaster now, 
and doing well in every respect except that of getting the mail delivered. 
Buchanan then visited his sister Maria and her husband, Dr- Yates, in 
Meadville and his brother Edward who had moved there with his new wife, 
Eliza Foster. 

About this time Buchanan became involved in some kind of a 
romantic affair which, like most of his episodes with women, remains more 
of a mystery than a story. It centered at 518 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 
the home of his friend Thomas Kittera. With Kittera lived his widowed 
mother, his sister Ann, and three young girls all of whom had lost their 
mothers in infancy. Two of them were Kittera's own nieces, Mary Kittera 
Snyder and Elizabeth Michael Snyder, children of his dead sister and 
"Handsome John" Snyder, a son of former Governor Simon Snyder. 
Grandmother Kittera and Aunt Ann had taken charge of these children 
after their mother's death in 1821. The third child living at the Kittera's 
was Elizabeth Huston, the daughter of Buchanan's sister Sarah, who had 
died in 1825. James at that time had made arrangements for the Huston 
baby to be raised by his friends, among girls her own age. 

Whether Buchanan became attached to Aunt Ann or to Mary 
Snyder remains an unsolved puzzle. There seem to be no letters extant 
between Buchanan and either of them, but there are a number of letters 
from Buchanan to Thomas Kittera which end with such cryptic statements 
as "be particular in giving my love to my intended," or refer to "my 
portion of the world's goods," or to that part of the family "in which I feel 
a peculiar interest." Even from such crumbs of evidence one can discern 
that the affair in progress had little mark of the divine passion. Rather, 
Buchanan's life Jong friendship with all of the Kitteras suggests a marriage 
of convenience in the making, and probably with Mary when she became 
a few years older. 27 

The election of United States Senator to replace William Wilkins 
would be held on December 6, 1834. Buchanan, apparently, believed he 
had thia under control for he did little open electioneering and stayed out 
of Harrisburg* Cameron was on hand acting as manager, but it is probable 
that Governor Wolfs known approval of Buchanan was the more effective 


The anti-Masons backed Amos Ellmaker; the Whigs put up 
Joseph Lawrence; the Wolf Administration supported Buchanan; and the 



Philadelphia Dallas faction used Joel B. Sutherland as its man to block 
Buchanan's election. If the anti-Masons and Whigs had been able to 
work together they could easily have elected a senator, but they found it 
impossible to cooperate. Buchanan got 25 votes on the first ballot, 42 on 
the second, 58 on the third, and a winning majority of 66, on the fourth 
and final vote. The large scattering of Democrats came over to Buchanan 
after it was clear that none of the others could win; but Sutherland held 
back until the very end, true to the Eleventh Hour tradition, ami then 
threw his votes to the last remaining Buchanan competitor within his own 
party. Nothing was to be gained by the move. It simply demonstrated 
spectacularly that the Philadelphia City group would not bend the knee to 
anyone, be it Jackson, Wolf, or Buchanan. 

There was one problem of the senatorship about which Buchanan 
worried a great deal. It had placed Wilkins and Dallas in an impossible 
situation, and it would plague any Pennsylvania senator as long as there 
was serious discussion in Washington of the tariff, the Bank, and the 
slavery issues. How could a senator work with the national Administration 
and with his own State Legislature when these two took opposite views on 
a particular bill, especially if the vote on it was made a party test at Washing- 
ton or at Harrisburg? 

Buchanan told the committee of the Legislature which informed 
him of his election that he held the right of instruction to be sacral. "If 
it did not exist,*' he said, "the servant would be superior to his master/' 
He would cither obey instructions from the State Legislature or resign, 
but in giving a vote against his own judgment, he continue*}, "I act merely 
as their agent. The responsibility is theirs, not mine." 28 In rare instances 
however, he might question whether the instructions of the legislature 
did in fact represent the public will, and in such a case he would try to 
speak for the people. He wanted to make his position very clear on the 
instruction doctrine, for if the anti-Masons got control of the State Legis- 
lature they would certainly try to embarrass him by ordering him to vote 
against all the Democratic measures. 

This statement, ho thought, protected him all around. When h< 
voted with the national party under instruction, he could take the credit; 
when he voted against it under instruction, he could pass the buck to the 
State Legislature; when the issue was extremely obscure, he could do what 
he pleased by challenging the Legislature's interpretation of the public will; 
and if matters were hopeless, he could resign on principle without the 
appearance of losing his temper. "Be wise as the serpent and harailemt a* 
the dove. 1 ' He hoped this set of rules conformed to the maxim. 

The following week he went to Harrisburg with (iuneron and had 
a high time. "No man has ever left Harrisburg under more favorable 
auspices," wrote Cameron. Back in Lancaster Buchanan went to the 


DAYS OF DECISION 1833 - 1834 

Swan Hotel and engaged Miss Hetty as housekeeper. He then began to 
pack and to make final arrangements for the winter's absence. He called 
on his brother Edward who had just moved from Meadville to a new charge, 
the Protestant Episcopal Church in Leacock Township, Lancaster County, 
stopped in Philadelphia for a short visit to his "intended" at the Kitteras' 
and then hastened on to Washington. 

On December 15, he appeared in the Senate, a cozy, clublike body 
in 1834. Buchanan had served with a good many of its members when 
they had been colleagues in the House. The desks surrounded the speaker's 
rostrum in concentric half-circles, the fireplaces were spaced evenly around 
the back wall, the small semicircular visitors' gallery was set above the 
main floor like boxes in a theater, and the red velvet drapes and mural 
paintings created an atmosphere at once elegant and intimate. 

Van Buren presided with confidence, urbanity, and good humor. 
Buchanan's friend, Webster and his tormentor, Clay, sat on the other side 
of the chamber with their Whig colleagues: Ewing of Ohio, Frelinghuysen 
and Southard of New Jersey, Clayton of Delaware, and many others too 
many; the Whigs had a majority. Among the Democrats were Benton of 
Missouri, Silas Wright of New York, W. R. King of Alabama, Felix Grundy 
of Tennessee, John Tyler of Virginia, McKean from Pennsylvania, and 
Calhoun. The latter had changed in many ways. No one was sure what 
party he belonged to he had made a peculiar one for himself based on that 
"peculiar institution, 7 * the South. He no longer looked or acted like a 
favored presidential aspirant. 

Buchanan realized that despite his original disappointment with 
the Russian Mission it had been a lucky break for him, for the United 
States in the period of his absence had been through violent political 
storms. The Senate had made war on Jackson, and the Hero had carried 
it into their own country* Buchanan considered himself fortunate in not 
getting the senatorial seat in 1833, when he would have had to vote for the 
resolution censuring Jackson in response to the instructions of the State 
Legislature. That act would have finished him; it ruined Wilkins, snd 
marie McKean powerless to promote patronage. But the main fight seemed 
now to be over. 

Buchanan analyzed the political future in these terms. A 
Democrat had to be a Jacksonian, and that meant also being a follower of 
Van Buren. He had to give up all hopes for salvage of the Bank, and fight 
its recharter to the death, Pennsylvanians would not like to do this, but 
they could risk the demise of the Bank better than the hatred of Old Andy. 
The opposition, while seeming to unite under a new party name, the Whigs, 
was still disorganized; in fact, its main unity lay simply in hatred of Jackson 
himself. When he left the scene, the Whig party would disintegrate, and 
the Democrats were bound to win unless they foolishly permitted them- 



selves to fall apart. If they could bury some of their local grudges and 
work together, their party was certain to control for years to come. 

Buchanan wanted a part of that control; if possible, the most 
important part. He analyzed his duty logically, and proceeded to business. 
He had to support Jackson in the Senate undeviatingly. He would have to 
overcome the widespread hatred of Pennsylvania^ for Van Buren. That 
would be more difficult but not impossible, for most politicians knew how 
their bread was buttered. He had to bring to a conclusion the Pennsylvania 
feud between the Amalgamators and the other Democrats, He had made 
his peace with Wolf, and had seen the Ingham-Dallas-Wilkins faction lose 
its influence, but there was still trouble in his own back yard, Henry A. 
Muhlenberg, his choice as successor to Barnard as a partner in control, 
had been flying the track. His friends thought he should have had the 
senatorship but, having sacrificed that to Buchanan, they felt that he surely 
Ought to replace Wolf as governor in 1835. This would be fatal, for the 
Wolf-Buchanan team had just been brought firmly into Jackson's con- 
fidence. If Muhlenberg could wait until 1838, he and Buchanan could cut 
the whole cake. If not, well, God knew what the result would be. 





After Buchanan's election to the Senate, many of his friends urged him to 
consummate the destruction of the Family party and to consolidate his 
triumph by ousting Wolf from the governorship and installing his own man, 
Henry A. Muhlenberg. Muhlenberg was ready for it. Most of the Amal- 
gamators were ready for it. But Buchanan knew that the times were not 
ready. Governor Wolf after two terms in office had too much strength both 
in Harrisburg and in Washington to give up without a struggle, and in a 
fight he had this advantage: control of the county officeholders. The 
sensible course was to permit Wolf to fill his constitutional term and then, 
in 1838, let Muhlenberg succeed him as head of a united Democracy. It 
would be foolish to try to replace him in 1835 at the cost of a split party. 
But to convince the Muhlenberg enthusiasts that they should adopt the 
long-range plan was a different matter. 

Buchanan tried to reconcile the contesting factions by bringing 
both parties to higher ground where they could agree. To this end he wrote 
letter after letter to friends all over the state, urging that the key factor 
should be loyalty to Van Buren. He fathered the idea that a resolution 
should be presented to Democratic members of the State Legislature, prior 
to the March 4 nominating convention, pledging, positive support of 
Van flEren for the presidency. This proposal, he hoped, would focus 
attention on the Imger aims of the party and provide a platform on which 
all could stand. And if, they could agree to one thing, maybe they could 
reach an agreement on others. The scheme might have worked if precisely 
the right person had introduced the Van Buren resolution, but a staunch 
pro-Muhlenberg partisan brought it to the floor. Wolfs friends immedi- 
ately sensed an attack on the governor and for this reason defeated it, 
though they wrote to Buchanan afterward assuring him that they had acted 
only from local motives and thought highly of Van Buren. 1 



No further conciliatory efforts were made, due to shortage of 
time; and the county meetings held for the purpose of selecting convention 
delegates became scenes of heated controversy and factional recrimination, 
In many counties the "Wolves" and the "Mules," as the rival partisans 
were called, held separate party conclaves and sent opposing delegations 
to Harrisburg where, for the first three days, each group contested the 
other's right to be seated. At length practically everyone was admitted. 
As soon as the delegates were accredited, the Mules won a close decision 
to adjourn the meeting and to reconvene at Lewistown on May 6, They 
hoped, by delaying and moving the convention out of Harrisburg, to 
improve their chances. But the Wolf minority remained in session and 
renominated the governor on March 7. The Mules met as scheduled, and 
placed their man officially in the race. Thus the schism was hopelessly 
widened. Two Democrats were going to run for the governorship, each with 
strong backing and each protesting loyalty to Buchanan and Van Buren. 
Buchanan tried again. In a letter to Jacob Kern, Speaker of the 
State Senate, he urged the retirement of both candidates and the rail for a 
new convention. Instead of easing the tension, this suggestion aggravated 
it, and both factions now tried to win Buchanan's support. The Mult* 
promised to back him for the vice-presidency if he would come out for 
them, but he refused. "Will you forsake your friends," Muhleniwrg wrote 
him, * c and go over to your enemies who are only waiting opportunity to cut 
your throat?" 2 Wolf, on his part, gratified Buchanan by appointing 
Thomas Kittera to a judgeship. 3 

After the formal nomination of Muhlenberg, Buchanan stated 
that he would vote for Wolf but would take no part whatever in th* canvass. 
If Muhlenberg drew enough votes from the anti-Masons, Buchanan had 
weak hopes that Wolf might be elected, but hi best guess WOK that the 
anti-Masonic candidate, Joseph Ritner, would win. When rumor* !x*gan 
to circulate that Van Buren was pulling strings to help Muhlenherg, 
Buchanan counselled noninterference, fr l have been defending little Van 
on this point everywhere,*' he wrote. 'Those who know him will feel at 
once how ridiculous the charge is. . . , There shoulU be a studied neutrality 
in Washington." 4 

Shortly after the Muhlenberg convention at Lewistown, the 
national nominating convention of the Democratic party met at Baltimore. 
Everyone knew that Jackson intended Martin Van Buren to sucmid him 
as president In fact he suggested that if no other way were open to 
accomplish this, he might resign before his term had expired, and person- 
ally put in Little Van. But Jackson's increasingly dictatorial handling of 
national problems had caused wholesale secession from his party, and his 
attempt to hand-pick his successor did nothing to quiet the anger of his 
former friends. Instead of die "Old Hero," he now became "King Andrew/* 



The Baltimore Convention was called a year early, at the presi- 
dent's request, in order to get Van Buren's name in front of the people 
before other candidates had a chance to build an organization. Pennsyl- 
vania, as expected, sent 60 delegates, 30 Mules and 30 Wolves, all of whom 
backed Van Buren. After adopting the two-thirds rule, in order to achieve 
a "more imposing effect," the convention proceeded unanimously to 
nominate Van Buren for president. Col. Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky 
received the vice-presidential nomination. Buchanan wrote to Van Buren 
during the Baltimore convention: "My opinion is that the division in our 
party will make Ritner Governor; but that will not seriously affect the 
Presidential election. . . . The friends of Muhlenberg in our party, are 
almost to a man your sincere and devoted friends. So is a very large 
majority of the friends of Wolf." 6 

In the election for Governor of Pennsylvania in October, 1835, 
Ritner received 94,023 votes; Wolf, 65,801; and Muhlenberg, 40,586. The 
combination of Whigs and anti-Masons elected 76 of the 100 members of 
the State Assembly and captured six of the eight senatorial vacancies. 
Although the Democrats had enough "holdovers" in the Senate to give 
them a small majority in that body, it was a thumping defeat all round. 
It was a bitter lesson, but probably the only kind that could chasten the 
selfishness and jealousy that pervaded both factions. They were all out 
of jobs now Wolf, Muhlenberg, and all their friends and partisans; they 
would stay out of office until they swallowed their pride, shook hands, and 
began working for their party again. Buchanan resisted the temptation 
to say, "I told you so." He had a job, to be sure, but not for long. In 
December 1836, the Legislature would ballot again to fill his senatorial 
post for another term. 


James Buchanan always did things the slow way, the hard way, the sure way. 
He had no talent for the sudden devastating move, the brilliant stroke, the 
daring gamble, or the quick quip which by-passed a problem in a gale of 
laughter. He did not try to change his own position or to give new meaning 
and direction to the Pennsylvania Democracy. He began laboriously to 
rebuild his power from the bottom up, starting again in Lancaster County. 
The usual Democratic state convention would be held on March 4, 
1836, at Harrisburg to determine the composition of the electoral ticket 
for the presidential vote in the fall For a time it looked as if the Wolves 
and Mules would each run separate sets of electors, for each faction per- 
sisted in holding its own county meetings, but Buchanan persuaded the 
Wolf meeting in Lancaster, for the sake of conciliation, to endorse the idea 



of placing pro-Muhlenberg electors on the ticket from the eight Congres- 
sional districts in which Muhlenberg had recently polled a majority. The 
Mules had their general meeting scheduled for January 8 when they in- 
tended to choose an electoral ticket. If they insisted on having none but 
their own men as electors and would not acquiesce in a ticket which gave 
them representation only in the areas where they had a voting majority, 
then they would have to be excluded from the Harrisburg convention 
entirely, with a "pray, what the Devil brought you here?" "I have told 
them," Buchanan explained to the Wolf managers, "that they have to yield 
to the majority. But I hope they will not have to be forced into submission. 
It is better to receive them cordially at once, & have an end of it." e 

This left it up to the Mules, at their January meeting, to accept 
the olive branch and to include on their own proposed ticket the names of 
Wolf men in appropriate districts. It was a sane proposal, calculated to 
bring out the maximum Van Buren vote in every district by running as 
electors the men most popular locally. Buchanan pointed out another 
significant reason for adopting this plan. Pennsylvania reformers, after 
twenty years of effort, had succeeded in forcing the Legislature to call a 
convention to revise the state Constitution of 1790. Delegates to it would 
be elected a month before the presidential election of 1836, Unless the 
Democrats in each county got together, it was certain that the opposition 
would control this convention and, as Buchanan warned, "make sad work 
of it" A single electoral college ticket would help to maintain a united 
front among Democrats when they voted for delegates to the constitutional 

Buchanan worked effectively to reunite the Pennsylvania Demo- 
crats but the anti-Masons, especially Governor Ritner and Assemblyman 
Thaddeus Stevens, helped even more* The Democracy in Pennsylvania 
was so flat on its back that Stevens could not resist the temptation to kick it. 
On December 19, 1835, he moved the appointment of & legislative eom- 
mittee "to investigate the evils of Free Masonry/' This proved a mere 
pretext to bring prominent Democrats to the bar of the Legislature and 
make them sweat. Ex-governor Wolf, Chief Justice Gibson* George M- 
Dallas, Francis Shunk and others were called. Even Buchanan would 
probably have had a summons if he had not been in Washington. When 
these gentlemen refused to testify, and the crowd applauded Skunk's 
spirited protest against invasion of his civil rights, Stevens thundered the 
warning that the gallery itself would be arrested for contempt. The pro* 
ceedings were so transparent, so useless, and so vindictive that they 
boomeranged against the committee; but even more important, the Attack 
on the Democrats made them forget some of their own differences and unite 
in self-defense. The Whigs were disgusted and threatened to break off 
their coalition with the anti-Masons. 


On top of this upheaval came the Bank proposal. Wolf had been 
for retrenchment of the huge fc State canal building program and had urged 
taxation to put the state on a firmer financial basis. Governor Ritner now 
proposed a repeal of taxes, great extension of the public transportation 
system, and the issuing of a State charter for the Bank of the United States 
for which the Bank was to pay the State $9,000,000 to be used for internal 

When the Bank Bill passed the Assembly as expected, it was 
assumed that the Democratic majority in the Senate would kill it. But 
Nicholas Biddle's men had done their work well; the Senate passed the 
recharter bill on February 15, 1836, with the aid of eight of the leading 
Democratic members. One of them had, only a month before, presided at 
the Muhlenberg Democratic Convention which adopted resolutions de- 
nouncing a recharter of the institution. How the Bank agents persuaded 
these men or how much they paid them to turn renegade, no one knows; 
but the enormity of their treachery formed the basis of the presidential 
canvass in Pennsylvania and proved to be the incident which saved the day 
for Van Buren and Buchanan. 

Democratic indignation over the arrogant investigation by 
Stevens and the recharter of the Bank under circumstances redolent of 
bribery paved the way for a reasonably harmonious Democratic meeting on 
March 4. Buchanan's project for a unified electoral ticket was approved, 
and the party prepared to spend the next four months taking revenge on 
the anti-Masons and assailing the Bank as a monster even more hideous 
than Jackson had painted it. 

Buchanan turned down an invitation to speak to the Democratic 
mass meeting at Harrisburg on the 4th of July for the Senate remained in 
session beyond this date, but he did send along a vigorous anti-Bank speech. 
The approaching struggle in Pennsylvania, he concluded, "would be a 
struggle for life or death. The Democracy must either triumph over the 
Bank, or the Bank will crush the Democracy." 7 

The Bank issue grew so hot that Buchanan had to modify some 
of his personal arrangements to keep himself dear of attack. The transfer 
of treasury funds from the U. S. Bank to other selected institutions led to 
a scramble among bankers for a share of the money. "I have refused in 
every instance to interfere in obtaining public Deposits for any Bank," he 
wote to an applicant "I have been repeatedly & strongly urged upon 
this subject from different quarters and have always given the same answer. 
If as a Senator it would have been improper for me to interfere in behalf of 
other banks in which I had no stock how much more so would it be in the 
case of the Harrisburg Bank? When the question of the distribution of 
the public deposits was before Congress, I sold out my stock in the Man- 
hattan Bank a large Depository at a very great sacrifice." 8 



In the October elections the people of Pennsylvania gave a re- 
sounding rebuke to the Legislature which hail reehartered the Bank; only 
18 old members were returned. Of 72 Democrats elected, 63 were new- 
comers. But the vote on delegates to the Constitutional Convention told a 
different story. Of 133 delegates elected, 66 were Democrat?, 66 Whig- 
anti-Masons, and one an independent with Whig leanings. It was a split 
right down the middle which carried with it a serious threat to the presi- 
dential prospects of Van Buren in the national election in November. 

The Constitutional Convention, with a majority of one nn the 
Whig side, would undoubtedly adopt an amendment abolishing offices for 
life. This measure would jeopardize the position of every justice of the 
peace in the state, and make his tenure dependent upon current politics. 
As this provision would undoubtedly go into effect before the end of the 
Ritner Administration, it would probably be used to eliminate any J. P.'s 
who had been leaders in Van Buren's cause. So, at least, they thought in 
the panic of the moment. For this reason these key leaders in the little 
communities, almost all of the.m Democrats, hung back. When the 
November vote was counted, Pennsylvania brought in not the 15*000 
majority for Van Buren which Buchanan had predicted, but a thin 2,183 
out of nearly 200,000 votes cast. Had these votes gone the other way* 
Pennsylvania's electoral college votes would have been lost to Van Buren, 
and that would have thrown the election into the House- 
Now that Van Buren had won, Buchanan had his own future to 
worry about. In three weeks the new State Legislature would ballot to fill 
his place in the Senate. He wrote to Van Bunm that he would have 
Muhlcnberg as his opponent, a wholly unexpected turn of events, for 
Muhlenberg in October had publicly announced that he favored Buchanan. 
The Bank men had manipulated the change by flattering Muhlenberg and 
offering him their support, though their real purpose was to keep the 
Democrats divided. 9 

Buchanan was furious with Muhlenberg, Could he not see that 
there was no conceivable prospect of party victory in the future except by 
re-union? Wolf had been voted out, but his partisans remained active and 
important and would never ally with the Bank crowd. Buchanan's friends 
held the same view. Muhlenberg commanded one-third of a minority 
party in Pennsylvania, and a poor third at that. His strongest supporters 
were those apostate Democrats who had voted for the State recharier of 
the Bank, men who cared nothing about Muhlenberg except as a pawn to 
keep alive the fight among the Democrats. And this was the man Buchanan 
had picked as a partner three years ago! Well* sufficient unto the day* . * * 
Muhlenberg saw another picture. Berks wss the strongest 
Democratic county in the state. A few years before, the Democrats of 
Berks and Lancaster combined were polling so large a vote that a union 



might well have commanded control of the party. Since Lancaster had 
gone over to anti-Masonry and the Bank, Buchanan could not even poll a 
majority in his own county, but nevertheless he sat in the Senate. Ex- 
Governor Wolf had been named Comptroller of the U. S. Treasury. Muhlen- 
berg, who kept his county strong for the party, had received nothing but 
requests to stand aside, first in the contest for governor, and now in the 
campaign for Senator. Why should he not get his share? Why should 
Buchanan continue to have the glory, and others trail along with mere 
promises for the future, probably as hollow as those made in the past? 

The legislators at Harrisburg, however, snuffed out the Muhlen- 
berg hopes. The Whigs and anti-Masons could make no headway in 
promoting a coalition to elect him and failed in their effort to force a 
postponement of the election. Finally, they gave up. The two houses met 
and quickly re-elected James Buchanan to the Senate by a party vote. 10 


Buchanan found it a pleasant relief to get back to the Senate. He now had 
a job for six more years and, for the first time in a decade, could make some 
solid plans. He sought out his friend Senator William R. King of Alabama 
and they arranged for lodgings together. The usual talk about the sterling 
character of "southern gentlemen" caused a good deal of amusement 
among northerners, but if anyone merited respect for his personal qualities, 
it was King. He would now be vice-president if the party had heeded 
Buchanan's advice, but because of a nonelection by the Electoral College, 
the Democrats would probably wind up with CoL Richard M. Johnson, a 
profligate from Kentucky who lived with a mulatto and gave northerners 
good reason to sneer at southern pretensions to gentility. King presently 
sat as president, pro tempore, of the Senate. Washington had begun to 
refer to him and Buchanan as "the Siamese twins/' 11 

Shortly after his re-election, Buchanan became involved in a 
debate on the admission of Michigan to statehood. The dispute concerned 
a constitutional question as to the proper mode of calling a state conven- 
tion. Senator Calhoun challenged the validity of a Michigan Constitutional 
Convention which had met at the suggestion of Congress and without prior 
sanction of the State Legislature. Calhoun asserted that the action of the 
convention was a nullity. 

Because it was a partisan matter, the discussion of the Michigan 
issue ranged far and wide, bringing in eventually Pennsylvania's recharter 
of the U. S* Bank. What would happen, a Senator asked Buchanan, if the 
constitutional convention now preparing to meet in Pennsylvania should 
determine that the state charter recently awarded to the Bank was a nullity? 
Would not this be breach of contract? On this subject Senator Morris of 



Ohio introduced a letter from George M. Dallas stating that the Pennsyl- 
vania convention should repeal the Bank charter. Morris called this advice 
"incendiary," "revolutionary," and "calculated to excite the people to 
rise up in rebellion against the laws." It attacked the United States 
Constitution which guaranteed the sanctity of contracts. 

Had Buchanan been a mere ward heeler he would have sat back 
to relish this attack on his hated enemy; had he been vindictive, he could 
have found ways to turn the knife in the wound, but his objectives were 
larger than these. For years he had been trying to patch up the broken 
Democracy of Pennsylvania, and for years Dallas had been the primary 
impediment to union. Now he saw a chance, quite accidentally, to put 
Dallas in his debt. Jumping to the defense, he demolished the arguments 
of Morris. 

"Mr. Dallas never did assert that the convention about to be held 
in Pennsylvania will possess any power to violate the constitution of the 
United States," he began. "Why, sir, such propositions would be rank 
nullification; and although I never had the pleasure of being on intimate 
terms with Mr. Dallas, I can venture to assert that he ... is opposed to this 
political heresy. ... No, Sir; Mr. Dallas has expressly referred to the 
Supreme Court of the United States as the tribunal which must finally 
decide whether the convention possesses the power to repeal the bank 
charter." But what, asked Calhoun, if the Supreme Court upheld the 
Bank in such a litigation? "I can tell the Senator from South Carolina," 
rejoined Buchanan, "that we shall never rrsort to nullification as the 
rightful remedy." 12 

Buchanan's vigorous defense of Dallas brought a prompt message 
from the latter expressing his "warm personal thanks" and a wish "to 
cultivate greater intimacy*" Buchanan replied on the same day that he 
was "not only willing, but anxious" to let bygones be bygones and to 
become friends. 18 The exchange marked the point at which Buchanan, for 
the first time in his life, became the acknowledged leader of the state 
Democracy and fountainhead of federal patronage for Pennsylvania. 

Unfortunately, a good many Pennsylvania Democrats now 
favored the Bank, higher tariff rates, extension of internal improvements 
and other anti-Jacksonian policies; hence the slim Van Buren majority of 
the previous November- To ignore these people in the patronage distribu- 
tion would further damage the Democracy in Pennsylvania; to get jobs 
for them would be the task of a magician, Wilkins, who had the stature 
for an important office, had ruined his chances by running for vice-president 
against the winning ticket, Cameron had frankly joined the friends of 
the Bank* Dallas, though no longer a Calhoun partisan* had voted to 
recharter the Bank and still acted as one of its solicitors* To promote Wolf 
or Muhlenberg would only start that old feud anew. Buchanan might take 


a Cabinet post but at the risk of angering the many Pennsylvania Democrats 
who thought that he already had taken more than his share of the offices. 
Furthermore, if he left the Senate he would invite a new scramble for his 
place which the anti-Masons might win. 

Buchanan talked with both Jackson and Van Buren, telling them 
that Pennsylvania deserved and expected a place in the Cabinet, but he 
declined to name his man. If he supposed that he would get a Pennsylvania 
appointment by this course, he was destined to disappointment. "I fear 
from what I have heard," he wrote Van Buren in February, "that I may 
not have made myself understood, ... It is my finn conviction . . . that if 
a Cabinet officer should not be selected from Pennsylvania, it will give 
great and general dissatisfaction." 14 

The president-elect undoubtedly recognized more clearly than 
Buchanan the hopelessness in 1837 of acquiring much grace in the Keystone 
State by such an appointment. More could be gained elsewhere by this 
means. The Pennsylvania Democrats would have to unsnarl their own 
mess, and it would take more than a Cabinet office to do it. Van Buren 
could help, however, without risking an invasion of Washington by these 
factionists. There was always the foreign service. 

Van Buren appointed Dallas to the Russian Mission. Buchanan 
apparently had not been consulted on this move, though it undoubtedly 
gave him secret joy. In writing to the president-elect about it, he signed 
the letter not with the usual "Yours very respectfully" but with a rare and 
intimate "ever yours." Nonetheless, the party still demanded a Cabinet 
officer from the state. "In writing thus," said Buchanan "you know, I 
have no views towards myself, as I should not change my present situation 
for any other." 15 Just how sincere was he about this? Would he not take 
the State Department if it were offered? He had just been voted Chairman 
of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a two-to-one victory over 
Henry day, a triumph he keenly relished. Would it not be the cream of 
the jest to be Secretary of State while Dallas was at St. Petersburg? Of 
course, and he would take the job if it were offered, but these were matters 
which, as Old Hickory used to say, "he would hide from the very hairs 
of his head*" 

The Cabinet appointments were finally announced. No Pennsyl- 
vania name was on the list. Buchanan was disappointed in the extreme, 
particularly because John Forsyth was continued as Secretary of State. 
His relations with the Secretary had recently been soured when Forsyth 
rejected Buchanan's first report as Chairman of the Foreign Relations 
Committee with the tart observation that "the Committee seem to have 
had an imperfect knowledge of the facts in relation to our affairs with 



Buchanan had slaved over this report, read everything available, 
and spared no effort. "Imperfect knowledge of the facts!" He knew the 
facts, to be sure. One of the facts was that the recent Secretaries of State, 
McLane excluded, were either lazy or ignorant, or both. His reply was 

Mr. Buchanan has been honored with the opinion of Mr. Forsyth 
that 'the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate seem to 
have had an imperfect knowledge, of the facts in relation to 
Mexico.* Such an opinion emanating from the Secretary of 
State cannot fail to produce a happy effect in promoting harmony 
between the different branches of the Government. The Com- 
mittee will not, however, reciprocate the compliment paid them 
by the Secretary, lest they might do him an injustice, which 
would be extremely repugnant to their feelings. 10 

The exchange brought on a storm, the intervention of the presi- 
dent, a letter of explanation from Forsyth which included a guarded 
apology, and a response from Buchanan that the fracas was ''happily 
terminated" and would be considered "a family matter/* 17 However, the 
men despised each other from then on and welcomed every opportunity to 
show their feelings, Buchanan later wondered whether he might not have 
replaced Forsyth in March, if he had managed to muzzle his temper in 

Buchanan was on such poor terms with I*evi Wondhury of 
New Hampshire, the nw Secretary of the Treasury, that he aciflrowed all 
requests for appointments in that department directly to Van Buren. r *I 
am discouraged from making any requests in that quarter, 1 * he told the 
president. 18 The Secretary of War, Joel Poinaett, was from South Carolina* 
which had not even voted for Van Buren. Poinsett was an able man and 
had strongly supported Jackson in the nullification criste, but hi appoint* 
ment gave gratification only to Whigs in Pennsylvania. The Harrison 
paper in Pittsburgh, the Manufacturer, highly approved. 1 * The selection 
of Benjamin F. Butler, a New Yorker, as Attorney General galled IVnnayl- 
vanians and heightened the rivalry between New York and Pennsylvania, 
Amos Kendall, the Postmaster General, had nourished Jacknon'a belief in 
Buchanan's duplicity in the old "bargain and sale'* affair. He would receive 
no favors from Kendall, and he feared for the fate of Dave Lynch, whose 
scandalous ineptitude in the management of the Pittsburgh post office 
would not escape Kendall's efficient eye. Finally, there was Mahlon 
Dickerson of New Jersey in the Navy Department. Dickerson would be 
no problem, although he could not be expected to exert himself very much 
to provide a new dry dock for Philadelphia. 


After the Cabinet appointments were made known, Buchanan 
changed his subscript "ever yours" to "ever your friend" on his letters to 
Van Buren. At the end of three weeks of job-seeking for his political 
creditors, he reverted to the customary "Yours very respectfully." He 
was not going to be a big wheel in this administration, he realized, but just 
another cog in the machine. 

According to Buchanan's philosophy of life and of politics, the 
way to act in such a circumstance was to function as smoothly and as 
quietly as possible. He saw neither truth nor virtue in the homely maxim 
that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, nor in Cameron's view that the 
best way to progress was to fight or buy the man who might be able to 
gratify your wish. Patience, acquiescence, logically contrived procedure, 
the appearance of consistency, refusal to make irretrievable commitments, 
and a ready willingness to capitulate in matters of minor political advantage 
these constituted Buchanan's political temperament. 

Van Buren recognized these traits of character and keenly 
appreciated the perplexities of the Pennsylvania Democrats. New York 
had taught him all there was to learn about factional fights. Therefore, 
Buchanan was able to make more progress than he had anticipated. He 
secured a position in the Treasury for Henry Petriken who had led the 
opposition to the Bank charter in the Pennsylvania Legislature, and placed 
George Plitt in the Wisconsin Land Office. Simon Cameron, through 
Buchanan's influence, obtained a good job (which he disgraced) settling 
Winnebago Indian claims. Henry Muhlenberg went to the newly created 
Austrian Mission in which Buchanan was especially interested, since he 
had worked for its establishment during his sojourn iu Europe. Muhlen- 
berg's appointment so infuriated George Wolf that he immediately resigned 
from his Treasury post, declaring that his old rival had walked off with the 
honors. Buchanan persuaded Van Buren to pacify Wolf by offering him 
the best federal job in Pennsylvania: the collectorship of the Port of 
Philadelphia. One of the Dallas supporters had to be discharged in order 
to make way for Wolf, and they became incensed. 

It was a patchwork of patronage, but at least it demonstrated that 
neither Van Buren nor Buchanan was playing favorites with any Democratic 
faction. On the contrary they were acting on the assumption that they 
would all have to pull together during the 1838 campaign for the governor- 
ship if they wished to rid the Commonwealth of anti-Masonry and prevent 
a Whig success in the national election of 1840. 



THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL * 1837-1840 


March 4, 1837, dawned bright and clear and by midmorning when Martin 
Van Buren drove to the White House to join Jackson, the sun had brought 
warmth and gaiety to the crowds which lined the avenue from the White 
House to the Capitol At the eastern portico the members of the Senate, 
the Cabinet and the Diplomatic Corps led the way to the* rostrum. The 
stately Hero of New Orleans, just up from a sickbed, acknowledged a roaring 
ovation from the crowd, and Mr. Van Buren advanced to deliver his 
inaugural address. Buchanan stayed for the inauguration ball at Carusfs 
that evening and then headed for HarrJsburg as fast as he could go. 

There the Legislature was in an uproar over the Bank. The 
Van Buren partisans, variously known as the "radicals*' or the "hard 
money men," had instituted an investigation of the Bank which they 
were using as a weapon of attack, while Wlriga, "improvement men/* and 
"paper money boys" were trying to make the inquiry serve the Bank's ends. 
One of the Whigs noted that the anti-Bank crowd was led on by f r a gang of 
scoundrels . . . including Buchanan, and Jesse Miller." 1 

The Legislature vindicated the Bank, whereupon George R* Espy 
unexpectedly moved to repeal the Bank's charter. This motion renewed 
the fight at the worst possible time, for the Panic of 1837 had now descended 
upon the nation* Even the Bank's enemies had no wish to outlaw the 
institution at this particular moment, for they would be blamed for aggra- 
vating the financial distress. Fifty-two Democrats in the House had at first 
agreed to support the repeal motion, but when the roll was called only 
twenty-one of them actually voted for it. 

Back in Lancaster Buchanan tried to think out some solution to 
the problem. It appeared to him that the Bank had first bought up the 
national Congress to get its charter renewed, and now it had bought up 
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He had learned in Harrisburg that 
the leading Democratic members of the investigating committee, who were 

THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL * 1837 - 1840 

supposed to produce proof that the institution was corrupt, had been bribed 
by the Bank. Two junior members, who respected the opinion of their 
elder colleagues, had signed the whitewash report on the assumption that 
it was bona fide. Later they learned that their senior committeemen had 
withheld a lot of damning evidence and, after the vindication of the Bank, 
had been its guests at a big dinner celebration in Philadelphia. 2 Buchanan, 
mortified by the result, wrote, "This bank business will divide the party 
for years to come." 3 

His friends agreed, "I begin to believe that [the Bank] will get 
the uppermost of us again," wrote one of them. 4 And why should it not? 
The issue cut clean through party lines in Pennsylvania; there were Bank 
and anti-Bank followers in each major party and in every faction. 

The question presented two very different aspects. To the rank 
and file of Democratic voters the destruction of Biddle's "monster" sym- 
bolized the transfer of political privilege from the aristocracy to the "common 
man"; but to informed politicians Jackson's war on the Bank signified 
rather the transfer of the money center of the nation from Philadelphia to 
New York; from Chestnut Street to Wall Street. Whatever Jackson's 
reasons for the attack, there seems to be little doubt that the chief motive 
of his intimate advisors, Van Buren and half a dozen others, was to oust 
Biddle in order to seize financial control themselves. 5 Thus the struggle 
over the Bank proved to be an important phase of the ancient rivalry 
between Pennsylvania and New York. This feature of ante-bellum politics, 
the incessant contest for power and position between the two wealthiest 
and most populous states of the Union, may perhaps bear a heavier re- 
sponsibility for the disruption of the Democracy and the later breakup of 
the Union than historians now suspect. Here parochialism played its 
divisive role at the center of the nation rather than at its extremities. 

Trade reports of the early 1830's had already shown that New York 
City had supplanted Philadelphia as the leading import-export city of 
America, a distinction the latter had enjoyed since colonial times. The 
rapid rise of New York City, hastened by Van Buren's political connection 
with Jackson, was the underlying fact which explained why the Bank issue 
in the Pennsylvania Legislature always disrupted the Democrats and why 
the Dallas faction had to find some formula to keep the Bank, backbone of 
Philadelphia's financial eminence, in operation. 

Buchanan had to choose between supporting the financial 
interests of eastern Pennsylvania and sustaining the national policy of the 
Democrats. As the fonner course would have threatened his influence 
nationally and placed him locally in the camp of his Philadelphia rivals, he 
chose the latter, fully aware of the many pitfalls which the decision opened. 
In order to emphasize the national aspect of his position, he raised a 
question in the Senate which made everyone sit up tod take notice, for it 



had apparently been overlooked before. "Suppose," he said, "General 
Jackson and the bank had been in alliance and not in opposition. What 
then might have been the consequences, had he been an enemy to the 
liberties of the people? Can any man say that our liberties would not have 
been in danger?" All the forms of the Constitution might have remained, 
but who could believe that any subsequent election would ever be bcmafide; 
that the whole framework of public information could not be bought up 
and rigged; that frauds could not be excused by mercenary courts; or that 
a president would not always be able to name his successor? 6 

At home, Buchanan restricted his talking to a reiteration of his 
simple maxim, "The party must crush the bank, or the bank will crush the 
party." His followers, desperately worried by the schism created by the 
Bank issue, had no better advice to offer. One wrote, "What have we 
gained by opposition to the Bank? Principle what does it mean? Patri- 
otismwhere is it? Pledges in the pocket!! Politics I am ready to 
quit." 7 Another asked, "What do you think of a conciliation party? I 
mean to organize the old fashioned Democratic party? It must come to 
that." 8 That, thought Buchanan, would be like trying to take the eggs out 
of the omelette and put them back in the shells. A third proposed to foip-t 
about the Bank and to take up "fresher, more interesting topics/' Bu- 
chanan's friends coincided only on one point: they thought that he could 
strengthen and unify the state Democracy by consenting to run for governor 
in 1838. "You alone can unite our divided party," ran their plea. But 
those who knew him best predicted that he would refuse, "He aims at 
higher game," they said. 10 They were right, for Buchanan announced 
that he would not exchange the senatorship for a three-year scramble in 
Hamsburg. Of all political positions, the governorship of Pennsylvania 
traditionally carried the least prospect for subsequent honor- 
By the time the Legislature had finished its indecisive discussion 
of the Bank, Buchanan found himself in the midst of another series of 
personal attacks like those in the election of 1828. Perhaps his enemfr* 
thought there might be some truth in the idea that he alone could unite 
his party. 

The Lancaster Intelligencer started the assault with a new version 
of the old "bargain and sale'* story which, to Buchanan's utter astonish- 
ment, Francis P. Blair republished in the Washington Globe, the administra- 
tion organ. 11 In May Buchanan went to Harrishurg where he dropped in 
at a session of the Constitutional Convention* Some of his friends invited 
him to come front and sit inside the bar. Immediately thereafter, one of 
the delegates, Coxe of Somerset, arose and delivered a tirade of abuse 
against him which Buchanan reported "had no more connexion with the 
subject under discussion than it had with the question that distracted the 
sages of Lilliput, whether eggs ought to be beaten from the larger or the 

THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL 1837 - 1840 

smaller end." Buchanan's one-time warm friend, John Sergeant, Chairman 
of the Convention, made no effort to call Coxe to order. The central theme 
of his philippic was that old chestnut: "that Buchanan had once thanked 
his God that he had not a drop of Democratic blood in his veins, and if he 
had, he would let it out." 12 

Coxe had once asked certain people of Lancaster to sign an 
affidavit that they had heard Buchanan make the alleged statement, but 
Anthony McGlinn was the only person who was willing to furnish a sworn 
signature. Buchanan also swore, caliing Coxe "a dirty, low, malicious 
fellow." Did anyone believe that he had been at any period of his life 
"such an arrant fool?" 13 He demanded evidence and wanted the con- 
vention to give him a chance to refute. But Coxe was not after debate; he 
merely wanted to get the item back into circulation and he succeeded 
brilliantly. Picking up .the cue from Coxe, others began to use the con- 
vention as their forum to attack Buchanan. 

Some members of the convention at length became so accustomed 
to spreading poison that one of them forgot himself and gave a dose to one 
of his friends. Thaddeus Stevens, in a speech about apportionment of 
votes in Philadelphia, referred to that proud city as "a great and growing 
ulcer on the body politic," and then, without any apparent reason, launched 
into a slurring commentary on Whig leader William Morris Meredith. 
Meredith, not a man to sit back and listen quietly to an insult, rose and for 
two days poured forth a stream of personal invective against Stevens while 
the Democrats, now out of the picture, sat back entranced. Stevens 
manufactured venom so fast, said Meredith, that when he ran out of 
enemies, which was hard to imagine, he had to spray it on whoever stood 
nearby. He was a great man in little things by far the greatest in the 
littlest that the country could boast. "You sneaking catamount," he 
shouted, "you and your vulpine Coxe." The affair temporarily broke up 
the Constitutional Convention, and threatened to break up the Whig-anti- 
Masonic alliance. "Whether this dissolves the coalition remains to be 
seen, 9 ' wrote C. J. IngersolL 14 

Senator John P. King of Augusta, Georgia, had invited Buchanan 
to come south for a visit during the summer, but the growing political 
pressure and a number of priyate affairs discouraged the expedition. "Until 
the fit of fault-finding is over," he replied, he would have to stay at home. 15 
His private business needed care in these days of panic, 16 and he also had 
to work out the estates of his mother and his brother George, both of whom 
had died without leaving wills. 17 But most important of all, Mary Kittera 
Snyder (or was it Aunt Ann?) had said "yes-" Senator W. R. King had 
ribbed him during the early spring about neglecting his usual affairs from 
"the anxieties of love." 18 On June 3, Buchanan wrote to Mrs. Francis 
Preston Blair, "I would gladly join your party to the Hermitage next year, 



, . . but long ere that time I expect to be married & have the cares of a 
family resting upon my shoulders." 10 

The happy prospect clouded that particular spring, for the state 
of feeling in Philadelphia was so violent against him for attacking the U. S. 
Bank that he had been mobbed by a gang of political roughnecks on one of 
his visits. Charles J. Ingersoll told him that the assaults upon him in the 
Constitutional Convention had still further inflamed public opinion, and 
that he really ought to stay out of the city until things calmed. Possibly 
for this reason Mary Snyder went to Baltimore where Buchanan visited 

her. 20 

Buchanan went to Bedford Springs in July for several weeks of 
pleasant recreation, walking with his old friend Judge Henry Shippcn of 
Meadville along the wooded stream which rippled through the glades below 
the huge hotel. In the morning they would stop at the little white summer- 
house enclosing the beautiful mineral spring and "drink of the waters,'* 
according to their doctor's prescription. Until noon the guests ordinarily 
stayed within easy reach of the other little white houses until the volcanic 
eflects of the "waters" had subsided. After midday all sought the rocking 
chairs which lined the huge porch or promenaded up and down, greeting 
newly arrived friends and gossiping. In the evening there was dancing in 
the great ballroom with schottisches, polkas, and a new step called the 
hop-trot dubbed by some rakes the rabbit-hop- Buchanan hived to dance 
and spent more evenings in society than he should have, considering the 
amount of work he had planned to do- But the ladies insisted and he was 
always a willing respondent to a roguish eye. 

By the end of August he was back in Lancaster and hard at work 
on a series of important Senate speeches he was to give on the new Adminis- 
tration program to solve the currency and banking problems 


Although the Panic of 1837 grew very serious during the ftprinp and 
summer* President Van Buren decided not to call a prdl *wion of 
Congress to deal with it until September. During the summer months, 
Buchanan had been in constant correspondence with Jackson and 
Van Buren about the financial crisis. The latter had asked for suggestions 
to be included in the presidential message to the forthcoming special 
session of Congress and Buchanan, anticipating that he would be ft leading 
spokesman for the president, proposed that Congress should establish a 
new bank or, as that name had come into disrepute, f 'an Agency' 1 connected 
with the Treasury and the Mint to collect and disburse public money. 
The agency should neither issue notes nor discount paper; its function 

THE ROOT OF AIL EVIL 1837 - 1840 

should be to receive bullion for deposit both from the collectors of the 
United States and from individuals. It could issue to individuals receipts 
which could then be sent to any part of the nation and be cashed back into 
bullion at a branch agency for a slight transmission fee. This system 
would facilitate domestic exchange and prevent wide variations in exchange 
rates in different parts of the land. More particularly, it would prevent 
exchange merchants from periodically squeezing businessmen who needed 
specie when there happened, temporarily, to be a local shortage. But 
Buchanan was certain that neither the government nor the nation could 
function on a specie basis, as Senator Benton and others believed. The 
notes of state banks would have to be used and the government would have 
to receive these notes in payment of land and of customs duties. The 
Treasury, however, ought to accept only the notes of specie-paying banks 
in the vicinity of the new agency and its branches, and "nearly all danger in 
dealing with such Institutions might be avoided by frequent settlements," 21 

President Van Buren, in his message, proposed a "sub-treasury" 
system or federal collection, deposit, and exchange agency very much like 
the one Buchanan had described. 

Buchanan made one of the best speeches of his life in support of 
the subtreasury proposal on September 28, 1837, when he and Silas Wright 
of New York contested the issue with Webster and Clay. He divided the 
honors with his opponents on constitutional phases of the argument, but 
he had the better of them on practical finance. Both Clay and Webster, 
continually in need of money, had long experience as debtors to the Bank 
of the U. S., but Buchanan was a private banker himself. Jackson thought 
enough of the Bank speech to write that it "must become a lasting monu- 
ment" to the talent of its author, and a "text-book" of the party for all 

time to come* 22 

The Subtreasury Bill passed the Senate, but it was laid on the 
table in the House and did not become law until 1840. Pennsylvania 
Democrats were amazed at the Senate line-up, on the vote: Van Buren's 
best friends opposed him; his enemies, like Calhoun, supported him. "No 
wonder he is called a magician," George Plitt observed. 33 In New York 
the Democrats split wide apart on the issue and were soundly whipped in 
the state elections. Their defeat demonstrated to the Democrats of 
Pennsylvania the necessity for united action. Buchanan's friends wrote: 
"Our good old State is now the last hope for the party, and if she fails us, 
through the headstrong perversity of a few leaders, we shall be beaten in 
the Union for years to come." 24 If, however, New York remained split 
and Pennsylvania delivered a victory in 1838, there was every prospect 
that Buchanan could become the key man in the Van Buren Administration* 
A great deal would depend on the nominating contest for governor in 
the spring. 



Buchanan insisted that Muhlenberg and Wolf each withdraw his 
name as candidate for governor and urged the party to unite on someone 
previously unconnected with that schism. Wolf, who had protested 
Muhlenberg's appointment to the Austrian Mission, now promised to stay 
out of the governor's race and to keep his friends loyal to a convention 
choice. Buchanan got comforting news from prominent Democrats 
"whether it be Porter, Blythe, Carpenter or Klingensmith, that receives 
the nomination, not a man will demur/' 25 

Two weeks before the Democratic nominating convention in 
Harrisburg, the State Legislature passed resolutions instructing the 
Pennsylvania Senators to vote against the Subtreasury Bill. Supported 
by the Whigs and signed by Governor Ritner, the motion pledged "full 
confidence in Martin Van Buren." These idiotic resolutions, "an absurd 
medley and damnable humbug," were intended to force Buchanan to resign 
the senatorship so that he could be replaced by one of the "recreants." 
As one of the originators of the Subtreasury Bill he could not oppose it; 
but under the instruction system, he would have to kill his own bill or 
resign. The Bank crowd thought they had him this time. Whatever 
decision he made would disrupt the harmony of the Democratic meeting 

of March 4. 

Buchanan thought it over thoroughly, pushed aside the pile of 
letters appealing to him by all that was holy to tear up the instructions and 
vote the party line, and wrote out his announcement to the Seriate. "If a 
Senator can look behind his instructions," he declared, fr th<r right is at 
once abandoned. . . . My only alternative, then, is either to obey or to 
resign." But, if he should resign, "the right of instruction itself would 
soon grow into disrepute, and the Senatorial term of six years . . < would 
terminate whenever such a conflict of opinion should arise, , , . I shall, 
therefore, obey my instructions honestly and in good faith.'* 6 He would 
move to table the Subtreasury Bill in the hope that by next session he could 
get the support of Pennsylvania for it. 

This decision did not precisely delight Van Buren, but he could 
scarcely protest; it at least offered hope, which was more than he could say 
for his own state of New York, And, while the announcement disappointed 
all those who had been engaged in the fight against the Bank, they swallowed 
it and kept a bold front, praising its forthrighlness* Fortunately, it came 
too late to affect the county meetings to elect delegates to the state nominat- 
ing convention, or there would certainly have been a swarm of contesting 
claimants to seats. As it was, there had been numerous Democratic county 
meetings sponsoring, in one hall, "Van Buren and a new hank/' and across 
the street "Van Buren and down with the bank" The Democrats nominated 
David R. Porter for governor without difficulty-- a tremendous triumph 
for Buchanan's unity platform; but the convention members made no 

THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL 1837 . 1840 

statement at all on the Bank issue. Their silence on this point might have 
caused trouble except for the fact that the other parties were even more 
splintered on the question than the Democrats and could make no capital 
of the glaring omission. 

The Pennsylvania gubernatorial contest aroused more excitement 
than any event of the preceding decade. The members of all Democratic 
factions pulled strong enough in harness that Buchanan felt he could afford 
to keep his distance. He stayed out of the state campaign and immersed 
himself in the business of the Senate. "Really," wrote an old crony, "you 
have become public property, and have lost sight altogether of the domestic 
relation. No one in Lancaster has heard from you since Congress began." 27 
There was some reason for this, for the Committee on Foreign Affairs was 
suddenly confronted with a whole docket full of crises, and many problems 
corollary to the Subtreasury came up for individual study and discussion. 

A new fight arose over a scheme that Biddle had worked out to 
give the newly chartered Bank of the United States of Pennsylvania millions 
of dollars which it ought not to have. Under the old federal charter, the 
Bank had an unspecified period of time to liquidate the bank notes which 
had been circulating for twenty years. Instead of calling these in, Biddle per- 
mitted them to circulate as usual; and on top of them the Bank issued new 
notes authorized under the Pennsylvania charter. Thus, this "monster," 
which Jackson thought he had destroyed, now roamed the countryside more 
than twice as big as ever and exercised a national influence far greater than 
it had in the heyday of 1828. But worse than this, its note issues were now 
swollen as badly as 'those of an old wildcatter, though the public, con- 
ditioned by two decades of assurance that these notes were the best security 
in the nation, took them avidly as if they were solid gold. Biddle expected 
that he would receive gold for them; he was currently engaged in a quiet 
endeavor to get a corner on the southern cotton crop, and if he succeeded 
he would have plenty of specie to cover those "resurrection notes." Even 
if Congress outlawed them, he would still have the gold. All that was 
needed was to prevent any sudden resumption of specie payments, and he 
could certainly protect himself against that at Harrisburg. Biddle was a 
man of ideas. 

Buchanan fought to proscribe Biddle's old notes by means of a 
federal bill imposing fine and imprisonment on any director, trustee, or 
officer of a corporation 1 chartered by Congress who permitted notes of a 
defunct corporation to remain in circulation. He analyzed, with a clarity 
which should have made Biddle revise his plans, the nature of the cotton 
speculation then in progress in open defiance of a prohibitory clause in the 
Pennsylvania charter of the Bank. He pointed out that the Bank never 
bothered to make the periodic reports to the Auditor General of Pennsyl- 
vania which the new charter specified, and that the Bank effectively blocked 



all efforts to revive specie resumption in the Commonwealth. "In vain 
you may talk to me about paper restrictions," he concluded. "When did a 
vast moneyed monopoly ever regard the law, if any great interest of its own 
stood in the way? It will then violate its charter, and its own power will 
secure it immunity." 28 Biddle, he proclaimed, "like all other men, must 
yield to his destiny." This was prophetic. He eventually yielded to 
bankruptcy but never to the United States Government. 

By mid July, the Senate session was over and the critical Pennsyl- 
vania gubernatorial election of 1838 drew near. The great day arrived. 
Votes were counted, recounted, counted again. Great God in Heaven! 
Between Ritner and Porter the vote was so close that no one knew who had 
been elected, and each claimed the victory, 


In November, the death of sister Harriet's husband, the Reverend Robert 
Henry of Greensburg, raised family problems so serious and immediate 
that James spent the entire month attending to them before going to 
Washington. The family was like politics. He loved both and felt duty 
bound to both, but their problems, demands, and feuds were ever on his 
doorstep. For a long while he had anticipated the difficulties that now 
faced him. He had already acquired major responsibility for half a dozen 
young nephews and nieces, and if tuberculosis continued to afflict the 
family, as he feared it would, he would soon have a whole orphanage on 
his hands. 

He told Harriet that he would come to Greensburg and then tried 
to formulate some plans* The family problem had several aspects: mom*y, 
proper care of the children, and the resolution of jealousies and disagree- 
ments among the surviving elders. Moreover, he was al this time especially 
concerned about Mary Snyder, Some of the family opposed the idea of 
his marriage, particularly Edward who anticipated sharing a goodly in- 
heritance from his brother. Mary herself may have been disturbed by the 
thought of becoming an unwanted addition to the circle, Buchanan 
wondered whether he had the right to ask her to undertake the role of 
foster-mother, and whether it was wise to let his money get out of the 
immediate family. 

He worked late in his study in the King Street house, his mind 
wandering back over the past to his mother and her ambitions for him and 
to sister Sarah, who had run off to get married and then died at twenty- 
seven, leaving a little girl, Elizabeth Huston. Mr. Huston had since died 
and Elizabeth had been living with the Kitteras in Philadelphia or with 
Miss Hetty in Lancaster during vacations from the boarding school in 

THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL 1837 . 1840 

New Jersey which Uncle James had chosen for her. But her school days 
were nearly over, for she was sixteen, and more permanent provision had 
to be made. Uncle Edward stuffily announced that he would not have her 
because she was "too giddy, too fond of company" and too little impressed 
with the responsibilities of life. What would the parish think? It put 
Buck in a quandary. He could not leave her with Miss Hetty. John N. 
Lane, a relative of his sister Jane's husband, lived in Lancaster and would 
have liked to keep Elizabeth, but James feared that this arrangement would 
"raise a talk here which might be injurious to Edward or his wife." But, 
he said, "if it becomes my duty to fix her in this County, they must take 
the consequences of their own conduct, and should it become necessary 
that I should express an opinion on the subject, it will be against them and 
in favor of Elizabeth." 29 

Robert Henry's death left sister Harriet with very little money, 
an advanced case of tuberculosis, and a five-year-old boy, James Buchanan 
Henry. Buck wrote to her urging her to take care of her health "for 
the sake of your child and other relatives. You are welcome, most welcome 
to a home with me where I think you may promote my happiness as well 
as your own." In his distraction, he addressed the letter to "My dear sir" 
from force of habit, and dated it 1837 instead of 1838, 30 Harriet would now 
have to go to live with her sister Jane in Mercersburg for a while and then 
move to Edward's home in Lancaster County until the end of the next 
Congress, when Buchanan could have things ready for her in the King 
Street house. 

Jane posed an equally distressing problem. She was confined to 
her room, spit blood copiously, and was resigned to death in a matter of 
months. She had four children: James Buchanan Lane, who was already 
in his twenties; Elliot Eskridge, thirteen; Mary Elizabeth, twelve; and 
Harriet, eight 

Sister Maria, now married to Dr. Charles Yates of Meadville, 
had her troubles* The Doctor was her third husband. By her first, 
Buchanan's old school teacher, Jesse E. H. Magaw, she had had one 
daughter, named Jessie. She had four more children by Dr. Yates, their 
house was cramped, their income small, and Jessie was suffering from 
tuberculosis and needed to get out of the Meadville climate. Of all his 
nieces, she was probably Buchanan's favorite- Jessie went to live with her 
Aunts Harriet and Jane at Mercersburg for a time, until she could be sent 
to school James told Maria that he planned to send Jessie "to the very best 
country female school I can find. I have seen enough of the effects of 
sending country girls whose expectations are moderate to Philadelphia 
Boarding Schools." Jessie, he thought, "will make a fine woman, if she 
lives. If not very smart, she is very good, and that is better." 31 He would 
send her to school at Mt. Joy, near Lancaster, but Jessie was so fond of 



Aunt Harriet that it might be best if all stayed at the family homestead at 
Mercersburg, and she attended school there. 

Finally there was Edward, his only surviving brother, who seemed 
increasingly to resent the contrast between his own poverty and James's 
affluence. Edward was ready for college when his brother William died, 
and it was this event which influenced him to gratify the wish of hi? mother 
that one son would study for the ministry. George and James had already 
prepared for law, and no one was left but him to follow the cloth. Now 
that George had died, he and James had to take care of the family. Edward 
complained that he had more expenses than James and scarcely income 
enough to keep himself in clean shirts; why should he take care of the 
family wanderers while James kept an empty house in Lancaster and had 
other quarters in Washington. James had been kind but strict with 
Edward. "You shall not be at any loss for money," he often said but he 
always kept track of the loans, and when there was a little estate to divide, 
he acted as executor and deducted the amount of his advances. "Rely uf n 
your own judgment in all things, and I shall be content," he would write, 
but took occasion to disapprove strongly of the judgments Edward had 

made. 32 

James thought wryly of Edward, the "baby brother." He was 
even now only twenty-seven, proud, impatient, suspicious, and coiummn! 
with ambition. He had wanted to make a big impression on hw superiors 
by making a fine donation to help endow a chair of theology at one *f the 
church colleges, but the parish had contributed only 86. JanifK sent htm 
$144 more to enable him to forward a thumping cheek for $150 that 
would help make them remember where Pequea Church wart, 

Now there was trouble over Harriett desire to sell the old Dun- 
woodie property, "Bridge farm/ 1 near Mmuwburg. The income from this 
would be shared by all the children, but they had to iipree to it* *<al, 
Edward felt that it should be held until prices improved, but Harriot inrdri) 
money so desperately that she could sec no other solution, Jamw had then 
proposed to buy it himself, matching the best offer they could jset from the 
outside. After a general family conference at Mercersburg, he conrluA-d 
the purchase, much to Edward's dissatisfaction. "Nothing hut family 
pride," James wrote, "induced me to purchase your farm. I couW not bar 
to see the last vestige of father's property in Franklin County go into the 
hands of strangers." Significantly he added, "You will at last prnhaUy #**t 
my property or the greater part of it among al! of you." 8 * Whatever hopes 
he may have had of marrying were not very bright when he wrote that 

On the same trip to Mercersburg he had a long talk with hi* 
sister Jane and made all arrangements for the distribution of her property 
after her death. She named him trustee of her inheritance (some $6,000) . 

THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL 1837 - 1840 

He was to hold it during her life and use it later to pay for the care and 
education of the children. The remainder was to be apportioned and paid 
to them with interest when tfiey reached maturity. Elliott T. Lane, her 
husband, agreed to this plan and signed a release which was recorded 
at Chambersburg. 

James was glad to see Maria at the family conclave. Like her 
daughter Jessie, she was very good, but not very smart. Fortunately her 
latest husband was both and he managed to keep the household in order. 
Buchanan had grown to be very fond of him, and the doctor reciprocated 
by getting into politics in Meadville. He endorsed every Buchanan move- 
ment so enthusiastically that he insulted patients who disagreed with him 
and almost ruined his practice, Buchanan had loaned them the money 
to buy a house years before and had gotten his first taste of Maria's financial 
capabilities. On the strength of his guarded assent to make a loan, she 
had gone right out and bought a place, without ever having the title checked. 
He had upbraided her for her negligence and withheld his aid until his 
friend Henry Shippen, county judge in Meadville, had recorded a clear 
title and prepared a first mortgage. "It is my inflexible rule in life," he 
had told Maria, "never to invest a dollar in any property except it has a 
clean title and is free of every incumbrance." 

Maria soon complained that the new house was too small. "That 
which I feared has come to pass," he wrote back. "It seems you are now 
dissatisfied with the use of the front room as a shop and are anxious that 
Dr. Yates should build one. I confess I am somewhat astonished at this. 
Besides your promise to me, you ought to reflect that your circumstances 
are very limited and that your expenses will be increasing annually. Were 
I residing in that house myself, I should never think of any other law office 
but the front room/' 3 * 

As the years passed, odd little incidents occurred. Dr. Yates bet 
one of his patients $200 that Buchanan would be elected Senator in 1833, 
lost both the wager and the patient, and thus the means of paying the bet. 
Buchanan got him out of trouble in his usual way, not by sending money 
but by giving Yates a receipt for $200 which he said he had deducted from 
the sum the doctor already owed him. His letter had the qualities which 
his relatives came to recognize and to dread; it was at once both kind and 
nasty. "Be firm in politics, but avoid giving personal offence," he ad- 
monished. "I did not know you were in debt to anyone but myself, but 
if you do owe to others, you ought to pay it." 86 Once in a while, he would 
ask Dr. Yates to send only two thirds of the usual $150 instalment on the 

mortgage and 8 ive the other third to Maria ' On such occasion8 he would 
not enter the credit until he got a formal receipt from Maria that she had 

actually received her fifty. 36 


James knew what the family thought of him, and wondered if 
their view was not justified. Often he wondered just what he thought of 
himself. He felt kindly to nearly everyone, but he could scarcely believe 
that anyone felt kindly toward him. Any manifestation of friendship or 
appeal to his better nature set little red flags flying in his mind; what was this 
person after? No one ever surmounted his suspicion; no one in his family 
ever expected from him other than what decency, bounded by the letter of 
the law, absolutely required. But to give to one would raise a howl from all 
the others. To make gifts to the family with no strings attached would 
make them wasteful and dependent, and soon the time would come when 
he would necessarfly have to refuse. Then they would hate him. He knew 
that much about human nature. No, the best course was to give only when 
the need was critical, and then in a way that showed he expected to be paid 
back. That method would keep them all independent and self-respecting, 
it would protect him from voracious demands, and while it might not 
promote any outburst of emotional gratitude, it would maintain a long- 
range family stability. As he told Edward, they would all probably share 
everything he had, anyway. And right now, he had $120,000 of his own at 
work for interest, and some $25,000 of funds in trust for the various 
children. He hoped that if they let him manage* they would all some day 
have financial security. 


WISE AS THE SERPENT 1838 - 1841 


According to unofficial election returns, David R. Porter led Governor 
Ritner by 5,540 votes in the election of 1838, but the seats of eight Assem- 
blymen and several State Senators were in dispute because of frauds in 
Philadelphia. The award of these contested seats would determine which 
party controlled the Legislature, and the Legislature would control the 
outcome of the election for governor, for it certified the vote. Secretary 
of the Commonwealth Burrowes issued a circular advising the public to 
"treat the election as if it had never taken place," and Thaddeus Stevens 
proclaimed emphatically that Porter would never be governor. 

At Harrisburg the anti-Masons and the Democrats each organized 
an Assembly and a Senate and proceeded independently to business. At one 
stage a mob invaded the House chamber, threw the anti-Masonic speaker 
from the rostrum into the aisle and then rushed into the Senate, chasing 
Stevens and Burrowes "out of a window twelve feet high, through three 
thorn bushes, and over a seven foot picket fence." As excitement mounted, 
the anti-Masons seized the Harrisburg armory and Governor Ritner called 
out a militia battalion to sustain him. These troops, by stopping for a 
supply of buckshot at the Frankford arsenal, gave the name "Buckshot 
War" to the fracas. Meanwhile the Democrats mobilized thousands of 
volunteer "minutemen" who now began a march on Harrisburg to defend 
their rights* 

When the militia officers refused to obey Governor Ritner, he 
wrote to President Van Buren, of all people, demanding the aid of U. S. 
troops, presumably to prevent a Democrat from assuming the governorship 
to which he had been duly elected! Van Buren felt that Pennsylvania ought 
to take care of its own troubles. At length, several of the Whigs became 
so thoroughly disgusted with proceedings that they announced they would 
vote with the Democrats, a switch that deprived the anti-Masons of even a 
phony majority in the House and enabled the Democrats to proceed legally. 



The Senate continued its turmoil for ten days longer when it, too, organized. 
The Legislature now declared David R. Porter to have been elected gover- 
nor, barely in time to meet the January 1 inauguration date. 

Buchanan did not join the throng of Democrats which descended 
on Huntingdon to press claims on the governor-elect. He had long since 
impressed upon Porter that his nomination had resulted from the voluntary 
retirement from the field of both Wolf and Muhlenberg, and that the new 
Administration ought to conciliate these two factions. If Porter should 
ally with either one or try to create his own Democratic machine, he would 
surely wreck himself and jeopardize the national prospects of the party 
in 1840. Porter recognized the problem and did his best to steer a middle 
course, giving important jobs to representatives of all the major Democratic 
segments. Buchanan urged him to support the Van Burcu program and 
promised to promote appropriate federal appointments. 

Buchanan now began to work out the details of a plan which he 
had been toying with for the past several years. Van Buren would certainly 
run for a second term as president, but lie would probably not demand the 
renomination of Richard M. Johnson as his running mate. As Johnson 
had dragged down the ticket in 1836, a number of men were already openly 
canvassing for his place, among them Senator Thomas Hart Bcnton and 
Secretary of State Forsyth. Buchanan proposed William R. King of 
Alabama for the vice-presidency. 

King's nomination would have multiple advantages. It would 
eliminate both Forsyth and Johnson; it would put on the ticket a man 
whom Buchanan's partisans in Pennsylvania could consider to be his 
choice, and this belief would help to bring out the vote; and it would 
please the South. But most important of all> it would pave the way for 
the election of James Buchanan as president in 1844. King frankly told 
his roommate that if he became vice-president, he would not permit the 
consideration of his name for the presidency in '44. Furthermore, he 
would use his influence to promote Buchanan's nomination* 

This plan looked good to Buchanan. Pennsylvania's Democrats 
were closer to real unity than they had been since the governorship of 
Simon Snyder; if Porter played the game he would be re-elected and the 
state administration would support Buchanan in the 18*14 convention. 
New York Democracy was in the midst of schism; but New York, like 
Pennsylvania, would have learned its lesson and would be back on the 
Democratic track in five years. New York by then would have had the 
vice-presidency and the presidency for twelve years: she would be com- 
pelled to relinquish further claims and support a neighbor* The border 
states, too, had been favored: Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, Van 
Buren was the only uncertain part of the program. What would he think? 


WISE AS THE SERPENT 1838 - 1841 

Would he deliver the goods in Pennsylvania to men who would work 

for King? 1 

At Buchanan's suggestion, Democratic editors began puffing 
King and laying the propaganda groundwork for a formal movement. The 
appearance of their articles, however, touched off countermoves. The 
Dallas men of Philadelphia and the pro-Bank Democrats of western Pennsyl- 
vania, who were hostile to Buchanan, hoomed Forsyth as the Pennsylvania 
choice for vice-president. 2 By the summer of 1839, Buchanan thought 
that the Forsyth movement had failed and that King would be nominated 
unless "Old Tecumseh" (Richard M. Johnson) should insist upon running 
again. 3 The Democratic members of the Legislature even gave Buchanan 
a testimonial dinner, together with the governor and other dignitaries, 
an unprecedented mark of party harmony. 4 

This happy augury failed to take into account the vagaries of 
state politics. Governor Porter did his part, giving Buchanan's friends a 
fair share of the patronage, but the leaders of the factions refused to be 
disciplined. 5 The governor, for example, bestowed favors on the Harris- 
burg Keystone, which had been in the past a violent anti-Muhlenberg, 
anti-Buchanan sheet. The Keystone kept pounding at the anti-Buchanan 
line and spread abroad a conclusion, quite erroneous, that the governor 
had gotten into a fight with the Senator. As a result, the Buchanan 
journals began to lambast the Keystone and from here it was natural to go 
on to attack the governor. The Dallas men took advantage of this presumed 
rupture to promote their interests by cultivating the anti-Buchanan move- 
ment centering on Forsyth. Cameron, just back from his Winnebago 
Indian Mission, saw a chance to trouble the waters to his advantage and 
quietly encouraged all Pennsylvania Democrats to insist upon a free and 
easy Bank program, the very thing against which Porter and Buchanan 
had pledged themselves. By September, Buchanan was discouraged. "My 
name has often been mentioned in connection with the Presidency in 
1844," he wrote, but Pennsylvania would never unite on one of her own 
sons "with such energy and enthusiasm as to make him successful. . . . They 
care little for their own men." 6 

Felix Grundy, Attorney General of the United States, resigned 
in December. After the various factions got in their bids, Van Buren 
offered the post to Buchanan "although," he added, "I have no reason to 
suppose that it would be desirable to you." 7 It was not. Buchanan saw 
no use in exchanging the senatorship for a belated invitation to take a 
one-year job in the lowest Cabinet place. In declining he earnestly urged 
the appointment of the governor's brother, James M. Porter, but the 
president next offered the appointment to George M. Dallas, recently back 
from Russia. Dallas refused and the office went to Henry M. Gilpin of Phila- 
delphia, a gentleman unpopular both with Porter's and Buchanan's friends. 



"The President's disposition towards myself is proclaimed upon 
the house-top," Buchanan wrote to Porter. The King movement in Penn- 
sylvania never recovered from this blow to Buchanan's prestige at the 
critical moment, and Vice-President Johnson embraced the opportunity 
to announce that he would run again. Porter could have used aid and 
comfort from the national administration and with such aid he might well 
have been influenced by Van Buren's wishes, but without it he would have 
to go ahead and settle the state banking problem on the basis of local 
interest. As a result, the state administration ran head-on into a policy 
collision with the national administration in a critical election year. 

Both Democratic party policy and state law required that dis- 
tressed banks should resume specie payment after a given date. This 
deadline had passed, but the Pennsylvania banks insisted that they could 
not pay specie"; let the governor enforce this law, and a new panic would 
immediately ensue. Porter agreed that summary specie resumption under 
existing conditions would be foolhardy, but he had a variety of courses he 
could have taken which would have protected both the party and the banks* 

His decision, announced in the message to the Legislature in 
January, 1840, emphasized the necessity of the resumption of specie pay- 
ments, but Porter declared his intention not to force this until it could be 
done with safety to the general economy. Letters quickly piled up on 
Buchanan's desk, Anti-Bank Democrats were "out in full cry against the 
Message. . . . Many are looking to you for an expression of opinion." 8 
Buchanan replied to Porter, "You have perhaps never witnessed anything 
like the exaltation, either felt or affected, of the Whigs here when the 
first news of your special message arrived." He knew the necessity which 
prompted the message, but he hoped that the Legislature would settle an 
early date for resumption; if it adjourned without action, leaving the 
banks without any mandate for resumption, "the integrity of our party 
will be in great danger."* 


The Whigs exploited the Bank controversy in Pennsylvania at a "union 
and harmony" meeting at Harrisbuxg in September and by holding their 
national nominating convention at the same place on December 4, where 
they chose General William Henry Harrison for president and John Tyler 
of Virginia for vice-president. So diverse were the elements of Whiggery 
that the delegates decided to issue no platform statement at all; if they 
concentrated on hatred of Van Buren and made a hero of f f 01d Tippecanoe," 
they could faring in Masons and anti-Masons, slaveholders and abolitionists, 
friends and enemies of the banks, high and low tariff men, manufacturers 


WISE AS THE SERPENT 1838 - 1841 

and employees, radicals and conservatives. "The Whig party is very 
Catholic," Buchanan declared. "It tolerates great difference of opinion." 10 

The situation was, indeed, ridiculous. The party which but a 
few years before had acknowledged its descent from the Federalist tradition 
of government by the rich and well-born, now turned on the party of the 
"common man," and tried to make it appear a regime of royalty. The 
Whigs contrasted King Van Buren, riding in an English-made coach more 
sumptuous than a coronation carriage and dining regally from platters of 
gold, with Old Tippecanoe, who had been reared in a log cabin. The 
Whigs simply took the pro-Jackson campaign program of 1828, used it for 
themselves, and created a wildly exciting canvass with hard cider, coon- 
skins, and log cabin festivals all over the country. The Democrats vainly 
tried to stem the tide with sweet reason and sarcasm. 

The program of attack on Van Buren presupposed attacks on all 
his lieutenants. In Pennsylvania there was a very effective propaganda 
campaign to prove that Buchanan had urged a banking program that would 
reduce the wages of labor to ten cents a day. "Ten Cent Jimmy," the 
pamphlets were labelled. Buchanan, in formal debate, always presented 
as strongly as he could the case of the opposition, and then proceeded to 
demolish it systematically by his own arguments. In supporting the 
Independent Treasury Bill, he had outlined the terrible conditions which 
would prevail unless banks were reformed and had then gone on to show 
how much better all would fare under the proposed bill. Senator John 
Davis of Massachusetts took the first section of this speech, and offered it 
as Buchanan's reasons for supporting the Independent Treasury. He 
took the "10 cents a day" phrase and quoted it out of context, asserting 
that Buchanan supported the Independent Treasury Bill in the hope that 
it would reduce wages, destroy banks and deflate property values. Davis's 
speeches, when circulated in print, had tremendous political impact. 

Forney reported from Pennsylvania: "I do not know when I 
have been so much disgusted with the course of any political opponent as 
with that of this Mr. Davis. . . He must be either a mere catspaw of 
others, or a weak, addle-brained man, or a malignant and unscrupulous 

mffian When I see the effect they are making here, by means of his 

villainous perversion of your intelligible Defence of the laborer, I cannot 
but put such a construction upon his unworthy conduct. Why, Sir, they 

have flooded this county with his so-called Reply to you A copy has 

been sent to nearly every Democrat His whole speech is the assump- 
tion of the broad ground that the people are ignorant, and unable to dis- 
criminate between right and wrong," 11 

The human mind has not yet discovered the way of counter- 
acting promptly the effect of the bold lie propagated by the prominent man. 
History is full of pertinent illustrations. If representative government has a 



nemesis, this is probably it. The "Ten Cent Jimmy" lie seriously weakened 
Buchanan in Pennsylvania. 

Forney proposed that the Democrats "challenge any responsible 
member of the opposition here to join in the republication of both yours 
and Davis' speeches, both of which are to be published correctly and . . , 

bound together, and so circulated If they do not accept, they are down 

forever." 12 The opposition did not accept, nor was it down forever. 
Instead, it proceeded to improve its advantage by reviving the "drop of 
blood" smear and sending that out with the "Ten Cent Jimmy"' pamphlets. 
Editor Middleton, of the Lancaster Examiner, did much of the printing. He 
had recently distinguished himself by shooting James Cameron when 
Cameron came in to beat him up for other lies he had published. 13 Bu- 
chanan was for "carrying the war into Carthage," but his friends advised 
against it. "It's only giving tone to falsehoods by heeding them," wrote 

Judge Champneys, 

Buchanan made several long defensive speeches in the Senate 
on the "Ten Cent Jimmy" accusations. "If the most artful and unfair man 
in the world had determined to destroy any public measure," he asked, 
"in what manner would he most effectually damn it in public estimation? 
It would be to enumerate all the terrible consequences which would flow 
from it, according to the predictions of its enemies, and put them into the 
mouth of its friends as arguments in its favor. There could not by possi- 
bility be any stronger admission of its evil tendency. . . . This is the 
ridiculous attitude in which I am placed by the Senator's speech. If these 
imputations were well founded, I must be one of the most ferocious mm 
in existence. Destruction must be my delight. No wild agrarian in the 
country has ever thought of waging such an indiscriminate war against 
all property, my own among the rest, as that which has been attributed to 
me by the Senator." 14 But Buchanan's exposure of Davids fraud proved 
a futile effort. People found it easier to say 'Ten Cent Jimmy" than to read 
a rebuttal, and the nickname stuck. 

Meanwhile the Pennsylvania Democratic convention met on 
the 4th of March. Except for the Lancaster County delegation which cast 
its votes for William R. King as vice-president in token of esteem for 
Buchanan, the convention voted for Van Buren and Johimon and passed a 
resolution of confidence in Porter. But it did not dare to bring upon the 
floor any of the current issues and adjourned, like the Whigs, with no 
statement of policies. 

The United States Senate kept Buchanan in Washington until 
its adjournment late in July. He tried to manipulate the strings of politics 
in the Keystone State by correspondence, but he grew more and more 
discouraged because of the attacks on him* Furthermore, it seemed utterly 
hopeless to reconcile the Democratic factions by patronage, though both 

WISE AS THE SERPENT 1838 - 1841 

he and Governor Porter were in full agreement on "the absolute necessity 
of union and harmony between the state and national administrations" 
and the wisdom of apportioning the state offices. Pittsburgh and Phila- 
delphia were the two great centers of trouble. In the West, Buchanan's 
friends fought Porter and demanded that a new name be introduced for 
governor in 1841. 15 In the East, the pro-Bank party of Dallas knifed both 
Buchanan and Porter on every occasion. Yet both groups professed their 
solid support of Van Buren. The president had contributed some of the 
trouble by appointing several anti-Porter Democrats in the Pittsburgh area. 
In order to offset these, Buchanan induced Van Buren to select a staunch 
Porter man, Calvin Blythe, for the collectorship of the Port of Philadelphia, 
a position left open by the recent death of George Wolf. Porter gave 
evidence of his solidarity with Buchanan by naming some of his particular 
friends to Philadelphia judgeships. 16 As a result the Philadelphia Demo- 
crats were so furious with these two that they organized gangs to break up 
political rallies held by the friends of Buchanan and Porter in that city. 
The leading Democratic journal in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania^, 
refused to publish any of Buchanan's replies to the Whig attacks on him, 
charged him by the line for every Senate speech which he wished printed, 
and purposely omitted the complimentary toasts given him in the lists of 
those reported from various meetings. 17 

The Muhlenberg Democrats of Berks County invited Buchanan 
to appear on a huge program they had arranged for the 4th of July. Vice- 
President Richard M. Johnson was to be the main attraction. With 
intention to insult, the arrangements committee failed to invite Governor 
Porter, but Buchanan replied sharply that he would appear on no program 
of such general interest which ignored Porter and thus forced the com- 
mittee to send him an invitation. 18 

The Fourth of July celebrations demonstrated that the assaults 
on Buchanan had begun to boomerang. "Look at the East at the West- 
at the South and here in the middle states," wrote Forney. "Their 
celebrations are full of your name. You are right when you say that this 
attack upon you has done you good. It has been a god-send, indeed!" 19 
Whether this was true or not, the Whig campaign against Buchanan only 
increased in intensity, Simon Cameron, playing a game of political black- 
mail, dug out a copy of an old 1814 handbill headed "We as Federalists," 
signed by Buchanan as president of the old Washington Association, and 
sent this for dissemination to Charles B. Penrose, one of the Democrats 
who had sold himself to the Bank several years before, and was now 
presumably a Whig. 20 

But more was yet to come. In a campaign speech in Lancaster 
Buchanan spoke of the efforts of the anti-Masonic Whigs to steal the 
election of 1838 by the Buckshot War in Pennsylvania aixd of a similar 



affair in New Jersey the same year. He then quoted Whig Senator William 
C. Preston of South Carolina who had stated in a recent speech that "he 
believed Mr. V. Buren's election would be defeated by Constitutional means, 
yet if those means were insufficient if the ballot box should fail him 
he, for one, was willing to resort to the rights and arms that Nature gave 
him." A few days later the Philadelphia Whig papers came out with an 
article quoting Buchanan as saying, 

I believe General Harrison will be defeated by Constitutional 
means, yet if these means are insufficient, if the baJlot box should 
fail, I for one would resort to the rights and the arms which 
nature gave me. 21 

Though never very enthusiastic about stump-speaking around 
the circuit, Buchanan now set out on a six-weeks tour of the Common- 
wealth, speaking nearly every day. He opened the campaign at a huge 
Democratic jamboree in Lancaster which attracted some 25,000 people. 
For two hours, he poured fire and brimstone into the enemy. With his 
speech in hand, he set out for the West: Chamhersburg, Greensburg, 
Pittsburgh, Meadville, Erie, He also visited the northern counties and 
returned home by the end of September. cr l arrived here from Western 
Pennsylvania," he wrote Van Buren, "broken down in voice and so hoarse 
that I fear I shall not again be able to take the field until after our first 
election. The effort of frequently addressing immense multitudes of people 
in the open air is more severe than I could have anticipated. 1 * 32 It took 
some stamina to be a working politician* Buchanan much preferred his 
usual method of campaigning with the pen. When someone chided Clay 
for a particularly cutting remark to Buchanan in the Senate, he replied: 
f 'Oh, damn him, he deserved it* He writes letterff* 

The state elections of October brought uncertainty, for state 
politics commanded allegiances and represented issues o di&tinct from 
the national contest that all predictions tasted on it were shaky. The 
excitement continued hot up until the balloting for presidential fhi'tor* 
in November, which drew almost twice as many voters to the polls aa had 
the fight of 1836. The final Pennsylvania tallies showed that the Whigs 
had a grand majority of 350 votes out of a total of nearly 300,000, The 
returns were heartbreakingly close; in several counties a few dozen votes 
spelled the difference between victory and defeat; but across the nation 
Harrison captured the presidency by an electoral vote of 294 to 60 and the 
Whigs won control of both houses of Congress. 34 

"I never was so much astonished or disappointed as at the result 
in Pennsylvania," Buchanan wrote to Van Buren. "But it is useless to 
indulge in vain regrets* . * , The Whigs & Anti-Masons are now gloating 


WISE AS THE SERPENT* 1838 - 1841 

over the prospect of driving me from the Senate. . . . Let them instruct me 
to vote for a national Bank, and I shall glory in my political martyrdom." 25 


Buchanan found the meaning of the election peculiarly hard to decipher. 
His own county of Lancaster and that of his birthplace, Franklin, had given 
huge Whig majorities; in Huntingdon, home county of Governor Porter, 
the Whigs had also won. The opposition, of course, had put all the money 
and men it could into these particular areas, which had been in the un- 
certain column since 1828. But Philadelphia had gone Democratic, if 
only by a whisker. Here the pro-Bank Democrats did better against the 
Whigs than anti-Bank Democrats a regular Chinese puzzle. Did the 
election mean that Van Buren would have to be run in 1844 to vindicate 
his program, or did his defeat mean that he should not run again? Did 
the election mean that Porter should step down in 1841? What was the 
political aspect of the State Legislature? The anti-Masonic Whigs con- 
trolled the Senate, but in the House the control lay in the hands of Phila- 
delphia Democrats, who agreed with the Whigs on almost all financial 
questions. Would the Legislature instruct Pennsylvania's Senators to 
destroy the Independent Treasury and create a new national Bank? And 
what bearing had these matters on Buchanan's chances for the presidency 
in four years? He was sure he did not know, but he did know one thing: 
they were a great deal less promising than they would have been if Little 
Van were in the White House with King as his vice-president. 

For the time being there was nothing to do but wait. "Everything 
here is quiet," Buchanan wrote in December. "Our true policy is for the 
present to leave the Whig party to themselves. This party contains in 
itself the seeds of its own destruction, if they are permitted to germinate 
and bring forth their natural fruit." 26 "The Whigs are composed of such 
heterogeneous materials," he assured his brother, "that they will probably 
fall to pieces." 27 

Actually, the election of Harrison helped the Pennsylvania Demo- 
crats to solve their major problem, the Bank issue, for the state politicians 
could now proceed to act on this without facing pressure and loyalty-tests 
from a national administration. Buchanan had long agreed with Porter 
on the common sense course, though the two had been forced to pull in 
opposite directions because of the political requirements of their respective 
positions. Now Buchanan went to work for the renomination of Porter 
for governor, as the move best calculated to promote his own interests 

in 1844. 

William Henry Harrison died exactly one month after taking the 
oath of office, leaving the presidency in the hands of Democrat John Tyler 



who had been placed on the Whig ticket as part of a weird horse-trade in 
Virginia to get William C. Rives into the Senate. Rives, elected by Virginia 
Democrats, joined with the Whigs in Congress; Tyler, elected by the Whigs, 
now rejoined the Democrats. 28 

To compound the shock, Biddle's Bank suffered a run shortly 
after resuming specie payments and closed its doors with such a resounding 
crash that few expected they would ever open again. "The third crash of 
the Bank of the United States so soon after its resumption," wrote Bu- 
chanan, "has taken us all by surprise. I sincerely hope it has made its last 
struggle. ... As long as it shall continue to exist, it will continue to 
derange the business of the country." 29 

What, in January, had looked like a bleak and hopeless prospect 
for the Democrats, by April had blossomed into a whole garden of new 
political promise. Porter was renominated for governor with the united 
support of Buchanan, Muhlenberg, and the Philadelphia Democrats, a 
"devilish strong team/' 30 There was scarcely a canvass; the Democrats 
sent him back for a second term in November, 1841 by a huge majority 
over his Whig opponent, John Banks. 

Porter continued to be the key to Buchanan's revived aspirations 
for the presidency in 1844, for the fall of the Bank would flatten Dallas in 
Philadelphia, leaving the Commonwealth solidly in the hands of the 
governor and senator in alliance, a combination that seemed to be the 
condition precedent to a serious bid for the White House. Porter, under 
the terms of the new state Constitution, would have to retire at the end 
of his second term and leave the field clear for Muhlenberg, 

By August, 1841, the prospects looked even better than they had 
in the spring. President Tyler had just vetoed the darling measure of the 
Whigs, a bill for a new Federal Bank. His message had prefaced "prayers 
and thanks to God on the one side; and imprecations anil eternal vows of 
vengeance on the other." 31 "Never was there a party so completely used 
up as the Whigs have been in so short a time," wrote Buchanan. "A 
Manifesto . . . will appear tomorrow from the Whigs in Congress reading 
John Tyler out of the Whig Church and delivering him over to Satan to 
be buffeted." 32 

Still, there were plenty of thorny problems* to solve. Pennsylvania 
had gone bankrupt; it could not pay the interest on its bomb. Portrr had 
delivered a strong message on banking reform which coincided with 
Buchanan's favorite views: prohibition of speculation in commodities by 
banks; state supervision of note issues to keep them within the limits 
permitted by charter; elimination of bank notes under $10 or $20 in order 
that employers would have to pay workmen in coin; and the summary 
revocation of the charter of any bank which refused to redeem its notes 
in specie on demand. 


WISE AS THE SERPENT 1838 - 1841 

But the Legislature, still closely balanced bet-ween Whig and 
Democratic control, drew up its own bill and proceeded, with the usual 
support of pro-Bank Democrats, to pass it over the governor's veto. By 
the new measure, Pennsylvania borrowed $3,100,000 from the various 
banks for which they were permitted to issue paper currency against the 
promissory note of a bankrupt state! There was no requirement of specie 
payment, no control of bank issues, no curtailment of small notes 
nothing that was desired. Buchanan hit the ceiling, "My public life has 
been stormy and tempestuous," he wrote, "but no political event has ever 
made me despond before. The last night was the first which I have ever 
spent in sleepless anxiety. ... It would seem that whether the Democratic 
party are successful or defeated in the popular elections, the result in 

regard to Banks is always the same The value of this new currency will 

fluctuate with the ever fluctuating value of [the State loan] on which 
alone it rests , . . . What a standard of value! . . . The State gives ... the 
Banks . . . the privilege of perpetual suspension. What miserable hum- 
buggery! What could have been the reason why twelve Democrats de- 
serted us and voted against the veto?" 33 

The same combination of Whigs, anti-Masons and pro-Bank 
Democrats at Harrisburg used their tenure up to the election of October, 
1841, to embarrass Buchanan by instructing him to vote against the Inde- 
pendent Treasury, in favor of Clay's Bank Bill, in favor of a resolution to 
expunge the expunging resolution, and in favor of the Whig land program. 
He obeyed the obnoxious instructions to avoid the necessity of resigning, 
but debated vigorously in every case against the view he had to support 
on roll call, justifying himself by the declaration that he spoke his own 
views but was bound to respect his instructions. 

The 1844 presidential race began the moment General Harrison's 
coffin was lowered into the grave. Van Buren? Calhoun? Benton? 
Buchanan? Tyler? R. M. Johnson? Who would lead the Democracy? 
The field looked so large and the results so uncertain that the friends of 
Dallas and the Bank got up their own private movement in favor of Com- 
modore Charles Stewart as Pennsylvania's favorite son. "The Commodore 
has money enough," reported Forney, "as those fellows know, and if he 
is willing to bleed to have his name in print everyday, why let him enjoy 
the novel immortality." 34 

Ridiculous as the drive was, Buchanan got quite excited about it. 
The Stewart mangers bought up a whole string of editors who divided their 
efforts between belittling Buchanan and puffing Stewart. If anything could 
upset his prospects, Buchanan thought, just such a program might do it; 
you could meet an antagonist who was well known, but how could you 
handle a man with no political record? As the rash of "Old Ironsides" 
Clubs spread, Buchanan marshalled his editors into defensive line. The 


battle turned out to be mainly a newspaper fight, but in the course of it the 
Buchanan and Porter journals resumed their old-time feud and spread 
abroad the suggestion that Porter would oppose Buchanan's bid for re- 
election to the Senate which was just a year away. 35 

From Pittsburgh Buchanan got the warning: "Porter is no friend 
of yours and a dishonest politician," He would trample his best friend to 
get ahead and was covertly promoting a southern candidate for president 
to get the second office himself. 36 But Philadelphia reported that "Porter 

is opposed to Stewart, and will take bold ground for you The Stewart 

business is directed entirely against you." 37 

Buchanan's friends worked desperately to bolster him up. "You 
must drive through!" they told him. 38 "Put your hand fairly to the plough 
and play the game. Lay aside your usual modesty and neither look back nor 
hesitate." 39 ''Pennsylvania will be all right" they assured him. "Stewart 
is hung at the political yardarm, and knows you are the rising and strong 
man." Forget about them all, even Van Buren. People were "furiously 
at -loggerheads" about him, and as for Tyler, "he don't go with the 
democrats." 40 

These men had some reason for their concern, because Buchanan 
had developed a reputation for being unwilling to fight on his own behalf. 
This trait governed much of his political thinking, and no phase of his 
character bred more doubts, misunderstanding, and contempt among his 
contemporaries. Buchanan had a phenomenal capacity for detachment; 
he could view himself from outside himself and criticize freely what he 
saw. He even wrote his 'memoirs in the third person. He continually 
placed himself and his friends on stage and went to the back of the theater 
to look the cast over and figure out, with total lack of appreciation of the 
personal impulses of the actors, what they ought to do to perfect the play. 
He was the very opposite of John Forney, his excitable, hotly emotional, 
young editor of the Lancaster Intelligencer. 

Forney lived in cycles of Stygian gloom or celestial happiness; 
all men were either his bosom friends or bitter enemies; insults had to be 
promptly avenged, if possible by a fist fight, and favors had to be promptly 
repaid by favors. His was a life of lavish generosity and* bankruptcy, of 
jubilation and hangover. Forney's life depended upon Buchanan's political 
success; he attached himself like a leech, worked his heart out, and frankly 
admitted that his object was to get future patronage. 

Because of his violent temper, Forney continually got Buchanan 
into trouble. He would see an insult where none was intended, and fre- 
quently took the bait of a sly remark purposely tendered to get a rise out 
of him. An able and powerful advocate, Forney regarded himself as 
Buchanan's confidential political manager, explosively attacked any pre- 
sumed rival, and caused a great deal of resentment among Buchanan's 


other friends. For years Buchanan kept the tight rein on Forney, writing 
him to stop his attacks on editors or politicians whose support he needed. 
Why, Forney complained, did he not stick 100 per cent with his true 
friends and throw the others out of the window? Because, Buchanan 
would explain patiently but with tart precision, no man had enough 100 
per cent true friends to elect him dogcatcher; only united effort could win; 
union could only be achieved by compromise, never by force. Force only 
achieved two things: either the total destruction of one part of those who 
disagreed, or a fight which destroyed both parties. Both results lost 
elections. Forney must curb his personal feelings oy Buchanan would 
lose; and if Buchanan lost, Forney would certainly lose. Could anything 
be plainer? 

Buchanan used the dependence of others on him by threatening, 
when they became insubordinate, to withdraw from politics or from Penn- 
sylvania. When he felt that his editors were not active enough in repelling 
the "drop of blood" and "Ten Cent Jimmy" canards, he used this technique 
and received the answer he expected from Forney: "I am sorry, indeed I 
may say alarmed at the intimation you threw out of leaving Lancaster. . . . 
The whole county have taken you to their heart of hearts; defending you 
the more you are assailed. . . . Depart from Lancaster! Besides the shock it 
must be to your friends and I confess I speak interestedly it would be, 
as a matter of policy, . . . wrong in the extreme. Pardon me when I say 
that we look up to you as our stay and support." 41 Time and again 
Buchanan resorted to this technique, but Forney caught on quickly and in 
times of crisis would play the same game, announcing his intention to quit 
his newspaper and take up law, a threat usually good for a kind letter and a 
loan of several hundred dollars from his patron. 

Buchanan wanted the presidency but in a peculiar way; he did 
not want to win it, he wanted to be invited into it. In September, 1841, 
he wrote, "I would not wish you to bring out my name as a candidate for 
the Presidency. It is yet too soon to agitate this question in the Public 
Journals; and any premature movement would only injure the individual 
it was intended to benefit. Besides I have no ambitious longings on this 
subject. Let events take their course; and iny only desire is that at the 
proper time, the individual may be selected as our candidate who will best 
promote the success of the party & its principles." 42 He, of course, would 
be this person but a gentleman could not say so. "In regard to the Presi- 
dency," he told Reynolds, "the real contest would seem to be between Van 
Buren & myself; & if the Democracy of Penna. would sustain me with an 
unbroken front I think my chances are fully equal if not superior to his. . . . 
Should there be even the appearance of a serious division in Penna., I 
shall make my bow and retire. 9943 



THIS I BELIEVE 1834-1845 


By the time the election of 1844 drew near, Buchanan had already served 
twenty years as a legislator. The decade he spent in the Senate brought 
him into daily contact with probably the most distinguished group of 
American statesmen ever assembled there, a company including not only 
five future Presidents of the United States (Van Buren, Tyler, Polk, 
Fillmore, and Pierce) but also such parliamentary giants as Webster, Clay, 
Calhoun and Benton. In this remarkable galaxy of American politicians, 
Buchanan always stood on the periphery. He never, in all his legislative 
career, had his name attached to an important bill or became the focal 
point of public interest in a debate. He had talent for clear thinking but 
none for self-dramatization. He brought to the senatorship great serious- 
ness of purpose, readiness to debate and forensic ability, loyalty to party, 
diligence in seeking facts, and a consistency of view which made his stand 
on public questions easily predictable and gained him the nickname "friend 
of the obvious." With these tools of his trade he quietly exerted a great 
deal of influence on important legislation, but his steady craftsmanship 
attracted little public attention. It did, however, gain the respect and 
often the admiration and thanks of his colleagues. 

The well-ordered intellectual world of James Buchanan rested 
upon principles behind which he rarely probed, and upon them he logi- 
cally developed his political views. "Abstract propositions,'* he once said, 
"should never be discussed by a legislative body/ 7 and he might have added 
that concrete propositions should never depart very far from the status 
quo or anticipate any very rapid change of society. 

Buchanan believed that the essence of self-government was 
restraint. Written constitutions, he thought, were the most useful inven- 
tion of his age, but what were constitutions "but restraints imposed, not 
by arbitrary authority, but by the people upon themselves and their own 
representatives?" "Restraint,*' he said, "restraint. ... Sir, this Federal 


THIS I BELIEVE 1834-1845 

Government ... is nothing but a system of restraints from beginning to 
end." That alone could preserve a Union of several dozen states which 
differed from each other in their institutions, their people, their language, 
their soil, climate, and products. In an enlarged view their interests 
might appear to be identical, but "to the eye of local and sectional preju- 
dice," he noted, "they always appear to be conflicting." Therefore, 
jealousies would perpetually arise which could be repressed only "by 
that mutual forbearance which pervades the Constitution." 1 Mutual 
forbearance, mutual accommodation, the avoidance of extremes, the 
willingness of a majority to extend some consideration to the minority, 
the acceptance of compromise as the only method short of war or despot- 
ism for settling political disputes, these attitudes alone could perpetuate 
self-government and the federal system. 

In his senatorial career, Buchanan approached most closely the 
role of statesman, for here he uniformly took the long view. His recom- 
mendations on domestic and foreign policy, though attacked at one time 
or another by every geographic section, were consistent and have remained 
remarkably sound. At the base lay the conviction that political power, 
in whatever form it existed, must always be held in check, and that the 
United States Constitution provided all the machinery necessary for 
this purpose. 

Buchanan remained continually alert to partisan attacks upon 
the delicate balances which the Constitution provided. As a Representative 
he had led the battle to prevent Congress from emasculating the power of 
the Supreme Court by repealing its authority to review state legislation. 
As a Senator, he vigorously and successfully fought an effort of Clay and 
Webster to deprive the president of the power to remove executive officers, 

*_ ^______^_i _..1_ ^ M.1*. MBAVMA.JI lf?wt fr/'v AVMVVI ATI/A &mr\Y\fe c 01*1 one stuff ATI "fro 

of constitutional law. To give the Senate power to pass on executive re- 
movals would subordinate the president to the Congress, "a position,*' 
said Buchanan, "in which the Constitution of the country never intended 
to place him." 2 

In the debate to expunge the Senate's resolution censuring Presi- 
dent Jackson, he pointed out the constitutional problem: the Senate by 
convicting an executive officer without a hearing, witnesses, or counsel 
had destroyed its competence to act later as a court of impeachment. But 
if the resolution condemning the president as a tyrant and usurper had 
any basis of fact, then the executive should stand trial. Buchanan warned 
that the procedure of legislative censure could easily lead to a star-chamber 
substitute for impeachment, enable the Senate to destroy at will any 
executive officer, and thus overthrow the structure defined in the Consti- 
tution. 3 On another occasion he jumped to the defense of the veto power 
of the president which angry Whigs, after Tyler's veto of the Bank Bill, 



tried to amend out of the Constitution. Throughout his political career, 
Buchanan could be found among those who tried to define clearly and to 
keep strong the delicate lines which separated the three branches of 
government and the functions of state and federal administrations. He 
did not, like Calhoun, propose state supremacy; or like Webster, seek a 
consolidated national government; but he sought to keep the state and 
federal entities in their separate orbits, revolving without collision around 
the sun of the system, the Constitution. 

The great national economic issues of the 1830's were the tariff, 
banking, and public land. Buchanan condemned both free trade and 
prohibitive tariffs because either system would impoverish one or another 
part of the nation. Why should the northern Whigs and Democrats want 
to bankrupt the South by the protective tariff of 1842? And why should 
the southerners think it sensible to hold conventions in favor of free trade, 
which would only put northern manufacturers out of business? Thus he 
addressed the Senate, complaining all the while that he was "exposed to 
fires from both sides, Mr. Clay and Mr. Calhoun." 

Buchanan voted, under instruction, for the high protective tariff 
of 1842 but stated that he disapproved of the bill. He predicted, accurately, 
that the measure would be replaced by another bill sponsored by the South 
which would be too low, and that both enactments would prove contrary 
to the best public interest. Why not split the difference and permit both 
sections to share in a modest local prosperity, instead of using partisan 
politics to aid one section to grow rich upon the ruins of another? Such 
a political program he would always resist. Let people call him a trimmer, 
or vacillating, or whatever they wished; he would sustain a balanced tariff 
as constructive policy for the United States, and he would urge it in the 
face of Webster, Calhoun, the Pennsylvania ironmasters, and the Mis- 
sissippi planters. "I am viewed," he said, "as the strongest advocate of 
protection ... in other States: whilst I am denounced as its enemy in 
Pennsylvania." 4 

Buchanan took the same middle-ground position on the Bank 
question. He strongly opposed unregulated state banking but, with equal 
vigor, opposed the control of banks by the state. He wanted enough hard 
money in circulation to pay workingmen's wages, but he was enough of a 
businessman and banker himself to know that an expanding national 
economy demanded an elastic currency. His proposals for banks showed 
there was a wide range of alternatives between wildcat banking and 
total control. 

Tariff and banking problems became entangled with the public 
land policy of the federal government. Demand for public land encouraged 
rash overissues of state bank notes; this currency, when paid into the 
public treasury for land, created a surplus on the government books; and 


THIS I BELIEVE 1834 - 1845 

when a surplus showed, pressure mounted to cut down the tariff rates. 
Then, when the paper money forwarded by the treasury to the state banks 
for redemption proved worthless, the surplus was wiped out and the 
treasury could not pay its bills with the tariff duties alone. Thus, tariff, 
banks, and public land formed parts of a single economic problem. 

For years the politicians had agreed to distribute any surplus 
arising from the sale of federal land to the individual states in order to 
draw off this eccentric source of revenue and to render the tariff fixed and 
certain. In opposing this practice, Buchanan shrewdly observed that no 
legislator would vote money for federal projects if he knew that a share 
of any unspent money went to his home state. "Man at his best is but a 
frail being," he said. If you placed his interest on the one side and his 
duty on the other, he would generally promote his private advantage. 
Buchanan also foresaw a fight over the terms of distribution, whether pro 
rata to the states or in proportion to their population, the very question 
which had nearly wrecked the Constitutional Convention of 1787. To 
avoid all these problems he proposed to apply the surplus to the national 
defense establishment. "With this money," he said, "you might increase 
your navy, complete your fortifications, and prepare for war; and you 
would thus distribute its benefits more equally and justly among the people 
than you could do in any other manner." 6 This proposal, side-tracking 
local interest and concentrating attention on a new and larger objective, 
typified Buchanan. 


Buchanan's reference to preparing for war reflected the agitated state of 
foreign affairs in the 1830's. A war with France had narrowly been 
averted; war with Mexico over Texas seemed a real possibility; and rela- 
tions with England were strained by a succession of events: the Caroline 
affair of 1837-1838, the Aroostook War in 1839, the Creole affair of 1841, 
and the Oregon Question. 

Buchanan, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 
for five years before the election of Tyler and an active member of the 
Committee thereafter, brought in several reports on the Maine boundary 
dispute before Webster became Secretary of State and began formal 
negotiations with the British. 

Buchanan reported that the Committee did not "entertain a 
doubt of the title of the United States to the whole of the disputed terri- 
tory," but three years later Secretary of State Webster, considering the 
maintenance of friendly relations with Britain to be more important to 
the United States than the acquisition of a small segment of Maine, met 



Lord Ashburton in a conciliatory spirit and agreed to a compromise 
settlement. 6 

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty passed the Senate in 1842 by a 
large majority, but Buchanan voted against it for reasons which he ex- 
plained at great length. After detailing the voluminous evidence sustaining 
the American claim, he denounced Webster for failing to use his bargaining 
power to advantage. If he had insisted on America's rights in this matter, 
he might have won concessions in others. He might have negotiated a 
settlement of the Northwest Boundary Dispute, obtained redress for the 
Creole and Caroline outrages, and forced Britain to abandon, her policy of 
impressment on the high seas. Webster had not used diplomacy. He had 
given up American territory for nothing, and prospects for settling other 
Anglo-American problems were now no better than ever. Buchanan called 
the treaty c 'an unqualified surrender of our territory to British dictation.'* 7 

At the opposite end of the country, along the southwestern border, 
tension had risen nearly to the breaking point. The Mexican government 
found it difficult to maintain order and could not protect the lives and 
property of foreigners. Claims of injured United States citizens against 
Mexico multiplied rapidly and American business there, once estimated at 
$3,000,000 per year, dropped to $300,000. Then Texas revolted. The 
Texans, most of them emigrants from the United States, set up the Lone 
Star Republic, invited diplomatic recognition, and petitioned for admission 
to the United States. 

The Texas revolution of 1836 and the Canadian revolution of 
1837 soon demonstrated the need for a stiffening of the American neu- 
trality laws, for American citizens became involved in both affrays. 
Buchanan now proclaimed the doctrine of the good neighbor. "We have 
three neighbors on our frontiers," he said, "Canada, Texas and Mexico; 
and the duties of good neighborhood require something more from us in 
relation to them than could be strictly demanded under the law of nations. 
... It is our duty to prevent our citizens from aiding in every revolutionary 
movement against a neighboring government. ... It is against all reason 
and justice that in case of a sudden commotion in a neighboring country 
. . ., the citizens of the United States should be permitted to take part with 
the insurgents." 8 

Carrying this doctrine one step further, he urged a policy of 
nonintervention in the domestic affairs of foreign nations. Petitions had 
been flooding the Senate in the spring of 1836 praying Congress "to recog- 
nize the independence of Texas, and ... to interpose to terminate the 
conflict which now rages in that country." It was natural, Buchanan 
admitted, for the sympathies of American citizens to be "earnestly enlisted 
in favor of those who drew the sword for liberty," but to act on such 
feelings was to ignore the teaching of the wisdom of the past. "We should 


THIS I BELIEVE 1834 - 1845 

never interfere in the domestic concerns of other nations," he asserted. 
The people of every nation had the absolute right to adopt any form of 
government they thought proper, and the United States ought to preserve 
the strictest neutrality. "The world must be persuaded," he insisted. 
"It could not be conquered." Acting on these principles, the United 
States had "always recognized existing Governments de facto, whether 
they were constitutional or despotic. It was their affair, not ours." 9 

But should the United States render aid to Americans struggling 
for freedom in Texas? No, answered Buchanan, lest there be "suspicion 
that we have got up this war for the purpose of wresting Texas from those 
to whom ... it justly belongs." 10 Should the independence of Texas be 
recognized? Yes, "when the fact of their actual independence was estab- 
lishedthen and not till then." Was any act of the United States 
required during the period of uncertainty? Yes, the United States Govern- 
ment should rigorously prosecute "all persons who might attempt to 
violate our neutrality in the civil war between Mexico and Texas" and 
should inform Mexico and Texas that the United States would require 
them both to scrupulously respect American territory. 

On March 3, 1837, President Jackson recognized the independ- 
ence of the Republic of Texas. The Texans had already voted in favor of 
immediate annexation to the United States. These acts brought the 
American people face to face with the two most crucial problems of the 
age: territorial expansion and slavery. 


Buchanan vigorously urged territorial expansion. "This I believe," he 
said. "Providence has given to the American people a great and glorious 
mission to perform, even that of extending . . . liberty over the whole 
North American continent. Within less than fifty years, there will exist 
one hundred millions of free Americans between the Atlantic and Pacific 
oceans. . . . What, sir! prevent the American people from crossing the 
Rocky Mountains? You might as well command Niagara not to flow. We 
must fulfill our destiny." 11 

But how could the nation fulfill this destiny without spreading 
abroad the slavery system? "I feel a strong repugnance by any act of 
mine," wrote Buchanan, "to extend the present limits of the Union over 
a new slave-holding territory." The acquisition of Texas, he hoped, might 
"be the means of limiting, not enlarging, the dominion of slavery." In 
every state not dependent upon cotton culture, economic pressure would 
force gradual abolition. Where grain became a staple, slavery would bring 
bankruptcy, and "if the slave don't run away from his master, the master 
must run away from the slave." In Texas, slaves would run off into 



Mexico and there "mingle with a race where no prejudice exists against 
their color." Buchanan thought that if Texas should be annexed, it would 
he divided into four or five states, in only one of which the soil and climate 
would support slavery. But the annexation treaty itself ought to determine 
the proportion of free and slave states. "Should this not be done, we may 
have another Missouri question to shake the Union to its center." 12 

The Senate, in Buchanan's day, was full of the sound and fury 
of debates on slavery. He entered prominently into the discussions about 
the circulation of abolitionist propaganda, presided over the committee 
which had to solve the controversy over the right of petition, and acted 
as spokesman for the North against Calhoun's proposal to outlaw all 
"intermeddling" with slavery in the national capital or the territories. 

Several southern states, facing an inundation of abolitionist 
writings which they considered an incitation to riot, outlawed the circula- 
tion of such literature. The Senate considered a bill authorizing postmasters 
to withhold mail they knew to be prohibited by state law and destroy it if 
it were not claimed by the sender. Buchanan and Webster debated this 
measure. The latter argued that it infringed the freedom of the press and 
that mail, as private property, could not be destroyed. Buchanan defended 
the freedom of the press, but he stoutly maintained that the government 
had the right to refuse to distribute pamphlets intended to destroy it. He 
asserted that no person could have any property right in articles which the 
law forbade him to possess, whether the prohibitory law was state or 
federal. It was, said Buchanan, "a question not of property, but of public 
safety," applicable only in states where the people had declared, by law, 
that their safety was threatened. 13 

The discussion of the mails linked the cause of abolition with 
the cause of civil liberties. This connection, so exasperating to the 
defenders of the Union, was further emphasized by the long struggle over 
the right of petition. The House of Representatives, faced with a mountain 
of petitions from some 500 antislavery societies, eventually adopted a reso- 
lution to tabl* them all. This so-called "Gag Resolution" seemed a clear 
denial of the right of petition guaranteed to citizens by the Constitution. 

Buchanan became the center of the Senate fight over abolition 
petitions when his colleagues made him chairman of the Committee to 
consider the question of the prohibition of slavery and the skve trade in 
the District of Columbia, the subject of most of the petitions. Buchanan 
fought strenuously against an outright gag, but at the same time insisted 
that no splinter group of citizens should be permitted to stop the machinery 
of government by abuse of the petition device. As the debates on the 
circulation of abolition mail had brought him into conflict with Webster 
and the antislavery forces, the debates on petitions now brought him into 
conflict with Calhoun and the proslavery advocates. "I have not found, 


THIS I BELIEVE 1834 - 1845 

upon the present occasion," he noted wryly, "the maxim to be true, that 
'in medio tutissimus ibis.' " 

When Buchanan presented a petition from the Cain Quarterly 
Meeting of the Society of Friends, referring to the abolition of slavery in 
the District of Columbia, Calhoun moved not to receive it. Buchanan 
replied: "Let it once be understood that the sacred right of petition and 
the cause of the abolitionists must rise or fall together, and the conse- 
quences may be fatal. ... We have just as little right to interfere with 
slavery in the South, as we have to touch the right of petition." 14 

Calhoun alleged that the people of no state were aggrieved by 
conditions in the District of Columbia; what went on there was none of 
their business; it was the concern only of Congress and the local inhabit- 
ants. But who, asked Buchanan, is to judge "whether the People are 
aggrieved or not? Is it those who suffer, or fancy they suffer, or the 
Senate. The Constitution secures the right of being heard by petition to 
every citizen; and I would not abridge it because he happened to be a fool." 15 

Buchanan asked Calhoun to withdraw his motion. "Why select 
the very weakest position, one on which you yourselves will present a 
divided front to the enemy," he asked, "when it is in your power to choose 
one on which you and we can unite? . . . You place us in such a position 
that we cannot defend you, without infringing the sacred right of petition. 
Do you not perceive that the question of abolition may thus be indissolubly 
connected . . . with a cause which we can never abandon?" 

Buchanan proposed that the Senate should accept the petitions 
but reject their prayer. To those who could not see any difference between 
tabling and rejecting the prayer, he suggested the difference between in- 
viting a man into the house, hearing his proposition, and then declining 
to accept it or kicking him downstairs before he had a chance to speak. 
And why should the prayer be rejected? Only because the nation was 
bound in honor to respect the promise to the original donors of the District, 
that slavery would not be disturbed there so long as it existed in Maryland 
and Virginia. 

After two months of heated discussion, Buchanan's motion to 
accept the petition but reject its prayer finally came up for a vote on March 
9, 1836, and passed 36 to 10. "I rejoice at the result of the vote," he 
wrote. "Abolition is forever separated from the right of petition. The 
abolitionists . . . must now stand alone." 16 

Buchanan's mail had been heavy during the height of the con- 
troversy. A Quaker wrote him that the question had broken up the Cain 
meeting. 17 Another wrote that the North ought to thank God it was rid 
of slavery and be satisfied. 18 Buchanan's roommate, King of Alabama, 
told him frankly that if the North persevered in its current course, "then 
we will separate from them." 19 On hearing this, Thomas Elder commented: 



"Let them withdraw and wade in blood before six months." 20 "It is 
rapidly becoming a question of union or disunion," wrote Buchanan to 
the mayor of Pittsburgh. "If the progress of the abolition societies cannot 
be arrested, I fear the catastrophe may come sooner than any of us antici- 
pate Would it not be well to get up counter-societies of friends of the 

Union?" 21 

John C. Calhoun now presented to the Senate an inflammatory 


That the intermeddling of any State or States, or their citizens, 
to abolish slavery in this District, or any of the Territories, . . .; 
or the passage of any act or measure of Congress, with that view, 
would be a direct attack on the institutions of all the slave- 
holding states. 22 

Buchanan, Benton, and most of the northern Democratic Sen- 
ators labored to get these resolves buried in a select committee as rapidly 
as possible, for they promised nothing but another acrimonious and 
fruitless debate which would spread its poison throughout the nation. 
Why, asked Buchanan, are our southern friends continually "driving us 
into positions where their enemies and our enemies may gain important 
advantages." Were not the abolition attacks enough? Did the South, 
too, have to assault the Union men of the North? "Abolition thus acquires 
force," he said. "Those of us in the Northern States who have determined 
to sustain the rights of the slave-holding states at every hazard, are placed in 
a most embarrassing position. We are almost literally between two fires*" 23 

But what irked Buchanan most was the fact that the abolitionists 
were preventing the achievement of the very result which nearly everyone 
sought, the ultimate solution of the slavery problem. "Before this un- 
fortunate agitation commenced," he said, "a very large and growing party 
existed in several of the slave States in favor of the gradual abolition of 
slavery; and now not a voice is heard there in support of such a measure. 
The Abolitionists have postponed the emancipation of the slaves in three 
or four States of this Union for at least half a century." If they continued 
urging their mad schemes, they would "cover the land with blood." 
"The Union is now in danger, and I wish to proclaim the fact," Buchanan 
warned. 24 

He reiterated this theme. "This question of domestic slavery is 
the weak point in our institutions," he insisted. "Touch this question of 
slavery seriously . . , and the Union is from that moment dissolved. . . . 
Although in Pennsylvania we are all opposed to slavery in the abstract, 
yet we will never violate the constitutional compact we have made with 
our sister states , Their rights will be held sacred by us. Under the Consti- 
tution it is their own question; and there let it remain." 25 





Buchanan hoped to complete the first stage of his plans for the presidential 
nomination, firm control of Pennsylvania, before he came up for re-election 
to the Senate in December, 1842. He had stated clearly that he would bid 
for the presidency only if the Pennsylvania Democracy united solidly back 
of him. With the Pennsylvania votes to manipulate in the national con- 
vention, his prospects might be good, especially if the convention came 
to a deadlock. 

The State Legislature in the spring of 1842 eliminated the main 
cause of Democratic schism by passing a banking act which provided 
for gradual resumption of specie payments and conformed closely to 
Buchanan's ideas. The new law would, he wrote, enable the people "to 
enjoy the advantages of well-regulated specie-paying Banks, without being 
cursed by the evils of the present unrestricted system." Biddle's "monster" 
lay dead, Tyler's veto had put an end to the threat of a new Federal Bank, 
and the Democrats after ten years were at last relieved of the ordeal of 
party tests on the Bank question. 1 

The Dallas party was weakened because it had lost its chief source 
of funds, and it could no longer create dissension by intruding the banking 
issue; Buchanan was strengthened among the working classes because their 
pay envelopes would now contain sound money rather than depreciated 
shinplasters. As his popularity grew among the Irish Catholic laborers, 
the millworkers and clerks, his managers in metropolitan areas urged him 
to get busy and capitalize on his advantage. "If we now had a paper 
in Philadelphia, what an impression we could make!" cried Forney. 2 
Cameron advised Buchanan to move permanently to Philadelphia. 

Buchanan wrote noncommittal replies. He would not promote 
his own elevation; he would not run away from home for political reasons; 
he would let his friends work for him if they thought he was worth it, and 
if not, he would be satisfied. He would do all he could to unite the party, 



but would not stir a finger for the presidency. He would follow Jackson's 
motto: The presidency is an office not to be sought. 3 

Such replies went down hard with those in the field who were 
spending their days making contacts and writing articles, and their nights 
attending strategy meetings. They were spending their money, too, 
keeping bankrupt editors out of the hands of the sheriff and entertaining 
for the party. They agreed heartily with Benjamin F. Brewster of Phila- 
delphia, but few had the guts to write, as he did: "Mr. Buchanan, we do 
need some action. We do need some concert. We do need some decided 
proclamation." 4 

Forney urged Buchanan to take a political barnstorming trip, 
for work was needed in New York, Ohio, Indiana, and the southern States; 
but instead, Buchanan got out his two "little black books" in which he 
kept annotated lists of state and national politicians and campaigned by 
direct mail. 6 Within Pennsylvania, a friend reported, "everything looks 
bright, very bright. The ball has rolled on with a force and velocity alike 
gratifying and astonishing. The feeling in your favor in this State is very 
strong." The Pittsburgh Manufacturer, a Whig paper, the Erie Observer, 
formerly against Buchanan, and the Spirit of the Times, which had been 
Stewart's chief mouthpiece, all joined the Buchanan movement. 6 

But trouble developed in the quarter where Buchanan had tried 
hardest to prevent it. At the beginning of Porter's second term, Buchanan's 
enemies tempted the governor to set up his own party, to try to get control 
of the state delegation in the 1844 convention, and to use it to promote 
himself. He would be out of a job in January, 1845; why give everything 
to Buchanan when he might very well capture the vice-presidency? He 
held Buchanan's future in the hollow of his hand. Irritated by some of 
Buchanan's friends who made excessive demands for their fidgity support, 
Porter succumbed. 

The game would be to have the state Administration evince 
interest in all the prospective presidential candidates so that when the 
field narrowed, Porter could name his price for the Pennsylvania delegation. 
Rumors had been flying about that the governor's henchmen had been 
cultivating Vice-President Richard M. Johnson, and in January, 1842, the 
truth erupted with dramatic suddenness in a breakup of the state Cabinet, 
Secretary of the Commonwealth Shunk resigned rather than obey Porter's 
order to transfer the state printing in Harrisburg from a Buchanan paper 
to a journal which had been praising Johnson. Henry Petrikin, Shunk's 
deputy, also resigned, as did the Auditor General, the Treasurer and the 
Librarian, all of them friends of Buchanan. 

Porter's new Cabinet became a kind of electioneering head- 
quarters for Johnson during the summer. The governor arranged to have 
"Old Tecumseh" visit Pennsylvania in October, ostensibly to celebrate 



the anniversary of his victory at the Battle of the Thames. Buchanan 
received an invitation to join the official party under an assurance that the 
occasion was a historic observance, "entirely non-political," but of course 
he declined. Long before the celebrations at Williamsport and Danville, 
however, Porter himself admitted that the Johnson movement had 
burned out. 7 

Porter continued to write cordially to Buchanan, explaining his 
Cabinet changes with the comment, "I would as soon attempt to control 
the wind as manage some of these people." 8 He renewed his promise to 
treat all factions fairly and Buchanan, for his part, tried to calm his associ- 
ates, which was not an easy matter for they were wild with rage at the 

The Porter men now turned their interest to General Lewis Cass 
of Michigan, who had just returned from his diplomatic mission in France. 
A bluff westerner who had served as Secretary of War under President 
Jackson, Cass aroused American chauvinism by his violent Anglophobia 
and his ardent support of expansion. "Pennsylvania is the soil for Presi- 
dent-making," wrote Buchanan. He did not fear Cass as a presidential 
rival, for the Pennsylvania Cassites, he predicted, would "damn any cause 
in which they embark," but he did fear that the local Cass movement would 
be used to influence the coming senatorial election. 9 

Toward the end of 1842, Forney ferreted out a plot. Buchanan's 
organization had decided to hold a convention at Harrisburg on Jackson 
Day, 1843, in order to place Buchanan's name officially in nomination for 
the presidency. This meeting would convene just before the Legislature 
began balloting for his re-election to the Senate. Governor Porter's friends 
now prepared to bring General Cass to Harrisburg for a demonstration 
immediately on the heels of the Buchanan convention, and to use the 
general's visit as a means of obtaining the senatorship for one of themselves. 
The Cass men demanded that Buchanan should make his re-election con- 
ditional upon his withdrawal from the presidential race or, if he wanted 
to run for president, get out of the senatorial race. "If," they said, 
"Buchanan's friends insist on filling every office ... at Harrisburg . . . 
with none but his adherents, we will unite with the Whigs to defeat his 

election." 10 

The answer rested with the Legislature and, as Buchanan freely 
admitted, "our past experience in Penna. has proven that the Representa- 
tive does not always obey the will of his Constituents Our security now 

is that the Whigs have no money to pay the wages of iniquity." 11 It 
would be close, for the "rebels" could count on the votes of ten Democratic 
Cassites. "They must have Thirteen, at least, to effect what they desire," 
reported Forney. "This they never can get." 1 * 

Forney's prediction proved correct. By Christmas, the Cass- 



Porter men gave up and publicly announced their readiness to support 
Buchanan. The Buchanan convention met on January 8, endorsed its 
man and adjourned to await the action of the Legislature. That body 
quickly re-elected Buchanan to the Senate and the convention then im- 
mediately resumed its sessions. 13 Forney made the address and introduced 
resolutions proposing Buchanan for the presidency. The convention 
"closed in a burst of such enthusiasm as never was known in Harrisburg, 
except during the Jackson campaign." 14 

With the senatorial election past and the presidential struggle 
just beginning, what were Buchanan's prospects? Van Buren had gone on 
a western tour during which he had visited Jackson at the Hermitage and 
received the general's blessing. The people, said Old Hickory, would 
survey Little Van's record and on "sober second thought" repair their 
error of 1840. Buchanan's friends, however, asserted that "every fool 
will see that a course more destructive to the party [than the renomination 
of Mr. Van Buren] could not be recommended by its most decided enemy." 15 
But Van Buren would run, and Jackson wanted James K. Polk of Tennessee 
to go in as vice-president. Calhoun, too, would run with any assistance 
he could get. He would promote the aspirations of as many competitors 
as possible in order to throw the election into the House of Representatives. 
Cass, with Pennsylvania's aid, planned to take advantage of a convention 
deadlock between Calhoun and Van Buren. Tyler saw the same prospect 
and made a bid for Buchanan's support, offering him a seat on the Supreme 
Court. When Tyler failed to enlist Buchanan, he turned to Porter. 

The best Buchanan could make of it was that Van Buren and 
Polk, endorsed by Jackson, had the lead and would be supported by Dallas. 
This ticket was sure to lose Pennsylvania and with it the national election, 
but if Van Buren insisted, all would have to go along; the party could 
survive a defeat better than a split. Calhoun would try anything and 
remained an uncertain quantity. Tyler wanted to start a third party, but 
he would discover he had no party at all, and anyone who played his game 
would go down with him. Cass might prove formidable. Buchanan had 
fewer enemies than any, but he lacked a national organization and had to 
depend upon the effect of a united Pennsylvania delegation introduced 
into a confused and uncertain convention. With the support of his home 
state delegates working in harmony, there was a possibility that he would 
be nominated. Otherwise, his chances were hopeless. 

Buchanan predicted that Tyler would take the governor's brother 
into his Cabinet and "we shall have a Tyler party in Pennsylvania." 16 On 
March 4, the president exploded his political bomb by naming Judge James 
M. Porter Secretary of War, thus blasting Buchanan's hopes of a united 
Pennsylvania. Governor Porter now dismissed the few remaining "Bu- 
chanan men by God!" from state offices and tried to force Tyler down the 



throats of his followers, but here he got a shock. Even the old faithful 
Harrisburg Keystone, long Porter's mainstay, refused to endorse Tyler. 
When Porter took the state printing from it, Editor Orville Barrett quit 
and joined Buchanan. The governor had written his political death war- 
rant. "His fall," wrote Buchanan, "has been more sudden than that of 
any other public man I have ever known." 17 

From New York came the word that Van Buren was regularly in 
the field. "You are aware," Buchanan wrote, "that he never has been 
popular in Pennsylvania and that feeling which was formerly one of 
indifference has been converted into positive dislike* I am sincerely sorry 
for it; because should he be nominated he shall receive my decided sup- 
port." 18 By midsummer the Van Buren band wagon began to pick up 
speed in many states. The Philadelphians (Dallas, Gilpin, Henry Horn, 
John K. Kane and others) jumped aboard. They invited Buchanan to be 
their speaker at a celebration but he declined politely. Certainly his 
chances had gone hopelessly overboard. The state administration had 
become his enemy, Philadelphia had slipped out of his grasp, he had no 
trustworthy support left but his own fraction of the party, and that was 
committed, by his own orders, to Van Buren. And who would control if 
Van Buren won? Dallas! After Congress adjourned on March 3, Buchanan 
returned to Lancaster and went to bed with a bilious attack which tormented 
him until the middle of June. 19 

Buchanan took his usual tour through western Pennsylvania 
during July and August, going to Mercersburg, Bedford, Pittsburgh and 
Meadvifle. He had family business and political affairs to look after but 
most of all he needed a rest cure. He thought of making a trip to the deep 
South and stopping at the Hermitage to pay his respects to Jackson, but 
ruled out the southern visit for fear of exposing himself to the charge of 

The family visits gave welcome diversion, but not exactly relief. 
The Mercersburg establishment was gloomy and beset with difficulties; 
Jane Lane had passed on, and soon thereafter her husband had died veiy 
unexpectedly. They left four more orphaned children in Buchanan's 
charge: two boys who were grown and could manage and two young girls, 
Mary and Harriet, who needed homes. They were now in Charlestown, 
Virginia, with their father's relatives, where Buchanan would stop to see 
them on his way home. 20 

Harriet Henry's death a year after that of her husband left 
nothing in Greensburg but melancholy memories. Her only son, ten- 
year-old James Buchanan Henry, now lived in Lancaster under Miss 
Hetty's care. Harriet Lane would also move in very shortly, and possibly 
her sister. He had prepared for them by buying a lot of Henry Slaymaker's 
furniture at a sheriff's sale and would set up quarters for half a dozen perma- 



nent or wandering family guests. It was time the King Street house was 
fully furnished; he and Miss Hetty had used only a few rooms. He hoped 
Miss Hetty would enjoy managing seven bedrooms and taking care of the 
new kitchen equipment; and he hoped little Harriet would enjoy the piano. 
He had paid $17.50 for it. 21 

Since the breakoff with his "intended" of the Kittera household, 
Buchanan had become seriously interested in young Anna Payne who 
lived with her famous aunt Dolly Madison in the gray house on Lafayette 
Square in Washington, a popular resort of capital society. He grew quite 
devoted to her and would in all probability have married her except for 
the disparity in their ages. It had become a vogue in this period for young 
girls to marry men old enough to be their grandfathers, but the results did 
not always prove happy. Letting his better judgment overrule his heart, 
Buchanan gave her up in an outburst of poetry. 

In thee my chilled & blighted heart has found 

A green spot in the dreary waste around. 

Oh! that my fate in youthful days had been 

T'have lived with such an one, unknown, unseen, 

Loving and lov'd, t'have passed away our days 

Sequestered from the world's malignant gaze! 

A match of age with youth can only bring 

The farce of 'winter dancing with the spring.' 

Blooming nineteen can never well agree 

With the dull age of half a century. 

Thus reason 'speaks what rebel passion hates, 

Passion, which would control the very fates. 

Meantime, where'ere you go, what e're your lot 

By me you'll never, never be forgot. 

May Heaven's rich blessings crown your future life! 

And may you be a happy, loving wife! 22 

His growing responsibilities as a guardian for nieces and nephews 
and his increasing preoccupation with politics at length banished all ex- 
pectation of a marriage for love. He put his thoughts very frankly to his 
old friend, Mrs. James J. Roosevelt, some years later. "I feel that it is not 
good for a man to be alone," he wrote, "and should not be astonished to 
find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, 
provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any 
very ardent or romantic affection." 28 


By 1843 his political prospects looked almost as forlorn as his prospects 
for romance. Davy Lynch, for example, had been charged with accepting 



overpayments from the government for rent of the Pittsburgh post office 
building. He faced trial and wanted Buchanan to get him out of trouble. 
In the meantime Tyler would certainly remove Lynch and probably appoint 
in his place J. B. Moorhead, who had voted against Buchanan's re-election 
to the Senate and had been working hard to seize control of the western 
Pennsylvania Democrats. 24 

But Moorhead's threat was only one of many worries. The 
Democrats had to select a candidate for governor in the spring, and Henry 
A. Muhlenberg, just back from the Austrian Mission, expected Buchanan 
to help him get the nomination. Muhlenberg, however, tried to fit back 
into the associations of years before, allying with the old "improvement 
men," now friends of Porter; the old Van Buren men, now the Dallas 
party; and the Moorhead faction in Pittsburgh. "I believe," Buchanan 
said, "I have not a personal enemy in the Democratic party of the State 
who is not a devoted friend of Mr. Muhlenberg/' 26 

Francis R. Shunk also wanted to be the gubernatorial candidate 
and demanded Buchanan's help. Had he not resigned as Secretary of the 
Commonwealth in order to conduct the fight against Porter in Hamsburg? 
Were not all of Buchanan's friends in the present canvass solidly back of 
Shunfc and against Muhlenberg? Could Buchanan withhold his support 
under these circumstances? 

The difficulty reached its most acute stage in Lancaster County 
where all the jarring elements came into close contact. Buchanan stalled 
Muhlenberg, explained the local events of the past several years, and 
expressed a wish to stay entirely out of the contest. He would, however, 
as an evidence of good faith, promise to deliver Lancaster County to 
Muhlenberg. But he would take no part in the contest between his two 
friends. Muhlenberg went back to Reading where his local party promptly 
nominated delegates pledged to Van Buren to the coming state convention. 

Van Buren's partisans won so sweeping a victory in the organi- 
zation of the national Congress that his subsequent nomination now seemed 
assured. Buchanan was prepared for this eventuality, but not for the 
angry reaction of his friends at home. Despite his repeated pledges that 
he would not contest the nomination against Van Buren and that he would 
not take sides between Muhlenberg and Shunk, he learned two weeks before 
Christmas that his Lancaster newspaper was flying from its masthead the 
slogan: "Win with Buchanan and Shunk!" 26 The game was up. He 
closed himself in his Washington room and worked all night on the draft 
of an important letter; the most important, he knew, that he had ever 

Pushing aside half a dozen scratched over and interlined copies, 
he took up a fair draft and read it. "Washington, December 14, 1843. 
To the Democrats of Pennsylvania, Fellow Citizens : After long and serious 



reflection, I have resolved to withdraw my name from the list of presidential 
candidates to be presented before the democratic national convention. 
This resolution has been dictated by an anxious desire to drive discord 
from the ranks of the party, and secure the ascendancy of democratic 
principles, both in the state and throughout the union. In arriving at 
this conclusion I have consulted no human being. It is entirely my own 
spontaneous act, and proceeds from the clearest and strongest conviction 

of duty." 

Now, what else? He must thank his friends for their work and 
show where the fault lay. When he had accepted the state nomination a 
year ago he had said plainly that he would run only if the Democracy of 
Pennsylvania "should resolve to offer my name to the national convention 
with that degree of unanimity which could alone give moral force to 
their recommendation." Anyone who had observed current politics would 
have to grant there was now no unanimity, and that "the moral force of 
Pennsylvania with her sister states would be exerted in vain." It would 
be a hopeless contest; even his friends must admit it. He expected by his 
withdrawal to "purchase harmony and unanimity in the selection of a 
democratic candidate." After sealing the letter, he addressed it to the 
editor of the Lancaster Intelligencer?* 

During January and February of 1844, Buchanan essayed the 
awkward task of remaining on friendly terms with both Muhlenberg and 
Shunk. Lancaster County did not help when it elected delegates committed 
to Shunk to the state nominating convention, contrary to Buchanan's 
wishes and his earlier promise to Muhlenberg. On March 4, the Democrats 
meeting at Harrisburg nominated Muhlenberg for governor by a close vote 
on the first ballot, thus giving at least an indirect endorsement to Van 
Buren for president. Under pressure from Buchanan, Shunk agreed not 
to split the party and promised his support to the settled ticket. 

The road ahead now seemed clear for Van Buren, but that was 
reckoning without Calhoun, Tyler, and Texas. On February 28, Secretary 
of State Abel P. Upshur was killed by the explosion of the great gun "Peace- 
maker" aboard the U.S.S. Princeton. Within a week, President Tyler had 
determined upon a stroke of policy which, he hoped, would promote a 
second term for himself. He would appoint John C. Calhoun to the State 
Department and annex Texas. Calhoun had already withdrawn from the 
presidential race, but he had not yet committed his support to any of the 
remaining aspirants; as a member of the Tyler Cabinet he might be induced 
to support his chief. 

John Calhoun accepted the State Department on April 1, and 
by the 16th had completed a Texas Treaty, which Tyler submitted to the 
Senate for action on April 22, 1844, 28 

The acquisition of Texas under the leadership of Tyler and 



Calhoun by means which seemed sure to provoke a war with Mexico put 
every presidential aspirant on guard. To the North it appeared crystal 
clear that a southern plot was afoot to spread slavery. To the South it 
seemed equally apparent that her only future security lay in expansion. 
Thus the questions of slavery and expansion were locked together and 
thrust into the midst of the presidential canvass. 

On April 20, Van Buren had written a letter to Congressman 
W. H. Hammet of Mississippi, published a week later, stating that the 
United States ought not to annex Texas. Clay came out the same day with 
a letter taking essentially the same stand. Historians assume that this 
simultaneous pronouncement by leaders of the two opposing parties had 
been prearranged between them. Tyler, by his submission of the treaty 
of annexation on April 22, stood before the country as the champion of 

Buchanan's friends immediately urged him to reconsider his 
withdrawal and to fight actively for the nomination. Cameron and J. M. 
Read called a hurried meeting of the Pennsylvania Democratic Central 
Committee to have delegates to the Baltimore Convention reinstructed 
for Buchanan but failed because frenzied efforts of the Van Buren men 
prevented the appearance of a quorum. 29 Many begged Buchanan only 
"to say one word to give the Baltimore Convention a chance to nominate 
him" and Pennsylvania would swing into line, carrying other states with it. 30 

By the middle of May, he had decided on the position he would 
take, although it was not all that his friends demanded. He would not com- 
pete with Van Buren for the nomination. But should the latter voluntarily 
withdraw either before or during the convention, Buchanan's supporters 
could offer his name. 31 

Many Pennsylvanians considered his attitude craven, but they 
did not know the national picture as well as Buchanan did. General 
Jackson disapproved of Van Buren's stand on Texas, and was pressing the 
name of James K. Polk openly for vice-president and covertly for the first 
place if a convention deadlock should develop. Buchanan could expect 
no favors or public support from Jackson, and should he run independ- 
ently he would be flying in the face of both Van Buren and Jackson. "I 
confess," he said, "that if I should ever run for the Presidency, I would 
like to have an open field & a fair start. The battle has already been more 
than half fought ... and it would be difficult for any new man to recall the 
forces which have already gone over to the enemy." 32 

The Democratic Convention opened at Baltimore on May 27, 
elected Hendrick B. Wright of Pennsylvania to the chair, and adopted the 
two-thirds rule for nominations. With this regulation, Van Buren could 
not be nominated; without it, he would go in on the first ballot. Pennsyl- 
vania's delegates, who were instructed for Van Buren, voted nonetheless 



for the two-thirds rule which they well knew would exclude their candidate. 
Having sabotaged Van Buren, these gentlemen then proceeded to vote for 
him on the roll call for nominees, but after the first few ballots the Penn- 
sylvanians went over to Buchanan, giving him the unanimous vote of the 
state on the fifth ballot. Lewis Cass of Michigan ran strongly on the sixth 
and seventh ballots, while Van Buren's strength declined, but none of the 
candidates came near the 178 votes needed. 

The convention adjourned overnight, and by morning leaders of 
the Pennsylvania and Massachusetts delegations had completed plans to 
introduce Folk's name to the deadlocked meeting. Polk drew 44 votes on 
the eighth ballot, but before the ninth could be taken, the New York 
delegation retired for consultation. Upon its return, Benjamin F. Butler 
got the floor and read a letter of withdrawal from Van Buren. The con- 
vention, in riotous confusion, then gave its unamimous approval to James 
K. Polk as the presidential nominee. The vice-presidency went almost 
unamimously to Silas Wright of New York as a peace offering to the Van 
Burenites, but he declined the offer in order not to profit from his friend's 
defeat. George M. Dallas gladly accepted the vice-presidential nomination. 


Along with other Senators who remained in Washington during the con- 
vention, Buchanan learned the news from Baltimore via the first official 
trial of Samuel F. B. Morse's telegraph instrument, which the inventor 
himself was operating in the basement of the Capitol Building. The 
Democratic platform included all the principles of 1840 with two additions, 
the "re-annexation of Texas and the re-occupation of Oregon." The key 
issues would be expansion and the tariff. 

The Whigs had already nominated Henry Clay on May 1, and 
had adopted a platform which significantly failed to mention Texas and 
which took a stand on the tariff just about as vague as that of the Demo- 
crats. In Pennsylvania, at least, this issue, above all others, required 

Polk amplified his views on the tariff in a letter to John K. Kane 
of Philadelphia, stating that "in adjusting the details of a revenue tariff I 
have heretofore sanctioned such moderate discriminating duties as would 
produce the amount of revenue needed, and at the same time afford 
reasonable protection to our home industry." 33 This stand was weak 
enough, to be sure, but it could be made to serve if editors like Forney 
harped enough on the last phrase. The campaign ground was also defined 
by the Senate's rejection of the Texas Treaty, June 8. At that time Bu- 
chanan made a long speech in support of the treaty and urged annexation 



for many reasons. Chief of these was his fear that Britain would take 
control if the United States failed to annex. 84 Folk's letter to Kane and 
the defeat of the Texas measure enabled Buchanan to sidetrack the two 
main sectional issues of the canvass. He would simply state that Polk 
was sounder on the tariff than Clay and merely point to the speech on Texas. 

It was a busy and perplexing summer. Congress adjourned late 
in June, and Buchanan took the usual fortnight's vacation at Bedford 
Springs. In the meantime, all manner of complications vexed the campaigns 
of both parties. A Native American party grew strong in urban centers 
and became involved in violent anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia during 
midsummer, requiring the presence of the governor and the state militia. 
The Liberty party, with James G. Birney as its candidate, posed an uncertain 
threat both to Whigs and Democrats. Clay befogged his position by hedg- 
ing on his antiannexation stand, and Tyler, supported by office holders, 
was running independently for re-election. 

Cameron urged Buchanan to campaign vigorously for Polk in 
Pennsylvania. "He must owe the state to you; and you can . . . command 
the nomination in '48." 35 Judge John Catron of the Supreme Court, a 
Tennessean, wanted Buchanan to stump through the West for Polk. He 
could pay a final visit to General Jackson, establish the personal contacts 
he needed in that region for 1848, and place himself in debt to Polk who, 
Catron added, especially wanted him to make the trip. There was added 
appeal in the invitation because Buchanan was an intimate friend and 
great admirer both of Mrs. Catron and of Mrs. Polk, and these charming 
ladies repaid his good opinion of them with flattery and kindness. 36 

The canvass in Pennsylvania changed rapidly. Henry Muhlen- 
berg died on August 11, and Shunk immediately became the Democratic 
candidate for governor. On August 20, President Tyler announced his 
withdrawal from the presidential race, blasting Governor Porter's hopes 
of future eminence. Buchanan at once sought to pacify the disappointed 
friends of Muhlenberg by obtaining pledges from Shunk that he would 
divide the patronage with them. Buchanan's next task was to persuade 
Cameron to agree to call off his attacks on Shunk and obtain Shunk's 
promise not to proscribe Cameron's friends for adhering to Muhlenberg. 37 

Buchanan left on a speaking tour of northern Pennsylvania 
during the first week of September. He was much worried by Folk's 
desire to make himself too clear on some things. "For Heaven's sake let 
our friend . . . write nothing more on the subject of the tariff," he pleaded. 
"Let us alone & we shall do it." 38 He then proceeded to Danville, Milton, 
Williamsport, and on up to Towanda where he addressed large crowds. 
"I have raised an excitement everywhere I have gone on the Bank ques- 
tion," he wrote on September 18, the day after his return. "Our friends 
in that portion of the state will denounce the Bank as loudly as the Whigs 



do free trade. One excitement will countervail the other." 39 The Bank 
was a red herring to distract the attention of these people from the tariff, 
which posed the most serious threat to the party. He advised Polk, 
cautiously, that Pennsylvania would probably be safe, but by no huge 
majorities. As for himself, he would have nothing to ask of the new 
president, but would "expect much from the President's lady. During 
her administration I intend to make one more attempt to change my 
wretched condition, and should I fail under her auspices I shall then 
surrender in despair." 40 

In the October elections, Shunk carried his ticket for governor, 
and in November Polk won the presidency. It was a close election; but 
the Democrats had squeaked through, and Buchanan deserved credit for 
right guessing and canny manipulation in achieving the result. The next 
four months would see the distribution of the rewards. 





Buchanan wrote to Polk immediately after the election, urging him to 
make "young Democrats" the core of his Administration. "The old office 
holders," he said, "generally have had their day & ought to be content." 1 
This advice may possibly have been intended for self-protection in case 
the president-elect ignored him, but it also meant to flatter Polk, the 
nation's youngest president, and it might serve to eliminate some of the 
old party hacks. 

The Pennsylvania electors unanimously recommended Buchanan 
for the State Department, but Polk seemed in no hurry to move, 2 There 
were those who said that General Jackson had explicitly warned Polk 
against including Buchanan in the Cabinet. 3 By the end of January 
Buchanan could stand the suspense no longer and asked Judge Catron, a 
neighbor of Folk's, to find out how matters stood. Catron replied that 
Polk had "not indicated to any one the appointments he intends to make." 4 

In the meantime, Buchanan tried desperately to achieve unity 
within the new state administration, insisting that Shunk should appoint 
a Muhlenberg man to a prominent cabinet post and avoid participating in 
the election for United States Senator which would take place in Harrisburg 
just after the governor's inauguration. He advised Shunk "not to take 
part in favour of any candidate for the Senate, but to express your opinion 
strongly and decidedly in favour of an adherence to caucus nominations." 6 
Shunk tried to foster a union of the state factions by his appointments, 
but he achieved only the curses of both sides for his efforts. 6 The 
Democratic caucus for Senator ran into a deadlock between George W. 
Woodward, the Shunk candidate, and Nathaniel B. Eldred of the Muhlen- 
berg faction with the result that the Legislature elected Daniel Sturgeon, 
the incumbent. 

Shortly thereafter, on February 17, Buchanan got a letter from 
Polk inviting him to be Secretary of State. The form letter, which Polk 



sent to all appointees, was unique in the history of presidential invitations 
to Cabinet service. It read, "Should any member of my Cabinet become a 
Candidate for the Presidency or Vice-Presidency of the United States, it 

will be expected . . . that he will retire from the Cabinet I will myself 

take no part between gentlemen of the Democratic party who may become 
aspirants or Candidates to succeed me in the Presidential office, and desire 
that no member of my Cabinet shall do so." Polk wanted no Department 
head to use the federal patronage to promote the interests of his personal 
political machine. 7 

Buchanan's letter of acceptance clearly demonstrated his fitness 
for the diplomatic post. "I cheerfully and cordially approve the terms on 
which this offer has been made," he wrote. But he could not control 
what others might do in his behalf, and he could not in justice to his 
friends take the office "at the expense of self-ostracism." "I cannot 
proclaim to the world that in no contingency shall I be a candidate for the 
Presidency in 1848," he continued. But in that event, he would retire 
from the Cabinet, unless Polk asked him to remain. "If under these 
explanations, you are willing to confer upon me the office of Secretary of 
State, I shall accept it." 8 

Buchanan terminated his senatorial career with a ringing speech 
in favor of the resolutions for the immediate annexation of Texas. These 
contained a provision applying the Missouri Compromise line to all land 
which should be acquired under the term "Texas." "I am not friendly 
to slavery in the abstract," he said. "I need not say that I never owned a 
slave, and I know that I never shall own one." But the price of continued 
unity rested on the willingness of all to recognize the plain constitutional 
rights granted to each part. "The constitutional rights of the south, under 
our constitutional compact, are as much entitled to protection as those of 
any other portion of the Union." If it was a question of slavery south of 
36 30' or the end of the Union, he would "never risk the blessings of this 
glorious confederacy."* Three days before the inauguration, President 
Tyler signed the joint resolution for Texan annexation. 

In the weeks remaining between the profer of the State Depart- 
ment and the date of assuming his new duties, Buchanan worked day and 
night, writing letters, seeing visitors, consulting upon the political problems 
of Pennsylvania, and arranging for new quarters befitting the social obliga- 
tions of a Cabinet member. On the advice of Mrs. Stephen Pleasanton he 
eventually decided upon a house on F Street, between 13th and 14th, next 
to the residence of John Quincy Adams and just a block from the State 
Department building. He could rent it for $2,000 per year, elegantly 
furnished and with nearly enough chinaware for state occasions. He sent 
to Paris immediately for an ornament for the center of the table for, as 



the ladies informed him, "you cannot set a handsome dinner without one 
and they are not to be had in this country." 10 

But most pressing of all, he had to master the details of the work 
of the Department. Handling the diplomatic functions gave him little 
concern, but the State Department was not only a diplomatic office; it had 
become a receptacle, so to speak, for all kinds of odd jobs which Congress 
for thirty years had been dumping into it, without providing sufficient 

The Department had been divided into the Diplomatic, the 
Consular, and the Home Bureaus. In the Diplomatic Bureau, five clerks 
handled the correspondence with all the American embassies, but none of 
them had the authority to sign a paper or to decide any question, however 
trivial. In the Consular Bureau, three clerks tried vainly to keep in touch 
with over 150 American consuls, with the result that almost all the infor- 
mation the consuls forwarded was useless because there was no one to 
digest, arrange, or publish it. But the third bureau was the one most 
understaffed. It had the functions of accounting and disbursing funds for 
diplomatic agents, receiving bills from Congress and transmitting them to 
the president, filing official papers, printing the laws, and translating diplo- 
matic correspondence. The Home Bureau was also in charge of issuing 
patents and copyrights, taking the federal census, affixing the seal of the 
United States on innumerable documents, keeping the government ar- 
chives, issuing passports, preparing and filing correspondence relating to 
pardons, and handling various other tasks which made its functions an 
administrative monstrosity. Seven clerks were assigned to handle this 
mountain of business. "The consequences of this accumulation of business 
upon the head of the department," Buchanan wrote after brief acquaint- 
ance with his task, "must be manifest to everyone. He must either 
neglect the national interests or the subordinate but pressing business 
involving the rights of individuals." 11 

After an introduction to the mechanics of his office, Buchanan 
requested Calhoun to assist him for a while after inauguration day and the 
South Carolinian courteously remained for an extra week. Buchanan 
asked Caleb Gushing to take the Chief Clerkship with the explanation that 
he hoped to have it made an Assistant Secretaryship soon, but Cushing 
declined. 12 William S. Derrick, who had served in the Department since 
1827, remained Chief Clerk until August when Buchanan selected Nicholas 
P. Trist, former consul at Havana, for the post. He appointed Robert 
Greenhow, husband of the young, beautiful and impish Rose O'Neal 
Greenhow, as Librarian and Translator, and Lund Washington, Jr. as 

James Knox Polk ushered onto the American scene a program 
known as the "New Democracy." He called to its standard men whose 



devotion to national causes outweighed their sectional loyalty, men who 
believed that it was better to achieve a large growth of national power 
along with a small growth of slavery than to stop American expansion in 
order to prevent any further extension of the slave labor system. Most 
of them would have agreed with Buchanan's statement that slavery could 
not be treated in politics as a matter of general morality affecting the con- 
sciences of men but only as a question of constitutional law. The New 
Democracy sought the development of commerce by promoting free trade; 
advocated the acquisition of Oregon and California; and tried to minimize 
the slavery issue. 

The giants of Jackson's day found no place in Folk's Cabinet. 
Van Buren's Barnburners had already become strongly tinged with political 
antislavery and opposed Texan annexation. Calhoun had gone too far on 
the subject of the slave system as a positive good, alienating many who had 
once politically defended the South, even if they deplored the system of 
slavery. Old Benton, fearing a fight over slavery in new lands, opposed 
expansion. These leaders represented the three strongest factions of the 
old Democracy. 

Polk appointed Buchanan to utilize his diplomatic experience 
and placate his faction in Pennsylvania. Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, 
a shrewd financier with a keen interest in Texas bonds and transport 
speculations, became head of the Treasury. He was a commercial man 
and a staunch advocate of free trade. He had married a niece of Vice- 
President Dallas and favored his party. William L. Marcy of New York, 
Secretary of War, was one of the Hunker leaders, an open enemy of Van 
Buren. George Bancroft of Massachusetts, Secretary of the Navy, had 
led the movement to introduce Folk's name to the Baltimore convention. 
John Young Mason of Virginia, Attorney General, and Cave Johnson of 
Tennessee, Postmaster General, completed Folk's Cabinet. 


Polk's early decision not to seek re-election made it more difficult for him 
to restrain Cabinet members from working for the 1848 nomination. He 
had to give close personal supervision to prevent the improper use of the 
patronage by any individual who might try to start a presidential band 
wagon for himself by making strategic federal appointments. Also the 
president had to maintain the strength and vitality of the Democratic 
party in critical states by a careful distribution of jobs. Otherwise, his 
party would lose the election in the next presidential campaign. 

Pennsylvania and New York were politically the two most im- 
portant states in the Union, Together they controlled an electoral vote 
nearly equal to that of the total area south of the Ohio and Potomac Rivers 



and elected one-fourth of the Congressmen of the whole nation. In both 
of these vital states the Democracy was critically split. In New York the 
differences were so great that there was no hope of early unity; in Pennsyl- 
vania, however, the factions were not so divided as to rule out the possibility 
of achieving harmony. 

When Buchanan accepted the State Department and resigned his 
seat in the Senate, this prize came into contest between the friends of Shunt 
and the Muhlenberg men who knew, by this time, that Shunk would not 
meet their demands for state patronage. Had Polk issued his invitation to 
Buchanan early in January the Pennsylvania Democrats might have taken 
a long step toward reunion by electing to the Senate at the same time a 
representative of each of the two rivals. As it was, neither faction had 
won the January election and now both were bent on having the remaining 
place. On March 12, most of the Democratic legislators held the usual 
caucus and named as their candidate George Woodward, whose low tariff 
and expansionist views agreed with Polk's. Buchanan avoided committing 
himself to any person, but he did advise all Democrats to follow the time- 
honored procedures, which could be interpreted as a pat on the back for 

But Cameron's friends boycotted the caucus and laid their own 
plans. Cameron had already told Buchanan that he wanted to be a Senator, 
but having gotten no encouragement he planned to win on his own. 13 Two 
weeks before the March election he wrote to a colleague, "Strange as it 
may seem, I can be the successor of Mr. Buchanan. . . . The election will 
not ... be made by a caucus this time." 14 

Cameron assured the Whigs in the Legislature that he ardently 
wished to retain the tariff of 1842 and got the backing of more than a 
dozen Democrats who favored high protectionism. To the Native Ameri- 
cans, he confided his earnest wish to restrict foreign immigration and to 
curtail the political power of the Catholics. On March 14, Cameron won 
the senatorship by a combination of 44 Whigs, 16 Democrats, and 7 Native 
Americans. It was a blow to Polk, a blow to Shunk, and nearly a knockout 
to Buchanan who had just gone on record in support of caucus decisions. 
He could not condone Cameron's action but, with the Senate almost evenly 
divided, he could ill afford to declare open war on him and forfeit a vote. 
Buchanan's friends raged like wild animals. "Simon Cameron's the Sen- 
ator! God save the Commonwealth," groaned Forney. With this inaus- 
picious beginning, the fight for federal patronage started. 15 

The infuriated Democrats of the caucus wrote to Vice-President 
Dallas and to Buchanan, asking them to lend their weight to the Democratic 
condemnation of Cameron and to read him out of the party. But Dallas, 
while decisively condemning the breach of party usage, refused to censure 
a man who now would sit in the legislative body over which he had to 



preside. Buchanan replied in terms even more discreet, deploring the 
breakdown of the caucus system but declining to condemn the state Legis- 
lature "for electing whom they pleased to the senate of the United States." 
He hoped that this experience would be convincing proof that legislators 
ought "to go into caucus and be bound by its decision." 16 Cameron's 
position, to be sure, was not enviable. Shunk broke with him and ousted 
his followers from the state administration. Neither Dallas nor Buchanan 
would seek patronage for him, and Polk considered him, properly, to be an 
enemy. Henceforth, Cameron ofiered himself for sale to any faction that 
would purchase his power and sought to wreck the plans of those who 
repulsed him. 17 

Buchanan determined to play the waiting game with Cameron, 
neither breaking with him nor giving him aid. His experience with politics 
convinced him that little would be gained by declaring factional war. Time 
after time he had seen such struggles sap the energy of the party without 
any further result; in fact the principal contenders had often become 
political bedfellows within a few years. Furthermore, Cameron could be 
counted upon to get on the band wagon when it was apparent that there 
was no other place to stand. He was an opportunist and would support 
Buchanan for president when the time came. The real struggle would be 
to define the terms of his support. He would make the price as high as 
possible by demonstrating his capacity with the monkey wrench; Buchanan 
would keep it as low as possible by showing the power of his position* But 
Cameron had too keen a talent for mischief for Buchanan to risk open 
battle with him; he, if anyone, could wreck the plans for '48. 

To reduce the heat of the indignation against Cameron, Buchanan 
removed Forney from Lancaster by providing him a surveyorship in the 
Philadelphia customhouse. In return, Forney pledged cooperation. "If 
you can keep Cameron your friend," he wrote, "my course will keep his 
enemies, and they are legion, on your side!" 18 Forney henceforth worked 
valiantly but not very successfully, to dissuade Champneys and Frazer in 
Lancaster from flaying Cameron in their local newspaper. 19 

Buchanan also sought to conciliate Cameron by getting his first 
lieutenant, Ben Brewster, a job. For weeks, Brewster had been writing 
letters, ending with the demand, "I want the District Attorneyship!" Polk 
gave the place to a Dallas man, whereupon Brewster sent a scorching letter 
threatening "woe to the public man" who would cross his path, Buchanan 
then oflered to make Brewster secretary of the Legation at London. Brewster 
replied that he might have taken the British Mission itself, if he had been 
given command of the Oregon negotiations but he would have none of the 
secretaryship. Horace might accept ivy as a reward, he wrote, but a politi- 
cian needed money and wanted to hear the jingle of cash. Buchanan 



eventually found him a place, appropriate for a Cameron disciple, settling 
Indian claims, 20 

For a number of months, Buchanan's desk was piled high with 
requests for jobs as clerks, postmasters, inspectors, sutlers, mail agents, 
auditors, consuls, registers, district attorneys, prison wardens, chaplains, 
storekeepers, lighthouse keepers, and the like. His careful record of judg- 
ments and recommendations survives in a small black notebook which he 
considered of sufficient importance to exclude it from his political papers 
and deposit with his executor. 21 

He had more success in promoting jobs than Dallas or the Pennsyl- 
vania Senators even though Polk suspected his designs for the presidency. 
Nonetheless, he fell so far short of the demands that the rumor began to 
circulate that every jobless politician was a Buchanan man. Forney wrote: 
"Ousted officers all say they have been sacrificed for being your friends, 
and you may rely upon it, there is quite a lot of them." 22 Buchanan's 
pattern of appointments left Cameron so perplexed that he asked point 
blank in September: "I wish you would tell me whether there is to be 
peace or war." 23 

On September 23, 1845, Thomas Ritchie, an editor of Folk's 
official paper, the Washington Union, confided to the president that Bu- 
chanan wished to quit the Cabinet and go to the Supreme Court. A week 
later Buchanan asked Polk for the appointment, assigning as his reason the 
trouble that was brewing in Pennsylvania over the tariff. 24 Buchanan 
assured the president, however, that he would not leave the Department 
if war broke out with Mexico. 

Three vacancies had occurred on the Court between 1843 and 
1845. Justices Smith Nelson and Henry Baldwin died and Joseph Story 
resigned. The Baldwin and Story seats were still open, and Polk wished 
to place in them men who were strict constructionists, "who would be less 
likely to relapse into the Broad Federal doctrines of Judge Marshall & 
Judge Story." 25 President Tyler, upon Baldwin's death in April, 1844, had 
offered this place to Senator Buchanan, but he had then declined it. Polk 
appointed Levi Woodbury to the Story vacancy but reserved Baldwin's 
place for a Pennsylvanian. 

Buchanan's request to go into the Court raised anguished howls 
from his political friends. "For God's sake, stay where you are," wrote 
Ben Brewster, who accused Dallas of trying to put Buchanan on the shelf 
in order to oust his friends from their jobs. 26 Forney hit where it would 
hurt most. He wrote that "it would be regarded by the world in a light 
that must place you in a very unpleasant position. That the evident free 
trade tendencies of the administration had made you feel uncomfortable 
in the Cabinet, and had induced you to retire from it, to an office conferred 
by the very power which struck down Pennsylvania mteresto-thus showing 



that although you could not stay in the Cabinet, yet you took your office 
from the administration, and refused to sacrifice yourself for the cause of 
the state, leaving her to take care of herself. . . . Others say that you are 
about to 'desert your friends again' and that you fear to face any great 

crisis." 27 

While such views had their influence, it is also probable that 
Buchanan decided to remain in the Cabinet because of encouraging develop- 
ments in the Oregon negotiation, a story to be told a little later. On 
November 19, he informed Polk that he could not take the Court appoint- 
ment and recommended John M. Read, of Philadelphia, whom he had 
earlier suggested to Tyler and who would have been agreeable to Cameron. 
But on December 23, Polk, without consulting either Buchanan or Cam- 
eron, and with the assent of Dallas, nominated George Woodward. Polk 
rejected Read because he feared appointing "a former Federalist ^to a 
lifetime position where he could fall back upon Federalist doctrines," and 
thought that Woodward might prove pleasing to Buchanan and Shunk, 
since both had supported him for the Senate. 28 

Cameron considered the appointment a direct insult to him, and 
hastened to Washington to discuss the matter with Buchanan, despite the 
fact that the two had neither been seeing each other nor corresponding, 
except on essential public business, for five months. 29 On Christmas Day, 
while Cameron wrote complaints to Buchanan, Buchanan called on Polk 
to complain. He had been absent from Cabinet when the appointment 
was announced, he said; he was directly involved in Pennsylvania appoint- 
ments but had not been consulted; his friends grumbled that the patronage 
was being wielded against him; and he would not have recommendefl 
Woodward. Polk, surprised by this outburst, rather curtly stated that he 
preferred Woodward to Read, had the power to appoint without consulta- 
tion, and would take the responsibility for his act. 30 

The matter rested there until January 22 when Cameron, finding 
a number of Democrats absent from the Senate, managed to get Wood- 
ward's confirmation up for a vote and defeated it 29-20 by an alliance of 
six Democrats and the entire Whig membership. 31 James Shields, of the 
Land Office, told Polk of the Senate's action late on the afternoon of the 
22nd, and added that both he and Senator Cass now advised the appoint- 
ment of Buchanan who had expressed a desire for the office a few days 
previously. Benton wrote the next day, recommending Buchanan and 
promising immediate Senate confirmation. 32 "I thought it strange," wrote 
Polk, cc that Mr. Buchanan should have expressed a wish to anyone pending 
the nomination of Mr. Woodward before the Senate." 

The next night Buchanan held a grand ball at which all the 
rumors and gossip centered on his leaving the Cabinet and going upon the 
Bench. To whisperings that he had been working with Cameron to sabotage 



Woodward, Buchanan replied that this was "such stuff as dreams axe 
made of." 3 * 

The ball, held at Carusi's Saloon, was attended by more than a 
thousand guests. Mrs. Marcy aided Buchanan in receiving. On an 
elevated platform at the end of the hall sat Mrs. Madison, "a young lady 
of fourscore years and upwards," and the aged widow of Alexander Hamilton 
who talked sensibly about her husband although her memory of current 
events had entirely ceased. Daniel Webster came accompanied by his wife 
and a Mrs. Jandon of New York, and William H. Seward, who was in town 
arguing a patent case before the Supreme Court, promenaded with Mrs. 
John Adams, widowed daughter-in-law of John Quincy Adams. Old Baron 
Bodisco's lovely teen-aged Georgetown wife wore a stunning set of diamonds 
that excited the envy of her sex. Buchanan had attended her wedding as 
escort for fourteen-year-old Jessie Benton, one of the bridesmaids. 34 The 
famed Gautier served venison, hams, beef, turkey, pheasant, chicken, 
oysters, lobster, ice cream, water ice, charlotte russe, punch, fruit and 
cake pyramids, blanc mange, apple toddy, kisses, chocolate, coffee, 300 
bottles of wine, 150 bottles of champagne, and harder beverages for harder 
drinkers. 35 

On January 28, Representative David Wilmot called on Polk to 
accuse Buchanan of having brought about the rejection of Woodward's 
nomination. Polk was greatly disturbed. He reported that Buchanan had 
been in a "bad mood . . . since Judge Woodward's nomination, . . . and 
since he has discovered that he cannot control me in the dispensation of 
the public patronage." The president believed that Buchanan was differing 
unnecessarily with him in Cabinet meetings and was seeking some 
public ground for making a break with the Administration. 

Shortly thereafter Buchanan had another skirmish with Polk; it 
was over the appointment of a collector for the Port of Philadelphia, a 
particularly juicy plum of the patronage. The president determined to 
appoint Henry Horn, a member of the Dallas wing of the party. Buchanan 
at first opposed this choice, but he acquiesced eventually. When Horn's 
name went to the Senate, however, Cameron demanded to see the list of 
Pennsylvanians who had recommended that name, stated that he had been 
denied "senatorial courtesy," and defeated Horn's appointment by the 
same trick he had used to block Woodward: a thin Senate, and a union of 
Whigs and a few balky Democrats. Polk now arranged a Washington 
conference of Horn, Cameron and Buchanan, in which the latter was to 
play the arbitrator between the first two. Then he resubmitted Horn's 
name, but Cameron persuaded the Senate to reject it a second time. Polk 
wrote down Cameron as "a managing tricky man, in whom no reliance is 
to be placed." 86 But how was Buchanan involved? Polk could not be 



sure; nonetheless, he determined to let the Supreme Court appointment 
rest for a few months. Horn, meanwhile, was furious with Dallas for 
failing to push him through. 


As summer approached, Buchanan grew increasingly restive in the Polk 
administrative family. The McKay tariff, framed largely by Secretary 
Walker, had passed the House and was headed for an extremely close 
contest in the Senate. The bill proposed that no duty should be placed on 
any article above the rate which would produce the maximum revenue, 
and that ad valorem duties should replace all specific duties. The bill 
essentially proposed free trade for the nation. The former duty on shaped 
iron products dropped from 163 per cent to 30 per cent; on shirting from 
95 per cent to 30 per cent; on pig iron from 72 per cent to 30 per cent; and 
on coal from $1.75 per ton to $.40. 

Polk considered the passage of this tariff bill by the Senate as 
"the most important measure of my administration," 37 an opinion shared 
by thousands of Americans. Many of these, particularly the coal and iron 
men of Pennsylvania and the textile makers of New England considered it 
the death knell of all business, a "misshapen and monstrous scheme," a 
"fatal measure which strikes at the root of all industry of the country." 38 

Buchanan knew not what to do. He could not attack the Admin- 
istration; less could he endorse its favorite measure. On Sunday, June 28, 
when the passage of the tariff seemed certain, he wrote to Polk about the 
judgeship, "I have concluded, though with much hesitation, to accept it." 39 
At a conference several days kter Buchanan asked Polk to appoint him 
immediately, but the president wished him to stay with the Department 
until the end of the Congressional session. Buchanan had to be satisfied 
with this plan, and he wrote his brother Edward in mid- July that he would 
probably go into the Court at the close of Congress. 40 Forney, too, was 
reconciled to the inevitable, though he still insisted that Buchanan's 
chances for the *48 nomination were brighter than ever and added that 
there was no return from the political grave of the Supreme Court. 41 Dallas 
wrote of the matter: "Thousands of reports about Mr. Buchanan are in 
circulation. His retreat from the Cabinet is spoken of as certain and soon 
and he is said to be destined for London. This all smoke a method of 
keeping up his importance, resorted to by his partizans. . . . There is a 
growing discontent against the nomination of Mr. Buchanan as Judge, and 
I think the Whigs are moving in a body against him. The 54.40's will, of 
course, go with them.'* 42 

In the Senate, where the fate of the tariff hung on a vote or two, 
it bqgan to look as if there would be a deadlock. "Did I not say so?" wrote 



Forney. "It would be fun if Dallas had to untie the tariff knot! Rare fun!** 43 
Because Senator Spencer Jarnagin of Tennessee refused to vote on the 
motion to bring up the bill for its third reading, Vice-President Dallas had 
to cast the deciding vote. He supported the Administration at the risk of 
his own political future and was so fearful of the reaction in Philadelphia 
that he urged his wife to move the whole family to Washington at the first 
sign of trouble. 44 He justified his course at length in a letter to the Wash- 
ington Union; nevertheless, he suffered public condemnation by county 
meetings all over Pennsylvania. 45 Of the state's entire delegation, only 
Dallas and Wilmot voted for the Tariff of 1846. 

The Pennsylvania Whigs made war on Buchanan by republishing 
his few remarks in favor of the 1842 tariff, and quoting him as saying, 
during the 1844 campaign, that Polk was sounder than Clay on the tariff. 
There was enough truth in the charges to be extremely dangerous, and 
Buchanan wrote quickly to Forney, sketching out his "new line" on the 
tariff. He would stand by his remarks on the 1842 tariff: he liked a revenue 
tariff, with incidental protection, and specific duties. He considered the 
ad valorem feature of the 1846 tariff faulty and an invitation to fraud, a 
ruination of mechanics who lived by processing foreign raw materials, and 
a heavy blow to Pennsylvania's coal and iron industries. He would follow 
a middle course so long as he could, but if forced to the wall, he would 
prefer the 1842 bill to the current one. 46 

Within two days, Buchanan knew that this position would not 
do. He now discarded the 1842 tariff as dead and urged manufacturers 
not to get excited until they were hurt; they could depend on the Democ- 
racy to recognize, in a future session, the special needs of Pennsylvania. 
"Repeal is not the word, but modification. A protective tariff is not the 
word; but a revenue tariff with sufficient discriminations to maintain our 
home industry." 47 Hammering at this line, he wrote a series of articles 
for Forney's newly purchased Pennsylvcuiian of Philadelphia, which spread 
abroad the theme of "modification." 

But panic and economic collapse did not ensue. In general, the 
tariff had not much effect on the formerly protected industries, most of 
which continued to grow and prosper as a result of many contemporary 
encouragements other than a tariff the demands of a foreign war, a 
European famine, heavy immigration, rapid expansion of railroads, and a 
booming merchant marine. In fact, the tariff issue quickly took a back 
seat because of the exciting events of the Mexican War. Dallas had been 
momentarily wrecked, but Buchanan's prospects were so much the better 
for that. Having completed his carefully drawn statement for Forney on 
"modification," Buchanan paid an early evening call on Polk and informed 
him "that he had decided to remain in the Cabinet and not to accept the 



offer ... of the Supreme Court." He urged the appointment of his friend, 
William B. Reed, but Polk had already decided on Judge Robert Grier. 
Buchanan supported this decision, the nomination went to the Senate on 
August 3, and the Senate approved it the next day. 48 





President Polk, shortly after his election, confided to a friend that he pro- 
posed to complete the annexation of Texas, to settle the Oregon boundary 
dispute, and to acquire California. The last objective had not been men- 
tioned in the Democratic platform, but it represented the president's 
personal commitment to Manifest Destiny. 

This term, which became a synonym for the years of Folk's 
Administration, reflected a variety of ideas. Many antislavery people 
thought it a mere ruse to hide a slave conspiracy under the cloak of national 
patriotism, a trick "so's to lug more slave states in." Some feared that 
territorial expansion to the Pacific would dangerously upset the sectional 
balance of politics, and others that it would weaken the nation because of 
the difficulty of ruling distant lands. Those who enthusiastically supported 
Manifest Destiny, especially in the South and West, saw advantage in 
changing the balance of political control and expressed no fears about 
slavery or political administration. Land speculators welcomed expansion, 
and commercial men eagerly hoped for national control of the deep-water 
harbors of the Pacific, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Ownership of 
these strategic bays would prove the key to unlock the trade of the Orient 
and gain mastery of the Pacific. 

England and France both were alive to the prospects of such 
commercial advantage, and although their governments placed no high 
priority on imperialistic adventures in the Americas, their diplomatic, com- 
mercial, and military representatives scattered from Argentina to Alaska 
conducted themselves aggressively enough to raise serious apprehensions 
in the United States. Particularly in Texas, in Mexico, and in California 
these agents acted in ways that created in Washington a fear of Europe 
which became one of the most powerful justifications of Manifest Destiny. 
Buchanan repeatedly said that unless the United States established domi- 
nance in the American Hemisphere, England or France would do it. This 



theme became a powerful weapon of the spread-eagle "Young Democrats" 
of the day, for it placed territorial expansion on the ground of national 
security and made Manifest Destiny the slogan of patriots. 1 

Polk stated in his inaugural that no foreign power had any right 
to interfere with Texan annexation. "None can fail to see the danger to 
our safety and future peace," he said, "if Texas remains an independent 
state or hecomes an ally or dependency of some foreign nation more 
powerful than herself." A year earlier Buchanan had warned that Texas 
"must cast herself into the arms of England," unless the United States 
accepted her. Even if Texas only formed a commercial alliance with 
England the result would be that the United States would confront the 
British to the north and to the south; "and British power and British 
influence will thus be increased at our expense." On the other hand, if 
the United States annexed Texas and obtained this great barrier to the west, 
"the whole European world could not, in combination against us, make 
an impression on our union." 2 

On March 6, 1845, Brigadier General J. N. Almonte, Mexican 
Minister to the United States, protested the annexation of Texas as "an 
act of aggression the most unjust which can be found recorded in the 
annals of modern history" and demanded his passports. Buchanan replied 
that Texas had long since achieved her independence, and that nothing 
but the refusal of the Texans could prevent annexation. He instructed 
A. J. Donelson, the American Chargg d'Affaires in Texas, to avoid "even 
the least appearance of interference with the free action of the people of 
Texas on the question of annexation. This is necessary to give its full 
effect to one of the grandest moral spectacles which has ever been presented 
to mankind, and to convince the world that we would not, if we could, 
influence their decision except by fair argument. We desire that our 
conduct shall be in perfect contrast to that pursued by the British ChargS 
d'Affaires." 3 

Despite these assurances, neither Polk nor Buchanan had any 
notion of leaving matters up to the Texans alone. On March 27, Polk 
appointed Charles A. Wickliffe as special agent to Texas, with orders to 
counteract by every means at his command the efforts of Great Britain 
and France to defeat annexation. Buchanan cautioned Wickliffe to reveal 
his official character to no one except Donelson. 4 

The process of annexation involved several stages: first, approval 
of the joint resolutions of the United States Congress by the Congress of 
Texas; second, the calling of a Texas convention to accept the terms of 
annexation; third, the calling of a Texan convention to frame a state 
constitution; fourth, the ratification of the Texan state constitution; and 
fifth, the approval by the United States Congress of this constitution. A 
slip in any of these steps might prove disastrous. 



The Texans worried about the danger of a Mexican attack in the 
transition period. This contingency also disturbed Buchanan who had to 
admit that he did not know what status Texas would occupy between the 
time of approving the joint resolution and of admission as a state. For 
practical purposes, however, he informed the Texan government in May 
that the United States had ordered 3,000 troops to the border, "prepared 
to enter Texas and to act without a moment's delay" as soon as "the 
Existing Government and the Convention of Texas" had accepted the 
joint resolutions. 5 

Matters remained so uncertain throughout June, due largely to 
the intrigues of Charles Elliott, the British Chargfi d'Affaires in Texas, 
that Polk rejected Donelson's request for leave on the grounds that "noth- 
ing ought to be left to accident." 6 Captain Elliott had fabricated the 
story of a trip to Charleston, but he had gone instead to Vera Cruz where, 
acting in the guise of a secret Texan agent, he made an agreement with 
the Mexican government that Mexico would recognize Texan independence 
on condition that Texas would never join the United States. He then 
returned to Texas where he informed the inhabitants that Mexico had 
massed 7,000 troops on the Rio Grande and would immediately invade 
unless his proposal was adopted. Buchanan agreed with Polk that such 
trickery demanded active resistance. On June 15, the president ordered 
General Zachary Taylor to move from Fort Jesup to the Sabine River and 
be ready, the moment Texas approved the annexation resolutions, to 
"consider her territory as belonging to the United States." Buchanan 
pointed out that Elliott's worst act had been, in obtaining the consent of 
Mexico to the independence of Texas, to deprive that power "of the only 
miserable pretext which it had for a war aginst the United States," although 
at the same time he had stirred up such hatred in Mexico that war doubtless 
would result. 7 

The Texan Congress assented to annexation on June 23, and a 
convention at San Felipe de Austin accepted the terms on July 4. In August 
General Taylor moved his camp to the west bank of the Nueces River. 
The Texans, meanwhile, drew up their state constitution, and ratified it on 
October 13. On December 29, the United States Congress approved the 
constitution, thus finally bringing Texas into the Union as the twenty- 
eighth State. Taylor now transferred his army to the north bank of the 
Rio Grande, opposite Matamoros, a region which since 1836 had been 
claimed by the Texan Republic. During these years the Mexicans had 
made no effort to exercise authority there. For the moment, the Texan 
problem was solved. 




The negotiation with Britain for the Oregon region rested on a twenty- 
year-old contest in which the foreign secretaries of each country claimed a 
legal right to the entire territory but talked of a compromise around the 
49th parallel which would divide the region approximately in half. An 
agreement of 1818 provided for the joint occupation of Oregon, and another 
of 1827 permitted termination of the joint occupation upon one year's 
notice by either party. Proposals of settlement at 49 had already been 
made by every president since Monroe, the latest under the Tyler Adminis- 
tration. Such a project was pending when Polk came to office but he 
pronounced in the inaugural that "our title to the Country of Oregon is 
'clear and unquestionable.' " Americans were soon shouting a new battle 
cry: "Fifty-four forty or fight." 8 

Actually, the practical aspects of the Oregon question offered 
little difficulty. Neither government regarded the land as particularly 
valuable, each had its own strong reasons for wishing a settlement without 
war, and both seemed agreeable to the 49 line. This arrangement would 
give the two countries access to the ports around Vancouver. The real 
difficulty on both sides lay in the realm of national prestige and of domestic 
politics. Britain worried about rising tension with France, needed American 
grain to combat the potato famine, and planned a major reversal of economic 
policy by repealing the Corn Laws, the success of which would depend 
upon growing American friendship and trade. The Polk Administration 
worried about its partisan commitment to expansion, needed to 'bring in 
northern territory to balance Texas, planned to repeal the protective 
tariff, and anticipated a war with Mexico. Notwithstanding, the United 
States could not afford to appear soft in dealing with Britain. The interplay 
of these forces, rather than legal claims to Oregon or estimates of its 
intrinsic value, governed the negotiations. 

In March 1844, Lord Aberdeen, British Foreign Minister, had 
instructed the British Ambassador at Washington, Richard Pakenham, to 
try to settle for the Columbia River boundary, but if he failed in that to 
"draw from the American Negotiator a proposal to make the 49th degree of 
latitude the boundary." Pakenham should also make an effort to obtain 
free ports for Britain south of the 49th parallel and free navigation of the 
Columbia River. This proposal, incidentally, had been made to Aberdeen by 
Edward Everett, the American Minister at London, on November 29, 1843. 
But Folk's strident inaugural and the swaggering talk of "54 40' 
or fight" in the American press complicated and slowed the plans for 
settlement and required some British bluster to redress the balance of 
honor. Aberdeen told a cheering House of Lords, in reference to Folk's 
claims, "We too, my Lords, have rights which are clear and unquestionable, 



and those rights, with the blessing of God and your support, we are fully 
prepared to maintain/' 9 

During the early Cabinet meetings, Buchanan had a chance to 
size up both the traits of the president and the aspect of his own job. 
Buchanan felt himself superior to Polk in understanding of international 
affairs, but he soon learned that Polk outranked him and intended to use 
his authority. The two continually disagreed on matters of policy, of 
timing, of procedure, and of emphasis. Polk sensed condescension in 
Buchanan which toughened his own attitude. Buchanan, confident of 
his ability, forced Polk to take full responsibility for crossing him. During 
the spring of 1845, while Polk debated whether to affirm directly a claim 
to all of Oregon, Buchanan advised against it. To claim all without once 
more attempting a compromise solution, he argued, would lead inevitably 
to war, invite the condemnation of the civilized world, and destroy the 
support of the nation. On the other hand, if compromise were offered and 
rejected by Britain and war followed, then the Administration could "appeal 
to all mankind for the justice and moderation of our demand . . . and our 
own citizens would be enthusiastically united in sustaining such a war." 10 

Buchanan's rivals urged that the negotiation be transferred to 
London, but upon the appointment of Louis McLane of Delaware as 
Minister to Britain, Polk directed Buchanan to take charge and to continue 
the talks on the Calhoun proposal of compromise. On July 12, Buchanan 
sent Pakenham a brief project for settlement at 49, explaining that Polk 
"would not have consented to yield any portion of the Oregon territory," 
except for the acts of his predecessors who had agreed to compromise. 
Pakenham, not bothering to refer the offer to London for advice though its 
contents were very close to Aberdeen's own wishes of March, 1844, 
rejected it. Probably he reacted to a recent letter from Aberdeen, com- 
menting upon the indignation with which Folk's inaugural had been 
received in England and stating that "we^ire still ready to adhere to the 
principle of an equitable compromise, but we are perfectly determined to 
cede nothing to force or menace." 11 Consistent with the firmness of 
Aberdeen's stand, Pakenham concluded his note of rejection with the 
statement that he hoped the United States would "be prepared to offer 
some further proposal . . . more consistent with fairness and equity, and 
with the reasonable expectations of the British government." 12 This 
insulting response brought the Oregon question suddenly to a crisis. 

Polk directed Buchanan to prepare a full argument for the 
American title to all of Oregon, withdraw the compromise proposal, and 
leave the rest to the British. Buchanan agreed but urged that some state- 
ment to the effect that the United States would consider a British counter- 
proposal should be included. Polk overrode him, arguing that to invite a 
proposal from Britain, when she had just rejected an eminently fair one, 



would suggest that he might be willing to settle for less than had already 
been demanded. Buchanan then asked for a postponement of the reply 
until passions had cooled. He stood firm in his opinion that to close the 
door to negotiation would lead to war and that war with England for 
northern Oregon would not be sustained by the country. Furthermore, it 
would be rash to take such a risk at a time when conflict with Mexico 
loomed. 13 Polk declared he would "firmly maintain our rights, and leave 
the rest to God and the country/' to which Buchanan replied that he 
thought God would find difficulty in justifying us in a war over the country 

north of 49. 14 

Nonetheless, he proceeded to draw up a detailed statement of 
claim to all of Oregon. It was lawyer's work, and in it he excelled. On 
August 30, he delivered to Pakenham a powerful justification of the 
American demands, together with information that the compromise offer 
was withdrawn. Attending Cabinet at half-past twelve he announced, 
"Well, the deed is done," but said he still thought it was bad policy to rule 
out further talks. 

While paper arguments provided no key to settlement, Buchanan's 
Oregon letter served to strengthen greatly the American position. Cave 
Johnson, after listening to it in Cabinet, said if he had heard it before he 
never would have sanctioned the earlier compromise. Bancroft commented 
on the vast superiority of Buchanan's paper over Pakenham's, and McLane 
reported from London that the clear enunciation of the American claim had 
counteracted the idea that the American demands were sheer brass and 
much softened the British attitude. 15 

Very shortly word arrived from McLane in London that Aberdeen 
strongly disapproved of Pakenham's rejection of the American compromise 
offer and would like to negotiate further. Buchanan thought this eminently 
sensible, and again tried to convince Polk to let him pass along a hint that 
the United States would receive a British proposal. He then suggested the 
possibility of informing Pakenham that a proposal from Britain would be 
submitted directly to the Senate, for its previous advice, thus relieving 
Polk of the embarrassment of altering his position. Polk thought this 
procedure would be improper. Discouraged, Buchanan told the president 
that by diplomatic means, he might get Oregon; but "by strong measures 
hastily taken, we would have war and might lose it." 16 

Folk's annual message calling upon the Senate to denounce the 
joint occupation agreement of 1827 caused excitement but no surprise for 
it was an inevitable consequence of the decision to assert the total American 
claim. Aberdeen welcomed it, telling Pakenham that "as the crisis becomes 
more imminent, the chance of settlement improves." 17 

Through December and January, Buchanan, the ministers on 
both sides of the water, and United States Senators tried to break through 



Folk's intransigence. The problem by this time seemed clearly to be that 
of saving face for the president. Ex-minister Everett wrote directly to 
Aberdeen, and sent the replies to Folk's Cabinet via George Bancroft. 
Buchanan discussed the business informally with Pakenham. McLane 
talked freely in London. All agreed that both nations would welcome a 
49th parallel settlement. The problem was to persuade Polk to change his 
position and agree to accept a British proposal of this line. 

Pakenham, trying desperately to break through the impasse, sent 
an angling note to discover what Polk might assent to, with the proviso that 
it should be considered "official" or "unofficial" depending on the reply. 
Buchanan endorsed this strategem as practical and harmless, hut Polk 
would have none of it. Pakenham next proposed arbitration, a stale 
solution previously rejected by the United States, and rejected by Buchanan 
and Polk twice more. It was a time-wasting device to keep up appearances 
of a negotiation and was so understood by all concerned. 

Buchanan dragged his feet in every possible way and invented 
such schemes as he could to break Folk's will. He harassed the president 
on appointments, threatened to resign, blew hot and cold on the Supreme 
Court appointment, which would have injured the Administration had he 
taken it in the midst of the fight on Oregon, and continually urged objections 
to Folk's ideas. Polk wrote him down as differing with all the Cabinet and 
laboring to upset the presidential policy in his anxiety to leave the door 
open for further negotiation, 18 and in this opinion Polk was precisely right. 

On December 13, Buchanan presented for presidential approval 
a dispatch to McLane containing the sentence that "if the British Govern- 
ment chose to offer as a compromise the 49 line, the president would be 
strongly inclined to submit it to the Senate for their advice." Polk struck 
it out, and substituted the statement that if Britain wished to proceed 
further toward a settlement, "the President would judge of the character 
of any new proposition." Buchanan said that if the dispatch went as 
amended, there had better be some preparations for war. Polk told him 
to send it. 19 On the same day that Buchanan forwarded this official message 
to McLane, he wrote a private letter assuring him that practically everyone 
in Congress wanted to settle at 49 and that a real war threat might possibly 
bring some constructive results. Aberdeen, in a letter to Everett, stated 
that if McLane had full powers the whole problem would be settled in 

an hour/*** 

In England, Sir Robert Peel declared, "We shall not reciprocate 
blustering with Polk, but shall quietly make an increase in the Naval and 
Military and Ordnance Estimates." But while the Prime Minister and the 
Foreign Office prepared for war and announced, "if you desire war, as 
assuredly you will have it," the London Times, mouthpiece for the govern- 
ment, came out strongly for compromise at 49. Buchanan, long since in 



possession of information which Polk refused to take seriously, proposed 
on February 6 that the McLane correspondence relative to British war 
measures be sent to Congress. 

Finally, on February 21, the stalemate broke. Buchanan received 
a letter from McLane stating positively that Aberdeen had approved the use 
of force and decided to send a naval force to Canada consisting of "thirty 
sail of the line besides steamers and other vessels of war of a smaller class." 21 
Buchanan took the letter immediately to Polk, who observed that the 
British were "not altogether of so pacific a character as the accounts given 
in the English newspapers had led me to believe." Most of the Cabinet 
saw the letter on Monday, and discussed it on Tuesday, February 24. 
Buchanan read the McLane letter and then his reply to McLane informing 
Aberdeen that if the British proposed a settlement at the 49th parallel, the 
president would submit the offer to the Senate for its previous advice. 
Polk called on each Cabinet member individually before expressing his own 
view. All agreed with Buchanan except Cave Johnson. 

Polk now yielded. Buchanan sent the dispatch on February 26, 
accompanying it as usual with an unofficial letter in which he urged a hasty 
response from the British because of the likelihood of a political change in 
Congress by fall. He had already canvassed the Senate and knew he could 
count on approval there. In fact, several Senators had threatened to bring 
in a resolution forcing Polk to reopen negotiations on Oregon. 

From this point, the Oregon settlement was merely a matter of 
time. Everyone could guess what would be proposed and how it would be 
received; the question was not what, but when. On June 6, Pakenham 
delivered a British proposal to Buchanan which almost exactly duplicated 
the settlement proposed by Buchanan to McLane in February. Polk sent 
it to the Senate which, on June 12, approved it by a vote of 37 to 12, and 
on the 15th of June the Oregon Treaty was signed. The negotiation raised 
Buchanan's prestige in foreign courts and drew from Queen Victoria the 
statement that she liked Mr. Buchanan's treaty. 22 

Between February and June, after Buchanan knew that he had 
won the compromise settlement, he assumed, in Folk's words, "a most 
warlike disposition," taking strong ground against England and heckling 
the president for giving in. Polk attributed this marked change of attitude 
to presidential politics and accused Buchanan of being more concerned 
"with '48 than with 49 or 54 40V He may have been partly right in this 
judgment, but he missed the main point. Polk wrote in his diary that 
regardless of how his secretary differed with him on public questions, the 
president held the responsibility. "I will control," he wrote. "If I would 
yield up the government into his hands and suffer him to be in effect 
President, ... I have no doubt he would be cheerful and satisfied. This I 
cannot do." Buchanan sensed that Polk often appeared to differ with him 



more to protect the presidential prerogative and to assert command than for 
reasons substantially bearing on the subject at issue. 

Buchanan thought that he could easily have settled the Oregon 
boundary at 49 months earlier, but because of the prestige the accomplish- 
ment might have given him, Polk had obstructed the natural procedure, 
had made a great show of bearding the British lion, and had sought to focus 
attention on himself. Now that the public had come to think of a division 
of Oregon at 49 as a retreat, Polk wanted his Secretary of State to bear the 
onus of it. Buchanan would not do it. When Polk asked him to help 
prepare the presidential message for submission of the treaty, he refused, 
and in Cabinet meeting remarked to the president "that the 54 40' men were 
the true friends of the administration and he wished no backing out on the 
subject." 23 If Polk saw no humor or irony in this statement, some of the 
Cabinet did, for Buchanan had merely paraphrased what the president had 
so often said emphatically to him. Buchanan eventually did make a little 
political capital out of the Oregon question, but not until after the solution 
he wanted had been guaranteed. And he undoubtedly derived some satis- 
faction from making Polk take some of his own medicine. 


Polk proposed, after the admission of Texas as a state with the Rio Grande 
boundary, to acquire the Mexican provinces of New Mexico and California. 
The acquisition of new territory meant the readjustment of the sectional 
balance in Congress and introduced the explosive political issue, slavery in 
the new lands. Oregon would presumably form a huge addition to the 
free region and thus balance Texas. How could a similar balance of power 
be achieved in New Mexico and California? The Whigs and many northern 
Democrats would balk at any further extension of slavery. The person who 
could participate conspicuously in acquiring New Mexico and California 
and prevent at the same time a striking triumph of either the slave or anti- 
slavery forces held the key to the presidential succession. So, at least, 
Buchanan thought. 

Wilson Shannon, United States Minister to Mexico, received his 
passports on March 28, 1845, ending diplomatic relations between the two 
countries. Before anything further could be done, Buchanan had to re- 
establish communications. He sent William S. Parrott of Virginia as a 
secret agent to discover whether Mexico would continue negotiations. 
Parrott reported, on August 26, 1845, that if an envoy were sent, he would 
be well received and "might with comparative ease settle, over a breakfast 
table, the most important national problems." Under the government of 
President Jos6 Joaqufn Herrera, a kindly, peaceful man who had replaced 
Santa Anna shortly after Folk's inauguration and represented the peace 



party of Mexico, a Mexican declaration of war against the United States 
seemed very unlikely. 24 

This report directly contradicted other information Buchanan 
possessed, namely, that the war spirit ran high in Mexico and that her 
troops had begun to mass along the Texan border. However, Parrott's 
statement received confirmation through Col. Benjamin Green, Secretary 
of Legation at Mexico City, who knew the party situation intimately. Green 
gave assurance that Herrera wished to settle peaceably all questions at 
issue, not only claims and the Texan boundary but also the cession of 
New Mexico and California. The Mexican government would have diffi- 
culty in sustaining itself if the United States sent a regular minister and 
attempted to reopen diplomatic relations in the usual way, but if a special 
commission were appointed to discuss immediate problems, Herrera would 
receive it. 26 

Uncertain what to believe, Buchanan questioned John Black, 
U. S. Consul at Mexico City. Black replied that the Mexican Foreign Office 
was "disposed to receive the Commissioner of the United States . . . with 
full powers ... to settle the present dispute.'* 26 

Buchanan left for Bedford Springs at the end of July. Though 
not disposed to worry, the heavy responsibilities of his office had begun to 
tell on him, and he needed rest. "To be Secretary of State is not 'what it 
is cracked up to be/ " he wrote to a friend before he left Washington. "Here 
I am sitting in a hot room, engaged from morning till night & often after 
night at a season of the year when I had ever been as free as mountain 
breezes. I never much fancied a Cabinet appointment & now less than 
ever." 27 But he was not to get his vacation. Polk ordered him back to 
advise on threatening new developments in Mexico and cautioned him to 
leave Bedford "in a way to produce no public sensation." 28 Bancroft 
wrote that Mexico probably would start guerrilla warfare across the Rio 
Grande, but he saw no cause for worry, since Marcy had ordered an increase 
in Taylor's army. Referring to the continual fight in Cabinet, he told 
Buchanan that the president "will grow fat in your absence, he sleeps 
so well nou>." 29 

Polk, with unanimous agreement of his Cabinet, decided on 
September 16 to make the effort to reopen diplomatic relations with Mexico. 
Buchanan picked as negotiator John Slidell of New Orleans, who spoke 
Spanish fluently and had both diplomatic and political qualifications for 
the work. His appointment was to be kept a close secret, lest the French 
and British Ministers in Washington or elsewhere should undermine the 
mission in advance. 

Continued uncertainty whether the mission would be received 
by the Mexicans delayed its dispatch for two months more. In November, 
Buchanan urged that Slidell be sent immediately with the instructions that 



had been prepared. Polk, disregarding Col. Green's advice, commissioned 
Slidell as a regular minister. As such he would have full authority, and 
rejection of him by the Mexicans would suggest their rebuff of a peace effort. 

Buchanan's instructions to Slidell opened with several pages 
emphasizing the duty of the United States to protect the Americas from 
European intervention. 'The march of free Government on this continent 
must not be trammelled by the intrigues and selfish interests of European 
powers. Liberty here must be allowed to work out its natural results; and 
these will, ere long, astonish the world." 30 Polk, in his annual message of 
December 2, 1845, elaborated the same point, quoting nearly verbatim 
from Buchanan. These statements created an impression that the con- 
templated acquisition of Mexican territory along the Pacific was, in fact, a 
protection of all America from the military intrigues of Europe and placed 
the expansion program on the ground of national security. 

Buchanan's practical directions to the new envoy rehearsed the 
long standing grievances of the United States against Mexico, the un- 
satisfied claims, the breach of treaty obligations, the legal justification for 
reprisals, the widely acknowledged independence of Texas, and the failure 
of Mexico to attempt any exercise of authority in the region claimed by 
Texas. Buchanan then proposed a sequence of settlements : should Mexico 
approve the boundary as defined by the Republic of Texas in 1836, the 
United States would pay claims of United States citizens against Mexico; 
for the cession of New Mexico, Slidell could offer $5,000,000; for the 
cession of California, "money would be no object," but $25,000,000 
should be offered. 31 

First the Herrera government and then that of General Paredes, 
who had ousted Herrera, refused to receive Slidell. Having little hope that 
any government would undertake to negotiate with the minister, Buchanan 
instructed him to make an effort "to throw the whole odium of the failure 
. . . upon the Mexican government," 32 and to act in such a way that "it 
may appear manifest to the people of the United States and to the world 
that a rupture could not honorably be avoided." 33 A little later, when the 
Paredes regime was on the brink of bankruptcy, Buchanan authorized 
Slidell to offer cash to the general "if he would do us justice and settle the 
question of boundary between the two republics." 34 

In the meantime Col. A. J. Atocha came to Polk with the proposal 
that the United States should help the exiled dictator Santa Anna return 
to Mexico. Once re-established in power, Santa Anna would make the 
treaty of cession to the United States, if that country could stage enough, 
of a military show to convince the Mexican people that their leader was 
forced into the demand. Atocha suggested that, as a preliminary, Slidell 
should call for the satisfaction of claims against Mexico from the deck of 
a warship moored off Vera Cruz. 35 



Although Polk put little trust in Atocha, he did take the bizarre 
scheme to the Cabinet. Buchanan, who had not known of it before, 
immediately judged it unacceptable. It would give the impression, he said, 
that the United States had made Slidell the spokesman of aggression rather 
than a peace commissioner. The Secretary of State, irritated and angry, 

left the meeting. 

That night Buchanan wrote Polk two notes in which he explained 
in detail his objections to the Atocha plan. "When I difier with you," 
he continued, "it is always with reluctance and regret. I do not like to 
urge arguments in opposition before the whole Cabinet. ... A little 
previous consultation with me on important questions . . . would jalways 
obviate this difficulty." 36 Buchanan hoped that the Administration would 
not make any move that might lead to war until it had convinced the 
American people that resort to hostilities had become the only means of 
preserving the national honor. 37 

Polk wanted action and considered the unpaid claims sufficient 
excuse for a war with Mexico, but Buchanan pleaded with him to wait until 
the Mexicans should commit some act of hostility. 38 Private reports he 
had been receiving from General Taylor's camp near Matamoros led him 
to believe that Mexican soldiers would soon attack. 39 

On May 9, the day after Slidell returned to Washington for a 
conference with Polk and Buchanan, news came of a skirmish between the 
Mexican forces and Taylor's little army during which several Americans 
lost their lives. Polk immediately called a Cabinet meeting and added to 
a war message which he had already prepared the statement that Mexico 
had "invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American 
soil." Congress promptly responded to Folk's message by a nearly unani- 
mous vote for a declaration of war. 

Buchanan meanwhile prepared a circular for distribution to 
foreign governments explaining that the United States did not fight to 
dismember Mexico but only to defend her own territory as far south as 
the Rio Grande boundary. Polk refused to tie his hands with such a 
proclamation and rewrote the paragraph to read, "We go to war with 
Mexico solely for the purpose of conquering an honorable peace." 40 
Buchanan argued earnestly for his own version, for he wished to distinguish 
clearly between initiating a war of aggression and fighting a defensive war. 
If people believed that the object of hostilities was to make a conquest, the 
war would be rendered "utterly odious" at home and European inter- 
vention might follow. 41 But the Cabinet thought otherwise and Buchanan 
reluctantly sent out Folk's explanation. 42 

From the day war was declared, Buchanan asked for a clear 
definition of what territory the Administration proposed to demand from 
Mexico, in order that he could continue peace negotiations on such a basis 



even while the war proceeded. Secretary Walker wanted all Mexican 
territory north of the 26th parallel, from the mouth of the Rio Grande to 
the Pacific. Buchanan preferred to demand only upper California, from 
the 37th or 38th parallel, including San Francisco or possibly Monterey, 
and the province of New Mexico north of the 32nd parallel. To seek 
southern California or the region south of Texas would, he feared, raise a 
storm over slavery and "be the means of dissolving the Union." 48 

On July 27, Buchanan sent a note under a flag of truce to the 
Mexican Foreign Minister inviting further negotiations either in Washing- 
ton or Mexico. Polk asked Congress to appropriate $2,000,000 for an 
immediate payment to Mexico upon ratification of a treaty. He hoped 
that the Paredes government, now nearly bankrupt, would accept this sum 
as a means of self-preservation. 

Buchanan warned Polk that a request to Congress for such an 
appropriation would only start a bitter debate over slavery. Representative 
David Wilmot attached to the Administration money bill the "proviso" 
that slavery should forever be excluded from any territory that the United 
States might acquire from Mexico. The Wilmot Proviso killed the bill. 
Richard Rush commented to Buchanan that the rejection of the treaty 
fund would cost the nation a hundred million dollars in war expenses. 44 
Meanwhile, the Mexican Foreign Minister chose to interpret Buchanan's 
peace offer as an insult. Buchanan answered that no alternative remained 
but to prosecute the war until Mexico proposed to stop it. 46 

Although still hopeful of peace by negotiation, Buchanan began 
an effort to direct war strategy into channels which would bring the kind 
of peace he wanted. He supported the "defensive line" policy which 
advocated military seizure of only the territory desired. He bounded that 
region by the Rio Grande to the western edge of Texas and from there by 
a line along the 32nd parallel to the Pacific. This amount, he hoped, 
would be reasonable compensation for claims and indemnity for war 
expenses. Furthermore, its acquisition would cause no serious division 
in the Democratic party on the question of slavery. 

The Administration feared that a full-scale war carried to the 
heart of Mexico would make Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, 
both Whigs, popular heroes and permit them to set themselves up ps 
presidential candidates. So probable did this development appear that 
Polk, with Buchanan's hearty approval, tried in vain to persuade the Senate 
to commission Thomas Hart Benton a lieutenant general so that he would 
outrank both Taylor and Scott. Polk then offered Benton a major-general- 
ship, which he refused. Therefore, the Whig generals held the field and 
largely controlled the military policy of the war. 

Meanwhile, the army and navy, in a series of signal victories, had 
won control not only of New Mexico and California but also of the heart of 



Mexico. The news excited the admiration and enthusiasm of all Americans, 
silenced much of the Whig and abolitionist condemnation of the war, and 
converted into howling patriots those who had earlier remained indifferent. 
Even from abroad came expressions of praise for the conduct of American 


The tidings of victory from Buena Vista and Vera Cruz induced 
Polk to try the olive branch again. The Cabinet approved and Buchanan 
set to work to draft a peace treaty. His proposal of April 13, 1847, provided 
for cession of the provinces of New Mexico and Upper and Lower California, 
together with a right of passage across the isthmus of Tehuantepec. For 
this, the United States would pay all claims of American citizens against 
Mexico and $15,000,000 in addition. Against Buchanan's persistent oppo- 
sition, Polk and the rest of the Cabinet revised the purchase price upwards 
to $30,000,000. 46 

For a time Buchanan considered going to Mexico as peace com- 
missioner, but he decided that the negotiations might keep him away from 
Washington too long. The Cabinet felt that domestic politics ruled out 
General Scott, otherwise a logical choice, or any prominent Democrat. 
Buchanan suggested the appointment of the Chief Clerk in the State 
Department, Nicholas Philip Trist, for the task. He had no political 
aspirations and his open suspicion of Scott's designs on the presidency 
made Trist even more acceptable to the Cabinet. 

Appointed on April 15, Trist set out under an assumed name and 
arrived in Mexico in May. He opened negotiations through the British 
embassy on June 6; not, however, before becoming involved in a violent 
quarrel with General Scott who complained, "I see that the Secretary of 
War proposes to degrade me." Trist, on his part, reported to Buchanan 
that Scott was "decidedly the greatest imbecile I have ever had anything 
to do with." 47 But within a few weeks, both men patched up their futile 
quarrel and soon became good friends. Scott, too, quickly realized that 
Trist would be much better than some politically ambitious Democratic 
Senator in the role of peacemaker. 

During the summer Scott, with consummate military skill, struck 
out from Vera Cruz and fought his way to Mexico City. Trist now for the 
first time showed Scott the peace proposals and the general, impressed by 
their fairness and restraint, began actively to assist in the negotiation. 
Santa Anna had promised that he would negotiate for $10,000 in advance 
and $1,000,000 upon signing a treaty. Scott put up the $10,000 out of the 
army secret service fund, but Santa Anna, with the money safely in his 
pocket, backed out of the bargain. Therefore, Scott had to carry the war 
to its final conclusion. On September 14, after the thrilling but costly 
victories at Molino Del Key and Chapultepec, Scott and the American army 
marched into the Mexican capital. By this time Santa Anna had fled and 



the Mexican government was so demoralized that for the moment there 
was no one with whom to negotiate. 

When news of these events arrived in Washington, Buchanan, 
Walker and others repented their willingness to accept a peace so easy on 
Mexico as the one outlined in the original instructions to Trist. Buchanan 
paved the way for stiffening terms as early as June by writing to Trist that 
"the object of a war, at any period of its continuance, is not necessarily 
that for which it commenced." 48 During the summer, Buchanan pro- 
gressively altered his stand on the amount of territory which ought to be 
demanded of Mexico as indemnity, increasing the area in correlation to 
American military success and the rising popular demand for all of Mexico. 
At the time of drawing up Trist's instructions, Buchanan had 
written to a friend that to annex most of northern Mexico "would not be 
in accordance with public opinion," and wanted to limit the acquisitions to 
Upper and Lower California. 49 In July, however, he informed Trist: "The 
more I reflect upon the subject the better I am convinced of the importance 
of running the boundary line between the Rio Grande and the Gulf of 
California along the thirty-second parallel." 50 In September, when Polk 
raised the question whether Trist should not demand more territory, 
Buchanan proposed again that the offer of money be cut from $30,000,000 
to $15,000,000, that the cession of the province of Lower California and 
the right to transit across the Tehuantepec isthmus now be made a sine 
qua non of settlement, and that the northern boundary of Mexico be cut 
from the 32nd parallel to the 31st. 61 

Polk and Buchanan continued to disagree on war policy. Polk 
thought the army ought to occupy the whole country, but Buchanan 
wanted the troops withdrawn from all territory except that which was to 
be annexed. 52 Polk complained that Buchanan had increased his demands 
on Mexico. Buchanan explained that the invasion of the interior of the 
country (which he had opposed) had cost many lives and a great deal of 
money; therefore, it was foolish to assume that previous terms would now 
apply. But Polk thought that Buchanan's change of position was due to 
his desire for the presidency and his unwillingness "to incur the displeasure 
of all those who are in favor of the conquest of all Mexico." 58 

Military success rapidly changed the tenor of public opinion. 
All the leading Democratic newspapers of the West and South now insisted 
on the acquisition of all of Mexico, or a very large slice of it, and even the 
more conservative eastern papers supported the same policy. 64 Some of 
the British expressed the opinion that the Anglo-Saxon race inevitably 
would appropriate North America, and the usually unfriendly Palmerston 
was heard to remark: "They are going to take two-thirds of Mexico. Why 
don't they take the whole?" 56 One of Buchanan's military informants 
wrote: "All Mexico must soon be ours notwithstanding the wish of the 



President and the country for Peace Thousands of the present genera- 
tion will live to see the whole of North America under one Confederated 
Government, and the sooner the better." 56 

In October, 1847, when rumors seeped to Washington that Trist 
planned to make a treaty recognizing the Nueces boundary of Texas and 
giving up other vital American demands, Buchanan ordered Trist to return 
home, treaty or no treaty. Trist, however, determined to defy his instruc- 
tions. In a 65-page letter of explanation and apology to his chief, he stated 
that he would stay and conclude a treaty because he felt it was the only 
way to prevent the summary seizure of the entire country. Polk denounced 
Trist as arrogant, impudent, insulting, destitute of honor, a scoundrel, and 
a worse public servant than he had ever known. 57 

Under these unhappy circumstances, Trist proceeded to negotiate 
the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which reached the astounded Administra- 
tion in Washington on Saturday, February 19. Trist clearly wanted to 
make Polk take the responsibility for accepting or rejecting a treaty con- 
forming to his original instructions. The treaty itself set the present 
southwestern boundary of the United States, excepting the Gadsden 
Purchase, in return for $15,000,000 and payment by the United States 
of claims against Mexico. 

Buchanan sharply opposed submitting this treaty to the Senate. 
He wished to capitalize, in the months before the Democratic nominating 
convention, on the political effect of advocating a larger cession. Polk 
accused him of trying to undermine the treaty in the Senate, but in this 
the president was mistaken; as in the case of Oregon, Buchanan worked 
hard to make sure that the treaty would be ratified and privately wanted 
it ratified. 

An exact transcript of the treaty and of confidential corre- 
spondence regarding it appeared in the New York Herald while it was still 
under discussion in secret sessions of the Senate. A young Irish reporter 
named John Nugent who was known to be a close friend of Buchanan sent 
in the story. Nugent had for some years been writing for the Herald under 
such pen names as "Nous Verrons," "Felix," "Galviensis," and "Chee- 
Wah-Wah." Just a few weeks before, "Galviensis" had published several 
articles abusing the President, and Polk suspected Buchanan of complicity. 
"If I can obtain any reliable proof that Mr. Buchanan has given countenance 
to Galviensis," he wrote in his diary, "he shall not remain in the Cabinet." 
Buchanan vigorously denied any connection with the articles. The Senate 
called for an investigation of the treaty leak and questioned Nugent for 
two weeks, but he refused to disclose anything except that he had copied 
all the documents in his own room, and that his informant had no con- 
nection either with the Senate or the Department of State. 



Buchanan's enemies built a strong case of circumstantial evidence 
against him as the informer and Polk accused him outright, but Buchanan 
positively asserted both his own innocence and the trustworthiness of 
every member of his Departmental staff. He then addressed a letter to the 
Senate declaring that the secretary and all the Department clerks, waiving 
every privilege which might exist, would appear before the Senators to 
undergo examination until every trace of suspicion had been removed. 68 
Buchanan suspected that the leak had originated in the Senate. 59 The 
name of Nugent's informant, however, remains a mystery to this day. The 
affair had no effect on the Treaty, which was ratified by the Senate and 
proclaimed by Polk on July 4. 60 


Beyond the major problems of the Department, Buchanan directed in- 
numerable minor negotiations. He sought to induce Emperor Dom 
Pedro II of Brazil to join other nations in abolition of the international 
slave trade. He challenged the Anglo-French intervention in the war 
between Argentina and Paraguay, accusing both nations of flagrant violation 
of the Monroe Doctrine and the principles of nonintervention. In 1846 
he concluded a treaty with New Granada which granted the United States 
a right of transit across the Isthmus of Panama. This important agreement 
underlay the building of the Panama Railroad and later the construction 
of the Canal. 

After three years of correspondence, he managed to draw up a 
postal convention with Great Britain which provided for uniform trans- 
atlantic mail rates, and he adjusted satisfactorily a dispute with Britain 
over the "most favored nation" clause of the commercial treaty which had 
been violated by illegal customs collections on both sides of the ocean. 
Through Henry Wheaton, he negotiated six commercial treaties with 
German states to eliminate the old feudal dues and to put these states on 
the basis of trade reciprocity with the United States. 

The European revolutions of 1848 kept the State Department 
busy. The United States took the lead in recognizing the new French 
Republic less than a week after the revolution started and promptly recog- 
nized the new German Confederation with headquarters at Frankfort. 
Buchanan successfully urged, against considerable American opposition, 
the establishment of a diplomatic Mission to the Vatican as a means of 
developing commerce, for the new Pope, Pius IX, was a strong advocate 
of a European commercial federation. 

In May, 1848, Buchanan saw in the developing revolution in 
Cuba an opportunity to acquire that island, though he wanted to wait until 



after the presidential election to initiate the purchase. Polk enthusi- 
astically supported the plan to offer Spain $100,000,000 for Cuba and 
authorized Buchanan to instruct his Minister at Madrid to explore the 
possibilities. Spain indignantly rejected the idea, but Buchanan blamed 
the Minister, Romulus M. Saunders, for some responsibility for the failure. 
"A more skillful agent might have been selected to conduct the negotiations 
in Spain," he wrote, "as our present Minister speaks no language except 
English, & even this he sometimes murders." 61 

Hawaii showed signs of responding to American influence. 
Buchanan dispatched Anthony Ten Eyck of Michigan as Commissioner to 
Hawaii early in 1845 with instructions to make a commercial treaty and 
thwart European influence there. Ten Eyck wrecked his mission by asking 
for special privileges for white American citizens, to which the Hawaiians 
replied that such demands reminded them of what happened to Texas. 
Ten Eyck then stated flatly that he thought what was done in Texas ought 
to be repeated in Hawaii and appealed to a United States naval commander 
in the waters to force his treaty on the king. Buchanan roundly rebuked 
the minister and called for his resignation. 62 

Buchanan did not find his situation in the Cabinet as satisfying 
as he had hoped or as enjoyable as his activities in the Senate. To be sure, 
he relished the prestige which the premiership brought him, but he never 
quite gave himself wholeheartedly to the job. In Cabinet he played the 
lone wolf rather than the organization man, with his eye constantly straying 
from the main task to possible alternative prospects for himself, particularly 
the presidency. He worked tirelessly, but under a continual sense of 
aggravation, at the archaic structure of the Department which he, in vain, 
tried to persuade Congress to correct. 63 

But he found himself especially irritated by President Polk. It 
seemed to Buchanan that the Tennesseean, not entirely sure of himself 
and fearful lest he become a puppet of the Cabinet, went out of his way to 
emphasize his determination to wield the scepter. Folk's voluminous diary 
reflects throughout a deep-seated distrust of Buchanan and is filled with 
uncharitable comments about him. Yet, though the Secretary of State 
disagreed with him on almost every important diplomatic decision, Polk 
retained him. In fact, Polk for the most part arrived ultimately at the 
judgments Buchanan had offered in the beginning. "Mr. Buchanan is an 
able man," wrote the president. 6 * 

Toward the end of his term, Buchanan developed a nervous tic 
in his leg and a painful tumor in his nose, the latter requiring a series of 
operations. It took Doctor Foltz and two other Navy surgeons over a year 
and a half to conclude the surgical treatment of the nasal polyp. 65 

A diligent and laborious worker, Buchanan rarely ever complained 
of tasks except while he was Secretary of State. "I am an overworked 



man," he wrote to John Reynolds. "No man, I care not what may be his 
talents & acquirements, is fit for the office under its present organization, 
unless his constitution will enable him to work and see company from ten 
to fifteen hours out of every twenty-four. 66 To another he complained, 
"My life is that of a galley slave. I have not read thirty consecutive pages 
in any book since I came into the Department of State." 67 Near the end 
of his term, he told Arnold Plumer, "I have wished 1,000 times that I had 
never entered this Dept. as Secretary. I have had to do the important 
drudging of the administration without the power of obtaining offices for 
my friends. . . . / have no power. I feel it deeply."* 8 One of the things 
that kept him going was his respect for the president. Although Buchanan 
frequently mistrusted Folk's judgment, he respected his conscientious 
and unremitting application to duty. 

When Polk died but a few months after the end of his Adminis- 
tration, Buchanan commented: "He was the most laborious man I have 
ever known; and in a brief period of four years had assumed the appearance 
of an old man," 69 and the Secretary wondered how much he had had to do 
with it. He left Washington with the statement: "I am happy and contented 
.... I would not for any consideration return to the State Department." 70 





However little he may know about James Buchanan, almost everyone has 
encountered the comment of Ben Perley Poore that "never did a wily 
politician more industriously plot and plan to secure a nomination than 
Mr. Buchanan did, in his still hunt for the Presidency." 1 What truth 
there may be in this statement applies most forcefully to the campaigns of 
1848 and 1852, for in these Buchanan seriously set out to bag the game. 
He proceeded methodically, according to practices which years of experience 
had impressed upon him as necessary. Had someone asked him to enumer- 
ate the rules by which a man might achieve the presidency, he might have 
listed these: the appearance of disinterestedness, the support of the home 
constituency, and national rather than sectional views on burning issues 
of the day. 

Buchanan preferred the role of the statesman to that of politician. 
He stayed aloof from rough and tumble meetings, he avoided public debate 
and stump speeches, and stayed close to home to confer with party leaders, 
leaving it to subordinates to work with the voters and pay the campaign bills. 
He still agreed with Jackson that no man could achieve the presidency who 
appeared actively to seek it and that the successful candidate must display 
utter indifference until he was called to duty. 

For this reason he felt that an aspirant should have wealth 
enough to be careless of his political fortune. He confided to J. Clancy 
Jones that he had never yet known a public man "who had abandoned his 
profession for politics before he had accumulated something like a com- 
petency that did not regret his course." 2 It was the urgent need of money 
that made men like Forney and Lynch and Brewster scramble for political 
jobs, and sparked the ambitions of many at a much higher level, like Clay 
and Webster, Buchanan had no financial cause to seek a government 
salary; he had made his competency, was proud of the fact, and could in 



good conscience assure his friends that the loss of political office would not 
cost him cc a night's rest or a meal's victuals." 

The appearance of disinterestedness could also be used with 
political effect. Buchanan had made the prospect of a Supreme Court 
appointment pay full dividends. The offer stimulated to action all those 
who looked to him for political patronage and attracted national attention. 
His decision to decline it created exactly the effect Buchanan wanted, the 
image of a man personally inclined to retire from active politics but pre- 
vailed upon by his friends to remain in harness. 

Buchanan always believed that a presidential aspirant, to be 
successful, had to have firm political control of his own county and state. 
A man defeated at home had little prospect of developing strength abroad. 
For this reason he devoted an inordinate amount of his time and energy to 
petty politics in Lancaster and the contest of factions in Pennsylvania. 

The aspiring candidate must subordinate sectional objectives and 
loyalties to national principles. This was not merely an ingredient for 
personal success but a requirement for the continued existence of the 
Union. By 1847 it seemed probable that only a northern man who viewed 
southern problems with sympathy and understanding could meet this 
requirement, for there remained little hope, since the Wilmot Proviso and 
the Tariff of 1846, of finding a southern man with political sympathy for 
the North on either of these issues. But there were many northerners who, 
though disliking slavery and free trade, thought that the South should 
share in new territory and subscribed to a moderate tariff. Buchanan held 
this position, believing it to be both the surest guarantee of the preservation 
of the Union and the stand most likely to gain broad support for the 
presidency. The chief competition would come from the West where men 
like Cass and Douglas would take national ground by offering to act as 
mediators in the growing strife between the North and the South. 


It was impossible to know even where to begin drilling Pennsylvania's 
demoralized Democrats into something like a strong and dependable 
organization. In fact, Buchanan had not made up his mind positively to 
face the task until he knew the local reaction to the Walker Tariff. Provi- 
dentially for him business remained good, industrialists began to admit 
that the new tariff would not ruin them and the Pennsylvania Democrats, 
applauding Buchanan's proposal to modify rates on iron and coal, calmed 
down. Having cleared this hurdle, which had temporarily tripped Dallas, 
Buchanan decided to stay in the presidential race. 

He had a block of influential friends who would stick with him 
through thick and thin: Forney, Lynch, Wilson McCandless, Arnold 



Plumer, Jeremiah S. Black, George W. Barton, W. A. Stokes, William 
Bigler, X Clancy Jones, Christian Bachman, W. flutter, and many others, 
although they were not enough to control the state. He faced the powerful 
opposition of the followers of George Dallas, primarily in Philadelphia. 
Between these major factions were others, generally for sale to the highest 
bidder, and some of them led by men who were violently detested by 
Buchanan's friends. Buchanan had to augment his certain support by 
enough strength purchased from political roustabouts like Cameron to 
insure his control of the state delegation. 

A major test of strength would come in 1847, when Pennsylvania 
faced another governor's election. Buchanan had supported Shunk before 
and strongly backed him for renomination, despite the opposition of 
Cameron and the lukewarm adherence of Forney's friends to whom Shunk 
had shown no favor. 3 Forney wanted Buchanan to run in order to dis- 
entangle himself from the embarrassments of the Polk Administration and 
to command a larger patronage to consolidate his party than he could 
obtain in the State Department. 4 

The Harrisburg Democratic Convention of March 4, 1847, quickly 
renominated Shunk for governor but ran into a bitter fight to decide 
between Buchanan and Dallas as the "favorite son" of Pennsylvania. The 
delegates finally stalled to a deadlock and adopted an innocuous statement 
expressing pride in both the Vice-President and the Secretary of State. 5 

Senator Cameron discovered in this impasse an opportunity to 
make a show of strength which might improve his bargaining power later. 
He publicly pronounced General Zachary Taylor to be a Democrat and 
endorsed him for president. Taylor had enough of the legendary appeal 
of Andrew Jackson to become immediately formidable, but even Cameron's 
own partisans acknowledged that to call the general a Democrat was 
"political prostitution." 6 Nonetheless, the movement grew apace. Cameron 
set up his brother James as editor of the Democratic Sentinel, a new pro- 
Taylor newspaper in Lancaster, and took a leading part on the floor of a 
convention at Harrisburg on June 26 which endorsed Taylor and lauded 
Senator Cameron. 7 

Polk was worried about the increasing popularity of Taylor, and 
some Congressmen considered a resolution censuring him for what they 
considered disobedience of orders. Buchanan complained that Taylor 
should never have consented to an armistice after the battle of Monterey 
but soon changed that tune when public resentment rose against Folk's 
charge that Taylor was "incompetent to command a large army." Davy 
Lynch wrote that it reminded Pittsburghers of the attempts to censure 
General Jackson, and if Taylor could not command a large army, he still 
had "the knack of flogging a larger one with a very small one," which 
answered the same purpose. 8 By early fall, the Democratic drive for 



Taylor in Pennsylvania had still further embittered, if that could be 
possible, the relations of Buchanan's friends with Cameron's. Forney told 
Buchanan: "As for Cameron, he pollutes Taylor with his prostituted 
praises. . . . Every enemy that you now have was made in some way more 
or less connected with that bold intriguer. God in Heaven knows you have 
paid a dreadful penalty for the court which he has professed to pay you. 
My deliberate opinion is now that you have not an enemy who is not a 
more trusty friend than Simon Cameron." 9 Cameron's endorsement 
wrote finis to Taylor's candidacy among Pennsylvania Democrats. 

In a very different way, Cameron's move also threatened Bu- 
chanan's candidacy by infuriating the Frazer-Champneys men in Lancaster 
to the final breaking point. Since Buchanan still refused to renounce 
Cameron, they at last repudiated Buchanan and came out strongly for 
Dallas. This movement had been brewing ever since Cameron's tricky 
capture of the senatorship, but until now Forney and others had been 
able to prevent an open and formal break. The truce abruptly ended. 
Frazer declared war by announcing that Buchanan had refused to pay his 
personal tax to Lancaster County for the preceding several years, on the 
ground that he was now a resident of Washington. He had disclaimed his 
state to save a paltry ten-dollar bill and now wanted to be called a "favorite 
son.' 7 This story, developed in many forms by Frazer, ran the rounds of 
the opposition press. 

Frazer's charge was partly true. A county official had asked 
Buchanan whether, since he would reside in Washington permanently 
while he was Secretary of State, he should be billed for local taxes. He 
had replied that he understood from other Cabinet officers that such tax 
was usually remitted under these circumstances. The question was still 
not settled when Frazer gave out the story. Buchanan's friends begged 
him to ignore the fracas and by all means to avoid a newspaper controversy 
with Frazer, but Buchanan was more nettled than usual and wanted to clear 
himself. He wrote a long exposition of his relationship with Frazer, con- 
cluding with the facts of the tax matter, and then wisely sent it to Forney, 
who read it to selected politicians but kept it out of print. 

Frazer's father had befriended Buchanan, presented him with a 
kw library, and helped him build up a practice. Buchanan rewarded this 
kindness over the years by using his influence to secure political jobs for 
most of the family, both the Frazers and their in-laws, the Steeles. Half a 
dozen of them were drawing salaries, thanks to Buchanan, by 1845. Reah 
Frazer wanted more. As Buchanan told the story, Reah's break with him 
coincided not with the Cameron election, but with Buchanan's refusal to 
promote another sinecure for one of the clan. This, claimed Buchanan, 
was the source of Frazer's hostility; the other matters he raged about 
merely served as convenient excuses to cloak his personal spite. 10 



Private circulation of this story served to keep the effects of the 
attack localized, and leading politicians recognized that Buchanan's estimate 
of Frazer's motive was perfectly defensible; they understood also that the 
tax episode reflected a problem common among men who spent years away 
from home in government service. But how would the voters of Lancaster 
County react? Frazer, Champneys and Stambaugh could very likely control 
them and vote Buchanan down in his own ward and precinct, unless some- 
one took prompt action, and this result would kill him off in the Pennsyl- 
vania contest for delegates to the nominating convention. 

The Pennsylvania convention at Harrisburg to pick delegates 
to the national convention of the Democratic party was scheduled for 
March 4, 1848. Counties held their local meetings to choose delegates to 
Harrisburg at various times. Lancaster County Democrats picked September 
1, 1847, for their meeting, a month in advance of the date of the state 
election for governor. At that meeting one of Cameron's friends, by 
prearrangement, submitted a resolution in favor of Buchanan. Frazer, as 
Cameron had anticipated, denounced the resolution and had it voted down. 
He then obtained approval of a slate of delegates to Harrisburg, all but one 
committed to Dallas for president, and concluded by ramming through a 
resolution that Buchanan ought to be read out of the Democratic party! 11 

The attack shocked and frightened Frazer's own colleagues, for 
it suddenly dawned upon them, as upon Buchanan, that the Lancaster 
County movement might defeat Shunk. The Lancaster group had identified 
itself intimately with him, and if it now appeared that a vote for Shunk 
meant a vote against Buchanan, they both might ultimately lose. Buchanan 
came out strongly for Shunk and the governor cut himself entirely loose 
from the conflict, while Forney did his best to soften the damage by making 
Frazer look ridiculous and threatening to "lug him out by the throat" and 
expose the family salary grab. The suspense ended on October 14, when 
Shunk routed his Whig opponent by a comfortable majority. Forney wrote 
to Buchanan the next day that he would come to Washington to prepare 
for the future and "to see how we shall dispose of Frazer. The fight for the 
nomination will begin from the jump. I see Dallas and his folks at work. " 12 

Buchanan hoped for some help from Governor Shunk, but that 
worthy, pressed equally hard by the friends of Dallas, prayed good God, 
good Devil, not knowing which way to turn, and finally declared his 
emphatic neutrality. He still had his troubles, however, because the 
presidential question whittled away his own friends until there were 
"devilish few of them left to be neutral." 13 

All efforts now centered on control of other county delegations 
to the Harrisburg Convention which would select the Pennsylvania delega- 
tion to Baltimore. Buchanan felt confident of strong support in all but a 
few scattered counties outside of Philadelphia, but the key to success lay 



in that city, with its huge quota of 85 delegates. Forney, aided by half a 
dozen aggressive workers devoted to Buchanan, undertook to reduce this 
stronghold and beat Dallas on his own ground. It was a bold game for a 
newcomer to that aloof and aristocratic region and deserved more of 
Buchanan's active political and financial aid than he gave. 

Forney began by holding weekly meetings with two or three dozen 
workers at his own home. He instructed them on policy and tactics and 
inspired them with "cold cuts and liquid refreshment." Here the leaders 
set up finance, ward and publications committees, inaugurated a "Buchanan 
Fund," and named two persons from each ward to promote meetings called 
"political Wistar Parties" in sarcastic reference to the legitimate ones held 
by the city's aristocracy. After much debate they agreed to campaign by 
"quiet, silent exertions" in preference to parades, drum-beating, mud- 
slinging, and other blatant methods. 14 Forney printed 100,000 copies of 
the proceedings of the Buchanan Convention of 1843 and mailed out 
quantities of Buchanan engravings, but he felt that they did not match in 
effect a book dedicated to Dallas who had bought up the whole edition and 
franked it all over the state. Cameron, too, created a stir by exhibiting in 
a Philadelphia store window a huge painting of himself resplendent in a 
flaming scarlet cloak. In response to Forney's pleas to send documents to 
the back-country editors, Buchanan planned a mailing of Fremont's report 
on his western explorations, but since he did not have the franking privilege 
he concluded that the cost would be prohibitive. 15 

A few weeks before the Philadelphia election of December, both 
factions staged huge mass meetings. To the first of these, called a "War 
Meeting" and appealing to all Democrats, the Dallas supporters came early 
and organized the proceedings half an hour before the Buchanan men 
arrived. A fight promptly ensued which lasted until 10 o'clock and ended 
with the ejection of the Dallas partisans. Plitt assured Buchanan: "We 
had all the decency and, what is better, the rough fellows who do the voting 
and the fighting. The battle being now begun openly, nothing remains but 
to fight it out." 16 

The Philadelphia election was heartbreaking: Dallas carried the 
city by three votes. If Buchanan had received them, he would have won 
Philadelphia Ward and enough candidates to control the balance of the 
city delegation. The final tally gave Dallas 47 delegates and Buchanan 38. 
It was, said Forney, no disgrace to lose by such a small majority, considering 
that they had had to contend with the customhouse phalanx and hostile 
municipal judges who threatened not to renew the license of any tavern 
keeper who favored Buchanan. 

Forney had done a good job, and his aides thought it so remarkable 
a showing that they printed a detailed account of the election returns for 
statewide distribution. Forney, in truth, had nearly worn himself out. 



"My whole soul is so absorbed in this fight," he wrote, "that I can think of 
nothing else. I dream of it at night. I do not go out into company, for it 
makes me chill and distracted. I have even quit drinking and almost 

ceased eating." 17 

A sidelight, at this point, will illustrate the difference between 
Buchanan's campaign methods and those of his managers and expose the 
handicaps under which the latter had to work. While the Philadelphia 
campaign flamed to white heat, Forney took time to try to save Lancaster 
County, where Frazer now dominated the editor of the Lancaster Intel 
tigencer, Forney's old paper. May, the editor, wanted to get out and Forney 
arranged that W. Hutter of Easton, a man of editorial courage and political 
stature, should take the paper. This would cost money, $2,425 to be exact, 
and furthermore May demanded some guarantee of other employment. 

Buchanan arranged the loan by the devious means of asking 
James B. Lane of Lancaster to advance the amount to Christian Bachman, 
who would sign it over to Nathaniel W. Sample, who would then give it to 
Hutter and receive a note in return. Buchanan would then privately make 
good to Lane, thus both hiding and postponing his participation in the 
transfer. 18 

As to May, Forney wrote: "James B. Lane and myself only got 
May out of the paper by promising him our influence to get him a clerkship. 
You ... I hope, ... will not hesitate to sustain us in all we have done. 
Bold and prompt measures are now of the utmost importance, and ordinary 
delicacy must not be suffered to interfere with stern duty. We acted for 
you." Buchanan replied: "I fear the Clerkship will be a great obstacle in 
the way. Suppose May would insist upon this promise. Its recognition & 
performance on my part would do me more harm than ten Intelligencers 
would do me good, greatly as I esteem the value of the paper. On the 
other hand, suppose he should not obtain the clerkship, he might publish 
the fact that you had got him out of the paper on this promise. A clerkship 
I shall not procure for him, at least not for the present. The money is 
nothing when compared with an independent and erect course of con- 
duct." 19 By midsummer, May still had no clerkship. 

The Harrisburg Convention of March 4, far from being a re- 
sounding triumph for Buchanan, turned out to be a two-day wrangle in 
which Cass and Dallas each came off very strong. Buchanan got a majority 
of delegates to the national convention, and the pledge of the minority to 
support him until the majority should yield; but the Dallas delegates, com- 
mitted to Cass as second choice, greatly weakened Buchanan's bargaining 
position. The convention rejected a resolution favoring Buchanan's major 
political plank, extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific, 
and in its place accepted a resolution complimenting Cass and Dallas. 
Cameron threw everyone into confusion by suddenly proposing a whole 



slate of national convention delegates chosen from among his own followers, 
and no one quite knew whether this move had been sanctioned hy Buchanan 
or was merely another Cameron fishing expedition. Forney, chagrined at 
the outcome after all his work, had at least the satisfaction to report that 
he could deliver the solid vote of the state to Buchanan on the opening 
ballots at Baltimore. 20 

While Forney's crew worked their hearts out to capture Penn- 
sylvania, Buchanan tried to develop the broader pattern of support from 
his headquarters at Washington. Here he analyzed public opinion and 
designed policy to fit its general trend. We have already seen how he 
attempted to disassociate himself from unpopular policies- of the Polk 
Administration while preserving his party regularity by remaining in the 
Cabinet. But the big issue which dominated the thoughts of every party 
and every section as the Mexican War drew to a close was what to do about 
slavery in the new territories. It was not enough to condemn the Wilmot 
Proviso; a workable solution, widely acceptable, had to be devised. Bu- 
chanan gave his proposal for solving the puzzle in a letter to a Harvest 
Home celebration of Democrats in Reading, Pennsylvania, in August, 1847. 

In this "Berks County letter," as it came to be known, Buchanan 
stated that he did not expect any northern Democrats to approve of slavery, 
but he did expect them to honor the Constitution which left the slavery 
question up to the states where it existed. In new territories the problem 
had been settled, with great difficulty, by the Missouri Compromise in 1820, 
and since then Texas had come into the Union under the same rule. For 
the future, "the line of the Missouri Compromise should be extended to 
any new territory which we may acquire from Mexico." While this would 
safeguard the rights of the South and keep faith, it would not, nevertheless, 
result in the extension of slavery. None of the new territory was adapted 
to slavery, there would be no means of recovering fugitives to Mexico, most 
of the settlers would certainly come from the North and West, and the 
population already in residence had long since abolished slavery under 
Mexican law. 

He concluded: "The question is, therefore, not one of practical 
importance. Its agitation, however honestly intended, can produce no 
effect but to alienate the people of different portions of the Union from 
each other; to excite sectional divisions & jealousies; and to distract & 
possibly destroy the Democratic party, on the ascendancy of whose 
principles & measures depends, as I firmly believe, the success of our grand 
experiment of Self Government. 1 ' 21 

The concluding paragraph has been quoted in full because writers 
generally ignore it as a mere platitudinous peroration, whereas Buchanan 
considered it the main element of his idea. To him the problem was not 
slavery but the agitation it caused. Slavery had not destroyed the nation 



and need not destroy it, but the contest over slavery very likely would. 
He selected the Missouri Compromise proposal as best suited to answer the 
fundamental need to end the agitation, because it had back of it the 
force of tradition. It would permit the Southerners to take slaves into part 
of the Mexican cession, but it would not threaten the addition of any new 
slave states to the Union. 

This letter, the first formal pronouncement by a major political 
figure on the touchiest question of the day, got fairly wide and favorable 
notice, but it raised the most dust in Pennsylvania because of the Wilmot 
Proviso. Lewis Cass professed himself to be surprised. Buchanan's letter, 
he said, "was well written, but there was no call at that particular moment 
for its appearance; rather there was none for his writing it, and all experi- 
ence shows that politicians had better write as little as possible/' 22 But 
it took Cass only four months to hear the call himself. In December, he 
announced his own policy, popular sovereignty, in the "Nicholson letter." 
No one will ever know how much these competitive views in- 
fluenced the coming Democratic nomination, but it is worth pointing out 
that the popular sovereignty idea was peculiarly western in its inception 
and appeal. To those who would live in the newly acquired area, the 
Missouri Compromise seemed a restriction imposed by the East; popular 
sovereignty was a freedom initiated by the West. Buchanan never got this 
point, for he never saw the West. He worked out the practical operating 
details of his Missouri line proposal with a clarity and simplicity not 
matched by the advocates of popular sovereignty, but he failed to appreciate 
that frontiersmen would prefer a do-it-yourself policy to a rule imposed 
from Washington. 

It was an oddity of Buchanan's life that he never travelled very 
much in America. He saw more of the continent of Europe during his 
Russian Mission than he saw of the United States in his whole lifetime. 
Up to 1848 his travels in his own country, with the exception of his jaunt 
to Kentucky as a youth, could be circumscribed by a line drawn from 
Philadelphia, to Boston, to Buffalo, to Pittsburgh, to Richmond, and back 
to Philadelphia. He had no physical aversion to travel, but he hated to 
lose touch with his affairs or break his routine. Perhaps most important, 
he believed it politically dangerous to roam, and particularly so to make 
a pilgrimage for political purposes. 

He had no dearth of invitations to go south or west but he turned 
them all down. Even in his own restricted orbit, he kept a tight schedule 
and visited little. Forney continually complained of his "comet-like" trips 
through Philadelphia, reporting "our boys here are very sore because they 
did not see you." He spent some time in New York State in the fall of 
1846 trying to patch up an agreement between the Barnburners and the 
Hunkers, and joined President Polk on his New England trip the following 



summer, exasperating his friends by skipping Philadelphia and joining Polk 
in New York City. He vacationed at Bedford Springs, visited his sister in 
Meadville, and spent the rest of the time in Lancaster or Washington. 28 

Even if Polk had teen willing to permit political touring, Bu- 
chanan would have stayed home. He feared what he had seen happen time 
after time to prospective presidential candidates who travelled widely- 
They were first of all written down as office seekers out to curry additional 
favor; then they were pounced upon by contending factions in each 
locality. As a result, they more often gave offense than they built up 
support. Buchanan purposely avoided going to Philadelphia with Polk in 
1847 because the president had made arrangements to stay with Vice- 
President Dallas. When factionism reached its height in the North, he 
wrote, "under existing dramstonces, ... I could not visit the States of 
New York & Massachusetts unless it might be to pass through them quietly 
& rapidly." 24 

Buchanan knew he could confer with all the important politicians 
at Washington, and he believed that conferences with them were more 
effective than public appearances at the grass roots. Buchanan had many 
firm friends at the common level whom he cherished throughout his life, 
but he had little talent for making friends and influencing people on a 
political junket. One might say that he was democratic only in his personal 
life. He usually declined invitations to speak at public meetings, sending 
a letter instead, and avoided party caucuses and conventions. If these 
methods constituted a "still hunt for the presidency" then Perley Poore 
was right. 

Buchanan had no national political organization but utilized his 
many friends in a kind of hit or miss program of promotion. In one of his 
thriftiest maneuvers he had graciously permitted the Ottoman Porte to 
finance part of his campaign. The ruler needed "two or three agriculturists" 
who were willing to come to his country as technical assistants and teach 
the people to raise cotton. He sent $2,500 with which to pay the agent who 
would find these technicians. Buchanan gave the assignment to George 
Plitt, who travelled over the South in the search and conferred with 
politicians along the route. 25 

Starting on Christmas Day, 1847, Buchanan undertook his most 
strenuous and expensive enterprise in personal politics, a series of dinners 
which he gave every week or ten days until the end of Folk's Administration. 
Some of these parties were only for members of the diplomatic corps, but 
most of them were purely political gatherings. During this period of 
entertainment, he wined and dined nearly all the Democratic Senators and 
Congressmen, many of the Whigs, and innumerable visiting politicos. 
Ordinarily he played host to twenty or thirty at a time. On one occasion 
he invited the entire Pennsylvania Congressional delegation, but only half 



of the members came, and several never had grace enough to acknowledge 
the invitation. He invited Judge Stephen A. Douglas regularly, but he 
declined, as did Daniel Webster who in former years had often shared the 
festive board with Buchanan. The brandy flowed freely, and of champagne 
and fine old Madeira there was plenty; but of the conversation, alas, there 
is no record. Buchanan considered these dinners a better medium for 
airing his views and putting them into circulation than public speeches or 
the effusions of a controlled press. 26 


The Baltimore Convention assembled on May 22. Buchanan's friends had 
arrived on the ground ten days in advance to hire a large headquarters room 
and caretakers for it. They placed their chief hope in the strategy of 
holding off Cass, the strongest contender, until the convention admitted he 
could not win. This tactic would bring a contest between Buchanan and 
Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire, in which Buchanan stood by far the 
better chance. The delegates adopted the two-thirds rule and then ran 
into a two-day wrangle over New York which had sent full delegations both 
of Hunkers and Barnburners. Upon a decision to admit both, but with the 
voting strength of only a single delegation, the Barnburners withdrew 
angrily and the Hunkers refused to take part in the voting. On the first 
presidential ballot, Cass polled 125, Buchanan 55, and Woodbury 53. On 
the third ballot, Virginia shifted from Buchanan to Cass and practically 
settled the issue, for Cass won on the next ballot. Cameron attributed the 
result to Pennsylvania's promotion of the futile effort to compromise the 
New York dispute, when strong support of either side might have purchased 
at least a part or possibly all of the New York vote. Buchanan blamed 
Virginia. 'To trade me off," he wrote, "for the chance of making [John YJ 
Mason vice-president & then to fail signally in the attempt was unworthy 
of the ancient Commonwealth." But it was all over, and when the Whigs 
nominated Taylor a few weeks later Buchanan felt he was lucky to be out 
of the contest. 27 

George Plitt echoed Buchanan's own thoughts when he wrote: 
"So soon as the present campaign shall have ended, I shall go to work for 

that of '52 I shall not rest until you are in the Presidential chair." 28 

Buchanan worked for Cass in 1848, but there is no evidence that he over- 
exerted himself in the cause. He may very possibly have felt that a Whig 
victory would exercise a salutary effect upon his chances in 1852, for it 
would demonstrate that the Democracy would have to hearken to the 
Keystone State's demands if it wished to win. 

The summer brought surprising and disturbing developments. 
The disappointed New York Barnburners held their own convention on 



June 22 at Utica, nominating Martin Van Buren for president on a Wilmot 
Proviso platform. In August, a convention of antislavery men at Buffalo 
also named Van Buren as their presidential candidate and launched the 
Free-Soil party in a blaze of enthusiasm and righteous indignation under 
the slogan: "Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men." 

In Pennsylvania, Governor Shunk grew desperately ill of tubercu- 
losis and resigned on July 9, making William F. Johnston, Whig Speaker 
of the Senate, the acting governor. Arrangements were then made to fill 
the office at the state election of October 10. The Whigs promptly nomi- 
nated Johnston, but the Democrats fell into a welter of confusion. Leaders 
of all the factions now converged on Buchanan, demanding that he accept 
the nomination. Cameron wrote that "it can be presented in such a shape 
as to make your acceptance the result of a wish to save the party as 
Wright did in 1844." Plitt predicted that "were we allowed to use 
your name for Governor ... we would give the ticket an overwhelming 
majority." 29 Forney was torn between his wish to see Buchanan become 
governor or return to the Senate, inclining somewhat to the latter because 
he thought Cameron wanted Buchanan in Harrisburg to prevent a contest 
for his own seat in the Senate. The public hue and cry developed so fast 
that Buchanan had to make up his mind quickly. 

In a letter to A. H. Reeder, he declined and gave the reasons for 
his decision. He wished to return to private life and do some writing. He 
had already received his share of political honors and did not wish to stand 
in the way of others. He must take care of some important affairs pending 
in the State Department. He could now gracefully retire with the good 
wishes of the party but might not be able to do so later. 80 He privately 
expressed the hope that Arnold Plumer, Jeremiah S. Black, or William 
Bigler might be nominated. But Cameron controlled the issue, and the 
nomination went to Canal Commissioner Morris Longstreth. 

In the October elections, the Pennsylvania Whigs won the 
governorship by a majority of 297 votes of the 336,747 cast; with this 
advantage, Taylor was able to carry the state in November by a margin of 
13,000. In New York, the Democratic party was so divided by the Van 
Buren ticket that all 36 of the state's electoral votes went to Taylor. When 
the contest was over, Buchanan's friends admitted they were glad that he 
had not been in it "I do not regret the defeat of Genl. Cass," wrote 
Davy Lynch, "for I sincerely believe that it will be a useful lesson to the 
Huckstering politicians by which his nomination was brought about" 31 





When he retired from the State Department, Buchanan had reached the 
age of fifty-eight. He had gained weight and his hair had turned white, but 
he still walked with a spring in his step. He now habitually wore a high 
cloth collar with a flowing white neckerchief which emphasized his height 
and gave a kind of distinction to his appearance. Nathaniel Hawthorne 
described him as "heavy and sensible, cool, kindly and good humored, with 
a great deal of experience." Indeed, he had completed nearly thirty years 
of continuous public service. What should he do when he left Washington? 

He returned to Lancaster, but because of the recent political 
bitterness which had erupted into fist fights between Frazer's men and his 
own friends, he did not want to remain in the King Street house. He 
certainly would be a contender for the presidential nomination in 1852, 
and to entertain political visitors in this exposed location adjacent to the 
newspaper offices would be unthinkable. 

Furthermore, he needed a larger house. By this time he had 
acquired twenty-two nephews and nieces, and thirteen grandnephews and 
grandnieces. Seven of these children were full orphans in his immediate 
care, and several of the rest were half-orphans. They could no longer be 
fanned out at boarding schools, nor could he, the "rich uncle," continue 
to depend upon friends like the Plitts and the Kitteras to act as foster 
parents. Brother Edward, still a poor country pastor, had too large a 
family himself to assume any extra burden and plainly told James that he 
now ought to devote his time and money to his less fortunate kinfolk. 

Consequently, when Buchanan learned in the summer of 1848 
that Wheatland, a lovely country estate situated a mile west of Lancaster, 
was for sale, he seized the opportunity to buy it. The mansion had many 
personal associations. William Jenkins had built Wheatland and lived 
there until recently. His daughter, Martha, had married James B. Lane. 
To have Wheatland would keep Buchanan in Lancaster but out of the center 



of the city. Its spacious rooms, broad lawns and well-kept groves of oak 
would provide a happy playground for his wards, enable him to assume 
the politically strategic role of the simple, dignified country squire, and 
give him facilities for entertainment in keeping with the station of an 
aspirant to the presidency. He purchased the estate from William Morris 
Meredith in December, 1848, and took up residence there the following 
spring after retiring from the Cabinet. 

No sooner had he established himself at Wheatland in mid-May, 
1849, than he began to invite his political friends to visit. To a politician 
who addressed a letter for him to Washington, he replied, "I presume you 
may have supposed I would be in that City, now the grand theatre of 
President making. But this is not my way." His way was to sit in the 
study at Wheatland; to write letters day after day; to receive calls quietly; 
and to keep himself in a position to say: "I leave my claims to an intelligent 
and patriotic Democracy." More than once Miss Hetty found him, late 
at night, seated at his desk, his head fallen onto the paper and the candle 
guttering by his side. 

But all was not politics at Wheatland. Buchanan soon discovered 
that a country gentleman has more to do than write letters. "I have a 
large and excellent garden," he said, "that is, it would be excellent if 
properly cultivated." He eventually got a gardener, one Edward Bolger, 
and promptly set him to work setting out 1,200 strawberry plants. He 
needed a coachman and general handy man on the place, but the first man 
he hired soon grew dissatisfied with his $8.00 per month and keep. The 
second, a coachman by the appropriate name of William Whipper stayed 
for many years. 

After he discovered that weeds grew on the grounds of a country 
home in summer, he soon learned that cold winds howled round it in 
winter and that Wheatland's equipment suited it far better for summer 
than for winter living. He installed a new furnace, put in a new kitchen, 
had bookcases built, and enjoyed for the first time in his life the novelty 
of house renovation. 

By the end of his first year, he had become thoroughly delighted 
with his new life, and he assumed with pride and gratification the title which 
politics now bestowed upon him: "The Sage of Wheatland." To Eliza 
Watterson he wrote, "We proceed in the same e jbhn Trot 9 style as when 
you were here, without your charming society to enliven the dullness of a 
winter in the country." He took great pleasure in sleighing, and many a 
crisp wintry morning when the snow crunched underfoot the horses came 
prancing down the lane of Wheatland, their bells ajingling, to take him for 
a trot out the Marietta Pike. But even more he liked the company of a few 
congenial spirits with whom he could crack a bottle of Madeira, talk freely, 
and "have a cozy time in the country." 



In the springtime he made it a practice to get up with the sun to 
enjoy the cool beauty of the day's first hours. "The place now begins to 
look beautiful," he wrote in April, "and we have concerts of birds every 
morning." In summer the house and grounds came alive with children 
and young people encouraged by Harriet Lane, now a vivacious and 
beautiful young lady of nineteen, who lived at Wheatland and became the 
focal point of social activities there. She liked children and welcomed 
those of the neighborhood: Anna, Ella and Eddie Gable, Sue Ripley, and 
others. They hunted eggs in the barn, went on straw rides, knocked peaches 
and pears from the trees with sticks, or invaded the kitchen for fresh-made 
apple pie and milk. It pleased Harriet to go into town with her uncle and 
call at his favorite tavern, The Grapes, on North Queen Street where, 
shortly after their arrival, "the boys" would casually start dropping in. 1 

Buchanan visited on Harriet all the care and affection and disci- 
pline of a doting father on a favorite child, and she responded with love 
and pride, although she chafed at the firm restraints he placed on her 
impetuosity. When she was fourteen, soon after becoming his ward, he 
wrote to her: "I would give almost anything in the world for a niece whom 
all could love for her amiability & all respect for her intelligence, nor 
would I be severe in my requisitions." Harriet came to doubt the last 
phrase, but could not deny that Uncle James, or "Nunc" as she playfully 
called him, gave her nearly all a young girl could desire. During her 
vacations from school, while he was in the State Department, he sent her 
on summer vacations with various of his friends, the Walkers, the Ban- 
crofts, the Pleasantons, Adele Cutts, the Plitts and others to the fashionable 
resorts at Rockaway Beach, Saratoga Springs and Bedford. 

After her first visit to Bedford Springs with her uncle, he expressed 
his regret that he had given permission, disapproving of her "keen relish 
for the enjoyments there." He turned down her request to spend Christmas 
with him in Washington because "it would turn the head of almost any girl 
your age to engage in the dissipations of this city & particularly one of 
your ardor for pleasure. Your day will come. . . . After your education 
shall have been completed & your conduct approved by me, ... I shall be 
most happy to aid in introducing you to the world in the best manner.** 
At the moment she was in a scrape at school for having started a "clan- 
destine correspondence" with a boy she met at Bedford. Her teacher had 
intercepted and destroyed his letters and she, too, vetoed the Washington 
trip. "With Harriet's peculiarity of temper," she wrote, "indulgence is 
subversive of all discipline . . ., one gratification excites a wish for a second 
until the exactions become wholly unreasonable." 2 

In 1846, Buchanan brought Harriet to the Convent School at 
Georgetown. "Your religious principles are doubtless so well settled that 
you will not become a nun," he assured her. "My labors are great; but 



they do not way me down as you write the word. Now I would say 
weigh; but Doctors differ on this point." 

Shortly after Buchanan moved into Wheatland, Harriet came of 
age and into her inheritance. For a time she travelled about, spending 
weeks with friends in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. She charmed 
everyone she met, from crusty old Davy Lynch in Pittsburgh to Martin 
Van Buren, who took her to dinner in Philadelphia and drank her health 
first at a formal party. His son, debonair "Prince John/' paid her active 
court, but soon was left far behind in the crush of her admirers. Buchanan 
began to refer to her lovers in groups of three to keep it simpler, but he 
worried much about her making a suitable marriage. 

As Harriet turned twenty-one, he gave her counsel which he 
repeated at intervals for the next ten years: "I wish now to give you a 
caution. Never allow your affections to become interested or engage your- 
self to any person without my previous advice. You ought never to marry 
any man to whom you are not attached; but you ought never to marry any 
person who is not able to afford you a decent & immediate support. In 
my experience, I have witnessed the long years of patient misery & de- 
pendence which fine women have endured from rushing precipitately into 
matrimonial connexions without sufficient reflection. Look ahead & 
consider the future & act wisely in this particular." 3 

Harriet's brothers were now on their own. James B. Lane ran 
a mercantile business in Lancaster and had acquired wealth. Elliot Eskridge 
Lane also lived in Lancaster, boarding around the town and helping his 
uncle and his brother, by turns, until he should decide upon a profession. 
Harriet's older sister, Mary Elizabeth Speer Lane, lived with the Plitts in 
Philadelphia, and in 1848 married George W. Baker. She stayed for a 
while in Lancaster until her husband went to California with the 49'ers. 
Buchanan was delighted to learn that she had turned out to be "a grand 
housekeeper. . . . There is no spectacle more agreeable to me than that 
of a young married woman properly sensible of the important duties of 
her station/' 4 

Sister Maria, of Meadville, had two children and little money. 
Her son James Buchanan Yates held an appointment on board a revenue 
cutter. Her daughter by the first marriage, Jessie Magaw, married a young 
man named Weaver who had no job. Uncle James hired him as a clerk in 
the State Department, getting him a salary equal to those who had served 
there for a decade by the device of promoting an $800 raise for the others. 
Upon retiring from the Department, Buchanan urged his successor, 
John M. Clayton, to retain Weaver, to which Clayton replied: "as to 
young Weaver, he minds his business and will be contented & happy, 
provided his great uncle will let him alone." 5 



James Buchanan Henry, orphan son of sister Harriet, was seven 
years old when Buchanan became his guardian. Until now, he had lived 
in the King Street house in Lancaster cared for by Miss Hetty. All of his 
uncle's diplomacy failed to induce the youngster to eat vegetables. Bu- 
chanan promised him a magic lantern for Christmas, and young James replied 
in childish scrawl: "I am trying hard for it & think it will please you when 
you hear that I eat vegetables/' but the flesh proved weak. Three years 
later, he still had made no progress. Buchanan wrote Harriet from Wash- 
ington: "James Henry is here. I intend to commence with him tomorrow 
& make him eat vegetables or he shall have no meat. I have not yet 
determined on a school for him." He later sent Buchanan Henry to Prince- 
ton and in 1851 arranged to have him study law under John Cadwalader 
of Philadelphia. 6 

Brother Edward jealously resented James's wealth and rarely 
visited him, although his children often summered at Wheatland and had 
a wonderful time. Edward dutifully named one of his boys after his 
famous uncle, but this was no longer a novelty. Forney did likewise, and 
Dr. Foltz, and James M. Hopkins among many others. 

In 1851 the students of Dickinson College called upon the ex- 
Secretary of State to negotiate a peace treaty between them and the College 
administration after an incident had provoked a mass dismissal of the 
junior class. Buchanan, acting as mediator, extracted from the outraged 
students a pledge of good behavior and from the faculty a retraction of the 
penalty. In 1853 when Marshall College in Mercersburg merged with 
Franklin College at Lancaster, Buchanan accepted the presidency of the 
Board of Trustees of the new institution, gave $1,000 to it, and spent con- 
siderable time helping to select a suitable location in Lancaster for the 
campus. His renewed associations with academic people led him to expand 
his library and to do more reading. He at last had time to look at the five 
volume Life of Washington by Jared Sparks, and to study Madison's newly 
published notes on the Constitutional Convention and Elliott's Debates on 
its ratification. He dipped into the works of Byron and read a good many 
of Sir Walter Scott's novels and the writings of Charles Dickens. 

Buchanan could not forsee it, but these days of temporary 
political retirement at Wheatland were to be the happiest and most carefree 
of his life. His prestige was secure, his friends loyal and confident, and his 
future bright. The world caine to his door, constantly filling Wheatland 
with gay society and the fascinating discussion of politics. He had money 
to spare, a good appetite, and a wonderful vaulted wine cellar fit for the 
vintages he now began to collect with the appreciation of a connoisseur. 

The press often commented upon his "resisting power against 
the fumes of intoxicating drinks," He performed feats that would have 
startled the statistician. "The Madeira and sherry that he has consumed 



would fill more than one old cellar," wrote Forney, who was a good judge 
of such matters, "and the rye whiskey that he has 'punished' would make 
Jacob Baer's heart glad." The wine was none of your thin potations, but 
stout and heady; wine that "would make an old British sea captain weep 
joyful tears." He was no single bottle man, either. He would dispose of 
two or three at a sitting, beginning with a stiff jorum of cognac and finishing 
off with a couple of glasses of old rye. "And then the effect of it! There 
was no head ache, no faltering steps, no flushed cheek. Oh, no! All was 
as cool, as calm and as cautious and watchful as in the beginning. More 
than one ambitious tyro who sought to follow his ... example gathered an 
early fall." 7 

When his stock ran low, Buchanan could use the Sunday drive 
to church as an excuse for a trip to Jacob Baer's distillery for a ten-gallon 
cask of "Old J. B. Whiskey," which he considered finer than the best 
Monongahela. He also liked the name and enjoyed the comments of 
guests who thought that the initials stood for James Buchanan. 

When Miss Hetty began to entertain gentleman friends, and a 
Mr. Evans bid fair to capture her excellent services, Buchanan again 
thought about marrying, though we do not know the lady he had in mind. 
Possibly it was Mrs. Benson, Mrs. Catron's pretty niece, whom he regarded 
highly at the moment. "Should Miss Hetty marry Mr. Evans," he confided 
to Harriet, "I shall bring this matter to a speedy conclusion one way or the 
other. I shall then want a housekeeper, as you would not be fit to superin- 
tend; and whose society would be so charming as that of-." 8 

But rich and satisfying as were the maintenance of a family 
homestead and the epicurean delights of the life of a country squire, 
politics absorbed Buchanan's deepest interest and thought. 


The gold rush and California's application for admission as a free State in 
1849 brought the slavery issue again to the forefront in Congress. The 
Free-Soilers and many Whigs favored excluding slavery from the remaining 
territories by Congressional mandate based on the Wilmot Proviso. Most 
of the Democrats preferred the doctrine of popular sovereignty, which 
denied by implication the right of Congress to legislate on slavery in the 
territories. Buchanan thought Congress should act by extending the 
Missouri Compromise line to California, thus prohibiting slavery north of 
36 30' and leaving the problem south of that line "to be decided by the 
people." He had formally proposed this solution in his Harvest Home 
letter of August, 1847. Southern extremists demanded federal protection 
of slave property in all of the territories, while a good many people of all 



sections and parties hoped that the Supreme Court might finally decide 
the status of slavery in the territories. 

Congress had been bringing new states and territories into the 
Union at a record pace during the previous four years. It had admitted 
Florida and Texas to statehood in 1845, Iowa in 1846 and Wisconsin in 
1848, but Oregon proved a stumbling block and California a major crisis 
because of the slavery question. The bill to organize Oregon as a free 
territory, introduced in January, 1847, touched off a long and acrimonious 
debate that lasted until August, 1848. A year later, when the Californians 
set up a free state government and applied for admission, skipping entirely 
the territorial stage, neither Congress nor the country was in a frame of 
mind to consider the petition calmly. The South feared that it would now 
lose the traditional balance of free and slave states in the Senate and fall 
into the status of a perpetual minority. This risk it refused to take, and 
declared that California should not be admitted unless the South got 
guarantees which a hostile majority would have to respect: adequate 
provision for the return of fugitive slaves; continuance of slavery in the 
District of Columbia; and the right of southerners to carry their slave 
property into at least some of the territories. 

The Thirty-first Congress, which was almost evenly divided 
between Democrats and Whigs, met in December 1849 and prepared to 
seek an adjustment of the slavery question. Failure would bring disunion. 
Both sides joined in deadly battle from the very outset, casting sixty-three 
ballots before they could elect a Speaker. Buchanan participated indirectly 
in the fight to organize the House, strongly pushing for Speaker young 
Howell Cobb, a Union Democrat from Georgia, and supporting Forney for 
Clerk. Forney reported that terrible scenes were enacted. Congressmen 
shouted Cf Liar" at each other on the floor and exchanged challenges to duel. 
"I fear the crisis is at hand, as you have so long predicted," he wrote to 
Buchanan. The southerners declared "that they would secede if the 
Wilmot Proviso were passed." 9 Cobb at length won and Forney lost, but 
slavery had dominated the organizational proceedings to the 1 extent that 
even the opinions of the doorkeeper had to be investigated. 

After Congressional debates that lasted throughout the spring 
of 1850, Henry day reported out of committee the Senate plan of compro- 
mise. This proposed that California should be admitted as a free state; that 
Congress should enact a stricter fugitive slave law; that New Mexico and 
Utah should be admitted as territories whose inhabitants would decide about 
slavery at the time of application for statehood; that the slave trade in the 
District of Columbia should be abolished; and that the Texas boundary 
should be reduced, in exchange for federal assumption of the Texan debt. 



In June southern fire-eaters, meeting at Nashville to discuss 
secession, displayed such division of opinion about the proposed compro- 
mise that they weakened the effect of their earlier threats. In July, 
President Taylor, an opponent of the compromise measures, suddenly died, 
His successor, Millard Fillmore, supported them. Friends of the compro- 
mise worked energetically in its hehalf, none more effectively than Senator 
Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois who had earlier preferred the Missouri line 
proposal. By the end of September the plan had been passed in the form 
of separate acts of Congress which Fillmore speedily signed. Many people 
believed that the crisis had passed. 

James Buchanan was not one of these. Throughout the contest 
he had been in and out of Washington for conferences and had been writing 
letters incessantly to leaders in the Senate. 10 He had condemned the course 
of Democratic editors, like Ritchie of the Washington Union, for singing 
the siren song that "all will be well." "My firm conviction is," he told 
Dr. Foltz, "that in four years from this time the union will not be in 
existence as it now exists. There will be two Republics , . . there will be 
no civil war. ... I sincerely and fervently hope I am [wrong], but such 
are my deliberate opinions. Nous verrons." 11 

Few northerners, for example, knew that the moment California 
entered as a free state, the Governor of Georgia, in obedience to an act of 
the Legislature, had to call a convention to consider secession. South 
Carolina was pressing Virginia to join her in issuing resolutions in favor 
of secession. Buchanan gave effective support to John A. Parker who 
played a leading role in side-tracking this movement in the Virginia Legis- 
lature in 1850. 12 Two days after California became a state, a rump session 
of the Nashville Convention denounced the Compromise of 1850 and 
asserted the right of secession. 

Buchanan had to announce his own position on the compromise 
measures in preparation for the presidential race of 1852. He thought 
that Congress had both the right and the duty to define the status of slavery 
in the federal territories, a view he maintained in opposition to the Demo- 
cratic party platform of 1848, the Nicholson letter, General Cass's speeches, 
and formal declarations of the Pennsylvania Democratic caucus. Buchanan 
contended that the Constitution assigned to Congress power over the 
territories. Congress had asserted its rightful power in the Missouri 
Compromise and ought to keep control. In the vast reaches of the West, 
without settled communities and the means of law enforcement, there was 
not the slightest possibility that slavery could take root. If the inhabitants 
voted, they would vote slavery out; if they did not vote, the slaves would 
clear out themselves. The same result would follow whether the Wilmot 
Proviso, the extended Missouri Compromise line or popular sovereignty 
became law. No kind of legislative mandate could establish slavery in such 



a region; economics and not politics would kill it. But Congress could 
declare the right of the South to migrate with slaves to part of the federal 
domain, and such legislation would have the advantage of abating the 

current agitation. 

Southerners, in the tentative exercise of their right to carry 
slaves west, would find out for themselves the economic ineffectiveness of 
slavery outside the cotton and rice belt. Such a discovery, proceeding 
from the experience of southerners, would undermine the slave system 
and gradually confine it to South Carolina and the Gulf Coast states where, 
at last, it would succumb to overwhelming public pressure no longer 
entirely sectional. By the extension of the Missouri line, the South would 
have its "rights," but slavery would not be extended except experimentally. 
The experiment would bring in no new slave state but rather prove con- 
clusively that slavery could not endure in the West. This economic 
determinist view underestimated the potency of the white-supremacist 
dogma among southerners. 

But Congressional abdication of control, as proposed by the 
popular sovereignty doctrine of Cass and now written into the Utah and 
New Mexico territorial laws would, Buchanan feared, raise the devil. 
Congressional nonintervention would only establish new fighting zones in 
the West where the opposing parties would go to war over slavery during 
the period of territorial status. Since the question of right was left un- 
defined, slavery would exist or not exist as a result of might, as a result of 
the power of whatever local force could subdue the opposition in any 
territory. Southerners would demand federal protection from attacks on 
their property in the territories; antislavery settlers would claim that the 
question was local and no business of Congress; the abolitionists would 
provoke atrocities; and the combination of excitements would inflame 
sectional passions and consume the nation. 

Much as he disliked the popular sovereignty provisions of the 
Compromise of 1850, Buchanan acknowledged the need for some kind of 
settlement. He told Clancy Jones, "I have passed a month in Washington. 
. The deep and bitter feeling among the Southern members in regard 
to the Slavery question cannot be justly appreciated except by those on 
the spot, and not even by them unless admitted behind the scenes." 13 To 
his friend J. M. Read he confided that the southerners "say with truth, 
that whilst the agitation of the Slave question in the North may be sport 
to us, it may also prove death to them ... the feeling of the South on this 
subject ... is not a political feeling; but one that is domestic & self- 
preserving." 14 

After the adoption of the compromise, Buchanan met the mount- 
ing public demand for his opinion of it in a letter to a Democratic meeting 
in Philadelphia on November 19, 1850. He took no direct issue with the 



compromise, but by restricting himself to an attack upon the continued 
agitation of the slavery issue and a plea for obedience to the Fugitive Slave 
Law he expressed by implication his lack of confidence in the agreement of 
1850. The fanatical abolitionists, he said, had wrought more damage to 
the Negro, both slave and free, in North and South, than any group in the 
nation. They had postponed the course of regular and constitutional 
emancipation, raised anti-Negro sentiment in the North, forced more 
rigorous control of slaves and free Negroes in the South, and brought the 
Union into imminent peril. "They have done infinite mischief," he said, 
and by their fanatical folly had prevented the achievement of the very 
result they claimed to seek. 

He pointed out that the new Fugitive Slave Law was exactly the 
same as the law of 1793 except that its enforcement now became the re- 
sponsibility of federal instead of state officers. He hoped the North would 
faithfully enforce it, for it was all that the South had salvaged from the 
entire compromise. Buchanan concluded with an impassioned plea for 
the Union, "this, the grandest and most glorious temple which has ever 
been erected to political freedom on the face of the earth!" 16 

This letter constituted Buchanan's opening bid for the presidential 
nomination in 1852. A week after its publication, he wrote to Robert Tyler: 
"I have rarely known anything to take as my letter to the Union meeting 
has done. Every mail brings me papers from the South containing favorable 
notices of it & some of them speak in very strong terms in regard to the 
Presidency. . . . Letters from Washington speak confidentially of my 
prospects. If the Pennsylvania Democracy were anything like unanimous, 
there could, I think, be no doubt of the result." 16 

Buchanan anticipated that Lewis Cass would be his most for- 
midable rival. Therefore he had to make a clear distinction between his 
position and that of Cass on the compromise, not an easy task. A strong 
movement had developed within both Whig and Democratic parties to lay 
to rest the slavery issue by declaring the recent compromise a "finality." 
Buchanan the statesman acknowledged that the country needed a period 
of calm after the storm of 1850; but Buchanan the politician distrusted 
popular sovereignty and declined to endorse this panacea devised by his 
chief competitor. While he determined not to attack the Compromise of 
1850 outright, explaining that he saw no prospect of an early modification 
of it, he did express doubts that popular sovereignty would work, and 
stated that it would give the southerners no protection of slavery in the 
territories. Southern extremists applauded this view and flocked to 
Buchanan's standard; he welcomed their support though he had no sym- 
pathy with their secessionist talk. 

When Union Whigs and Democrats invited Buchanan to par- 
ticipate in a great "peace meeting" at Baltimore where the delegates 



proposed to banish the slavery question from the 1852 canvass by jointly 
accepting the Compromise of 1850 as final, he declined. Nothing would 
be worse, he thought, than a bipartisan agreement on slavery at this 
moment, for such a jointure would stimulate the formation of sectional 
factions based on the slavery issue in both the North and the South, 
exactly the result he had been trying to prevent. Let the Whigs and 
Democrats remain enemies on the old, traditional ground that had divided 
them from the beginning. The Democrats stood for strict construction 
of the Constitution and the reserved rights of the states. The Whigs stood 
for consolidated central government. Let them fight the campaign on this 
issue which transcended sectionalism and would emphasize the national 
scope of each party. 

At length, Buchanan recognized that his continued endorsement 
of the 36 30' line cast him in the role of an opponent of the Compromise 
of 1850 and threatened his chances of nomination. Although he remained 
convinced that popular sovereignty would break down the first time it got 
a practical trial, he saw no alternative except to let the trial proceed. 
Then, perhaps, the nation would learn its lesson and adopt the other plan. 
In February, 1852, Buchanan told a public meeting: "The Compromise 
measures are now a 'finality' those who opposed them honestly and 
powerfully, and who still believe them to be wrong, having patriotically 
determined to acquiesce in them for the sake of the Union." 


On the Pennsylvania front, Cameron declared open war on Buchanan. He 
cultivated anti-Catholic prejudice to raise a Protestant counterweight to 
Buchanan's Irish vote, agitated antislavery excitement, and cried out for 
a high protective tariff. He gained influence in the Dallas faction, added 
Congressman Richard Brodhead to his bag, and persuaded his followers to 
elect Whigs to the State Senate. Buchanan wrote that Cameron had done 
him more political injury than "any man living." 17 

In the Pennsylvania Democratic convention to nominate a 
governor in 1851, however, Buchanan's friends won a victory for their 
candidate, William Bigler, against the Cameron favorite. On the other hand, 
the Pennsylvania Legislature named Richard Brodhead to fill Sturgeon's 
senatorial seat. The other Pennsylvania Senator, James Cooper, had been 
elected by the triumphant Whigs in 1849. Thus, in the Senate, Buchanan 
had to contend with a Whig and a Cameron lieutenant, a difficult plight for 
a presidential aspirant claiming to be the "favorite son" of his state. 18 

The campaign for the governorship of Pennsylvania in 1851 
engrossed the interest of the nation and became the subject of excited 
editorials throughout the land because of the Christiana Riot of September 



11. At this little village in southern Lancaster County, a group of Negroes 
and local whites prevented a United States Marshal from serving papers dn 
a fugitive slave, shot the slaveowner and assaulted others of the official 
party. Buchanan, in all his recent speeches, had warned that the effec- 
tiveness of the Compromise of 1850 depended upon the willingness of 
northerners to abide faithfully by the terms of the new Fugitive Slave Law. 
Now, twenty miles from Wheatland, Pennsylvanians had committed 
murder and interfered with agents of the Federal government who had 
sought only to enforce the law. A student of the event wrote, "Many 
Americans felt the Christiana Riot tested crucial matters: the sanctity of 
law; the existence of peace and order; the ethical course of the country; 
and the very existence of the nation." 

Extremist newspapers, north and south, printed frenzied edi- 
torials to voice their views. The Lancaster Saturday Express headlined: 
"Civil War The First Blow Struck," and called the Christiana affray the 
"murder fruit" of the horrid "tree of slavery." Southern journals charac- 
terized the riot as "wanton," "atrocious," "horrible," "a most foul and 
damning outrage," and said that if northerners were going to shoot down 
slaveholders "like wild beasts," they would have to leave the Union. But 
most papers hoped, like the New Orleans Picayune, that the "sober and 
conservative spirit" which had always distinguished Pennsylvania in 
sectional crises would "crush within her borders the desperate faction 
whose teachings have produced and encouraged these lawless acts." The 
Christiana Riot gave national significance to the forthcoming state election. 

Bigler's opponent, William F. Johnston, represented the views 
of Seward and Scott who favored the Wilmot Proviso, desired a repeal of 
the Fugitive Slave Law, and welcomed agitation of the slavery issue. Wrote 
Buchanan, "The eyes of every true patriot in the Nation will look ... to 
the result in Pennsylvania. Should her people . . . re-elect Johnston, this 
would be a fatal index." Bigler's election in October, Buchanan believed, 
did more "to tranquilize the South, to restore peace & harmony between 
the Slave and the non-slave-holding States & to preserve the Union, than 
any event which has occurred since the commencement of the unfortunate 
agitation." 19 

Bigler's victory proved a powerful antidote to the rumors which 
Cameron had spread of Buchanan's inability to carry Pennsylvania and 
augured the selection of a strong Buchanan delegation to the Baltimore 
Convention, a delegation which would be named at a Harrisburg state 
convention on March 4. The usual local fights preceded this. In Berks 
County, a meeting unanimously rejected a resolution in Buchanan's favor. 
"Just the thing for Brodhead to frank around," wrote Buchanan with a 
grimace. 20 In Philadelphia, the Buchaneers moved an amendment to a 
Cass resolution, substituting Buchanan's name. The chairman put the 



motion to a voice vote, declared the amendment carried without any 
marked evidence to support his decision, received a motion to adjourn, and 

' ' " ' *~ " ,who 

got a piece of his coat but no endorsement of their candidate. 21 

At Harrisburg, the convention gave Buchanan 94 votes; Cass, 31; 
Sam Houston, 2; and Robert J. Walker, 2. On a motion to make it unani- 
mous for Buchanan, the vote came out 103 yea and 30 nay. The next day 
Buchanan sat down at his desk and wrote in his "Little Black Book" the 
name of every delegate to Harrisburg, endorsing after each the letter "B" 
or "C" (Buchanan or Cass), and to make sure he would never forget the 
traitors, he made an entry four pages later headed ''Protesters at the 4 
March Convention, 1852," under which he wrote again the names of the 
thirty whom Cameron controlled. 22 But a ray of sunshine broke through 
in the decision that the majority would impose the unit rule at Baltimore. 
Buchanan could therefore announce to the world that he went into the 
Baltimore convention with the solid support of the delegation of his home 
state. Privately he predicted that "the Cameron clique will resort to every 
trick to diminish the force of the State nomination," and these rebellious 
delegates, "while instructed to support me, will stab me under the fifth rib 
whenever an opportunity may offer." 23 

In many other states Buchanan had not exactly an organization 
but a coterie of friends who actively campaigned for him. Anyone who 
reads Folk's diary will gather from it the impression that his Cabinet had 
no very high regard for Buchanan; yet most of its members joined the effort 
to nominate him in 1852: Clifford of Maine, Toucey of Connecticut, 
Bancroft of Massachusetts, Mason of Virginia, and Johnson of Tennessee. 
Walker stood off, but Marcy would have come along except for the fact that 
the New York Barnburners fired his own ambition for the nomination as a 
means of bringing themselves back into the party. Slidell thought Buchanan 
ought to come to Saratoga in the summer for missionary work among the 
New Yorkers, but this he declined to do. 2 * 

The state conventions in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Tennessee and 
Alabama favored Buchanan, but there the good news stopped. California 
and Maryland rejected him and New Jersey, because of a local fight, went 
for Cass. In Louisiana Slidell, in order to defeat the Soute forces who 
were pledged to Douglas, had to join the Cass men. 25 

Virginia held the key. Here Buchanan's friend, John A. Parker, 
persuaded Henry A. Wise, the energetic, hot-headed leader of the dominant 
Democratic faction in the Old Dominion, to back Buchanan. Wise saw 
in him a means to combat his rival, R. M. T. Hunter, who ran with the 
fire-eaters and supported Douglas. If Virginia did not support Buchanan 
at Baltimore, Wise said he would "break up the Democratic organization 
in the State." 26 John Y. Mason, Thomas Ritchie and other Virginia 



worthies worked with Wise, but Buchanan felt that so much depended upon 
success here that he visited Richmond for a few days in the spring of 1852, 

When he learned that Cameron had sent several deputies to 
Richmond, he dispatched Lynch and David R. Porter to the scene. They 
arrived and helped Wise run the meeting, which proved something of a job 
as most of the county delegates had never attended such a gathering before 
and had no idea what to do. Wise almost destroyed his own plans by 
demanding a pledged Virginia delegation, contrary to all prior party pro- 
cedure, but he soon backed down and delivered to Buchanan an unpledged 
delegation friendly to him. Lynch had to write to Buchanan for money to 
get out of Richmond, and with the $40 he received proceeded to Washing- 
ton. From there he wrote: "Your friends have no organization in this 
place. The friends of all the other candidates have." 27 

This news stimulated Buchanan to more letter writing. He 
sought in this last month before the nomination, to convince the friends 
of Douglas that their hero could not possibly win in 1852, but that he could 
be chosen in 1856 if he supported Buchanan now. Buchanan warned that 
Cass could never win Pennsylvania, and if nominated he would be sure 
to lose the election. 

Delegates poured into Washington during the last two weeks of 
May to sniff the political atmosphere before going to Baltimore where the 
nominating convention would open on June 1. There the motley crowd 
overflowed all the hotels. People slept where they could, if not in beds 
then on bare boards. It had recently dawned on some states that by sending 
large delegations they might carry added influence through sheer mass. 
Pennsylvania had doubled its delegation, and Virginia sent 69 delegates to 
cast 15 votes. On opening day nearly 700 delegates scrambled for the 
296 chairs. 

By the next morning the local arrangements committee had 
provided adequate seating facilities, and the convention finally got under- 
way with its organization. Buchanan's supporters fought a motion to 
ballot immediately for the nominees, demanding that the platform should 
be submitted for adoption first, for they wished to make every candidate 
toe the line on details of the Compromise of 1850. 'But the convention, 
155 to 123, decided to name the candidate first, and then to endow him with 
principles. Cass led on the early ballots, and Buchanan ran second with 
between 90 and 100 votes. Douglas and Marcy had 20 or 30 each, and 
half a dozen favorite sons polled scattering votes. By Friday, Cass had 
declined and Douglas had strengthened his position, but no decision seemed 
near. Then John W. Davis, chairman, after a heated debate, ruled that 
each delegation might retain or reject the unit rule, as it saw fit. 

After this ruling, Buchanan jumped to the top with 104 votes; 
Cass dropped down to 33; Douglas came up to 80, and Marcy held on to his 



New York votes. Here the procession stopped. Buchanan's friends begged, 
bargained, and bullied to get Marcy to lend a hand and push the Buchanan 
band wagon, but the New Yorkers refused, feeling sure that Buchanan could 
not go further without them. After this, Buchanan's poll declined, and his 
bid collapsed. Hearing the news in Lancaster, he immediately wrote to 
Porter, the head of his delegation: "From the result of the ballotings 
yesterday, I deem it highly improbable that I shall receive the nomination." 
He thanked his friends, declined positively to be considered as vice- 
president, and announced his determination to go into final retirement 

without regret. 28 

Meanwhile Douglas went through the cycle, neared 100 votes, 
and then came down. Cass, down to 27, made a comeback to 131 votes, 
but could get no more. Marcy then began to climb, running his score of 
votes to 98 on the forty-sixth ballot. New York now came in sackcloth and 
ashes to beg Pennsylvania and Virginia for Buchanan's votes, but received 
stony glares and curses, punctuated by tobacco juice. The Buchaneers had 
already decided the next move: to bring in by easy stages the name of 
Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire. On the forty-ninth ballot, the under- 
cover work of the Pierce men, supported by Buchanan delegations, came 
into play. After a number of small states had voted for Pierce, the delega- 
tions from New York, Indiana, and Pennsylvania retired to caucus. At 
the critical moment, Pennsylvania returned to cast for Pierce the ballots 
that pinned down his nomination. By the time the roll call was complete, 
Pierce had amassed 282 of the 296 convention votes. 29 

Buchanan and his friends collected their reward in the nomina- 
tion of William R. King of Alabama as vice-president. It constituted more 
a personal tribute than a political triumph, for King had an incurable 
disease which made it nearly certain that he would not survive another 

Dejected, Davy Lynch wrote that "if New York had not acted 
the c Dog in the Manger' you would have been the nominee." 80 At Wheat- 
land, the Sage sat at his desk reading scores of letters of condolence, and 
drafting appropriate replies. Of these, his remarks to Robert Tyler con- 
tained the gist of all: "I have received your favor of yesterday, condoling 
me on my defeat. You ought rather to congratulate me on the ability, 
devotion & energy of my friends. They have fought a good fight & have 
deserved success. It was not their fault if they could not command it. 
For the first time, I have had a fair trial & have been fairly defeated .... 
I give you now your final discharge after long, able & faithful service, but 
live in the hope that I may yet be able to manifest my gratitude to you by 
something more decisive than words." 31 





Buchanan took little part in the contest between Franklin Pierce and 
Winfield Scott until the autumn of 1852 when the activities of the Free- 
Soilers threatened to upset the interparty truce on slavery and split the 
Pennsylvania Democrats. The publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 
vivid and inflammatory novel, Unck TonCs Cabin, during the campaign, 
the Christiana Riot, and the Free-Soil convention at Pittsburgh, which 
nominated John P. Hale for president on a platform that "Slavery is a sin 
against God and a crime against man," fanned the slavery question in the 
Keystone State to white heat. 

Some of Buchanan's friends advised him to remain aloof. "Avoid 
the crowd," they urged, "and in the dark hour . . . you will be brought in 
'to calm the troubled waters & allay the storm'. . . . Much evil will grow 
out of the Pittsburgh Convention, and four years hence, you will be 
wanted." 1 

But Buchanan felt otherwise. In September he presided at a 
Democratic rally at Reading, Pennsylvania, sharing the platform with 
Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Governor Bigler, and visiting worthies from 
Massachusetts, Maryland, and Tennessee. 2 In October he addressed a 
mass meeting at Greensburg where, in a ninety-minute speech, he assailed 
Scott and warned against "elevating to the highest civil trust the commander 
of your victorious armies." General Scott and the northern Whigs had 
been hedging on their pledge to respect the finality of the 1850 Compromise, 
and some of them insisted on repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, regardless 
of the consequences. Buchanan hit the keynote of the Democratic cam- 
paign when he said, "I view the finality of the Compromise as necessary to 

the peace and preservation of the Union The great political question 

... is, ... will the election of Scott, or the election of Pierce, contribute 
most to maintain the finality of the Compromise?" 3 

Franklin Pierce won the presidency, carrying all but four states. 



Pierce had great personal charm but little administrative experience. 
Affable and sincere, he tried earnestly to please and made promises in the 
enthusiasm of the moment which later he either forgot in the press of 
events or found impossible to fulfill. The forty-eight-year-old president 
represented the "Young America" wing of the Democrats and hoped to 
free his party from the control of the "Old Fogies." 

Before the inauguration, Pierce asked Buchanan for counsel on 
the launching of the new Administration. His letter had the ring of the 
dedicated young man seeking advice from the elder statesman, but it 
contained one peculiar sentence. "I think," Pierce wrote, "I am expected 
to call around me Gentlemen who have not hitherto occupied Cabinet 
positions." This plan not only excluded Buchanan but rejected his entire 
leadership, for it ostracized the whole Polk Cabinet. Buchanan advised 
Pierce not to take the "Young America" idea so seriously as to abandon 
all the experienced men of the party. This action "could not be very 
gratifying to any of them," and would appear to be an intentional rebuke 
to the Polk Administration. Buchanan counselled delay in choosing the 
Cabinet and disagreed with Pierce's proposal to incorporate all political 
viewpoints in it. "7%e Cabinet," he said, "ought to be a unit. . . . General 
Jackson, penetrating as he was, did not discover this truth, until compelled 
to dissolve his first Cabinet on account of its heterogeneous & discordant 
materials." He recommended either Judge James Campbell or David R. 
Porter as the Pennsylvanians who most deserved a Cabinet post.* 

It suddenly occurred to the Sage of Wheatland that he was 
getting old. He enjoyed joking about himself as a "Middle-Aged Fogy," 
but he now wrote to Forney: "I am surely becoming an old fogy and have 
got far behind the rapid march of the age." 6 His teeth bothered him, and 
he had suffered the worst bilious attack of his life just before the election. 
Staying at hotels aggravated him, and travel wore him out. ce l am rapidly 
becoming a petrifaction," he told saucy Eliza Watterson. "In truth I 
daily become more and more fond of my retirement, and always feel 
reluctant to leave home, though this I am often compelled to do." 6 He 
was already more than threescore, and had lived longer than his father. 
It seemed a long while since anyone had called him "Jimmy"; now he was 
"Old Buck." 

The winter dragged on and there was no word from Pierce about 
Cabinet appointments or policies. Not until after the inaugural address, 
in which the only Buchanan influence seemed to be a statement that the 
Administration would "not be controlled by any timid forebodings of evil 
from expansion," did the country at last learn who would form the Cabinet: 
William L. Marcy of New York would take the State Department; James 
Guthrie of Kentucky, the Treasury; Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, "War; 
James C. Dobbin of North Carolina, Navy; Caleb Gushing of Massachusetts, 



the Attorney-Generalship; Robert McClelland of Michigan, Interior; and 
James Campbell of Pennsylvania, the Post Office. These men represented 
friends of all the prominent contenders of 1852 except Douglas. 

Buchanan was deluged with Pennsylvania requests for letters of 
recommendation to the president. His "Application Book'* for the spring 
of 1853 contains pages of names of applicants and the jobs they sought. 
But instead of appointments, Buchanan got disappointments. To Robert 
Tyler he wrote: "I urged the appointment of Governor Porter with all my 
might as collector; but my strong recommendations were disregarded by 
the President as they have been in every instance. . . . I not only recom- 
mended Porter, but opposed Brown. How, then, can I ask Brown for 
appointments for my friends? ... I expect daily to hear of the sacrifice of 
Van Dyke & the appointment of Dallas. I now know exactly my position. . . . 
I shall bear all philosophically, but take an outside seat & observe the 
Grand Drama." 7 


On the same day that he posted this letter, Buchanan received a note from 
Pierce asking him to accept the Mission to England. Obviously he could 
not, in view of the prior rejection of so many of his Pennsylvania friends, 
nor did he relish Marcy as his boss; but he could, perhaps, make some 
capital out of the offer. He sent a noncommittal reply. At dinner with 
Pierce and Slidell on April 8, Buchanan raised questions which had been 
disturbing him. Would not the important negotiations be conducted at 
Washington, as was customary? "No," Pierce replied. "It is my intention 
that you shall settle them all in London." 

"What will Governor Marcy say to your determination?" asked 


"I will control this matter myself," replied the president. 

Buchanan thought that this arrangement would create trouble, 
but Pierce disagreed. The Cabinet had understood that negotiations would 
center in London when they unanimously endorsed Buchanan. 

Buchanan then complained that "in all your appointments for 
Pennsylvania, you have not yet selected a single individual for any office 
for which I recommended him . . . and if I were now to accept the mission to 
London, they might with justice say that I had appropriated the lion's share 
to myself. ... I could not and would not place myself in this position." 
Pierce emphatically assured him that Pennsylvania would receive "not one 
appointment more or less" on account of the British mission, which would 
be considered "as an appointment for the whole country." 

With a clear understanding of all these matters, Buchanan felt 
inclined to accept the post, but on Sunday, when he learned that the Senate 



planned to adjourn the next day, he assumed that his name would not be 
proposed, probably because Marcy did not want to relinquish the negotia- 
tions. That noon Jefierson Davis told him that Pierce would make the 
appointment after adjournment, and the Senate would confirm it at the fall 
session. Buchanan immediately announced that he had no intention of 
departing on a mission without prior Senate confirmation. By evening 
couriers had spread word that Senators should not leave town but be on 
hand in the morning to transact business. Pierce sent in Buchanan's name, 
and the Senate confirmed the appointment on Monday morning. After 
another call on the president to make sure all arrangements were clear, 
Buchanan felt that he stood on solid ground. Pierce even approved on the 
spot his request to have his friend, John Appleton of Maine, for Secretary 

of Legation. 8 

After a few weeks had passed, Buchanan knew he had let himself 
in for a bad bargain. Pennsylvania got no appointments. His three 
strongest recommendations were all turned down on the ground that the 
London Mission filled the state quota for jobs. On May 17 he went to 
Washington. The president could not explain what had happened, but he 
did reaffirm the guarantee that Buchanan's job should not be counted as 
any part of the quota of Pennsylvania patronage. But Buchanan observed, 
"I had not been in Washington many days before I clearly discovered that 
the President and cabinet were intent upon his renomination and re- 

election It was easy to perceive that the object in appointments was 

to raise up a Pierce party, wholly distinct from the former Buchanan, Cass, 
and Douglas parties; . . . and I readily perceived . . . why my recommenda- 
tions had proved of so little avail." 9 

For several weeks, Buchanan worked daily in the State Depart- 
ment, conferring frequently with Marcy and occasionally with the president, 
and soon he began to suspect that neither intended to transfer negotiations 
to London. In fact, it became apparent to Buchanan that Marcy intended 
to keep for himself in Washington those negotiations which promised a 
successful conclusion, and to transfer to London questions which seemed 
hopeless of settlement. 

During June, Buchanan worked harder at diplomacy than ever 
in his life. Personally he wanted no part of a mission prearranged to fail, 
but neither did he want to sacrifice the chance for a full-scale settlement of 
the controversies with Great Britain merely to give Marcy the credit for 
concluding a few minor treaties. He went over the whole area of Anglo- 
American relations time after time with both Pierce and Marcy, protesting 
against handling some questions in Washington and others in London, and 
said he would stay home unless Pierce kept his promise to transfer negotia- 
tions to London. 

Three diplomatic questions pressed for attention. First, Great 



Britain, in defiance, Buchanan believed, of the Monroe Doctrine and of the 
Clay ton JBulwer Treaty, had seized the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras 
and established a protectorate of the Mosquito Coast in the vicinity of 
Greytown. These two points, insignificant as they looked on a map, com- 
manded the entrance to any isthmian canal which might be built across 
Nicaragua. Second, fighting threatened in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland 
over the rights of Americans and Englishmen to catch fish in coastal waters 
and dry them on uninhabited shores. Third, the British government wished 
to negotiate a reciprocal trade treaty between Canada and the United States. 
Marcy and Pierce wanted to use a treaty of reciprocity as the 
quid pro quo to achieve privileges for American fishermen and planned to 
conduct these negotiations at Washington. Buchanan could handle the 
Central American business in London. But he argued that Britain's foray 
into Central America constituted a breach of treaty and an insult to the 
national honor, and that prior abandonment of these colonies "ought to 
be a sine qua non in any negotiation on any subject with the British govern- 
ment." Said he: 

With what face could we ever hereafter present this question of 
violated faith and outraged national honor to the world against 
the British government if whilst, flagrante delicto, the wrong un- 
explained and unredressed, we should incorporate the British 
North American provinces, by treaty, into the American Union, 
so far as reciprocal trade is concerned? How could we, then, 
under any circumstances make this a casus belli? If a man has 
wronged and insulted me, and I take him into my family and 
bestow upon him the privileges of one of its members, without 
previous redress or explanation, it is then too late to turn around 
and make the original offense a serious cause for personal hos- 
tilities. 10 

Beyond this, he denied that fishing rights constituted an equiva- 
lent for a free-trade agreement with Canada. Let reciprocal trade be used 
as the lever to force England out of Central America, with war as the 
alternative if she should refuse to withdraw. As to fishing grounds, the 
United States had as much right to the ocean as England. 

Buchanan postponed his departure, released Appleton from his 
appointment as Secretary of Legation, and flooded the State Department 
and the White House with arguments, facts, international law, and threats 
to resign. Pierce neglected to answer some of the letters, but he continued 
to hold out the prospect that Buchanan might possibly be given the chance 
to run the show in London. 

Buchanan had not yet picked up his commission from the State 
Department. When Pierce ignored two of his letters in June asking for 



definite instructions, Buchanan wrote a third requesting that he be per- 
milled, "in case your enlightened judgment has arrived at the conclusion 
that Washington & not London ought to be the seat of the negotiations, 
most respectfully to decline the mission." Pierce answered, still keeping 
the door open. Finally, on July 7, Buchanan for the first time saw the 
instructions which had been drawn up for him. As he expected, he got 
only the Central American negotiation. Marcy would keep the leverage 
at Washington for his own purposes. 

Buchanan wrote back to Pierce that he wanted to confer with 
him during a forthcoming presidential visit to Philadelphia, and that in the 
meantime, he should look out "for some better man to take my place." 
But he had lost the game and knew it Marcy knew it, too. "Old bachelors 
as well -as young maidens do not always know their minds," he told Edward 
Everett. "If he ever meant to go he can assign no sufficient cause for 
changing his purpose." 11 Pierce said to Forney, who thought Buchanan 
ought to decline: "Why should he not go? The greater the obstacles 
thrown in his way, the greater will be his triumph when he succeeds." 12 
But to resign now would make Buchanan look like a querulous old man, 
quitting in a pet because he could not have everything his own way. Pierce 
had trapped him and there was no way out. He had given him a mission 
foredoomed to failure, robbed him of his patronage, and put a gag in his 
mouth. Had anyone ever been so taken to the market! 13 

The now vacant Secretaryship of Legation brought a request 
from Henry A. Wise who had first urged Buchanan's appointment and had 
his heart set on the selection of his son. Pierce had a different suggestion, 
and Henry W. Welsh also wanted the job. Forney learned to his amaze- 
ment that Daniel E. Sickles of New York would like to go to London. 
Sickles was a wealthy and influential Democrat, a "hard" Hunker, a good 
friend of the president, and had married a beautiful young wife. Buchanan 
interviewed him at Wheatland and within a week had him appointed. If 
he counted upon the pleasure of a cozy time with Mrs. Sickles in London 
he was destined to disappointment, however, for the new secretary left her 
at home and travelled abroad with his mistress, Fanny White. 14 

Buchanan turned his business affairs over to his nephew, Elliott 
Eskridge Lane of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, and James L. Reynolds of 
Lancaster, giving them power of attorney to handle some $150,000 in bonds, 
mortgages and stocks. Another $50,000 he assigned to his brother Edward, 
his nephew James B. Henry, and agents in New York and Washington. He 
kept smaller sums of ready cash on deposit with Riggs and Corcoran of 
Washington and the Chemical Bank of New York, and transferred some 
funds to Rothschild's in London. Having completed these arrangements, 
he informed his agents: "I believe I do not owe a debt in the world. . . . 
My pew rent in the Presbyterian Church is to be paid, this date." He had 



arranged to have tax payments made for James B. Henry and Harriet. 
She was to stay, first with friends in Virginia and later with the Plitts in 
Philadelphia, until he could bring her to London the following summer. 
Lane and Reynolds should give Miss Hetty any cash she requested for the 
care of Wheatland, should pay 7 per cent interest for any money put in 
their keeping by his brother or nephews, and collect at least 5 per cent on 
money put out on loan. 15 

Declining a farewell dinner in Lancaster, he left quietly on 
August 3, disappointed his Philadelphia friends by failing to stop to say 
goodbye to them, and proceeded straight to New York where he embarked 
on the steamer Atlantic. After a stormy passage of ten days, he arrived at 
Liverpool where the Legation Attach^ met him and took him to the Claren- 
don House in London. 

For the first week he could scarcely believe he was in England. 
Slidell was there, and John Ward of Boston, and Robb of New Orleans. 
With Ambassador Ingersoll and the New England philanthropist, George 
Peabody, Buchanan called on the Marchioness of Wellesley, the former 
Miss Caton of Baltimore, now residing at Hampton Court. She had two 
sisters, one of them now Lady Stafford and the other the Duchess of Leeds. 
Buchanan had known them all in earlier days when they were Baltimorean 
belles and through them gained an immediate entree into the circle of 
British nobility. On August 23 he went to the Isle of Wight with Ingersoll 
where the Earl of Clarendon, British Secretary of Foreign Affairs, presented 
him to Queen Victoria. 


Buchanan arrived in England just a week after Parliament had adjourned, 
and the nobility had already scattered to country estates or to the Continent, 
leaving London dull and deserted until the "season" should begin again in 
February with the opening of Court. Thus he had several months of very 
welcome freedom which he used to find quarters for the Legation and to 
familiarize himself with his new situation. For the time being he continued 
to live at the Clarendon House, but by November 1 he had rented an 
establishment at 56 Harley Street which became the United States Legation 
during his ministry. On November 11, all hands turned out in noise and 
confusion to move the Legation files and equipment into the new quarters. 16 
John William Gates was dean of the Legation servants by virtue 
of eighteen years' service at the American Embassy. His son, William 
John Cates, served as butler. Buchanan had a housekeeper who had worked 
for several previous ministers. He reported diplomatically to Miss Hetty 
at Wheatland that he was "satisfied with her, without being greatly pleased." 
In addition to these old hands, Buchanan had brought along Frederick 



William Jackson, a mulatto manservant he had hired in New York a day 
before he sailed. While at first dubious of the wisdom of this impetuosity, 
he soon discovered that Jackson was very much of a "find," for he turned 
out to be a first-class valet and made something of a hit in London. "I 
have been diverted," Buchanan wrote, "to witness the attention he receives 
here where the same prejudices do not exist against color as in the United 
States. And yet he is homesick & thinks as I do, that there is no place in 
in the world to be compared with our Country." 17 

A problem of Court etiquette arose as soon as Buchanan had been 
accredited because a Court Dress Circular issued by Secretary Marcy in 
June ran counter to the ceremonial procedure of most European courts. 
Marcy asked American diplomats to perform their duties "in the simple 
dress of an American citizen," and to avoid the gold lace, ribbons, jewels, 
patent-leather boots and aristocratic gewgaws that custom prescribed for 
diplomats at ceremonies where a sovereign presided. Buchanan had often 
ridiculed the peacock parade and urged the adoption of such a rule, but at 
the Court of St. James it gave him serious trouble. 

Sir Edward Gust, Master of Ceremonies of the Court, pointed out 
that to appear before her Majesty in street clothes would signify a lack of 
respect and that the outfit Marcy prescribed would put the minister in 
precisely the costume worn by the Court servants, subjecting him un- 
intentionally to indignities from everyone. The American rule, Gust said, 
would raise a storm of indignation among the British people who would 
view it as presumption. He had no alternative but to require the customary 
dress and if Buchanan could not wear it, to deny him admittance to the 
opening of Parliament and to Court balls and dinners. 

Buchanan appreciated the force of these arguments and the 
penalty he would pay for refusing to follow the local code. He would receive 
no invitations from Court, and thus would receive none from the courtiers. 
As he said, he would be "socially placed in Coventry here," a condition 
which would not bother him personally but which might ruin the mission, 
for 1 it would cut him off from all normal sources of information. He 
considered a variety of costumes that might solve the problem. Someone 
suggested the military uniform of George Washington, which he promptly 
cast out as a recipe for subjecting him to everlasting ridicule. He thought 
about a plain blue coat with gold buttons embossed with the American 
eagle, but he soon abandoned that idea. Having found no answer when 
Parliament convened, he did not attend the opening session and thereby 
raised a public storm in the press of both nations. The Americans lauded 
his independence, and the British condemned this act of "Republican ill 
manners" and "American Puppyism." The London Times erroneously 
reported that Buchanan sat in evening dress amid the blaze of stars, ribands 



and crosses in the diplomatic box, "unpleasantly conscious of his singu- 
larity." Only with difficulty did Buchanan dissuade Parliament from making 
the incident the subject of a formal inquiry. 

Political pressures raised by the outbreak of the Crimean war at 
length brought a calm to this tempest in the wardrobe. The Ministry had 
no intention at this time of promoting a breach with the United States over 
such trifling absurdity. Buchanan agreed, at British suggestion, to equip 
himself with a plain black-handled sword, everywhere the mark of a 
gentleman, a visible token of respect to the queen, and a ready means of 
identification among the servants. 

Dan Sickles, who disliked Marcy's circular because it curtailed 
his chance to strut, donned the gaudy uniform of the New York State 
Guards, daring Marcy to call it an un-American costume. Buchanan 
reported of his first appearance under the new dispensation: "Having 
yielded, they did not do things by halves. As I approached the Queen, 
an arch but benevolent smile lit up her countenance as much as to say, 
you are the first man who ever appeared before me at Court in such a dress. 
I must confess that I never felt more proud of being an American." 18 

For two months after his arrival, Buchanan heard nothing from 
the British Foreign Office. He spent his time familiarizing himself with 
Legation procedure, mastering the details of the subjects of negotiation, 
and writing letters home. To politicians he uniformly emphasized his 
decision not to be a candidate for president in 1856. He exchanged letters 
weekly with Harriet, who was beside herself to know how soon she could 
come to London to see a duke and meet a queen. She said the trip would 
be "the future realization of a beautiful dream." Buchanan responded, 
"Like all other dreams you will be disappointed in the reality." He wrote 
to Miss Hetty that she gave him "more interesting news than any other 
friend" and asked her for a full report on Wheatland and the neighbors. 
How was Lara, his Newfoundland dog, and what of the new calf, and who 
would fill the icehouse? He sounded a little homesick. 

Forney sent him a tirade against President Pierce and ended it 
with the prophecy that Buchanan would next occupy the White House. 
He replied, 

In answer to the last suggestion contained in your letter, I now 
say to you in writing what I have repeatedly said in conversation, 
that I have neither the desire nor the intention 'to play a very 
prominent part in politics for the next seven years.* On the 
contrary, this mission is alone tolerable because it will enable me 
gracefully and gradually to retire from a strife which is neither 
suited to my age nor my inclinations. ... I should have been 
highly gratified had I been nominated & elected President in 



1852; but the office has no longer any charm for me. I write 
thus explicitly to you; because the warmth of your friendship 
might otherwise induce you to take part in again bringing me 
forward as a candidate. 19 

At last Buchanan received the awaited summons to the Foreign 
Office and Clarendon's apologies for the long delay. In the opening inter- 
view, the two ran over the problems that might involve their countries: 
the Russo-Turkish crisis, the Central American issue, the pending fishery 
and reciprocity treaties, and the movement developing in Cuba to liberate 
the slaves and set up a Negro government. They agreed that the Central 
American question was first in importance, but Clarendon confessed that 
he was not familiar enough with the subject for serious discussion. A few 
days later Buchanan prepared a summary of the American position and 
submitted it to Clarendon. 


By 1850 the British occupied much of the coastal area of Honduras and 
Nicaragua. From the time of the Polk Administration, the United States 
had protested English intervention in that part of the New World. After 
the acquisition of Oregon and California, there was a greater need than 
ever for some kind of passage across the Central American isthmus, and 
in 1849 the United States negotiated a treaty with Nicaragua for the 
exclusive right to build a canal. But the English now held the points of 
entry on the Gulf: Greytown, at the head of the San Juan River in Nica- 
ragua, and Ruatan Island off the Honduran coast. The conflicting interests 
of the United States and Great Britain became a threat to peace, and in 1850 
the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was drawn up for the purpose of removing the 
danger of an outbreak of hostilities. 

By the terms of the agreement neither nation would ever assume 
exclusive control of any future canal or fortify any portion of Central 
America. Buchanan condemned this pact from the start. "The Treaty/' 
he said, "altogether reverses the Monroe Doctrine, and establishes it 
against ourselves rather than European Governments." 20 Some day, he 
feared, there would be "a bloody war with England should she remain as 
powerful as she is at present." 

Despite the cordiality and freedom that marked the early con- 
versations with Lord Clarendon, Buchanan soon learned that back of the 
Foreign Secretary's smile lay the hard rock of British policy. Ruatan, 
largest of the Bay Islands and the British protectorate of the Mosquito 
Indians represented elements of this policy. Ruatan Island, Buchanan 
declared, "is one of those commanding positions in the world which Great 



Britain has been ever ready to seize and appropriate. It enables her to 
control our commerce in the Caribbean Sea and on its transit to California 
and Oregon." As a point of commercial power Great Britain intended to 
keep it, treaty or no treaty. 21 

The British protectorate of the Mosquito King involved the point 
of international prestige. Buchanan chided Clarendon for making so big 
an issue of so petty a territory, when friendship with the United States 
stood at stake over it, but the Foreign Secretary expounded the duty of 
a nation with native protectorates all over the world to make good its 
promises, even more scrupulously to the small than to the large princes. 
As a point of honor, England would sustain the Indian King. 22 

Without any quid pro quo to induce the abandonment of these 
positions, Buchanan had to establish that the British posture in Central 
America constituted a breach of treaty with the United States. Success in 
this effort would have to bring British capitulation, or an American retreat, 
or war. He was therefore astonished when Clarendon introduced casually 
into the conversation one day, as if it were a matter of common assumption, 
that the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was entirely "prospective in its operation." 23 
Buchanan, while recovering from the shock, introduced the newly arrived 
fisheries and reciprocity treaty as a manifestation of American friend- 
ship and generosity to compensate for British adjustment of the Central 
American dispute. Clarendon rejoined that the treaty drove too hard a 
bargain with the Canadians and doubtless would be rejected by England. 

With negotiations at an impasse during the spring of 1854, 
Buchanan turned his efforts to building a recognition in England of the 
tremendous potential of good relations with America. He propounded the 
theme of Anglo-American friendship based on kindred speech, culture, and 
principles of government. These two nations, he thought, should jointly 
face the continual threat of world despotism. "There have never been 
two nations on the face of the earth," he said, "whose material interests 
are so closely identified." 24 Britain annually exported to the United States 
as much as to all of Europe. 

By the end of March, the Crimean War became a reality and 
England and France, in an entente corcKo/c, faced the Russian power in the 
eastern Mediterranean. Not until mid-April could Buchanan get Clarendon 
back on the Central American problem, so busy had he been with duties 
connected with the war. At this meeting, the Foreign Secretary, with 
marked embarrassment, finally explained to Buchanan the official British 
position. Britain considered the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty "prospective," 
that is, it guaranteed all British rights as they existed at the time of ratifica- 
tion and applied its restrictions only to subsequent acts. Buchanan pointed 
out that according to this contention the treaty confirmed Great Britain's 
right to remain in Central America and excluded the United States from it. 



He acidly asked his Lordship if he really expected anyone to take seriously 
this ridiculous interpretation. He had the impression that Clarendon very 
reluctantly asserted this view. Buchanan then pointed out that England 
had occupied the Bay Islands after the conclusion of the treaty, and even 
accepting the "prospective" interpretation which he never would the 
British would have to get out of Ruatan. Clarendon promised to check the 
date of the occupation of the islands, and the interview ended awkwardly. 

For the next two months, Buchanan applied himself to the 
preparation of a long reply rebutting the British contention. In such an 
effort he showed at his best, and his argument won the warm commendation 
of Pierce, Marcy, and the Cabinet in Washington, but it brought no reply 
from Clarendon. 

Whatever hope remained of softening the British stand collapsed 
under the impact of the Greytown affair. Punta Arenas, across the river 
from Greytown, was occupied by Americans working for the Accessory 
Transit Company, an enterprise of Cornelius Vanderbilt to build a road 
across the isthmus. The captain of a Vanderbilt ship shot a Greytown 
native who sought to board his vessel. When some of the residents tried 
to arrest the captain for murder, Solon E. Borland, the United States 
Minister, joined a party to prevent his capture, a fight ensued, and someone 
slashed Borland's face with a broken beer bottle. President Pierce sent 
Captain G. N. HoUins, of the U. S. S. Cyane to Greytown to exact apologies 
and reparations for the insult to Borland; Hollins, upon rejection of his 
demands, bombarded Greytown until not a mud wall or thatched roof 
remained intact. The inhabitants, warned in advance, had all retired to 
a safe distance, and no one was hurt. 

News of this affair arrived in London just a few days after Bu- 
chanan had submitted his paper on Central America. With no information 
except what he got from British sources, Buchanan expressed the hope 
that Pierce would disavow the act, and Clarendon observed that unless he 
did, the outlook would be bleak for a settlement of the Central American 
problem. Much to their displeasure, Pierce defended the action of Captain 
Hollins as necessary and justifiable. Buchanan tried to sustain his govern- 
ment, according to the policies outlined by Marcy, but made as poor a show 
of this as Clarendon did in support of the "prospective" interpretation 
of the treaty. 

Buchanan had long felt that Clarendon sincerely wished to 
compromise the issues in Central America but that the Ministry would not 
permit it. After Greytown, he changed his mind and suspected that 
Clarendon himself prevented a settlement. In one conversation, he told 
Clarendon that Britain could end the whole Central American dispute in a 
note of twelve lines, if the Foreign Office really wanted it settled. "If I did 
that," said Clarendon, "our American cousins would say, we have dis- 



covered the mode of dealing with the British we went down to Greytown 
and smashed it, whereupon they became alarmed and gave us all we wanted/* 
Buchanan replied that he would now have to talk directly with Lord 
Aberdeen, the Prime Minister, who might perhaps be willing to treat 
America with fairness. Clarendon angrily seized Buchanan by the coat 
lapels and, shaking him, declared: "I am as good a friend of the United 
States as Lord Aberdeen; or any man in the Three Kingdoms." Possibly 
so, Buchanan replied, but the friendship had certainly produced no results. 26 
Lord Aberdeen was polite but adamant; Britain would remain in 
Central America. With this interview, except for several more excited 
sessions with Clarendon over Greytown, Buchanan's Central American ne- 
gotiation came to an end. Clarendon never officially replied to Buchanan's 
statement of the American position. All that remained was to await Pierce's 
decision whether to let the matter rest, or to issue an ultimatum. 





While the Central American negotiation stagnated, Buchanan kept up a 
steady campaign to promote the purchase of Cuba. The more he examined 
August Belmont's idea of persuading the Spanish bondholders to press for 
the sale of the island, the more he liked it. He had described the outlines 
of the proposal to Pierce before leaving Washington and had recommended 
that Belmont be made Minister to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. At 
Naples he would come into contact both with many of the bondholders and 
with members of the Spanish royal family who ruled there. Buchanan felt 
that Pierce had made a mistake by sending Belmont to the Hague, but he 
still believed that with judicious management Spain might be induced to 
sell Cuba to the United States. The main problem would be to prevent 
interference from the governments of England and France. Buchanan told 
Pierce in the spring of 1854 that he had shaped his course ever since his 
arrival in England "with a view of reconciling Great Britain to that great 
object." 1 Clarendon had already confided to him that "if Spain lost Cuba 
it would be their own fault for the wretched manner in which they governed 
the island." 2 

In May, Buchanan wrote to Slidell that the British were prepared 
for the acquisition of Cuba by the United States and that the British news- 
papers had on several occasions foreshadowed the event. His only fear 
was France. He urged Pierce to define a policy on Cuba and to prepare 
instructions for its acquisition. England and France had their hands full 
with the Crimean war. The Republican revolution which broke out in 
Spain in July further threatened the chaotic finances of that country and 
presaged the abolition of slavery in Cuba. Buchanan now prodded Marcy 
to decide what steps ought to be taken "to give a direction to the impending 
revolution in Cuba," an outbreak which certainly would follow the in- 
surrection in Spain. 



In Europe, the fate of Cuba became a pawn in the great revolu- 
tionary movements then in progress under the leadership of Kossuth, 
Mazzini, Louis Blanc and Ledru Rollin who, though differing with each 
other on most things, agreed that it would mightily advance their crusade 
if they could enlist the support of the United States in their assault on 
monarchy and aristocracy in the Old World. They held out the inducement 
that if the United States would assist Spanish Republicans in overthrowing 
the queen, the new democracy would then agree to Cuban independence 
and subsequent annexation. 

Many "Young Americans" worked actively with the European 
revolutionaries. George Sanders, United States consul in London, main- 
tained a rendezvous for political exiles from the Continent and used the 
diplomatic pouch for sending inflammatory letters, stamped with the 
Legation seal, throughout Europe. Some of these fell into the hands of 
the French authorities and caused a commotion. Victor Fronde, an 
important figure in the plan to subvert the Spanish monarchy, used a 
United States courier's passport, which he had obtained by fraud, to aid 
in his travels as an agent of the revolutionaries. Legitimate governments 
in Europe soon learned of his activities and protested. Pierre Soute, 
American Minister to Spain, loudly proclaimed his sympathies with the 
antimonarchists. He made himself thoroughly obnoxious to the Spanish 
queen by his arrogant and insolent manner in dealing with her ministers. 
Worst of all, he seriously damaged American-French relations by shooting 
the French Minister to Madrid in a quarrel over the latter's wife. 

The Spanish government was facing bankruptcy. Its bonds, 
now nearly worthless, were held by the Barings, the Rothschilds, and otter 
international bankers who were reported ready to sanction the sale of Cuba 
for something over $100,000,000 if the money could be kept out of the 
hands of the royal family and used in the development of Spanish resources. 
The bankers were prepared to act as receivers, so to speak, of the nation 
and work to put the economy on a sound basis. The Church also had an 
interest in such a program, for the monarchy had threatened to confiscate 
ecclesiastical properties as one means of solving its financial problems. 
Leading churchmen seemed willing to join the financiers in the effort to con- 
vince the queen that the sale of Cuba was the only way to save her regime. 

Pierce and Marcy had to fit Buchanan's plans for Cuba into the 
general Administration program which, in the spring of 1854, had become 
dependent upon the fate of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. Douglas had intro- 
duced this in January, Pierce adopted it as an Administration measure, and 
Congress did almost nothing but debate it until the end of May. Its passage 
aroused terrible political hatreds and split the Democrats. Men were "afraid 
to unbosom themselves, lest they reveal the secrets of their hearts to an 



enemy, in disguise," wrote a Congressman, "while scarcely a man knows 
to a certainty whether he is or is not a friend of the Administration." 3 

Around Washington no one seemed to know what course the 
Administration planned to take in regard to Cuha; Pierce and Marcy re- 
mained "mum" but not idle. Pierce proposed to send a three-man com- 
mission to Spain to try to purchase Cuba, with the warning that if they 
failed, American filibusters might seize the island. He then ordered strict 
observance of neutrality laws and put port officials under special instruction 
to prevent the departure of suspicious vessels, but presumably he would 
revoke these orders if Spain refused to sell Cuba. 

Buchanan approved of the idea of the commission, but not of 
the threat of filibusters as a lever to the negotiation. Filibustering he 
opposed under any and all circumstances, and thought that any mention 
of the subject to Spain except in terms of a promise to prevent it would be 
fatal to the Cuban purchase. Sickles learned what was afoot, and wrote to 
Howell Cobb sentiments which he never uttered to Buchanan. "I sincerely 
hope the rumor that you are to go to Madrid is true. Now is the time for 
us to get Cuba Europe expects it & is prepared to endure it. The present 
condition of Spanish politics ... is peculiarly favorable for a TOO; or a 
negotiation to purchase." If Cobb should come, Sickles wanted a week with 
him to tell him what wires to pull at Madrid, and requested an appointment 
as his secretary. He planned to return home in autumn. "I have had 
enough of London," he wrote. "It would suit me better to stay away 
another year on accouAt of the present condition of N. Y. politics, but I 
am tired of London and of this ndsdon"* 

If Sickles was bored with London, Buchanan was tired of Sickles. 
While he envied and admired the young man's dash and zest for life and 
personally enjoyed his company, he found him not only useless but harmful 
to the embassy. He paid little attention to business, and wrote so wretched 
a hand that he imposed an added burden of copying on the rest of the staff. 
These faults Buchanan would have tolerated had Sickles lent the weight of 
his dynamic personality to the policies of the Legation, but he did the 
contrary. He balked on the program of republican austerity and lived both 
extravagantly and ostentatiously. When Buchanan was in the midst of 
his campaign to foster Anglo-American friendship, Sickles raised a furor 
by remaining seated during the toast to the queen at a public dinner because 
Victoria rather than Washington came first on the list. Later he wrote 
anonymous letters to the British newspapers condemning his host, George 
Peabody, for toadyism to the queen and implicated Buchanan in the same 
thing. The controversy, touching the tender nerve of national honor in 
both countries, caused a newspaper storm on both sides of the Atlantic and 
put Buchanan, a guest of honor at the dinner, in an embarrassing position. 



When the Spanish Revolution broke out during July as the Sickles con- 
troversy reached its height, Buchanan seized the opportunity to send him 
to Washington to report the news directly and to urge immediate action 
on Cuban policy. 6 

Sickles arrived at the White House on August 8. By this time 
Pierce knew that Congress would ignore his request of August 1 for an 
emergency appropriation to support a special commission to Spain. With 
elections coining on and the Democrats weakened by the Kansas-Nebraska 
struggle, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee decided not to risk 
another sectional upheaval and declined to report out a Cuban bill. Pierce 
joyfully welcomed Sickles and moved him into the White House as a 
personal guest for a week of conferences. The president already had 
letters from Soute and Mason, Minister to France, stating that the Spanish 
Republicans would sell Cuba if the United States contributed funds to 
help their cause and that the British and French planned no intervention 
to sustain the Spanish government. 

On August 16, after numerous Cabinet discussions, Marcy sent 
out instructions to Soute. Instead of the creation of a special commission, 
Soulg, Buchanan, and Mason, should meet in Paris "to adopt measures for 
perfect concert of action in aid of your negotiations at Madrid. . . . This 
whole subject in its widest range is opened to your joint consideration." 
The explanation of this vague proposal lay in a disagreement between Marcy 
and Pierce about Soul& Marcy had tried repeatedly to have him removed 
for conduct unbecoming a minister and defiance of instructions, but Pierce 
would not let him go. Forney, now an editor of Pierce's organ, the Wash- 
ington Union, wrote Buchanan at this time: "It is said here that Mason 
has gone to meet Soute, and the idea is laughed at in all quarters, for if ever 
a man has fulfilled the prophecies of his enemies, disappointed the hopes 

of his friends, that man is Pierre Soute He has put back the acquisition 

of Cuba fifty years, . . . made Spanish Republicanism a jest, and ... by his 
folly and conceit he has enabled the enemies of our country to hold him 
up as a sample of American statesmen & Diplomatists. It is only we who 
must defend this artificial & hollow effigy of Democracy, that can realize 
most sensitively the difficulty of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear." 6 

Saddled with Soul6 but required to act at Madrid, Marcy believed 
that Buchanan and Mason might serve as a check on Soulfi's wildness and 
somehow guide a negotiation along rational lines. This might, indeed, 
have happened except for two other factors. The first was Marcy's in- 
struction of April 3 to Soute, still in force, which authorized him to offer 
as much as $130,000,000 for Cuba. If Spain appeared unwilling to sell, 
this instruction continued, "you will then direct your efforts to the next 
most desirable object, which is to detach that Island from the Spanish 
dominion and from all dependence on any European power." 7 It is now 



clear that Marcy meant to say that the independence of Cuba was the 
object, next to purchase, most desired. But the ambiguity of the dispatch 
left some question about the explicit meaning of the important words 

to detach. 

Second, Pierce in his enthusiasm and with his usual carelessness 
of phrase, filled Sickles's mind with ideas never communicated to Marcy 
or any of the ministers. Sickles formed the impression that Pierce wanted 
him to act as a confidential agent to explain, verbally, to all the ministers 
that the government wanted some really drastic action on Cuba and was 
ready to face the consequences. His impression received reinforcement 
from the wording of the instructions of August 16, inaugurating the meeting 
of ministers: "You are desired to communicate to the government here 
the results of opinion or means of action to which you may in common 
arrive, through a ... confidential messenger, who may be able to supply 
any details not contained in a formal despatch." Pierce wrote to Buchanan 
that Sickles would "have much to communicate verbally with regard to 
home and other affairs." 8 Sickles thus became in effect spokesman for the 
president and could turn the meaning of the general instructions in any 
direction. This freedom nullified the moderating influence of Marcy, 
Mason, and Buchanan. 

Buchanan protested. He wrote to President Pierce on Sep- 
tember 1: 

I can not for myself discover what benefit will result from a 
meeting. ... It is impossible for me to devise any other plan 
for the acquisition of Cuba . . . than what I have already presented 
to you. We are willing to purchase, and our object is to induce 
them to sell. . . , I am glad, therefore, that our meeting for mere 
consultation and not for decisive action is left to [Soul^'s] dis- 
cretion. ... P, S. Since the foregoing was written, I have had a 
long conversation with Col. Sickles, and am sorry to say this 
has not changed my views concerning the policy of a meeting. . . . 
No more unsuitable place than Paris could be devised for such a 
meeting. . . . Every object which you have in view can ... be 
accomplished by correspondence. 

Sickles had already ruined Buchanan's hopes, having blared his 
way through continental Europe before ever reporting to London. At Paris 
he found Dudley Mann, assistant Secretary of State, John L O'Sullivan 
of "Manifest Destiny" fame and currently minister to Portugal, Pierce's 
friend John A. Dix, and John Van Buren. Sickles elaborated his plans to 
all, and then proceeded to Spain where he found Soul in the haunts of 
the revolutionaries in the Pyrenees. European newspapermen sensed 
something big in the wind and broadcast their conjectures. Buchanan 



pointed out to Pierce that he could quietly get the names of the Spanish 
bondholders and unite with them in an effort to persuade Spain to sell 
Cuba, but "Capital and Capitalists ... are proverbially timid, and nothing 
of this kind ought to be attempted until after the 6dat by the public journals 
to Col. Sickles' journey to Paris and Madrid shall have passed away. Matters 
of this kind, in order to be successful in Europe, must be conducted with 
secrecy and caution." 10 

Buchanan succeeded in vetoing Paris and Basle as the scene of 
the meeting, agreeing on Ostend, and with this small success resigned 
himself to obeying distasteful orders. The conference, he wrote his 
nephew, "will probably make noise enough in the world." After three 
days at Ostend, the glare of publicity drove the ministers to Aix-la-Chapelle 
where, on October 18, they completed drafting the Ostend Manifesto. 

Buchanan bore the chief responsibility for restraining Soute 
during the conference. Mason looked on the whole procedure as senseless 
and, so far as he was concerned, "a chance to loaf." At the very start, 
Buchanan turned down the request of Sickles to act as secretary of the 
meeting and after the first few days at Ostend, pointedly gave him to under- 
stand that he need not come to Aix-la-Chapelle. Soute, who had the 
instructions from Marcy, shaped the ideas that he thought should be 
included, and jotted them down in notes. Buchanan then wrote out a 
rough and later a finished draft of the document. Its first sentence placed 
responsibility directly on Pierce. "The undersigned," it began, "in com- 
pliance with the wish expressed by the President in the several confidential 
despatches . . . addressed to us" &c. &c. This meant that Marcy's "to 
detach" letter lay on the table, for the only other official instruction on 
Cuba was the one calling the conference. The argument contained nothing 
new. The United States should promptly approach the Supreme Con- 
stituent Cortes of Spain with a proposition to buy Cuba, openly, frankly, 
through regular diplomatic procedures, and in such a way "as to challenge 
the approbation of the world." This would benefit Cuba, provide Spain a 
golden opportunity to return to solvency and prosperity, and prevent the 
recurrence of troubles between the United States and Cuba such as had 
marred the past. If the Cubans should rebel, continued the Manifesto, 
"no human power could . . . prevent the people and Government of the 
United States from taking part ... in support of their neighbors and 

So far, the report constituted an accurate statement of Buchanan's 
purchase plan and of Pierce's concept of the role of filibusters. The final 
section added the views of Sickles and Soute, modified, or at least phrased, 
by Buchanan in such a manner as to pull their teeth. "After we shall have 
offered Spain a price for Cuba, far beyond its present value, and this shall 
have been refused, it will then be time to consider the question, does Cuba 



in the possession of Spain seriously endanger our internal peace and the 
existence of our cherished Union? Should this question be answered in 
the affirmative, then, by every law human and Divine, we shall be justified 
in wresting it from Spain, if we possess the power." This version sub- 
stituted the words "to wrest" for Marcy's "to detach" and thus followed 
orders, but Buchanan believed that he had interposed an effective barrier 
to the extremist hope of acquiring Cuba by force. He had named a number 
of conditions precedent to seizure which he felt certain would never arise: 
freeing of the Cuban slaves, Africanization of the island's government, and 
the beginning of a race war in the United States. Buchanan thought he 
had successfully spiked the guns of the Young Americans and would-be 
filibusters. Roy Nichols, biographer of Pierce, notes that the final text 
of the Manifesto was "not a direct threat," as SoulS wanted, but a "laborious 
attempt at a guarded hint," which Buchanan phrased as a means to balk 
rash action while still obeying Marcy's instructions. 

Buchanan believed that he had managed to salvage a little from 
his plan for purchase and had undermined the policy of seizure. But 
Buchanan did not know that SouI6 sent a private letter to Pierce along with 
the Manifesto, staling that if Spain would not sell Cuba, the United States 
ought to take it by force while England and France were engaged in a war 
and would not be likely to interfere. This message reversed the policy 
Buchanan intended, but Soute's sentiments could be inferred from the 
text of the Manifesto. 

At home the Whigs and Know-Nothings routed the Democrats 
in the North and West at the October elections. Hence, when the Ostend 
report arrived in November the Administration sat on it; and Marcy, 
shocked at the outcome, wrote to Soute to proceed with the greatest caution 
in broaching the idea of purchase and to avoid any threats. 

As might have been expected, the New York Herald soon got 
hold of a garbled version of the Manifesto which it further distorted with 
the paraphrase "that our safety demanded and our interests required we 
purchase or take Cuba at once." Some newsmen went so far as to state 
that the ministers had acted on their own initiative. Pierce offered no 
explanation or refutation; in his annual message he did not even mention 
Ostend. Buchanan finally wrote to Marcy: "I observe in a number of 
American Journals the statement made positively that the Conference at 
Ostend was the voluntary action of the American Ministers. Surely this 
ought* to be corrected. Never did I obey any instructions so reluctantly." 
Marcy wrote privately that the report itself did not sustain Soute's inter- 
pretation, but still made no public pronouncement. "I am glad to perceive 
that you exonerate us from the charge . . . that we had recommended to 
offer Spain the alternative of cession or seizure," Buchanan replied. "How 
preposterous and suicidal would have been such an idea! ... It would 



have defeated the great object we had in view the peaceful acquisition 
of Cuba." 11 

Marcy, just as badly caught as Buchanan by the unwanted 
publicity, made his stand at least officially clear by writing to Soute, tearing 
to shreds his private proposals about Cuba and condemning his conduct as 
minister. Thus he achieved what he had long wanted, Soute's resignation, 
and took his stand with Buchanan and Mason against the "sell or seize" 

But the end was not yet. The new anti-Administration Congress 
called for publication of the Cuban correspondence. Thus, for the first 
time, the correct version of the Ostend Manifesto became public property. 
Unhappily for Buchanan, the Administration, after several discussions in 
Cabinet, decided that it could not afford to permit the publication of the 
"detach" paragraph of Marcy's instructions. His biographer says: "It was 
a bad business, either way, and the expedient path was chosen. . . . The 
reaction of the public, which did not know of the ambiguous "detach" item, 
was mostly favorable to Marcy; the 'three wise men of Ostend,' . . . were 
lashed unmercifully for their part." 12 Slidell attributed Marcy's course to 
his eagerness for the presidency. He told Buchanan, "He fancies that he 
sees in you the only obstacle to the realisation of his dreams." 13 The public 
impression, however, was that James Buchanan stood for the highwayman's 
principle that "if Spain will not sell Cuba, we will take it." He should have 
known that people would grasp the simple, dramatic, but false dich, 
rather than try to understand the complex logic back of the manifesto 
itself. But whatever he thought, he played the old trouper and made no 
defense. "I continue to be entirely satisfied with our report," he said. 


The remainder of Buchanan's mission brought diplomatic frustration, 
political soul-searching, and social triumph. In the months following 
Ostend it appeared that everything at the Legation had been going wrong. 
Sickles had been using the Legation seal and diplomatic pouch to send 
around all manner of personalia. Miller, the London dispatch agent whose 
business it was to receive diplomatic mail for all the continental embassies 
and forward it via courier had been using his official seal to cover and 
protect from routine censorship correspondence of a very undiplomatic 
character, much of it propaganda of the European revolutionists. On one 
occasion the British Customs at Liverpool charged Buchanan with petty 
smuggling. It had discovered six pounds of American cigars, undeclared, 
wrapped into a package of books on international law which were addressed 
to Buchanan. After much unpleasantness in England and voluminous 
correspondence, Buchanan concluded that a courier from New York, who 



had boasted on board ship what privileges awaited him in Liverpool and 
complained loudly that he could not accompany the mail boat to shore, had 
perpetrated the deed. 14 

After the Ostend conference Sickles again returned to the United 
States, thoroughly disgusted with Buchanan. Forney had added to the 
trouble by printing some observations Buchanan had written him in 
confidence condemning Sickles for his attack on the Peabody dinner and 
disparaging his competence as a Legation officer. 16 Buchanan made a clean 
breast of it to Sickles and told him to submit his resignation. To his 
great satisfaction, Sickles complied and Pierce appointed John Appleton. 
Appleton arrived in March and managed so competently that Buchanan 
assured Marcy that he was "well qualified to perform the duties of any 
Diplomatic station under the Government." "He is a perfect secretary," 
he wrote, "as well as an excellent friend." At this time he also got a new 
Legation clerk, Benjamin Moran of New York, whom he paid $800 a year 
out of his own pocket since federal statute forbade the government to hire 
a clerk at a foreign mission. 16 Moran made himself indispensable. He 
could receive visitors, handle most of the tourist problems, and translate 
foreign languages, in addition to keeping meticulously ordered files of 
correspondence and dispatches. In this latter regard he was very like 
Buchanan, and the two quickly achieved mutual respect which ripened 
into warm friendship. It was a pity Buchanan did not have such a staff at 
the start, for by the time he got competent help the negotiating was done. 
A final blow came when Marcy informed him that Congress had passed a 
law substantially reducing his salary and the allowance for outfit. 

In April, 1855, Buchanan wrote that he wanted to leave England 
on August 23, and requested his letter of recall as of that date. The Central 
American negotiation had grown futile with the elevation of Palmerston 
to the Premiership in January. Buchanan talked occasionally with 
Clarendon, who remained in the Foreign Office, but the old rapport had 
dissolved. Whenever Buchanan mentioned Ruatan, Clarendon brought 
up Greytown, and just before Buchanan sent in his resignation they had a 
very disagreeable altercation. 

During the summer of 1855, when the British began to see a 
triumphal end to the Crimean War, their relations with the United States 
rapidly deteriorated. Marcy noted it from the tone of the British press, 
and Buchanan reported to him that "there begins to be an uneasy feeling . . . 
that all is not well in the relations between the two countries." 17 

Nevertheless, President Pierce, on August 6, sent instructions 
to Buchanan to ask Palmerston for an explicit statement of the final British 
position on Central America, in reply to the American statement of the 



previous July. This demand invited a showdown and Palmerston con- 
sidered it an ultimatum. He responded in a tart communication condemn- 
ing the American position and reasserting British claims in Central America. 
This reply he supported by ordering a fleet of 84- and 60-gun battle cruisers, 
with auxiliary vessels, to Bermuda and the West Indies, allegedly to assume 
routine stations. 

More than ever, Buchanan wanted to go home. He wrote to 
Marcy on October 3 that he had received dispatches 108, 109 and 111, but 
not 110 which contained his release. He urged the appointment of J. Clancy 
Jones as his relief and a search for the missing letter of recall. He also 
wrote to President Pierce, assuring him that Appleton could handle the 
Legation business indefinitely. But by the end of October, Appleton was 
no longer willing to take the responsibility of handling the mission. Bu- 
chanan wrote: "The aspect of affairs between the two countries has now 
become squally." Two weeks later, he received his letter of recall which, 
although dated the 12th of September, had not been mailed from the State 
Department until October 22. "It has arrived," he told Marcy, "at a time 
when the relations between the two countries have assumed so threatening 
an aspect . . . that I cannot at the present moment retire." 18 

Buchanan now enlisted all his energies to reduce the growing war 
fever. So far the planned movement of the British fleet to the Caribbean 
had not reached the press. When Buchanan asked the reason for the 
naval orders, Clarendon cited the attacks on J. F. T. Crampton, the British 
minister in Washington, for recruiting troops in America, a letter of 
Attorney General Gushing which had labelled British recruiters "male- 
factors," information that an American built steamer was about to leave 
New York as a Russian privateer, and a report that thousands of Irish- 
Americans were plotting a descent upon the Emerald Isle to free it from 
Britain. As Buchanan already knew the privateer rumor to be false and 
the Irish invasion pure speculation, he was forced to the conclusion that 
the British were looking for a fight. 

This attitude drew the issue sharply. If the United States wanted 
war, they could now have it. The historian might well speculate what 
result might have emerged from such a conflict; whether, perhaps, it might 
have side-tracked sectionalism, united the American nation, and postponed 
or even averted the Civil War at possibly an even higher price. Buchanan 
expounded the situation thus to Clarendon: 

The news of the sending of the fleet . . . would most probably 
excite much public indignation. ... It would find the people 
calm and tranquil in relation to their foreign affairs and wholly 
unprepared for it. It would burst upon them suddenly, and they 
would doubtless manifest their feelings in strong and defying 



language. This would return to England and react upon the 
people here . , , until at last by degrees the two countries might 
find themselves at war, although . . . there was no question of 
very serious importance between them. And such a war! . . . 
I would not have it on my conscience for any human consider- 
ation to be the author of any act which might lead to such 
consequences. 19 

The British, in response to the American retreat, cut in half 
the strength of the proposed West Indian squadron. Clarendon informed 
Buchanan "that three ships had been sent to Bermuda & one to Jamaica" 
which would be "on their guard against all dangers, ... let them come 
from what quarter they may." Buchanan answered in two sentences that 
this reply fell far short of his hopes and would not "exert that happy 
influence in restoring cordial relations . . . which ... I shall always so 
earnestly desire." For several weeks the possibility of war depressed the 
Stock Exchange and Buchanan reported that "an incautious word from 
me would either raise or sink the price of consols." Palmerston held his 
position and backed it up by force; unless the United States attacked there 
was nothing to fight about. By the end of November the leading British 
journals deprecated the idea of war and condemned the Ministry for risking 
it. On December 14, Buchanan reported to Marcy that the storm had 
blown over. "I hear this sentiment everywhere I go," he said. "There is 
certainly no disposition at present on the part of the British people to have 
serious difficulties with the United States." 20 

Buchanan had a respite of exactly two weeks. On December 28 
Marcy sent him word that the United States had asked for the recall of Lord 
Crampton and of the British consuls at Cincinnati, Philadelphia and 
New York, who had been illegally recruiting troops for the Crimean War. 
When Buchanan informed Clarendon of the contents of this dispatch, the 
latter jumped up and declared in angry surprise, "We will not do it." Dur- 
ing February, Buchanan felt sure that a diplomatic rupture impended. "As 
soon as the news shall arrive in this country, that you sent Mr. Crampton 
his passports," he informed Marcy, "I shall receive mine from Lord 
Clarendon." 21 

Viscount Palmerston presented a one-sided picture of the re- 
cruiting controversy to Parliament and raised a storm of indignation in the 
press. With the end of the Crimean War in sight and British military 
strength at its peak, the Premier rattled the saber against America as a means 
of maintaining himself in power; at least so Buchanan thought. He immedi- 
ately responded that the Viscount had falsified the facts by withholding 
details that justified the American position. When Lady Palmerston later 
gave a diplomatic dinner and omitted Buchanan's name from the guest list, 



he assumed that his time had come. But Britain delayed any official reply 
to the request for Crampton's recall, and Marcy postponed dismissing him. 
Meanwhile, British public opinion slowly turned against Palmerston. Lord 
Bulwer announced that he agreed with Buchanan and not the Ministry on 
the interpretation of the treaty he himself had negotiated with Clayton. 22 

During all this time, Buchanan pleaded with Marcy for another 
letter of recall. "I consider this mission as a sort of waif abandoned by the 
Government," he complained. "Not a word even about a secretary of 
Legation. ... I have to labor like a drayman. Have you no bowels?" 
In February he learned that George M. Dallas had been appointed his 
successor, and by the middle of March he had the "long looked-for, come 
at last" his final letter of recall. 

After the October elections of 1854, when the Kansas-Nebraska 
Act had split the Democracy, destroyed the Whigs, raised up the new 
Republican party and given a fleeting prominence to the Know-Nothings, 
Buchanan's friends began to bombard him with petitions, prognostications 
and praises that no man could ignore. Pierce could not succeed; his 
Administration had fallen lower than Tyler's. No candidate but Old Buck 
could be trusted; Kansas-Nebraska had dirtied all the others. The country 
was fearful to the verge of panic and would not accept a "speculative 
candidacy." Everyone wanted the next president to be a statesman, a man 
whose integrity and experience had been proven over the years. In short, 
Buchanan was the only man who could win for the Democracy. There was 
no doubt that he would be drafted. 

By January, 1855, Buchanan caved in and admitted to confidential 
friends that they could have him if they wanted him. Having decided to be 
"available," he laid a little of the groundwork in England. He asked Sir 
Emerson Tennent to arrange a dinner at which Cardinal Wiseman would 
be present. In July, 1855, after Tennent's banquet, Buchanan held a long 
conversation with Wiseman, and told the prelate of his admiration for 
Archbishop John Hughes of New York. Thurlow Weed later asserted, 
"That dinner made Mr. Buchanan President of the United States!" Weed 
exaggerated, but the Cardinal's good opinion of Buchanan doubtless had 
some influence on Archbishop Hughes and the American Catholics. 28 

Buchanan wrote to Marcy shortly before his recall, 

I know . . . that you would consider me in a state of mental 
delusion if I were to say how indifferent I feel in regard to myself 
on the question of the next Presidency. You would be quite a 
sceptic. One thing is certain: that neither by word nor letter 
have I ever contributed any support to myself. I believe that 
the next Presidential term will be perhaps the most important 
and responsible of any which has occurred since the origin of the 



Government; and whilst no competent and patriotic man to whom 
it may be offered should shrink from the responsibility, yet he 
may well accept it as the greatest trial of his life. 24 


Although British society was something of a strain on his constitution, 
Buchanan thought it very congenial. The formality of the Court did not 
invade the drawing room where he found the nobility as simple and un- 
pretentious as his Lancaster neighbors. It took him some time, however, 
to become accustomed to dinners at eight and parties at eleven when he 
should have been going to bed. He looked forward to Harriet's arrival in 
the spring of 1854, though he knew her visit would double his social 


Harriet, now in the full bloom of young womanhood, flippant, 
gay, flirtatious yet well-mannered and well-read, became a favorite in the 
diplomatic social world. She dined with Victoria, danced with Prince 
Albert, and received a marriage proposal from the enormously wealthy, 
fifty-eight-year-old Sir Fitz-Roy Kelly. At Oxford, where "Nunc" and 
Alfred Lord Tennyson received honorary degrees at the same ceremony, 
the students paid only cursory attention to the dignitaries and shouted and 
whistled their approval of Hal Lane. She flitted from castle to castle, 
attended fashionable weddings, and kept the Legation in constant turmoil 
with preparations for parties. Buchanan loved the gaieties. 

He also worried, for Harriet seemed to be succumbing to the 
glamor of British titles. At the same time a Philadelphia suitor by the 
name of Tyson was confidently planning to come to England and marry her, 
although she had treated him so badly during their long courtship that he 
had well earned the name Job. 

Harriet did not even let Tyson know that she planned to return 
to America a few weeks after his scheduled arrival in England. She saw 
him briefly in London to tell him "No." Buchanan was angry, not at the 
decision but at the cruel and thoughtless manner of her refusal. 

In the fall of 1855, Buchanan received news that Harriet's older 
sister, Mary Baker, had suddenly died in California. Harriet fell into un- 
consolable grief, confined herself to her room for weeks, and threatened 
to join a convent. Buchanan gave her some of his own philosophy: to 
mourn the dead at the expense of the living is sinful. Heart-rending 
afflictions are the common lot of humanity, man's duty on earth is to 
submit with humble resignation. "In all calamitous events, we ought to 
say, emphatically, Thy will be done.' " He himself was as much distressed 
by the recent death of another niece, Jessie Yates Weaver. Poor Jessie. 
What would he do with her children. 



George Dallas arrived in England on March 13, 1856, accompanied 
by his wife, his sister, three unmarried daughters, and a son, who was to 
be Secretary of Legation. Buchanan wrote, "The Legation will be a 
family party." 25 

Before his audience of leave, Buchanan dined with the queen who, 
with the princess royal, talked mostly about "dear Miss Lane." He spent 
two convivial weeks with Mason in Paris and then returned to England to 
sail for home aboard the Arago. 





The steamship Arago slipped her cables and edged slowly out of her dock 
at noon on Wednesday, April 9, 1856. By midafternoon Buchanan had 
aflably acknowledged the greetings of many of his fellow passengers, finished 
his constitutional around the deck, and retired to his stateroom where he 
took off his greatcoat, removed his cutaway, and then opened his travel 
chest to get his old leather slippers and a bottle of Madeira. After some 
puttering about he found the cork puller and a glass, lit a "segar" and then 
settled back on his bed, drew a long sigh of solid comfort, and relaxed. 

Had he been less nervously exhausted, the soft movement of the 
ship might have lulled him to sleep. Instead, it set him musing, hap- 
hazardly at first and then with increasing focus and plan. Well, thank God 
that job was done. He had never wanted the mission; yet he had to admit 
that he had enjoyed the experience, had done his duty, and had emerged 
better off politically than if he had stayed at home. He could not help 
wondering about the freak fate which had kept him out of Congress during 
each of the four most violent sectional controversies of the century: the 
Missouri Compromise, the nullification struggle, the 1850 Compromise, 
and now the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. If he should become president, he 
feared he would not escape the next outburst. He sipped some Madeira 
and continued his reverie. With fair weather he might reach New York on 
his sixty-fifth birthday. 

At that thought he roused himself, went to his portfolio, and 
extracted a packet of letters. Sorting through he picked out half a dozen 
and settled back to read, for he wanted to catch up on the state of political 
affairs, particularly in Pennsylvania and Kansas. The Pennsylvania Demo- 
crats had suffered from the Kansas-Nebraska controversy, and James 
Pollock, a Know-Nothing, Whig free-soiler now sat in the Pennsylvania 
governor's chair. Men who had predicted Bigler's re-election in 1854 by a 
50,000 majority woke up to find him defeated by 37,000 votes. 1 



Buchanan felt sure that the Know-Nothing movement, like anti- 
Masonry, would pass as quickly as it had appeared, but for the moment it 
was dangerous. He read a letter from Jeremiah S. Black: 

Here is a party less than one year old which has already triumphed 
in half the states of the Union. Its members are sworn to secrecy 
and to fidelity. ... It conceals its secrets not merely by silence 
but by positive falsehood. When men are seduced into its lodges 
they are instructed to conceal the fact and preserve their previous 
party attitude. Know-Nothings continue to speak at Democratic 
meetings, to argue for Democratic principles, to act as members 
of Democratic Committees, to run as Democratic candidates. The 
consequence of this is terrible. The obligations of truth are 

treated with an awful frivolity A majority of the legislature 

have obtained their seats by false pretences which would send 
them to the penitentiary if they got 5 dollars by similar means. 
Cameron was nominated for Senator by a system of secret voting 

inside the secret order the cheats were cheated 28 members 

. . . certified that he had got his nomination by 'wholesale corrup- 
tion and individual bribery.' 2 

Forney, in another letter, stated that he did not see how Cameron 
could be beaten "unless they fix the charge of Bribery upon him, and it 
looks as if they would." 3 But Cameron had angered even the Know- 
Nothings, and William Bigler won the senatorship. 

Matters looked better than usual in Pennsylvania; the Buchaneers, 
except for the governorship, held control. Forney was confident that 
Buchanan could win the presidency and in order to induce him to accept 
the nomination, promised to relinquish all rights to patronage. 4 From all 
he read in his correspondence, Buchanan judged that at last Pennsylvania 
was "right." 

He wished that he could feel as optimistic in regard to the situa- 
tion in Kansas. The trial of popular sovereignty had brought civil war 
to that territory. Settlers had gone there to claim land and fight for 
political control. These immigrants, from the North and the South, 
carried with them a deep sense of mission and bitterly hated each other. 
New Englanders, because of better organization and financing back home, 
came in greater numbers and with more armament than the Southerners, 
but the latter had the sympathy of the Missourians who cast ballots for 
the first Kansas territorial legislature and elected candidates favorable to 
the South. The New Englanders called the invaders "border ruffians," 
but they do not appear to have been very different from any of the frontier 
inhabitants of their day. The Missourians thought that they had as much 



right to enter Kansas as did armed mercenaries from Massachusetts. Those 
tenderfoots would not show them how to run the frontier. 

When Pierce removed Kansas Governor Andrew H. Reeder, for 
fraudulent dealings in land, the antislavery men charged that he had been 
fired for denouncing the territorial election. The free state men set up a 
legislature of their own at Topeka, elected Reeder as Congressional repre- 
sentative, and drafted a constitution. This, incidentally, was an anti-Negro 
rather than an anti-slavery constitution; it established white supremacy by 
forbidding any Negroes to live in Kansas. In January, 1856, when they 
elected their own governor, Pierce, in a special message to Congress, de- 
nounced the Topeka regime as revolutionary and Congress sustained him 
by affirming the legality of the original Kansas government, with its capital 
at Lecompton. 

But the Topeka government defied the United States and con- 
tinued to rule wherever its guns could enforce submission to its decrees. 
Neither Pierce nor the new territorial governor, Wilson Shannon, would 
risk use of federal troops to enforce local law, but they ordered the army 
to prevent violent collision between the contesting factions and to avert 
the outbreak of full-scale war. The troops, however, could do little about 
sporadic outrages perpetrated by small groups. Beatings, shootings, house- 
wrecking and arson became so common that the press began to write of 
"Bleeding Kansas." The ordeal of Kansas would not be easily ended. Few 
settlers wanted coexistence; each side determined to rule, and to rule meant 
to eliminate the enemy. 

The trip of the Arago proved calm and peaceful, but hardly a 
vacation for Buchanan. He recognized that it would very likely be the last 
fortnight he would have for a long time to collect his thoughts and formu- 
late his course of action without constant interruption. If he became 
president, he would look back longingly at this cruise. What were his 
chances, and how should the cards be played? 

It seemed very unlikely that Pierce or Douglas could be nomi- 
nated, but they might be strong enough to deadlock the convention and 
pave the way for another dark horse. Plenty of willing spirits hoped for 
this kind of result Hunter, Davis, Walker, Marcy and others. A little 
management ought to prevent such an occurrence, particularly emphasis 
on the risk to the country of an accidental nomination in the hour of danger. 
A nation in crisis needed an experienced and dependable candidate. 
Pennsylvania, which had three times failed Buchanan, now promised him 
full support, for the Harrisburg Convention of March 4 had given him its 
unanimous endorsement. Finally, the disruption of the Whig party over 
the Kansas-Nebraska Bill might be turned to advantage. The Whigs in 
in 1854 and 1855 had split along north-south lines into rump segments 
which stood helpless in a national contest. Whig leaders and voters were 



looking for a new home, some of them joining the Republicans, some the 
Know-Nothings, some the Southern Americans and some the Democrats. 
Many Whig leaders saw that under the new conditions they stood closer to 
the conservative Buchanan wing of the Democrats than to any of the other 
parties. Buchanan already had a sheaf of encouraging letters from promi- 
nent Whigs stating that they considered their party dead and would join 
the Democrats if he were nominated. 

Since Forney had become obligated to Pierce, John Slidell actively 
undertook management of Buchanan's political future. He planned to 
cultivate the growing popular demand for Buchanan's nomination to give 
it the aspect of a spontaneous movement. Dr. Foltz assured Buchanan in 
November, 1855, "The People have taken the next Presidency out of the 
hands of the politicians. . . . The people, and not your political friends 
will place you there." 5 

Slidell seized this idea and promoted his candidate as the people's 
own choice. He did not create the force, but he saw and used with intelli- 
gence the latent public sentiment which needed only a little cultivation to 
start it growing. Little by little, he and his co-workers induced back- 
country editors to puflf Buchanan until, by late in 1855, scores of Demo- 
cratic newspapers and quite a few of Whig persuasion carried Buchanan's 
name on the masthead. The "puffs" followed the theme that Buchanan's 
name had attained prominence without the aid of the machinery of politics 
and almost without the help of politicians. "The fact that he has become 
formidable without effort has gone far to inspire a wide and almost universal 
confidence in his strength." 6 

During 1854 Slidell earnestly counselled Buchanan to stay in 
England as long as he could. "The political atmosphere at Washington is 
malarious," he wrote, "and those who are not compelled to inhale it had 
better keep away." A year later, when the newspaper chorus had swelled 
to national proportions, SlideU thought it time for Buchanan to express to 
some discreet friends his willingness to be a candidate. Instead of doing 
this, Buchanan sent off a batch of letters reiterating his indifference but 
explaining with care his views on the slavery crisis. Slidell warned him to 
stop this. "You cannot well be in a better position than you are now," he 
said, "& those who are not satisfied with your antecedents cannot be made 
so by any explanations." 7 Buchanan never did throw his hat in the ring. 
He did, however, admit that others had taken him up. As late as February, 
1856, he could still write, 

In the present canvass, strange as it may seem to you, I have had 
no part, either directly or indirectly. In the beginning I did all 
I could to prevent any movement in my favor, & what has since 
been done has been entirely spontaneous, at least so far as I am 
personally concerned. 8 



This statement was delicate, prudent, and as technically correct 
as a Philadelphia lawyer could have made it, but it was scarcely open and 
candid. Buchanan could have stopped the movement in its tracks any 
time he wished, but instead he kept the door open. For a time he certainly 
went through an agony of indecision. Wheatland beckoned strongly, and 
life there looked heavenly in comparison with the presidency of a country 
in political shambles and with a civil war at its center. He summed up his 
state of mind to Harriet in a marim from La Rochefoucauld: "Les choses 
que nous desirons rtamventpas, ou, si elles arrivent, ce n'est, ni dans le temps, 
ni de la mani&re qui nous aurcdentfait le plus de plcdsir."* But a man could 
not turn down the presidency when his friends threw it at him, and the 
family would never forgive him if he rejected it. He had been in on all the 
phases of planning and knew how much "spontaneity" there was. He had 
discouraged, but not killed off, the promotion; and now, just as with the 
diplomatic mission, he was caught. 

After a survey of the whole scene, Buchanan determined to do 
nothing to injure or embarrass the efforts of his friends. He would keep 
his mouth shut and make no promises. He would stay at Wheatland and 
let those who wished come to see him. He would put his record on the 
block and let people take it or leave it. That would be the fall of the cards 
until the convention. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." With 
the matter settled in his mind, he gave himself up to the pleasures of the 
voyage. Mrs. Plitt amused him. She had sent a newspaper clipping re- 
porting that he would return via New Orleans in order to go on to Tennessee 
to marry Mrs. Polk. Jokingly, she said she wished it were true. She was 
sure he would find it "an agreeable way of Polking your way into the 
Presidency.'* 10 


The Arago failed to make port on Buchanan's birthday, but she docked at 
New York the next day, ahead of schedule, taking the local dignitaries so 
much by surprise that the welcome fell far short of what some had predicted 
"such a triumph as the Caesar's only have seen." 11 Ai the Astor House 
Buchanan received visitors until a formal reception committee could be 
mustered at City Hall. He firmly declined the tender of a public dinner and 
supped quietly with the mayor and a few friends. The New York arrival 
confirmed the wisdom of his determination to remain aloof. The dinner 
would have been dynamite. It would have widened the split between the 
Democratic factions, required a speech that could not possibly have suited 
both, and provoked charges that Buchanan started electioneering the 
moment he set foot on home soil. His arrival without notice and the 
refusal of ceremony brought members of both factions out to see him, 



enabled him to avoid saying more than that he was glad to be back, and 
strongly sustained the key idea that he was a simple citizen who had earned 
and wished no special honors. His scheme worked beautifully and he was 
off to Philadelphia before his enemies realized that he had scored a tre- 
mendous psychological triumph. 

Philadelphia was more exciting, though its celebration, too, fell 
considerably short of a Roman holiday. Booming cannon welcomed 
Buchanan's train, and the official escort took him to the Merchant's 
Exchange where he made a three-minute speech to a crowd of about three 
thousand. The City Council had rejected a request that Independence Hall 
should be opened that night for a formal reception, but the Merchant's 
Hotel served as well. From its portico Buchanan reviewed a parade, 
watched a fireworks display, and patiently endured a band serenade. 12 

Joseph B. Baker, superintendent of the state railroad, had a 
special train ready the next morning. The locomotive bore the name 
"Young America" and had been draped with bunting and signs reading 
"Welcome Home, Pennsylvania's Favorite Son." On the trip to Lancaster 
the train stopped at local stations while Buchanan stood on the back plat- 
form waving his hat. They made a short stop at Baker's home in Gap, along 
the main line, where the engine took on water and the official party cham- 

Buchanan's home town of Lancaster gave him a rousing reception. 
The "Wheatland Club" fired the "Old Buck Cannon," and for two days the 
town celebrated with bands, transparencies, torchlight processions, and 
fireworks. Two weeks later Adam Reigart, the wine merchant, brought to 
Wheatland an itemized bill for $809.65 for liquid merchandise. The front 
porch campaign was underway. 13 

The first few weeks of May passed auspiciously. Forney, whom 
Pierce had released from allegiance, wrote almost daily from Washington 
with late details on the expected convention vote at Cincinnati on June 2. 
Buchanan's strength lay in the middle belt of states from Delaware to 
Missouri. The New England Democracy was for Pierce, and the South 
favored Douglas, but both of these could be stopped by making strategic 
promises to favorite son candidates. Buchanan interrupted a trip to 
Washington to report on the English Mission in order to make a speech 
in Baltimore. "Disunion is a word which ought not to be breathed amongst 
us even in a whisper" he warned. "Our children ought to be taught that 
it is a sacrilege to pronounce it. ... There is nothing stable but Heaven 
and the Constitution." 14 

On May 22, Congressman Preston S. Brooks, of South Carolina, 
strode into the Senate Chamber after hours, attacked white-haired Senator 
Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and beat him into unconsciousness with 
a heavy rubber cane. The Senator had invited trouble by subjecting a 



relative of Brooks to one of the vilest and most insulting diatribes evei 
heard in Congress. But regardless of the provocation, responsible southern- 
ers were shocked by the caning and wrote of it: "unjustifiable, unmanly, 
ill-timed, ill-advised, cowardly, dastardly. Mr. Brooks has outraged 
decency, and dishonored the South-expel him." That was the word from 
Savannah. From Boston came the same cry, and Brooks in all likelihood 
would have been turned out except for the events of two days later. 

About 11 p. m. of May 24, John Brown, his three sons, and four 
henchmen headed for Pottawatomie Creek in Kansas and later knocked at 
the door of James Doyle, a southerner whom none of the party had ever 
seen before. Doyle, half dressed and unarmed, asked them to come in, but 
Brown's men drew pistols and invited him to come out. When Doyle's 
sons, William aged 22, Drury, 20, and John, 16 stepped to their father's 
side, Brown ordered them to come along. A few minutes later Mrs. Doyle 
and her youngest son, who had remained with her, heard screams and 
pistol shots outside the cabin, -and then there was silence. 

After midnight Allen Wilkinson, who was up late because his 
wife Louisa was sick with measles, went to answer a thunderous pounding 
on the door. "In the name of the Northern Army, open up," came a deep 
voice. Brown's party entered and ordered Wilkinson outside. 

Shortly thereafter the raiders visited James Harris, who was in 
bed with his wife when the door burst open and the Brown gang entered. 
For some inexplicable reason, they ignored Harris and dragged out William 
Sherman, a guest. 

Not until the next morning did anyone dare to go out and investi- 
gate. James Doyle and two of his sons lay near the cabin, with bullets 
through their heads, their skulls split in two with a broadaxe, their sides 
hacked open, and their fingers cut off. A neighbor found Allen Wilkinson 
shot in the head, his skull chopped apart and his side pierced. Bill Sherman 
was lying face down in a small creek, shot in the head, his skull laid open 
and the brains trailing down the stream, but still attached to the bone, his 
side stabbed full of sword wounds and his hands cut off. 

The Democrats reacted with a howl of rage and fury, and had the 
Republicans equally expressed their horror of the savage insanity which 
prompted this blind slaughter, Brooks might have been punished and the 
country might have become calmer. But antislavery extremists hailed 
Brown as a hero. Slavery was a sin, and the wages of sin was death. God 
had ordained Brown to smite the wicked. When this kind of report began 
to percolate into the South, it became the fashion there to "present a cane" 
to Preston Brooks wherever he made a public appearance. It is no wonder 
James Buchanan returned to Wheatland less optimistic than when he left. 

At Cincinnati, as convention time approached, there was great 
activity on the part of the advance guard of Pierce and Douglas supporters, 



but no Buchanan team was in evidence. Rather quickly it became apparent 
that Buchanan's uncoordinated managers had taken too literally the "spon- 
taneous" idea, and that no one was in command of the organization. Slidell 
got busy, rounded up his colleagues Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana, 
Jesse D. Bright of Indiana, and James A. Bayard of Delaware and the.four 
Senators hastened to Cincinnati. Forney arrived soon after, and began 
negotiations to detach the Douglas forces from their agreement with Pierce. 
Pierce and Douglas planned to hold on to their own delegations at all costs 
and block the Buchanan bid. 

The Democratic National Convention opened noisily on June 2 
when rival delegations from Missouri and New York overpowered the 
doormen and pummeled their way onto the convention floor. After order 
had been restored, the convention chose John E. Ward of Georgia, a 
Buchaneer, as permanent chairman. Buchanan's friends succeeded in 
gaining early control of most of the convention machinery and began to 
execute their strategy. Admit all contesting delegations in order to split 
the vote of the states from which they came. This plan would give Buchanan 
at least fifty per cent where he might otherwise get nothing. Adopt the 
platform first and include in it a popular sovereignty resolution to pro- 
pitiate Douglas. Promise Bright the patronage of the Northwest, and let 
him use this to seduce weak Douglas delegates. For those strong on 
Douglas, promise the patronage to him and remind them that the Little 
Giant, still only 43 years old, might expect to be favored in 1860 if he 
played the game now. Win Michigan by showing to her delegates evidence 
that their favorite son, Cass, had been knifed by Douglas in 1852. Tell 
everyone who had failed to secure a job under Pierce that his only hope lay 
with Buchanan. Have the Buchanan Committee continually circulating 
about the floor, visiting with each state delegation. These visits might not 
accomplish much directly but would create a constant disturbance with 
Buchanan's name at the center. Speaker Ward promised not to interrupt 
this unparliamentary procedure. 15 

In a dozen ballots Buchanan led but did not approach a two-thirds 
majority. Then Pierce withdrew, throwing his votes to Douglas, and stray 
votes began to drift over to Buchanan. On the sixteenth ballot Buchanan 
polled a two-to-one majority over Douglas from New England, the middle 
States, and the West, and Douglas ran two-to-one ahead of Buchanan in 
the South, a conclusive refutation of the fallacious story of later years that 
the South had picked Buchanan. 16 Douglas finally withdrew, hoping to 
promote his chances for 1860, and on the seventeenth ballot the convention 
nominated Buchanan by acclamation. It chose John C. Breckinridge of 
Kentucky as vice-president, an honor which came as a total surprise to him. 
The Democratic platform, nearly identical with the previous one, 
added a new plank: opposition to further agitation of the slave question, 



a firm stand on the Compromise measures of 1850, and recognition of "the 
right of the people of all the Territories . . . acting through the legally and 
fairly expressed will of the majority of the actual residents ... to form a 
constitution with or without domestic slavery, and be admitted into 

the Union," 

The Republicans named John C. Fr&nont, a choice of expediency. 
Their strongest candidate, William H. Seward, did not want to risk the 
defeat which he anticipated the party would suffer in its first national 
campaign. Fremont had tremendous romantic appeal, no political record, 
and would bring the northern Know-Nothings along with him. 

The Republican platform promised to promote the building of a 
railroad to the Pacific, to make big appropriations for rivers and harbors, 
and to prohibit in the territories "those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy 
and slavery." One resolution broke sharply from the old pattern of party 
platforms and took the form of a revolutionary manifesto. It accused the 
Pierce Administration of every crime in the human calendar, charging it 
with murder, robbery, arson, confiscation of private property, false im- 
prisonment, and the tyrannical subversion of the Constitution in Kansas. 
The platform labelled as "spurious and pretended" the territorial govern- 
ment of Kansas which Congress had recognized as legal and called the 
revolutionary Topeka government, whose members soon would be under 
federal indictment for treason, the "constitutional government." But the 
last sentence was the serious one. It arraigned the Administration, the 
president, his advisors, agents, supporters, apologists, and accessories for 
crimes against humanity and concluded "that it is our fixed purpose to 
bring the actual perpetrators of these atrocious outrages, and their accom- 
plices, to a sure and condign punishment hereafter." 

Had this been the platform of some insignificant, crackpot party, 
the people of the country would have laughed it off as pure moonshine, 
something like the ravings of the suffragettes or the phrenologists. But 
Kansas was no laughing matter, nor did the Republicans appear as a harm- 
less lunatic fringe in 1856. They might win. 

If they were victorious, the platform pledged them to arrest, jail, 
and possibly execute those who disagreed with them on Kansas. People 
might easily brush aside the Democrats 9 sense of outrage at such threats as 
mere partisan prejudice but northern Whigs discovered the same import 
in the Republican platform. Said they: "Can [the Republicans] have the 
madness or folly to believe that our Southern brethren would submit to be 
governed by such a chief magistrate? I tell you that we are treading on 
the brink of a volcano." 17 People who still loved their country were 

Fr&nont posed no great problem to the Democrats. The political 
sophisticates passed him off as "a man whose only merit, so far as history 



records it, is in the fact that he was born in South Carolina, crossed the 
Rocky Mountains, subsisted on frogs, lizards, snakes and grasshoppers, and 
captured a woolly horse." 18 A good many agreed with Sophie Plitt: 
"Fr&nont to run in opposition . . . What afarcel Poor ignoramus. And 
Dayton too they want a burlesque!" 19 It amused Buchanan to remember 
how he had first brought Fr&nont into the public eye by persuading the 
Senate to print and distribute thousands of copies of the Exploring Expedi- 
tion to the Rocky Mountains. Fr&nont did not worry him; the real issue was 
the Republican threat of disunion and civil war. Buchanan feared this 
possibility, not only as a candidate but also as a private citizen. "In case 
of a dissolution of the Union," he wrote to Howell Cobb in July, "Maryland 
and Pennsylvania would most probably be frontier states; & whilst we and 
generations yet to come would have bitter cause to deplore the dreadful 
catastrophe, these two states would suffer more than any other members of 
the Confederacy." 20 


Buchanan stated the keynote of his campaign in these words, "The Union is 
in danger and the people everywhere begin to know it. The Black Republicans 
must be, as they can be with justice, boldly assailed as disunionists, and 
this charge must be reiterated again and again." Forget the past, bury the 
bank, the tariff, and the rest as historical fossils. The Democrats must 
publicize the statements of "the abolitionists, free soilers and infidels 
against the Union," to show that the Union was in danger. "This race 
ought to be run on the question of Union or disunion." 21 

The Democratic press generally adopted this campaign theme, 
and devoted columns to the antiunion pronouncements of prominent 
Republicans. Ohio's Representative Joshua R. Giddings had announced 
"I look forward to the day when there shall be a servile insurrection in the 
South; when the black man . . . shall assert his freedom, and wage a war of 
extermination against his master; when the torch of the incendiary shall 
light up the towns of the South, and blot out the last vestige of slavery; 
and though I may not mock at their calamity, nor laugh when their fear 
cometh, yet I will hail it as the dawn of the millenium." , New York's 
Governor William H. Seward asserted that "there is a higher power than 
the Constitution," and hoped soon to "bring the parties of the country 
into an aggressive war upon slavery." Speaker of the House Nathaniel P. 
Banks said frankly that he was "willing ... to let the Union slide." Judge 
Rufus S. Spalding declared that if he had the alternatives of the continuance 
of slavery or a dissolution of the Union, "I am for dissolution, and I care 
not how quick it comes." 



Editor James Watson Webb predicted that if the Republicans lost 
the election, they would be "forced to drive back the slavocracy with fire 
and sword." Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune wrote that "the free 
and slave states ought to separate." The Union, he editorialized, "is not 
worth supporting in connexion with the South." A Poughkeepsie clergy- 
man prayed "that this accursed Union may be dissolved, even if blood have 
to be spilt." A group of Republicans petitioned Congress to take "measures 
for the speedy, peaceful, and equitable dissolution of the existing union." 
0. L Raymond told an audience in Faneuil Hall, "Remembering that he 
wL a slaveholder, I spit upon George Washington." (Hisses and applause) 
"You hissers are slaveholders in spirit!" 22 

Almost every day during the campaign, Democratic newspapers 
ran a column of such (flotations as evidence of Republican doctrine. But 
Buchanan and the Democrats incorrectly assessed the fundamentally 
revolutionary nature of the Republican party. While the Democrats 
published this material to expose the determination of the Republicans to 
break up the Union, the Republicans joyfully welcomed all the free publicity 
and published the same material in their own newspapers as bright banners 
of the glorious crusade. About 175,000,000 copies of newspapers circulated 
annually in the North, and about 50,000,000 annually in the South. The 
southerners got only the Democratic viewpoint, the terrible threat; the 
certainty that the Republicans planned for them just what their platform 
promised: fire and sword. The northerners got four times as much material 
on the same theme, in the papers of both parties, and the Republicans 
believed it was helping them more than Buchanan. In fact, the word 
"disunion" so dominated the campaign that it began to take hold of 
Democratic minds. So solid a Union Democrat as Jeremiah S. Black, in 
urging Howell Cobb to prevent the South from acting politically without 
prior consultation with friends in the North, concluded: "If you will do 
this, even the election of Fr&nont may result in nothing worse than turning 
New England with her ignorance, bigotry, and superstition out of the Union; 
and that is a consummation most devoutly to be wished." 28 

Buchanan made no speeches during the campaign; he stayed at 
Wheatland conducting a prodigious correspondence. Every question of 
the election dwindled to trifling insignificance, he wrote, "when compared 
with the grand and appalling issue of union or disunion." If Fr&nont won, 
he said, disunion "will be immediate and inevitable. . . . We have so often 
cried Volf,' that now, when the wolf is at the door, it is difficult to make 
people believe it." From the South came letters from men who had once 
opposed nullification and secession but who now said "that the election of 
Fi&nont involves the dissolution of the Union. . . . Many now deem that 
it would be for the mutual advantage of the parties to have a Southern 



British newspapers were "all for Fremont . . ., and a dissolution 
of the Union." French journals assumed that there would be an immediate 
declaration of war between the sections if Fremont should win, and ex- 
pressed surprise that the word "disunion," once so horrifying to Americans, 
was now spoken openly in all parts of the country. The Abolitionists and 
Radical Republicans of New England and Ohio shrilled to the same chorus. 
When a convention in Cleveland, called for the purpose of northern 
secession, failed to accomplish that object in the fall of 1856, Garrison, 
Wendell Phillips and their partisans called another to meet in Worcester, 
Massachusetts, in January, 1857, where they proposed to secede from a 
union with slaveholders. "It is now with nine-tenths only a question of 
time," said Phillips. Garrison defiantly cast a copy of the Constitution into 
a bonfire with the exclamation: "So perish all compromises with tyranny." 
"Boston is a sad place," wrote Buchanan. "In that city they have re- 
elected to Congress a factious fanatic, . . . who, in a public speech, said that 
we must have an anti-slavery Constitution, an anti-slavery Bible, and an 
anti-slavery God." 24 

The Democratic campaign and the adherence of many prominent 
Whigs to Buchanan's cause seemed to guarantee success in November. 
That supposition got a rude shock in September when Maine held its state 
election. While the Democrats had no real expectation of winning the 
state, they had spent money and sent speakers in the hope of keeping the 
Republican victory small. But Maine went Republican by an overwhelming 
majority. This smashing defeat aroused the Democrats to energetic action. 
Southerners, in a panic, mobilized hurriedly, declaring in the meantime 
that if the Republicans won they would have to secede immediately to save 
their lives. Pennsylvania now became crucial, for careful analysis showed 
that Buchanan had to carry his home state to win. But every electoral vote 
became critically important. To bolster California, Buchanan wrote a 
letter endorsing the construction of a Pacific railroad to counter the Re- 
publicans* strongest propaganda weapon there. Forney discovered, to his 
horror, that Buchanan had never even written to President Pierce or to 
Senator Stephen A. Douglas, enlisting their aid in his campaign. Buchanan 
recognized it as a stupid oversight, but he found himself unable to repair it, 
for to write at this late date would be an insulting insinuation that these 
gentlemen had been dragging their feet. Douglas became so excited that 
on his own volition he sold some land and gave the money to the campaign 
chest: $100,000 according to a biographer of Douglas, and $100 according 
to a Buchanan biographer. In a thank you letter for this, Buchanan un- 
fortuijately addressed the envelope to "The Hon. Samuel A. Douglas." 

The Democratic party leaders converged on Pennsylvania where 
the state election in October would determine the fate of the presidential 
balloting. They had two weeks in which to work. Cobb came from Georgia 



and made ten speeches in ten days to huge audiences from Philadelphia to 
Erie. At Meadville he talked to a crowd of 3000 for an hour and a half in 
a driving snow storm, then drove by buggy to Erie in the off-season blizzard 
and spoke another hour and a half. For a Georgian, this was the supreme 
sacrifice. 25 From the South came the word: "Concentrate your entire 
force of every kind upon Pennsylvania until the 15th even the day of 
election have speakers everywhere. Success here will carry more votes . . . 
than can possibly be accomplished by direct efforts in other states. Carry 
every speaker to Pennsylvania. . . . Don't waste your time replying. 
Carry Pennsylvania." 26 

The week before election Lancaster staged the greatest effort of 
the campaign. Some 50,000 people descended on the little Dutch com- 
munity to hear the sons of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster (both Whigs) 
and all the prominent Democrats. There was a huge parade with booming 
cannon and innumerable bands, and placards were displayed at every little 
distance bearing the legend: 

Nail up the Flag, aye, nail it fast; 
The Union First, the Union Last. 
We hail no flag no party own 
That any of the States Disown. 27 

Only one mishap marred the occasion. The first section of the special train 
carrying 2000 Philadelphia^ wrecked, blocking all following traffic, with 
the result that the Dallas contingent never got to Lancaster. 28 

The Democrats won Pennsylvania by a slim majority on October 
15 and everyone relaxed. A Democratic presidency was assured. The 
election would not go to the House of Representatives. Fr&nont could not 
win. In the November elections, Buchanan polled through the nation 
some 1,800,000 votes, Fremont 1,300,000, and Fillmore 900,000. South 
of the Mason-Dixon line, Fi&nont drew less than 8000 votes. The Electoral 
College gave 174 votes to Buchanan, 114 to Fr&nont and 8 to Fillmore. 

The Union was saved. '*! believe now," wrote Howell Cobb's 
brother, "that no other man but Mr. Buchanan could have been elected 
with the opposition we have encountered at the North. He was The Man 
... the most suitable man for the times." 29 Back at Wheadand, his "segar" 
lit and the Madeira bottle open, President-elect Buchanan agreed. 





On March first, 1857, James Buchanan, clad in a dressing gown and slippers, 
sat alone in his study trying to calm his nerves and itemize a list of inci- 
dentals which needed attention. They must all be ready in the morning 
when he would leave for Washington. He could hear Harriet and Miss 
Hetty walking about in the room directly above him; the murmur of their 
conversation and the occasional thump of a trunk lid annoyed him. Going 
to the door, he asked one of the servants to call J. B. Henry who had been 
acting as his private secretary during the past hectic months. 

Buchanan gave him a few instructions and went upstairs to his 
bedroom where he removed his dressing gown and tried on the vest and 
coat of his inauguration suit. Mr. Metzger, the tailor on East King Street, 
had delivered it the week before, and it showed the signs of his fine crafts- 
manship. 1 Outwardly it was unobtrusive; a plain black coat of French 
cloth, but into the lining was worked a magnificent design of thirty-one 
stars representing the states of the Union, with Pennsylvania dominating 
the center. It would fit, he thought to himself. A man ought always to be 
plain, dignified, and restrained on the exterior, but he ought to wear beneath 
this external coat the knowledge of his true talents and character. Let 
there be more hidden in reserve than outwardly shows. Thus would a man 
always be competent to the tasks assigned to him. 

As he tried on the flowered satin vest, he ruminated about his 
inauguration ceremony. For him, it would be no inauguration at all; it 
would be more like a culmination. What would it be for the Union? The 
election of 1856, for the first time in American history, had probed down 
to the bedrock question of union or disunion; survival or disruption. The 
cliche" of editors and orators had become the bona fide statement of the 
fundamental problem: the Union was in danger. 

After his election, Buchanan wrote: "The great object of my 
administration will be to arrest, if possible, the agitation of the slavery 



question at the North, and to destroy sectional parlies. Should a kind 
Providence enable me to succeed in my efforts to restore harmony to the 
Union, I shall feel that I have not lived in vain." 2 He re-echoed the theme 
to Mr. Justice Grier. 3 To the students of Franklin and Marshall College, 
who visited at Wheatland a few weeks after the election, he confided that 
"the object of my administration will he to destroy any sectional party, 
North or South, and harmonize all sections of the Union under a national 
and conservative government, as it was fifty years ago."' 



In the interval between the election and the inauguration Buchanan could 
do little or nothing about the slavery dispute, but even before taking the 
oath of office he could strike a blow against sectionalism by carefully picking 
his Cabinet. He would not incorporate into it men of different political 
opinions. He would choose only those who had proved their party 'regu- 
larity and demonstrated their devotion to nation above section. There 
would be no extremist in the Cabinet. 

As soon as Buchanan received the facts and figures of the election, 
he made a study to determine the proper dispensation of office and political 
favor. He wanted to unite the national Democrats with the Union Whigs 
and to destroy the subversive league of northern fanatics and southern 
rebels. The election returns showed that Buchanan had won all the slave 
states except Maryland (which went for Fillmore), and had carried the free 
states of Pennsylvania, Indiana and California. Fr&nont had won the six 
New England states plus Michigan and Wisconsin. Elsewhere Buchanan 
and Fremont had run a tight race and neither had achieved a popular 

The election strongly highlighted the sectional nature of the 
Republicans and the national appeal of the Democrats. 6 Frdmont com- 
manded a majority in only one of the geographical sections of the nation; 
he scarcely had any vote south of the Mason-Dixon line. Buchanan beat 
Fr&nont in seven of the eight geographical sections. 6 But the American 
party, by running Millard Fillmore, had complicated the election and in- 
duced a critical 21 per cent of the voters to dodge the issue on which the 
safety of the nation rested. There was no way of knowing what these 
voters stood for. 

Buchanan knew definitely what kind of Cabinet he wanted. To 
keep a Democratic bastion in the heart of the enemy's country, he needed 
a New Englander. Either Nathan Clifford of Maine or Isaac Toucey of 
Connecticut would meet the requirements of experience and party regularity. 
New York might as well be left out; the two Democratic factions of the state 
were, after a generation of feuding, hopelessly irreconcilable. He could 



pick no New Yorker without widening the split. Pennsylvania had to have 
a Cabinet post, but the selection here would be as difficult as in New York. 
The Democrats remained so faction ridden that the selection of any veteran 
might wreck the party. Buchanan planned to avoid trouble by appointing 
a personal friend who was a newcomer to Pennsylvania politics, J. Clancy 
Jones of Reading, who had once lived in the South and commanded con- 
fidence and respect there. 

Virginia, which had loyally supported Buchanan, had earned a 
place. He promptly offered one to Henry A. Wise, but the governor turned 
him down. He also offered John Slidell a Cabinet appointment but he, too, 
declined because he preferred to remain in the Senate. 

As an antidote for northern suspicion, Buchanan wanted in a 
position of high responsibility the most outspoken southern unionist he 
could find. Howell Cobb of Georgia was that man. He had stumped the 
North during the campaign and had given to thousands a thrilling demon- 
stration that the South contained some of the most aggressive and deter- 
mined champions of union in the land. After SlidelFs refusal, Buchanan 
wanted Cobb to have the State Department, and Cobb let it be known that 
he would serve only in that station. 

The Union Whigs had contributed so many votes to Buchanan's 
election that he wished to confirm their conversion to Democracy by 
including one of their leaders in his official staff. Other needs, however, 
would have to be taken care of first. 

The Northwest presented the worst problem. Here, in the upper 
Mississippi Valley, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Jesse D. 
Bright of Indiana were locked in mortal combat for control of the power 
and patronage of the party. Buchanan detested Douglas, considering him 
the irresponsible destroyer of the slavery settlement of 1850. To Buchanan, 
the stupidity of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was overshadowed only by the 
avaricious personal ambition of its author. Unhappily, Douglas could not 
be ignored for he had nearly taken the 1856 nomination, and with a strong 
following in the South he commanded a power essential to the party. 
Bright had brought in the vote of Indiana for Buchanan when Douglas had 
failed to deliver Illinois, but Douglas threatened to wreck the party if Bright 
went into the Cabinet. Bright was determined that no friend of Douglas 
should receive an appointment. Under these circumstances, Buchanan 
felt he dared not commit himself to either for the time being. 

At this point in his planning, Buchanan received the reports 
from California. They gave him an increased majority and suggested one 
new idea. He could not give California a position, but he could again 
endorse a federally-built railroad to the Pacific which would gratify the 
westerners and weaken Douglas, who was working in political team with 
Jefferson Davis in the South. The renewed prospect of a Pacific railroad 



would trip one or the other, for each was determined to have the eastern 
terminus of any such road in his own back yard. He advocated the railway 
in a letter which he sent to the press December 8. 

Wheatland was open house during November and December, 
though the stream of visitors never reached the 400 daily that some of the 
newspapers reported. John Appleton of Maine, whom Buchanan planned 
to install as the editor of an Administration newspaper in Washington, even 
lived at Wheatland for a time, to the great distress of John Forney, who 
wanted the editorial job. Forney rushed in and out continually in the early 
weeks, until he learned that he was not considered for the Cabinet and 
would not be awarded the Washington editorship. 

Buchanan did not know what to do with Forney. He had sup- 
ported Pierce up to the very last moment before the Cincinnati Convention. 
Although he had cleared lie position with Buchanan beforehand, this did 
not mollify Buchanan's friends; and nothing would ever make Forney 
acceptable to Virginia Democrats. He had gotten into a violent fight with 
the Wise faction while Buchanan was in London, and had expressed himself 
with such abandon that he was lucky to have escaped a duel. Buchanan's 
Virginia friends would have preferred the devil to Forney in any responsible 
position, and Buchanan needed Virginia back of him. Forney wrote that 
he was staying close to the foot of the throne to counteract the southern 
insistence that he should not edit the Washington Union. "I can be elected 
Senator," he said, "but I will not be. I will go into the Union, or I will 
stay home and . I confess I am sick at heart. Met Mr. Clancy Jones. 
He is for the Cabinet. God save us." 7 

During November, Buchanan went on a brief trip with Lewis Cass 
of Michigan, and visited Governor Wise and Senator Douglas in Phila- 
delphia. The more he listened and the more mail he read, the more complex 
his Cabinet problem became and the more secretive he grew about it. By 
early December he knew that Wise and Slidell would not serve, that Bright 
was blocked, that Clifford was unacceptable to Pierce, that Jones would be 
rejected by the Democrats of Pennsylvania, and that none of the Democratic 
leaders was willing to give up a Cabinet place to a Union Whig. Only Cobb 
remained a certainty, and he insisted on the State Department or nothing. 

On December 1, Buchanan wrote that he was still "wholly un- 
committed about the cabinet," 8 and stated that he intended to keep his own 
counsel on the subject "even after I shall have formed a decided opinion, so 
that if circumstances should require a change, this may be made without 
giving offence." 9 By the end of the month Buchanan asked his friends to 
keep out of Lancaster because "everybody is now looked upon with a 
jealous & suspicious eye who visits Wheatland." 10 Howell Cobb, who 
should have been first in Buchanan's confidence, at last abandoned his 



curiosity and told his wife that he was ready "to let Old Buck fix up his 
Cabinet to suit himself as ... he will do anyhow." 11 

Perhaps Buchanan was wise to be silent, and to postpone any 
appointment until he had worked out a scheme incorporating all. But 
unhappily for him, his secrecy multiplied his difficulties. In the absence 
of a public announcement, every clique and faction of the Democracy 
which had a candidate to push or a trade to make got into the game. Manu- 
facturers of public opinion to influence Buchanan's choice set up in every 
hole and corner of the nation. 

False rumors refueled all the old factional fights. Forney raged 
against Virginia, "For Hunter we never will or can go. Against him we 
shall wage war to the knife and the knife to the hilt ... by the Great God 
they shall find that if we are Democrats we are not negro slaves and dogs . . . 
anybody before Hunter." 12 Wrote another: "If the Free Soilers at the 
North have been as busy as the Southern Rights men ... his Cabinet will 
have to be taken from the extremes of the party, leaving all the national 
men out." 13 

Buchanan hoped that the first week of the New Year would settle 
one worrisome deadlock, the problem of Forney and Jones. The Pennsyl- 
vania Legislature would soon elect a Senator to replace Richard Brodhead 
who for the past six years had made it a kind of religious mission to vilify 
and discredit the Sage of Wheadand. Buchanan had hoped to send 
Jeremiah Bkck to the Senate, but Forney now had his heart set upon that 
place. Something had to be done for Forney. He was now in a state of 
near frenzy, and if he ever lost control of himself he could and would pky 
havoc with the Democracy in Pennsylvania. Buchanan could not possibly 
have him in the Cabinet and he could not trust him with the Washington 
Union, but he would be pretty safe in the Senate; at least a vast improve- 
ment over Brodhead. If Forney went into the Senate, there would be no 
resistance to Jones in the Cabinet. 

After much prodding Buchanan wrote a letter to Harrisburg 
stating his personal preference for Forney as Senator. The letter was both 
restrained and belated, but it was nonetheless a direct endorsement, 'which 
was more than Buchanan had ever before given to anyone in a Pennsylvania 
senatorial race. 14 

A few days later the telegraph wires hummed with the news of 
the election of Simon Cameron as Senator. "My God, what a scene of 
public corruption and wholesale bribery it. was," exploded Forney. 15 The 
Democrats nominated Forney but Cameron, after mobilizing the opposition, 
discovered he needed only a handful of votes to win. He first utilized 
David Taggart, a state senator from Northumberland County, whose bank 
Cameron had threatened to close and then relented on a promise of political 
subservience. He also enlisted the aid of Charles Penrose. These two 




successfully appealed to three Democrats who were looking for a chance to 
square old scores with Forney. For Buchanan it was the worst thing that 
could have happened; it destroyed the very keystone of his plan. Pennsyl- 
vania Democracy was to have heen the model and the guide; the symbol of 
national spirit and forbearance in the party. Now it was a laughing stock. 
Howell Cobb wrote to his wife "that Simon Cameron, an abolitionist, was 
elected. ... It is a hard blow not only upon Forney but upon Mr. Buchanan 
and the democratic party. I have never felt more deeply a result than 
I do this." 16 

Forney's defeat raised a strong wave of sympathy for him which 
broke in the form of demands that Buchanan now put him in the Cabinet 
on the principle "that great generals ought to care for ... the gallant and 
true-hearted that nobly fell with their face to the enemy, particularly when 
treason worked their fall." 17 But if Buchanan had decided nothing else, 
he had determined not to have Forney in the Cabinet He now reconciled 
himself to another firm conclusion: he could not have Jones, either, and in 
great embarrassment sat down to ask Jones to release him from his former 
promise. 18 Angry and hurt, Jones tried to maintain his claim, but he 
ultimately gave Buchanan a written release and intimated that he might 
accept a mission to give the appearance of party harmony. 

Knowing that Forney, with five children, mounting debts, and no 
job, desperately needed money, Buchanan urged that he take the Liverpool 
consulate, the richest place he could find in the non-policy making branch 
of the government, but Forney would have none of it. He would not go 
abroad, and he refused to serve at home in any subordinate position, 19 
Unable to find any post he could conscientiously give which Forney would 
accept, Buchanan temporarily gave up the effort; but when he learned that 
his old friend was drinking heavily and had threatened to mortgage the 
Washington property which was the only remaining security for his family, 
Buchanan stepped in, arranged to act as trustee of the property for Mrs. 
Forney and the children, and devised a temporary income for Forney as paid 
correspondent for various Democratic papers. 20 

In January it was rumored that Buchanan was seriously con- 
sidering Robert J. Walker for the State Department, proclaiming him for 
Pennsylvania. Walker had been born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, and 
grown up in Pittsburgh, but he was now a resident of Mississippi. He had 
strong national views and personally opposed slavery, although he was rec- 
onciled to it politically as a system sanctioned by law and tradition. The 
rumor concerning Walker disturbed Cobb and set in motion his enemies, 
Jefferson Davis and Stephen Douglas, who now began to push Lewis Cass 
for the top post in the Cabinet. They sought by this scheme to block Cobb 
and Bright so that Davis could gain control in the South and Douglas in 



the Northwest. 21 But Cobb, with great magnanimity and political astute- 
ness, endorsed their candidate, "and that knocked all their calculations 

into <pi-' " 22 

Buchanan neither liked nor respected Cass, but he did recognize 
him as an ideal symbol of his policy and saw in his appointment an oppor- 
tunity to resolve several of his most embarrassing problems. Cass would 
undoubtedly accept, for he had just been voted out of his job as Senator 
from Michigan and would be reluctant to return home in defeat. He was a 
thorough nationalist, an undeviating party regular, an old-time Jacksonian, 
and a former presidential candidate. He would not make a good Secretary 
of State, for he was a notorious Anglophobe, and he was so old, lethargic, 
and indolent that Buchanan planned to instruct others to do the work. But 
Cass would reinforce the idea of party unity, Cobb had agreed to defer 
to him, though to no other, as head of the Cabinet and would take the next 
position, possibly the Treasury. 23 Cass's installation would break the 
critical stalemate; confound Davis and Douglas without giving them cause 
for resentment; pacify Bright who had won his Senatorship and would not 
contest the issue with Cass; permit Buchanan to have Cobb in the Cabinet; 
and make room for maneuver in other selections because the greatest 
pressures were removed. So far nothing had been given to Pennsylvania, 
but she would have to wait. At this point Buchanan decided to go to 
Washington and finish the Cabinetmaking. 

He arrived in Washington on January 27 during the worst cold 
wave in decades and went immediately to the National Hotel. Forney 
reported in the Pennsylvanian that President Pierce and Senator Douglas 
sent Buchanan dinner invitations, which he declined, 24 but certain persons 
who were on the scene stated that he dined with Pierce, Douglas, and others 
on the night of January 31 and the next evening attended a dinner party 
given by Mrs. Douglas. 25 One thing is known; he talked with Douglas, and 
the Little Giant reported afterwards that the atmosphere was chilly. He 
was not referring to the weather. 26 

Buchanan consulted at length with men he particularly trusted; 
Cobb, Wise, Slidell, and others. Cobb wrote to his wife on January 31 that 
"Old Buck still avers he has not communicated to anyone" his Cabinet 
plans, but he included in the same letter a list of probabilities. His accurate 
"guessing" leads one to suspect that the decisions were made during 
these consultations. 27 ' 

Buchanan returned home on February 3. A cryptic note in the 
Wrightsville Star reported that the' president-elect "footed it" the 10 miles 
from Wrightsville to Lancaster. 28 The visits to Wheatland continued: 
Bright, Douglas, Dan Sickles, and a stream of Pennsylvania Democrats. 
All reported that Buchanan was still planning Cabinet appointments, but 
more likely he was giving most of his time to the inaugural address. 



Forney's friends were furious that Clancy Jones was going around 
blabbing that he had been invited for an advance perusal of the address and 
was acting very uppity about it. 29 Of the Cabinet, Buchanan wrote in 
mid-February: "Applications are pouring in to me recommending different 
gentlemen for the Cabinet; but they are too late ... the testimony is closed 
and the case ready for judgment. ... I shall announce it in a few days." 30 

On February 17, Buchanan wrote the first of a series of letters 
that would settle the composition of the Cabinet. He informed Clancy 
Jones that he would definitely be out, and that Jeremiah Sullivan Black 
was to have the only place available to a Pennsylvanian. 31 On the 18th he 
had it out with Forney, who wrote to Cobb of the interview: "Just from 

Lancaster where I have heard my doom It wounds me like a blow." 32 

On the 20th and 21st, Buchanan was "mysteriously missing," according to 
the local press, but it is certain that he was at Wheatland, for he wrote to 
Cobb from there on the 21st and formally asked him to accept the Treasury 


The same day he wrote to Cass, offering the State Department 
under conditions which would let Cass have the honor but place the work 
and responsibility in the hands of assistants named by Buchanan. He then 
invited Aaron V. Brown of Tennessee to take the Post Office, and Jacob 
Thompson of Mississippi the Interior Department. The Navy Department 
and Attorney-Generalship were still unfilled; into these places he wanted to 
put a Pennsylvanian and a New Englander, one of them, if possible, a Union 
Whig. Buchanan felt he could go no further at the moment. On February 
25 he published in the newspapers a notice that positively no more visitors 
would be received at Wheatland until after the inaugural ceremonies. 

To close the door to callers was very much out of character for 
Buchanan, even when he had a presidential inaugural address to finish. 
His "mysterious absence" and his subsequent seclusion resulted from 
something a good deal more serious than a wish for peace and quiet. 
James Buchanan, along with dozens of other guests, had gotten a bad case 
of the ct National Hotel disease" during his recent visit to the Capital. The 
disorder was a kind of dysentery, accompanied by violeitf diarrhea, severe 
intestinal inflammation, and distressing persistence. The affair was 
partially hushed up, but rumors amplified the brief reports which attributed 
the cause to frozen plumbing which in some way had contaminated the 
water supply. Some averred that rats, driven from the walls by the cold, 
had sought refuge in the attic and there tumbled into the open vats in 
which rain water was collected for the hotel system. This explanation 
expanded into the tale that poisoned rats were purposely placed in the 
water tanks. Other experts concluded that poisonous gas from sewers 
which were connected with the kitchen sinks had been stopped up by the 
freezing of sewer outlets and had poisoned the food. The probable reason 


was that sewer waste had backed up into the kitchen, contaminated the area, 
and infected the servants, who passed the infection on to the guests. At 
such time it was inevitable that there should be an ugly rumor of an 
attempted assassination. 33 

Whatever the cause of the epidemic, Dr. Jonathan Foltz, who 
treated Buchanan after his return to Wheadand, ordered him to live else- 
where during the preinaugural period, preferably the President House where 
all the water came from a tested spring. 3 * 

Buchanan felt he had nearly, completed the first part of his task. 
The Cabinet would represent national interests and the inaugural would 
emphasize the same theme. Every extremist from Maine to Florida and 
every faction from New York to California had had a go at him and been 
given a fair hearing. They had forced him to alter some of his personal 
choices, but he had held firm on the principle governing the final selections. 
There would be not one factionist or one sectional fanatic among his 
advisors; all were devoted to the Union above section; to the party above 
faction; and to a desire to preserve the status quo at least long enough to 
calm the public mind. The Cabinet would be national and conservative. 

Buchanan had expected to defer the second great task, dealing 
with slavery, until after the inauguration. But during February he was 
drawn into a correspondence which gave him hope that part of the problem 
might be solved at a stroke. While in Washington he had learned that the 
Supreme Court was nearly ready to bring in a decision on the Dred Scott 
case. Eager to have the backing of the Court, he wrote to Justices John 
Catron and Robert Grier about the wisdom of having the Supreme Court 
issue a thorough expository opinion on the power of Congress over slavery 
in the territories. Buchanan knew what the majority decision would be- 
that Scott had no rigjit to sue because he was not a citizen and he knew 
that two dissenting Justices would prepare a statement supporting their 
views. Should not the majority do likewise, and make explicit that Congress 
had no power over slavery in the territories; therefore, the Missouri Com- 
promise had been unconstitutional? Buchanan strongly urged this action 
as the best possible way to get the slavery debate out of Congress and settle 
once and for all the sectional contention. If the country was so far gone 
that it would attack the Supreme Court, then the Union was already cracked 
beyond repair. 35 

Buchanan stirred and shook his head as the room came back into 
focus and his rumination turned into the realities of March 1, 1857. The 
inaugural coat still lay upon the bed. Tomorrow morning he was leaving 
for Washington* 



Lancaster was up betimes on the cold, snowy morning of March 2. The 
church bells began ringing at six to inform the people it was time to begin 
the march to the depot. The marshals, in their gaily colored silk scarfs and 
white rosettes, cantered about waving their batons and shouting lustily at 
the straggling crowd along West King Street to form a line and close ranks, 
in readiness to follow Buchanan's carriage the moment it arrived. After 
half an hour of shivering and foot stamping, the marshals very sensibly 
abandoned their pride of organization to the need of action and started a 
parade toward Wheatland to intercept the president-elect. The band fell 
to its work with zest but after about five minutes had to give up the attempt 
because of the cold, and clambered aboard the wagon provided for its use. 
At Wheatland it was learned that Buchanan's party was still not ready to 
leave. At last, to the echo of rousing cheers, the carriage came round to 
the front portico. Buchanan, Miss Lane, James Buchanan Henry, and 
Miss Hetty Parker stepped into it, and without further ado the procession, 
with Captain John H. Duchman's Lancaster Fencibles proudly leading the 
way, was off to the railway station. 

Superintendent Joseph B. Baker had provided a special train of 
four cars the sides and windows of which had been decorated with patriotic 
symbols and scenes from Wheatland. The presidential party boarded, 
acknowledged a last rousing ovation, and left for Baltimore. There a change 
of stations required passengers to go to the other end of the city for the 
Washington trains. 

En route a message was delivered warning that a rowdy mob of 
about 1000 anti-Buchanan Know-Nothings was swarming around the 
Calvert Street Station looking for trouble. The party therefore got oflF 
at the Charles Street Station, where several companies of cavalry, sabers 
drawn, waited to accompany the presidential party to Barnum's Hotel for a 
huge midday bantjuet. But Buchanan was so ill that he retired immediately 
until three o'clock when he boarded the train for the capital. Meanwhile, 
the Lancaster Fencibles, who had to walk between stations, ran into the 
foiled Know-Nothings, had to fight their way through, and were so much 
harassed during their march that they missed the train. 30 

Despite the specific orders of Dr. Foltz and the urgent pleas of 
Senators Slidell, Bigler, and others, Buchanan went to the National Hotel 
as a mark of confidence in its proprietor, an old personal friend. He still 
had two Cabinet appointments to make and the address to finish. The 
politicians assembled at Washington took up every minute he would spare 
them and tried to "help" him complete these tasks. At one stage he added 
a sentence to the inaugural implying that settlers in Kansas and Nebraska 
had no power over slavery in the territories until the time of framing a 


state constitution. News of this opinion leaked out to General Cass who, 
as an originator of the popular sovereignty idea back in 1848, could not 
swallow this interpretation and told Buchanan bluntly that he would refuse 
to serve in the Cabinet if this statement appeared in the speech. Buchanan 
cut it out. He concluded that he could not complete the Cabinet in such 
turmoil and decided to postpone the work until the day after the inaugura- 
tion. Furthermore, he was very sick with a recurrence of the dysentery, 
and he was shocked to learn that the disease had broken out again with 
increased virulence among the guests at the hotel. 

A faultless spring day dawned on March 4 to grace the inaugura- 
tion festivities. The thousands who had poured into the city were glad to 
be up early from their makeshift beds in the parlors, dining rooms, and 
public lobbies which had been pressed into service to accommodate the 
overflow crowd. The bells began to ring, and slowly members of military 
companies in gay uniforms appeared on the streets, citizens hung flags and 
bunting from windows along the line of march, and members of the Twelfth 
Ward Democratic Club of Philadelphia redoubled their efforts to sell more 
tickets at five dollars a head to the Inauguration Ball. 

By noon the three groups of parade marshals, with their white, 
yellow or blue scarfs and saddle cloths trimmed with rosettes had the thirty- 
odd fire companies, militia battalions, bands, floats, and groups of artisans 
in line; and the procession started down Pennsylvania Avenue to the 
National Hotel. There Buchanan was joined by vice-president-elect 
Breckinridge, and all were ready to proceed when it was found that Presi- 
dent Pierce was not on hand. A twenty-minute delay ensued until someone 
on the arrangements committee discovered that through an oversight, 
Pierce had been completely forgotten. After a flurry of excitement and 
consultation, the committee picked Pierce up at the Willard Hotel and at 
last the waiting crowds were relieved of their impatience by the sight of an 
elegant, four-horse barouche, containing the president and the president- 
elect. Ahead of them, leading the procession, was a huge float drawn by 
six white horses bearing a lady symbolizing the Goddess of Liberty on a 
high platform. Members of the Keystone Club rode beside the open 
presidential carriages, and behind them came a float with a large model 
of a warship. 

At the Capitol, the group which was to share the inauguration 
platform gathered first in the Senate Chamber where Vice-President 
Breckinridge took the oath of office. All then filed out onto the stand in 
front of the east portico. In the shuffle of getting seated, Buchanan and 
Chief Justice Taney met momentarily at the front of the rail and held a 
brief chat. Some of those who witnessed this exchange swore to their dying 
day that at this very moment Taney told Buchanan how the Supreme Court 
would decide the Dred Scott case, and that Buchanan instantly added this 



information to his address. What they did not know was that he had more 
than a week before learned the news from one of the Justices. 37 

The address was soon over and the oath of office administered. 
Buchanan felt thankful that his queasy stomach had responded to the 
brandy and medication which Dr. Foltz had given him just a half hour 
before and that he had been able to complete the ceremony with dignity. 
The address had been sincere, if unexciting; that was its purpose, his 
purpose, and the country's need. Below, hawkers were already selling a 
kerchief-sized edition of it, printed on silk. 38 The audience discovered 
nothing new in it except two statements that Buchanan would not run 
again, and that the Supreme Court would soon settle the issue of slavery 
in the Territories. Foreign correspondents wrote that the new Administra- 
tion would be a compromise, a postponement of the solution of gripping 


That night the whole of Washington seemed determined to crowd 
into the Inauguration Ball The managers had built a temporary structure 
235 feet long and 77 feet wide on Judiciary Square for this function. Gold 
stars winked against the white ceiling, and bunting of red, white and blue 
festooned the walls. "Such a jam, such heat," wrote a lady who was there, 
"I never either saw or felt before. . . . The members of Congress got 
so over-excited with wine that they had to be locked up in the upper rooms 
lest they should reappear in the ballroom." 39 

Miss Lane, hailed by enthusiastic newsmen as "Our Democratic 
Queen," appeared resplendent in a white dress decorated with artificial 
flowers and wearing a necklace of many strands of pearls. President 
Buchanan and Harriet mingled with the crowd, talked to members of the 
diplomatic corps, and enjoyed the cheers and gaiety. But they soon left 
and shortly thereafter the doors of the White House closed gently upon 
the new tenants. 

Back at the Ball, the Russian Minister, Baron de Stoedd, was 
trying valiantly to dance with Madame Sartiges, wife of the French Minister. 
He remarked to her that the current situation in Washington reminded 
him of Paris just before the Revolution of 1830. There, at a ball given by 
Louis Philippe, Talleyrand whispered to the monarch, "Sire, we are dancing 
on a volcano." 40 





Glamorous as the White House has always seemed to those who have 
imagined the day when they might occupy it, the reality of moving in has 
hrought many a new president back to tie workaday world with a thump. 
He finds himself, after the tumult of inauguration, just another human 
being walking into a strange house hastily vacated by the previous tenants. 
Buchanan, to be sure, fared better than Pierce who, after receiving visitors 
until past midnight of his inauguration day, fumbled his way upstairs to his 
living quarters to discover that they were a shambles and no beds had been 
made up. Recalling this experience, Pierce graciously moved out of the 
White House a day early so that Miss Hetty could prepare a more homelike 
reception for Buchanan upon his return with Harriet from the inaugural 

Most of Pierce's White House staff stayed in service. Miss Hetty 
and Harriet for a time tried joint superintendence of household operations, 
but the experiment soon raised such a fuss that Buchanan faced a domestic 
crisis. Miss Harriet intended to be Mistress of the White House; if not, 
she would pack her trunks and get out. Miss Hetty said nothing but con- 
tinued quietly to give instructions to the servants. Buchanan then began 
to understand Martin Van Buren's recent advice that the most important 
appointment he would make in his Administration would be a good White 
House steward. The new president found one and told Miss Hetty to return 
to Wheatland, but he invited her to visit the White House as one of the 
family whenever she wished. He agreed that Harriet should dictate all 
matters of social protocol, leaving the execution of details to the steward. 

The White House family included James Buchanan Henry, 
Elliott Eskridge Lane, and for a time Dr. Foltz. As Buchanan suffered 
severely from the effects of the National Hotel disease for six weeks after 
the inauguration, Foltz stayed until the affliction had run its course. 
Eskridge Lane, too, had caught the infection, thought he had it under 



control, and tben suddenly died of a violent attack during April. It was a 
dreadful setback for Buchanan, who had come to rely heavily upon Esk- 
ridge, and another crushing blow to Harriet. She determined at this time 
to devote her life to "Nunc" and become a much more serious-minded 
young lady than she had been in the past. 

The domestic routine slowly worked itself out. The household 
arose about 6:30, and finished breakfast by eight. The president retired 
to his second floor office, where he spent most of his time until noon 
receiving visitors. In an adjoining room, J- B. Henry read through all the 
incoming mail, sorted it for forwarding to the Departments or to the 
president, wrote a digest of contents on the outer leaf of each letter, and 
entered receipt of it and the name of the person to whom it was forwarded 
in his day book. 

After lunch every day except Sunday and reception days, Bu- 
chanan met with the Cabinet and then went for an hour's stroll about 
Lafayette Square and through the residential district north of the White 
House. He bought a new carriage with trappings, but he never used it 
except on infrequent state occasions or during the midsummer months. 
In July and August he stayed at the "Soldiers' Home," a stone cottage near 
Georgetown, and each morning drove in to Washington where he worked 
in a room at the State Department. Harriet pretty much ran her own life, 
spending the mornings planning or gracing social functions and the after- 
noons riding out on a beautiful white horse she had recently acquired. 
Riding side-saddle and accompanied only by her groom, she came to be a 
familiar and striking sight in Washington. 

In the evening the whole White House family, including Miss 
Hetty when she was there, dined informally about seven. Buchanan invited 
one or two Cabinet families and a few chosen friends to small weekly dinners 
with rarely more than fifteen present. Once a week he also gave a "state 
dinner" for about forty persons to entertain the members of the Supreme 
Court, the diplomatic corps, Senators, Representatives, governors, army 
and navy dignitaries, and important visitors. Buchanan made up the guest 
lists for these affairs, Harriet worked out the details of precedence at the 
table, and Buchanan Henry had the duty of pairing each gentleman with 
the lady he should escort to dinner. Harriet's task was perhaps the most 
difficult, for members of all political parties came to these dinners, and it 
was a matter of some delicacy to achieve the right order of precedence 
without seating mortal enemies next to each other. Her London training 
stood her in good stead and she managed her part with great cleverness and 
tact. After the guests left, the president retired to his study to read over 
the correspondence which his nephew-secretary had digested and sorted 
into appropriate folders. He wrote his own orders on papers he wished 
personally to attend and sent the rest back to the secretary's room for filing 



or forwarding. Before retiring he often read in the Bible or some religious 
work and then went to bed around midnight. 1 


The members of Cabinet, too, had to establish their households and define 
their role in the new Administration. Everyone sensed that the capital 
faced the gayest social season in its history. Little social leadership had 
come from the White House since the days of Van Buren. Tyler had been 
restrained by Harrison's death, political schism, and the loss of his wife. 
Mrs. Polk had governed social functions by the sternest rules of Presby- 
terian morality. She banned dancing, liquor, and even nonalcoholic 
refreshments at White House functions. She disapproved of cards, horse 
racing, betting and loose joviality, "This is a very genteel affair," a 
Congressman once remarked at one of her parties. Without a smile, she 
replied, "I have never seen it otherwise." Mrs. Taylor, a Maryland blue 
blood, thought commerce with politicians was degrading and declined to 
appear publicly with the president. Taylor's death threw a pall over social 
activities which Fillmore's shy school-teacher wife did nothing to raise. 
Mrs. Pierce never recovered from the sudden death of her son, Benny, and 
avoided public appearances. The election of Buchanan had brought release 
from the terrible tensions which gripped the nation during the campaign of 
1856 and put into the White House a wealthy Epicurean, a gay bachelor 
with a flair for society and a Chesterfieldian knowledge of its ways. And 
Harriet Lane, lovely, sprightly and eager for the fun of social competition 
promised to bring an endhantingly new tone to White House festivities. 
The president unofficially confirmed the public expectation in a note to his 
liquor merchants, a few weeks after inauguration, rebuking them for 
sending champagne in small bottles. "Pints are very inconvenient in this 
house," he wrote, "as the article is not used in such small quantities." 

Although the members of the Cabinet held similar political 
opinions, none of them had known each other or Buchanan very well prior 
to March 4, 1857. Lewis Cass, who had been a general in the War of 1812, 
was by 1857 a ponderous but feeble old fellow with a massive bald head 
which he kept covered with an ancient brown wig. He held the State 
Department only as a symbol of old-time Democracy, while the president 
and John Appleton did the work. Cass enjoyed the prestige of his station. 
He rented two adjacent houses, furnished them regally, and gave his 
daughters Mrs. Henry Ledyard and Belle Cass free rein to entertain on the 
grand scale. Buchanan had never liked Cass since their days of rivalry 
and the old general, though grateful for his rescue from oblivion, would 
have been less than human had he not felt a little uncomfortable playing 
the subordinate. Black wrote, "They never spoke evil of one another, but 



Buchanan learned to think unpleasantly of Cass's faults and was not kind 
to his virtues." 2 At <"*binet meetings Cass rarely said much, but kept 
opening and shutting his mouth, and sucking his hreath between his teeth 
as if he constantly tasted something disagreeable. 

Howell Cobb became the acknowledged premier of the Cabinet. 
Buchanan formed a warm attachment to the chubby, good-natured, forty- 
one-year-old Georgian who had come to Congress in 1842, served as Speaker 
of the House during the 1850 crisis, and then returned to Georgia to fight 
down the secessionists there by allying with Union Whigs and capturing 
the governorship. He returned to the House in 1855 as an anti-Douglas, 
pro-Union Democrat. Buchanan found many ideas and experiences they 
shared in common. The University of Georgia had kicked Cobb out for 
about the same reasons that Dickinson had expelled Buchanan, too much 
enthusiasm and not enough respect for the professors and the rules. They 
often laughed about the escapades of their college days. Cobb, like Bu- 
chanan, never could gain solid political control of his own county, but he 
never had any trouble carrying the district or state. He disliked the 
principle of slavery and hoped the system would slowly die from economic 
pressure. Cobb calculated that he would have more net income if he sold 
his plantation and invested the money, but he refused to cast his slaves 
adrift as freed men with no one responsible for their care and did not want 
to sell them because this would break up the families. 

It pleased Cobb to be the favorite, but he soon learned he had to 
pay for it. Buchanan gave him "the duty" every time he went on vacation 
to Lancaster or Bedford, often called him for special consultation, and had 
him move into the White House for weeks at a time when his wife was in 
Georgia. Howell tried for three months to get back to Athens to bring 
Mary Ann Cobb and a newborn son (their fourth child) to Washington and 
told his wife he would come "whether the President will permit me or not." 
But he feared to defy Buchanan and finally sent his assistant, Philip Clayton, 
for the family. Howell rented a house from Corcoran at 15th and I Streets 
which he christened the "Widower's Den" before the arrival of his wife in 
the autumn of 1857. A number of the new members of the Cabinet who 
had not yet moved their families to Washington held impromptu stag 
parties there in the early months of the Administration. 8 

Mary Ann Cobb possessed qualities which Buchanan much 
esteemed in women. She was unpretentious and inclined to domesticity. 
She enjoyed society but had no particular ambition to cut a figure in it. 
She talked with frankness, wit, and good sense, although she felt a little 
inadequate in small talk and gossip. Buchanan admired her a good deal 
more than she did him; she complained that he worked Howell too hard 
and acted too dignified, making her nervous for fear she would not do or 
say the right thing. 



Mrs. Cobb brought with her a sprightly young widow, Mrs, 
Elizabeth C. Craig, who had achieved some notoriety by detonating a local 
civil war on the issue whether she or a rival was the most beautiful lady of 
Athens, Georgia. This grave crisis split the university, realigned county 
politics, and led to combat between citizens of the town. Mrs. Craig quit 
the fray with a flourish, announcing that she would go to Washington and 
snare the president. "Nothing short of the first man in office will answer," 
she wrote to Howell in advance of her arrival. When Buchanan invited 
her to live at the White House some months later, betting odds began to 
turn in her favor. 4 

Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, Secretary of the Interior, proved 
to be one of the most popular members of the Cabinet circle. "Winning, 
able, persuasive in argument, affectionate, and warm hearted, he melted 
opposition rather than destroyed it." 5 Such a man was after Buchanan's 
own heart, and the two achieved a mutual respect which even the passions 
of civil war could not wholly destroy. Thompson was well acquainted 
with land policy and Indian affairs, though he had little public experience 
outside Congress. He moved into a house at Eighteenth and G Streets 
where he let his vivacious wife, Kate, and her niece, Miss Wiley, run social 
events to suit their fancy. Buchanan preferred Kate Thompson above all 
the Cabinet wives, possibly because she was so much of a flirt and turned 
her best coquetry on him, or perhaps because she was so impetuous and 
passionate, qualities that he particularly admired in others, having so little 
of them himself. Mrs. Cobb called her "an easy and free-hearted woman." 6 
Buchanan used to drop in unexpectedly at her house when her husband was 
out of town, but she played the game and generally walked him over to 
Cobb's where they bantered away the night. She was scatterbrained and 
bubbly, but she knew how to get favors out of the Old Chief when others 
had failed. 

Postmaster General Aaron V. Brown and his wife brought with 
them from Tennessee more wealth than they knew what to do with and 
determined to show it off to Washington society. Mrs. Brown fancied 
herself above the -standing rules of etiquette and brashly gave dinners 
without thought of protocol or precedence. She seated guests where she 
pleased, and if the French Minister found himself at the wrong end of the 
table and beside some territorial representative, it did not trouble the 
hostess. Mrs. Brown and her daughter soon became known in Washington 
as "the diamonds." "They are the only ladies of the 'priory council' who 
patronize jewels and trains," wrote an acquaintance. "Entre nous, they 
evince something of the vulgarity of wealth." 7 

Other members of the Cabinet lived more modestly and engaged 
only in the social activities which their station demanded. Jeremiah S. 
Black did not even know he was to be included in the Cabinet as Attorney 



General until after the Senate had confirmed him. Black's wife and his 
daughter Mary may have had social ambitions, but they had neither the 
money nor the personal graces to gratify their hopes. Black was a curious 
combination of brilliant lawyer and miscast dramatic actor. He loved to 
toss compliments to pretty ladies and could call Milton, Shakespeare, or 
Shelley to his aid at will, but he lacked the feather touch and seemed to 
caress with a sledge hammer. Some women thought him disgusting and 
others, foolish, but closest to truth was the remark of one recipient of his 
gallantry who remarked that he reminded her of an elephant trying to dance 
a hornpipe. He was honest as the day, and decisive as a thunderclap. As 
the Administration wore on, Buchanan more and more leaned upon the 
strength of his mind and will. Black got on better with the Cabinet than 
did his family and was always welcome at formal or informal gatherings. 
Howell Cobb's young son paid him the ultimate compliment by naming his 
new dog "Jerry Black." 

John Buchanan Floyd, governor of Virginia as his father had been 
before him, participated little in the whirlwind of society. His wife had a 
bad fall shortly after he assumed the War Department which incapacitated 
her, and Floyd himself was plagued by illness. Even had health permitted, 
they would have found no pleasure in the social round. Buchanan liked 
Floyd and granted him favors and privileges not extended to others, insisting 
that he take time off to regain his health. But he worried about Floyd's 
fitness for his job, and found it necessary to reprimand him more often 
than any other Cabinet member. 

At the beginning of the Administration, Buchanan knew Isaac 
Toucey, Secretary of the Navy, better than any of his staff, for he had 
served with Toucey in the Polk Cabinet. Toucey was mild, quiet and 
industrious. Because his wife suffered ill health, he stayed home most of 
the time he was not busy with office work. 

This group comprised the "Administration." "The cabinet 
ladies," wrote one of them, "are aH pleasant and promise to be as one 
family. They are called here The President's Family,' and surely the 
gentlemen are as much at ease as several sons with a kind, indulgent father. 
The President, I think, is the greatest man living." 8 


Buchanan had expected a wild scramble for patronage, but the reality far 
exceeded even what he had steeled himself to endure. Not only were there 
more applicants than ever before but also fewer jobs. Not since the 
inauguration of Van Buren, twenty years before, had one Democratic 
Administration succeeded another. Now the offices were filled with Pierce 



men who could not be swept out without disrupting the party. Further- 
more, Buchanan for a generation had been accepting political aid but never 
had achieved any office that gave him power to pay off party debts. In the 
Secretaryship of State his influence on appointments had been slight. Now, 
when he found himself for the first time in an administrative position with 
direct control over patronage, his obligations had grown larger and the 
expectations greater than he had realized. All his old-time friends came 
for jobs, and they all brought long lists of their friends who had been 
promised their rewards. Even if these requests had not created an im- 
possible situation, Buchanan's ancient policy of amalgamation and the 
reconciliation of contesting groups would have done so. He had long 
advocated a division of the spoils between Democratic factions, and in the 
recent elections he had promised to let the Whigs come in for a share. 
Thus, he probably doubled the number of those who felt justly entitled to 
patronage. In addition to all these pressures there was still another: the 
ambition of presidential aspirants for 1860, whose appetites had been 
whetted by Buchanan's inaugural pronouncement that he would retire 
after a single term. Douglas, Hunter, Walker, Davis, Cobb, and others all 
demanded special consideration and were ready to fight for it. It required 
no wizard to foresee the result. Whatever patronage policy should be 
developed, there would be unprecedented disappointment and discontent 
throughout the Democratic ranks, and no "administration party" at all. 
Had Buchanan taken the governorship of Pennsylvania in 1848, he might 
have been better prepared to solve the problem he now faced, but he came 
to the presidency with almost every kind of public service experience 
except executive. 

Buchanan adopted the general rule that Pierce appointees who 
were good men and held commissions for a specified time should retain 
their offices until their terms expired. In the case of ministers and consuls, 
the incumbents should have an automatic tenure of four years from the 
date of their original appointment unless they requested relief earlier. 
Appointees with indefinite tenure would have to be judged on the merits 
of each case. Buchanan hoped to spread the availability of many choice 
jobs throughout his term. Pierce had installed a good many of his friends 
in the last two years of his Administration when he hoped to promote his 
own renomination. By leaving these men in office, Buchanan could hold 
their jobs as prospects and have some important gifts to offer in the latter 
stages of his term, without need to remove his own appointees to create 
vacancies. 9 

The Cabinet, meeting for four or five hours nearly every day, 
considered little but the patronage for the first several months. Buck Henry 
sorted out the thousands of requests and recommendations which came 
directly to the White House, and the individual Cabinet members got 



hundreds more daily to add to the pile. Cobb reported returning to the 
Treasury office late at night after a hard day's work to find a bushel basket 
of unopened mail on the floor beside his desk. 10 

Even had these men been endowed with peculiar genius, they 
would have faced several grave disadvantages in making appropriate 
selections from this mountain of requests. In the whole Cabinet group 
there was not one "big city" politician; there was no son of the new West; 
there was no "Young American;'* there was no representative of industry; 
there was no spokesman for the free-soil Democrats. Buchanan could not 
have had a unified Cabinet with these elements included, but by surrounding 
himself with rural politicians and lawyers who frankly accepted the America 
of Andrew Jackson as their ideal he got only a partial and antiquated view 
of the forces astir in the land. Buchanan's supreme confidence in himself 
might have been his greatest asset had he become president in 1844 or 1848, 
for he then was in touch with the national scene. But for a decade he had 
been either out of office or out of the country, and lightning changes had 
been in progress. The friends he trusted and the enemies he understood 
had died or passed from view: Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Benton, Jackson, 
Adams, Polk, King, Shunk, Reynolds, Muhlenberg nearly all those he 
had known in the House and Senate and in state politics were gone. He 
did not know the new generation, and it did not know him except by 
reputation. The president had become very nearly a political stranger in 
his own country. But he had the confidence of rectitude and past success 
and hoped to proceed serenely. Otherwise he would not have remarked to 
a friend who warned that he would be hounded to death by job-hunters: 
'Til be damned if I will." 

Every one of the thirty-one states had its peculiar problems of 
faction. The Administration considered each in its turn, trying always to 
figure out some way to keep the party intact. 11 

The New York Democracy since 1848 had gone from schism to 
chaos. The Softs, erstwhile friends of Pierce, had split; the Hards had been 
weakened by loss of office, and an entirely new faction master-minded by 
New York City's upstart mayor, Fernando Wood, had taken over Tammany 
Hall with brass knuckles and clubs wielded by a crudely disciplined army of 
Bowery thugs. Not knowing quite what to do with this hell's brew of 
faction, Buchanan gave his old friend, Augustus Schell the key federal job, 
Collector of the Port of New York. Schell was rich, pious, aristocratic, 
pompous and, by comparison with those over whom he was expected to 
exercise control, a paragon of honesty. He does not, however, seem to 
have been very bright, and certainly could not supply the fight and leader- 
ship that his job demanded. He was much more at home presiding over 
the New York Historical Society than over the water-front gang in his 
charge. Within a few months the slippery Wood had talked him into an 



alliance which split the Hards, creating faction worse confounded. The 
New York Postmaster, Isaac V. Fowler, who presumably was to work in 
harness with Schell, now became head of the opposition to him, and 
Buchanan found that he had four Democratic factions knifing each other 
in the Empire State. 12 

Pennsylvania's problems proved peculiarly exasperating. The 
Keystone State had been crying foul play for its small share in federal 
patronage ever since the days of Jefferson. Buchanan tried to redress the 
balance, appointing so many Pennsylvanians that the appearance of another 
on the confirmation list came to be the signal for a roar of laughter in the 
Senate. Nevertheless, he brought no peace to the Democracy of Penn's 
land. To gratify Forney's faction, he appointed Joseph B. Baker as Collector 
of the Port of Philadelphia and made G. G. Wescott, one-time editorial 
assistant to Forney, postmaster of the city. But when he appointed 
Francis J. Grund, former henchman of Cameron, to a foreign post, rum- 
blings began. And when he made George Bowman of the Bedford Gazette 
the editor of the Washington Union, lightning flashed. The great objection 
to Buchanan's appointments was his failure to give office to his political 
laborers of twenty and thirty years standing, notably Lynch, Forney, Plitt, 
and Foltz. 

Each of these cases was different, yet every one was important. 
Davy Lynch was very insignificant in politics by 1857, but he remained a 
symbol of loyalty to Buchanan dating back to the 1820's. He had proved 
an inefficient public servant and could not be trusted with any place of 
responsibility, but he spurned any minor situation. Of late his condition 
had become pitiful; he drank incessantly and lived in abject poverty. He 
would not beg, but his wife wrote letters constantly asking for loans and 
Buchanan sent money to Lynch regularly. Davy talked with the quivering 
emotion of the loyal veteran, abandoned in the hour of need by the man 
who had climbed to fame and fortune on his bowed shoulders. 13 In the 
western region he greatly damaged Buchanan's reputation, for the enemy 
publicized his plight as a symbol of Buchanan's selfishness and ingratitude 

Forney presented a problem peculiarly painful. Buchanan never 
believed in giving important posts in the public service to persons who 
depended on politics for their living. To favor and encourage them would 
make them utterly dependent upon the vagaries of political fortune and 
sooner or later, in these days before Civil Service protection, place them in a 
position of such insecurity that they would always be for sale to the highest 
bidder. A sound party demanded men who could stand on their own feet, 
come success or failure at the polls. Forney was not in that category; he 
always needed a post. 

Having been excluded from the Cabinet, denied the editorship of 
the Washington Union, and defeated in the race for the Senate, Forney 



raved wildly in his humiliation. The president, he complained to Black, 
has "never asked my counsel since the election." When Forney indignantly 
rejected the Liverpool consulate because he refused to be "exiled," he 
should have remembered that on two occasions Buchanan reluctantly 
accepted foreign "exile" for party purposes. Nor had the salary been as 
attractive as the one now offered to Forney. 

Forney continued to clamor. "Read this letter to Mr. B.," he 
wrote Black, his intermediary. "Ask him if he is dead to the past in which 
I have served him almost like a slave. Ask him if he forgets the dark hours 

when his friends fled from him & I stood alone a monument of fidelity 

I speak not for myself alone, but for hundreds of thousands." 14 But 
Buchanan could offer nothing that Forney would take. "I mourn for 
Forney," he wrote. "I repeat, I mourn for Forney." It was misplaced 
pity, as Buchanan soon learned. 

By mid-June, when Forney finally realized that Buchanan would 
not give him the trust and recognition he demanded, he all unknowingly 
wrote the real truth in an excited scrawl to Black. Mr. Buchanan insists, 
he said, that "if I succeed, it is to be as before, on my own merits." 15 
Forney decided to go back to managing the Pennsylvania^. For this he 
needed money. Would Black please help him sell his wife's property in 
Washington? Then he learned that Buchanan had placed that property, 
in trust, out of his reach. There are those who still maintain that John 
Forney broke with Buchanan over the principle of Lecompton. Actually 
they had reached the point of rupture a year before; Lecompton would 
serve as a convenient excuse. Buchanan offered him no more prospects; 
if Forney could not influence this Administration, he had better get on the 
right track for the next. By September he was in the Douglas camp. 16 

George Plitt and his wife Sophie had acted as foster parents to 
the Lane children. Mary Lane made her home with them, and Harriet 
stayed at the Plitt "Shantee" in Philadelphia with as much freedom and 
an even warmer welcome than she found at Wheatland. Plitt, whom 
Buchanan had installed as clerk of the Philadelphia federal circuit court in 
1846, was a quiet, unambitious, dutiful, and devoted friend. Before long 
the Dallas Democrats of Philadelphia began an attack on him, for their man 
Hopkinson had been ousted to make a pkce for Plitt. Buchanan offered 
him a different position, but he efrjoyed the clerkship and declined. Later, 
faced with the ultimatum "fire Plitt or lose four votes in Congress," 
Buchanan asked Justice Grier to explain matters to Plitt and solicit his 
resignation. Grier emphasized the absolute necessity of vacating the clerk- 
ship and assured Plitt that "As [Buchanan's] friend you deserve at his hands 
& should receive some appointment of far greater value." 17 Plitt resigned, 
as requested, but Buchanan could not immediately find an appropriate 
opening for him. By the time there was one Buchanan could no longer 



command Senate confirmation for personal friends. Late in I860, Sophie 
wrote ruefully to Harriet about the coming presidential election: * C I don't 
care who is Prest. I worked for one nearly all my life my husband was 
removed from office, & we have been ever since counting every dollar to 
keep our home. I despise politics. . . . There is too much ingratitude in 
political men & I am not a spaniel" 13 George viewed it more calmly and 
remained friendly; he recognized at last the truth of Buchanan's oft- 
repeated advice to build his security on a firmer rock than party patronage. 
But Plitt's many friends wrote off Old Buck as an ungrateful wretch. 

Buchanan had recommended Dr. Foltz's appointment as a Naval 
Surgeon back in 1829. Since then the effusive and emphatic young doctor 
had kept up a steady correspondence with Buchanan from ship and shore, 
and on numerous occasions had served as his personal physician. Since 
1840 he had been keenly interested in politics; and whenever he was in 
Pennsylvania, he had worked hand in glove with Forney. 

When Buchanan became president, Foltz demanded appointment 
as Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. As the office was already 
in the capable hands of Dr. Whelan who, according to the patronage policy, 
would continue to serve until his term expired, Buchanan declined to 
replace him; and even had he done this, he almost certainly would not have 
selected Foltz. Foltz then began attacks on Dr. Whelan, sending proofs 
that he was a Douglas man and alleging that Buchanan retained him only 
because he was Catholic and could protect the Irish vote. Buchanan gave 
Dr. Foltz an appointment as physician to the Philadelphia Lazaretto, a 
respectable sinecure which permitted him to stay in the city with his family 
and conduct private practice along with his supervisory work at the hospital. 
Foltz took the job, but in anger and disappointment. Within a short time 
he became one of the most violent and abusive of all Buchanan's enemies, 19 

Buchanan spent much thought and emotional energy trying to 
solve the patronage problems of New York and Pennsylvania. His failure 
to satisfy the wishes of his four old-time Pennsylvania friends, whose 
names for over a quarter century had been synonymous with loyalty to 
him, damaged him politically. Knowing what he did of these men, he 
would have been wiser to break with them years before* than to let himself 
into the situation he now faced. The rationalization of his course seemed 
perfectly sound to him; he offered all he conscientiously could; but in 
calmly believing that a rational excuse would satiate men who had waited 
so long in anticipation of their reward in his day of triumph, he proved 
that he had been living alone too much. He had lost touch with human 
feelings and reactions. 

Buchanan left appointments in most of the other states to those 
who best knew the requirements, but he insisted upon reviewing in Cabinet 
all the major proposals. He appointed a Chicago postmaster recommended 



by Douglas but selected other federal officers in Douglas's territory without 
even consulting the Senator. He appointed J. Madison Cutts to a federal 
position against the written protest of Douglas and the advice of the entire 
Cabinet. Buchanan had known Cutts long before the Senator ever dreamed 
of politics, and had been fond of his daughter Adele, now Mrs. Douglas, as 
early as the Tyler administration. He replied to the Senator with calculated 
and insulting frankness. "Should I make the appointment, . . . it will be 
my own regard for Mr. Cutts and his family, and not because Senator 
Douglas has had the good fortune to become his son-in-law." 20 

In Louisiana, Slidell insisted that Buchanan should dismiss the 
old director of the New Orleans mint, regardless of the tenure rule. 21 
Slidell was in trouble because the New Orleans postmaster he had recom- 
mended had been caught in a defalcation by Postmaster-General Campbell, 
an appointee of Pierce. Campbell charged that Kendall had been forced to 
steal post-office money to pay his gambling debts to Slidell. The Senator 
challenged Campbell to a duel but got no satisfaction 22 Slidell now de- 
manded the elimination of all remnants of the Pierce Administration in 

Buchanan weakened rapidly under the strain. Many of his notes 
and letters of April, 1857, far from the methodical, delicate, and precise 
penmanship which is the trademark of his manuscripts, present a hurried, 
sloppy scrawl. Cobb remarked that the president had been so "annoyed 
and harassed" during April that he feared to request Georgia appointments 
until the air had cleared. 23 For all the routine procedure that Buchanan 
tried to establish, appointments continued to be made by hook or crook. 
In order to rush one through the Interior Department, Cobb took the origi- 
nal letter of application, endorsed on it "Request granted J. Thompson, 
Sec'y. of Interior" and slipped it quietly into the "approved" pile in 
Thompson's office. 24 Thompson apparently never did know about it. When 
the male applicants had worn themselves out, they hired the ladies to try. 
"They take it for granted that we become so hardened that we can resist 
the importunities of men but cannot withstand the plaintive entreaties 
of the fairer portion of God's creation," wrote one of the Cabinet. 25 

By midsummer the available jobs had been assigned, and the 
hungry, unsatisfied horde went home. Some monumental decisions had 
been made, chief among them the selection of Robert J. Walker as Governor 
of the turbulent Kansas Territory. Slidell would be the Administration 
leader in the Senate; J. Glancy Jones would be the House whip and Chair- 
man of the Committee on Ways and Means. With a majority in both 
branches, it began to look by June as if the Administration had gotten off 
to a fair start. 




After the first few months of daily conferences and contention, what had 
the Cabinet come to think of their chief? They agreed with Black's pro- 
nouncement: "He is a stubborn old gentleman very fond of having his 
own way, and I don't know what his way is." 26 Floyd told a friend that 
"Mr. Buchanan was different from Genl. Jackson; . . . Genl. Jackson could 
be coaxed from his purpose, but . . . Mr. B. could neither be coaxed nor 
driven." 27 One Cabinet member remarked that they all stood in awe of 
him like boys in the presence of their schoolmaster and called him "The 
Squire" behind his back; 28 another said that he "overhauled the Secretary 
of War" so scorchingly that they were all afraid of him. 29 Floyd, on this 
occasion, had sold Fort Snelling in Minnesota to a New York syndicate for 
a fraction of its value, and although he had not profited or broken any law, 
Buchanan gave him a lashing for being a dupe. Mrs. Craig, after a month 
in the White House, began calling Buchanan "The Grand Turk." 

The president's colleagues found him extremely nosy. He 
flustered Cobb one day by inquiring in great detail about his wife's fortune 
and finances. After getting the information, Buchanan asked abruptly, 
"Well, if you are so rich, why don't you pay that $15,000 you owe?" Taken 
aback, Cobb almost replied, "I will, if you will loan it to me," but restrained 
the impulse. "Don't you think the old gentleman is quite curious about 
such matters?" he asked. 30 The busybody habit, not only in matters of 
private affairs but in the activities of all the departments brdd secretiveness 
in the Cabinet that contributed to Buchanan's ignorance, later in his term, 
of some very irregular proceedings that went on under his nose. But as a 
whole, the Cabinet had great respect for and confidence in the chief. 
Jerry Black, in characteristic phrase, wrote in July, 1857, after a flurry of 
trouble in Kansas: "This being the first little gale we have had, those who 
have the handling of the ship are a little awkward for the moment. I speak 
of lieutenants & sailing masters. The great old captain looks calmly up 
into the sky and gives his orders quietly orders which will keep her head 
steady on true course." 31 





One cannot imagine a more unfortunate place to have precipitated a crisis 
between the North and the South in 1854 than Kansas, for here centered 
the greatest hopes of each section. And what hopes they were! Fifty 
million acres of level farm land; a strategic location for the eastern terminus 
of a transcontinental railroad which would tap the enormous trade of the 
Pacific coast; the promise of rich political offices which might determine 
the future supremacy of a party or section. And this region of golden 
opportunity lay at the junction of North, South and West, easily accessible 
to adventurous crusaders from each. Why did Douglas propose the Kansas- 
Nebraska Bill? Why did Congress by a large majority sustain him? And 
where did the results leave James Buchanan in March, 1857? 

Senator Douglas, as Chairman of the Committee on Territories, 
had sweated his way through many Congressional struggles over the 
organization of the federal domain. In 1847 he had proposed the extension 
of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific. In 1850 he backed popular 
sovereignty for New Mexico and Utah. His main interest lay not in 
method but in speed. The West would grow as fast as Congress would let 
it grow; did there need to be a year's discussion every time a new territory 
was to be created? 

In January, 1854, Douglas reported out of Committee a bill to 
divide the Nebraska Territory. When the two parts were admitted as states 
they should be "received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their 
Constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission." This rendered 
void in Kansas and Nebraska the Missouri Compromise restrictions against 
slavery north of 36 30'. Having attacked the Missouri line, Douglas 
decided he might as well eliminate entirely the idea of Congressional control 
and added to the bill the explicit statement that the Missouri Compromise 
was "inoperative and void ... it being the true intent and meaning of this 
act not to legislate Slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it 



therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate 
their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitu- 
tion of the United States." He suspected this part would raise a "hell of 
a storm" but thought it would please the South without hurting the North. 
After a violent debate, Congress passed this dangerous measure. A little 
later Douglas's friends reported that he looked "like a man who sorrows 
for a misdeed." 1 

Douglas assumed that no more slave states would come in under 
his bill. The climate of Kansas was unfavorable to crops which slaves 
could profitably cultivate; slavery could not rapidly be moved into an 
unsettled region; free men by the score could easily establish themselves 
in the new territory before a single slaveholder could transport his un- 
wieldy property to it. At the same time, the South would gain its right to 
settle the common domain and therefore would permit the rapid admission 
of western states. Douglas was "groping for a new center of gravity in 
politics," the Great West. It would make him rich, and unless he misread 
his future, it would make him president. 2 

Evidence that Douglas had made a mistake soon poured in from 
every side. Forney, then Clerk of the House, reported that a number of 
Buchanan's friends had supported the measure in the very hope of killing 
Douglas off for the presidency. 3 The abolitionists promptly formed a 
"New England Emigrant Aid Society" to free-load settlers into Kansas, 
and the South organized competitive companies to stimulate immigration. 
Douglas helplessly appealed to Congress to outlaw such "perversion of the 
provisions of the Kansas-Nebraska Act." 

In Kansas settlers sympathetic to slavery established a Territorial 
government with headquarters at Lecompton which President Pierce 
recognized as legal. Antislavery settlers set up a competing government 
at Topeka which both President Pierce and Congress declared illegal and 
revolutionary, but its adherents refused to disband. Open warfare between 
the two governments soon broke out and continued in Kansas up until 
Buchanan's inauguration. Federal troops supported the Lecompton 
officials, but General Jim Lane's private free-state "army" provided effective 
defense of the Topeka rebels. Two sets of public officers and competing 
legal codes made Kansas, in effect, not one but two territories, one lawful 
and the other at war with the United States government. Supporters of 
both engaged in wholesale ballot-box frauds, graft, claim-jumping, intimida- 
tion, and settlement of debatable questions by bullet and bowie knife. 

While "bleeding Kansas" symbolized the struggle over slavery to 
most people in the United States, to Kansans this issue was incidental to 
the main one land. Whoever controlled the government distributed the 
political jobs, and the holders of these supervised the disposition of land. 



Governor Geary reported: "the greatest obstacle to overcome in the pro- 
duction of peace and harmony in the Territory, is the unsettled condition 
of the claims to the public lands," and the Squatter Sovereign concurred. 
"It is a historical fact," wrote the editor, "that almost all the contentions 
which result in bloodshed . . . have their origin in some dispute over land 
claims." Another paper said: "Each week adds to the list of murders . . . 
mostly growing out of this one thing; and there is no law to come to the 

rescue." 4 

Slavery became an excuse for dissensions in Kansas, and for the 
artificial promotion of settlement, but as Paul Gates writes, "The first 
objective of most people who went to Kansas ... was to secure land claims 
which might be sold profitably." 5 The New England Emigrant Aid Society 
of Connecticut sent out settlers to take up land for resale, and this company 
quickly invested three times more cash in Kansas land claims than any 
other syndicate. The Missouri "Border Ruffians," who allegedly invaded 
Kansas to vote illegally and make it a slave state, mainly wanted to protect 
their land interests. Only 3% of the Missourians of the region held slaves, 
but nearly half of them staked out claims the moment the Kansas Territory 
was opened. It should be added that the Missouri-Kansas boundary had 
not yet been marked, and frontiersmen near the uncertain border thought 
they had better vote; they might be Kansans. The entire border population, 
when the opportunity arose, claimed to be residents of Kansas, and prior 
to a federal survey there was no way to prove they were not. They felt, 
at least, that they had as good a title to residence in Kansas as the peripatetic 
mercenaries of the Emigrant Aid Society who showed up en masse at land 
auctions as bonafide resident "settlers" but left by boat the day after the 
sale for their residence elsewhere. 6 

But outside Kansas the slavery question dominated the headlines. 
By the time of Buchanan's inauguration, a variety of points of view had 
become clearly discernible. The Republicans used the "bleeding Kansas" 
theme as party propaganda. Any atrocities they could pin on the Democrats 
strengthened their cause in the North. The Free-Soilers and later the 
Republicans jumped like grasshoppers from one territorial policy to another, 
espousing any one which at the moment seemed best calculated to weaken 
their Democratic opponents. In 1848, the antislavery partisans wanted 
the Wilmot Proviso and opposed both the extension of the Missouri line 
and squatter sovereignty. In 1854, they upheld the Missouri line as if they 
considered this the ideal policy, and bksted popular sovereignty. By 1857 
they championed popular sovereignty more ardently than Douglas, and 
vilified Buchanan for permitting frauds in its operation. 

But despite their capricious territorial policies, the Republicans 
proclaimed and exploited to the fullest a fundamental principle that stood 
immovable: that the doctrine of human slavery could never be reconciled 



to the tenets of free government. Let there be no further extension of 
slavery. In the realm of theory, in political ideology, and in moral pro- 
priety they stood impregnable. They themselves never seriously proposed 
acting on the basis of racial equality, however. The antislavery party 
demanded the exclusion of Negroes from their society. Northern leaders 
frankly said that they wanted Kansas as a "white man's country." 7 Many 
Republicans had little practical interest in ameliorating the lot of the Negro. 
Primarily they wanted to seize political control from the Democrats. When 
the Republicans in Kansas could not direct the legal government, they 
seceded and lived under their own revolutionary regime. So soon as they 
were sure they could control the legal government, they adopted that. 
The main issue with them was not slavery, nor the Negro; their prime 
objective was political power. 

Southern extremists, or fire-eaters, held very much the same aims. 
"Kansas must come in as a slave state or the cause of southern rights is dead" 
they thundered. "If Buchanan should secretly favor the free-state men 
of Kansas ... he will richly deserve death, and I hope some patriotic hand 
will inflict it," wrote T. W. Thomas of Georgia. 8 These defenders of slavery 
and uncompromising foes of the Yankees told their constituents that Kansas 
would come in as a slave state. By some means or other, they had to make 
good their promise or lose their following. For them, too, the issue, 
stripped of the verbiage of propaganda, was political control. 

Conservative Democrats, both north and south, emphasized the 
need for admitting Kansas to statehood, free or slave, as the quickest way 
to quiet the abolitionist furor in the North and the secession clamor in the 
South. After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, many of the moderate 
southern journals deplored it as of no practical use whatever to the South. 
No one there had been asking a repeal of the Missouri line when Douglas 
proposed it, and the result had been a disastrous revival of the agitation 
which had nearly wrecked the country in 1850. "All agree," said the 
Richmond Enquirer, "that slavery cannot exist in the territories of Kansas 
and Nebraska." 9 

These Union Democrats wanted to achieve not a free or a slave 
Kansas, but a Democratic Kansas. With the Whigs defunct and such odd 
political makeshifts as the Southern American and the Know-Nothing 
parlies picking up thousands of voters set adrift by the Kansas storm, it 
was of first importance that the Union Democrats get clear of the sectional 
dispute as speedily as possible. Then and not until then could they begin 
to regroup their scattering forces. 

What did James Buchanan think of Kansas when he entered the 
White House other than that it would be the critical problem of his Admin- 
istration? Personally he disapproved of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and his 
friends assumed that had he been in Congress in 1854 he would have fought 



against its passage. 10 He had clearly defined his reasons for opposition to 
popular sovereignty in his comments in 1850 on the New Mexico and Utah 
bills. The nation was a republic, not a pure democracy; the citizens did 
not Inile, could not rule by direct vote; they delegated authority to repre- 

Popular sovereignty not only denied the competence of Congress 
and the validity of the system of representative government, it actually 
invited local war. The popular sovereignty bills were drawn so loosely that 
they did not provide any legal mechanism for the expression of the public 
will. They left undefined the rules for voter qualification, registration, 
control of polls, official count, election officers, jurisdiction over disputed 
ballots, and the limits of matters to be voted on. Finally, they made the 
colossal assumption that a group of unlettered frontiersmen could settle 
in a peaceful, orderly, and effective way the slavery problem which had 
defied tie intelligence of Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Clay, 
Calhoun, Benton, Jackson, Webster, Seward, Douglas, and every other 
political figure who had grappled with it. Buchanan's letters to Toucey, 
Foote, Davis and others in 1850 had predicted the result of asking first 
settlers to decide this old question of slavery "in their own way." They 
would rush in from opposite sides and murder each other. 

Buchanan's official endorsement of the Kansas-Nebraska Act 
accounts for the odd response he made to the Keystone Club upon learn- 
ing of his nomination in June, 1856. He was no longer "simply James 
Buchanan," he said, but the "representative of the great Democratic party" 
and had to square his conduct with the platform. 11 He would support the 
bill as his public duty, but that did not mean he thought privately it was 
a good law. 

During the election canvass the northern Democrats developed 
the idea that Buchanan would achieve fair play in Kansas, and this would 
bring it in as a free state. "Buchanan, Breckinridge and Free Kansas," read 
the banners at party rallies. In the South the electoral line was, obviously, 
not "free Kansas" but a quick and fair settlement which would end the 
agitation and write finis to the Republican party. These elements of the 
campaign impressed on Buchanan the lines of policy which he should 
follow: first, a fair settlement, which meant submission of a Kansas consti- 
tution to an open, peaceful vote; second, a quick settlement; and third, the 
creation of a Democratic Kansas which would silence the few southerners 
who would complain because it came in as a free state. That a fair vote 
would create a free Kansas James Buchanan never doubted not, at least, 
in the early months of his Administration. 




In consultation with the Cabinet and Senator Douglas, Buchanan decided 
to appoint a Kansas governor of outstanding prestige. Ex-Governors 
Reeder, Shannon, and Geary, hard as they had tried, had failed to unify 
the Territory, and the Kansans had broken them one after the other. It 
would be interesting to know whether Buchanan offered the job to Douglas, 
for he would admirably have met the requirements and would have gratified 
many by taking personal charge of the hornet's nest he had stirred up. 
But Buchanan picked Robert J. Walker, a politician of national stature- 
even a possible future president. Walker wanted no part of the job, but 
Buchanan argued so earnestly that the safety of the Union depended upon 
him that lie eventually accepted the governorship as a public duty. To pin 
down explicitly the terms of the appointment he wrote to Buchanan: "I 
understand that you and all your Cabinet cordially concur in the opinion 
expressed by me, that the actual bonafide residents of the Territory, by a 
fair and regular vote, unaffected by fraud or violence, must be permitted 
in adopting their State Constitution to decide for themselves what shall be 
their social institutions." 12 

Frederick P. Stanton, secretary of the Territory and acting 
governor in Walker's absence, departed for Kansas on April 2 to assume 
responsibility until the governor should arrive at the end of May. Buchanan 
also ordered General William S. Barney to take over the 1,500 troops in 
Kansas and prevent civil disorder there. Walker in the meantime con- 
ferred in Washington to clarify further his policy and then left for Kansas 
via New York where, at a public dinner, he explained his purposes in 
language that stretched considerably the proposals which had been cleared 
in Washington. Instead of promising a fair vote to permit Kansans "to 
decide for themselves what shall be their social institutions," (that is, to 
vote on slavery) he now declared his determination to secure a full vote 
upon any constitution which might be offered for adoption. 18 

Walker arrived in Kansas on May 24, hobnobbed for two days 
with the free-state men at Leavenworth and Lawrence, and then proceeded 
to the ramshackle, clapboard capital village of Lecompton where he de- 
livered his inaugural address to a restless and uninterested assemblage of 
frowzy frontiersmen. The address had two parts, one describing the 
political and the other the economic prospects. "In no contingency," he 
said, would Congress admit Kansas as a state without a popular vote on the 
adoption of a constitution. Unless the entire constitution should be 
submitted to direct vote, it ee will and ought to be rejected by Congress." 
There should be no cause for quarrel about slavery, he continued. Nature 
had already decided that issue; the thermometer drew an "isothermal line" 
beyond which slavery could not possibly exist, and Kansas lay north of this 
line. Climate, not politics, would inevitably make Kansas free. 



Kansas had unlimited promise of economic growth, he said, if 
only the people would cease their quarrels. The government would recom- 
mend an enormous land grant upon the admission of Kansas to statehood. 
There was everything to gain and nothing to lose by voting on a con- 
stitution and petitioning promptly for admission. 

If the New York address had stretched instructions, the inaugural 
hroke entirely away from them. Buchanan had talked with Walker, but he 
had never seen a draft of the inaugural. 14 He had not committed himself 
to submission of the whole constitution but only of the slavery question; 
and he certainly never dreamed that the governor would tell the territorials 
how to adopt their constitution, under threat of rejection by Congress if 
they did not follow his advice. Buchanan disapproved of this part of the 
inaugural; nevertheless, he prepared to make the best of it. He agreed 
with Walker that Kansas inevitably would become a free state, but he felt 
that the governor's indiscreet speech at a time when the Administration 
wanted to emphasize its rigid impartiality in guiding the two sections of 
Kansas toward statehood would cause trouble. 

Walker had reasons for his address. He had become convinced 
in the weeks before going to Kansas that his main task would be to persuade 
the free-state people to vote. Many of these were Democrats, and he 
gambled on the hope that they would join with the Lecomptonites in a 
movement to make Kansas a free Democratic state in preference to a Black 
Republican and abolitionist state. He assumed that the proslavery minority 
would come along. The Republicans could be mollified by special con- 
siderations in land distribution. Walker foresaw himself as conqueror of 
the Kansas dragon and soon to be Senator from the new state. He wanted 
the free-state people to trust him, to abandon their Topeka organization, 
and to vote. He offered everything: a free Kansas, control of the new 
government (which would follow a full vote) , and land. If this prospect did 
not gain their cooperation, nothing would. 

Walker had expected his frank and undiplomatic remarks to 
raise a few dust devils, but not the tornado which swept the land. He did 
not yet know that Stanton had told the Lecomptonites that only the slavery 
question had to be put to a public vote, and that it would be wise to handle 
this issue independently of the constitution. Let that document be on the 
regular pattern, without mention of slavery. "Then," he said, "the 
convention ought to prepare a separate article on the subject of slavery" 
for the voters. 15 This proposal apparently came right from headquarters 
and did, in fact, accurately represent Buchanan's view. 16 Nor did Walker 
know that before he even left Washington some of the proslavery men of 
Kansas who had come east to interview him had returned home with the 
report that he was dangerous and would have to be "broken" like the 
other governors. One of them, hulking, red-headed L. A. Maclean of the 



surveyor's office, got up after the inaugural banquet and towering over the 
shrivelled little man in the governor's chair, ridiculed him as a "pigmy" and 
told him to mind his own business or be run out of the territory. 17 

But the reaction in Kansas was mild compared to that of the 
southern fire-eaters who had only with the greatest difficulty been brought 
to a grudging and distrustful support of Buchanan in 1856. "We care 
betrayed" they roared. "Our victory is turned to ashes on our lips, and 
before God I will never say well done to the traitor [Walker] or to his 
master who lives in the White House." "I wish Walker had been hung 
before he went [to Kansas] to try & make himself next President." 18 The 
letters flew, damning Buchanan's "vile treachery" and Walker's harlotry 
with free-soilers and abolitionists. Then came the direct pressure for 
Walker's summary dismissal; if he were not dismissed, southern Senators 
would block his confirmation. This was no bluff, for five southern states 
held congressional elections in midsummer, and if the fire-eaters beat the 
Union Democrats in them, the whole Administration policy of creating a 
strong Democracy would crumble. But Buchanan could not possibly 
remove Walker after one speech, and particularly when the northern 
Democrats hailed that speech as straightforward, manly, and honest. 19 

Buchanan tried to calm the storm, inserting in the Washington 
Union an article explaining that the people of Kansas ought to vote on their 
constitution but disclaiming the right of anyone to make them do this. He 
then put Cobb to work writing letters intended to pacify the southern 
extremists. To clear the Administration, Cobb pointed out that Walker's 
instructions did not demand submission of the constitution to a vote; only 
the slavery question required a plebiscite. The governor in his initial 
enthusiasm had overstepped the mark. To justify Walker, the Administra- 
tion emphasized "that it was better to make [Kansas] a Constitutional 
Democratic state than to let it be Black Republican," and Walker therefore 
had taken the free-state Democrats into the movement. 20 

Alexander H. Stephens, a strong southern Unionist and keen 
interpreter of the Constitution, complained that those who applauded 
Walker's address always overlooked the main point. They thought only 
of the propriety of submitting the constitution for ratification. On this all 
could agree. But suppose the convention chose not to do it? Who had 
the right to tell a constitutional convention what to do? The governor 
certainly had not, and if Congress should try to exercise such a power, it 
would "strike at the foundation of our government" and extinguish "every- 
thing recognized as States Rights and State Sovereignty." 21 

No one could dispute the correctness of Stephens's contention 
that the ultimate sovereignty in the United States lay in the people in 
their constitution-making capacity, in convention assembled. The exercise 
of outside control over a constitutional convention meant subversionof 



the basic principle upon which the government rested. Some of Stephens's 
friends, however, observed that his comments came with very bad grace 
from a man who had recently "voted for that clause in the Minnesota bill 
requiring that the Constitution shall be submitted to the people." 22 

Buchanan, deep in the midst of patronage problems and pestered 
to distraction by office seekers, gave little attention to the uproar about 
Kansas. He would sustain Walker, but he would not endorse his foolish 
talk. In the meantime finicky southerners in and out of Kansas, resentful 
of Walker's "arrogant and insolent threats," began to think that because of 
Wtdker, the convention "ought never under any circumstances to comply 
with his demand." Its refusal would not only establish the sovereignty of 
the people but also force Walker "to carry out his threat, and join the 
free-soil traitors." 23 On the other hand, word spread that the free-state 
men in Kansas would never vote in an election administered by the Lecomp- 
ton government. If there were no submission and no vote on slavery, it 
would be a double catastrophe. 

Walker continued to make the bold and unequivocal speeches 

which he believed necessary to promote his program, and they naturally 

aggravated partisanship. He told the free-state people that if the coming 

constitutional convention did not submit the slavery issue to a vote, "I 

will join you, fellow citizens, in lawful opposition to their course. And I 

cannot doubt, gentlemen, that one much higher than I, the chief magistrate 

of the Union, will join you in opposition." From this statement, the 

southerners assumed Walker had completely gone over to the free-soilers. 

It should be carefully noted, however, that this time Walker had pledged 

himself and Buchanan to a submission only of the slavery question. After 

this encouraging pronouncement from the governor, the free staters in 

Lawrence proceeded to ignore the Lecompton government and framed their 

own city charter without authorization from anyone. Walker now spoke 

again but in terms that cheered the hearts of the proslavery men. Any 

citizens who defied the legal government at Lecompton would be guilty of 

treason, and Walker would not hesitate to use the army to impose the usual 

penalty for it. "If you have wrongs," he said, "redress them through the 

instrumentality of the ballot box." Otherwise, Walker would declare them 

rebels and use the army "to perform the painful duty of arresting your 

revolutionary proceedings." 2 * In the face of this threat, the city fathers of 

Lawrence backed down, and the free-soilers modified some of their earlier 

hopes for Walker. 

The governor wrote to Buchanan on June 28, taking full personal 
responsibility for his pledges to achieve submission of the forthcoming 
constitution and for his assertions that Kansas would have to be a free state. 
He apologized for taking this position and outlined in detail the conditions 
in Kansas which required him to do so. He believed that had he not come 



out for submission and acknowledged the "axiomatic truth" that the 
"existence of slavery here is preposterous," he would have faced a renewal 
of bloodshed. "The expression of these great truths ... was a solemn 
duty," he told Buchanan. "Now unless I am sustained thoroughly and 
cordially by the administration here, I cannot control the convention, and 
we shall have anarchy and civil war." 25 

Buchanan had to make a decision. Walker had gone beyond his 
instructions and initiated a new policy; could the Administration support 
it? The president replied that Walker's letter which he had just read to 
the Cabinet contained views which "were not calculated to assure us of 
your success." Buchanan's position was extremely awkward. He could 
not come out in opposition to Walker, for this would wreck all chance of 
uniting the Democrats in Kansas. On the other hand, to sustain the policy 
that the constitution had to be submitted was to deliver the Administration 
into the hands of the delegates who soon would meet at Lecompton to do 
whatever they pleased. 

Buchanan collected as much information as possible from other 
sources. He received assurances from people he trusted that Walker was 
merely echoing the opinions that prevailed in Kansas when he arrived. It 
seemed likely that the convention would draw up a constitution in which 
there was no mention of slavery and submit it to the voters. The question 
of slavery would be decided separately. Walker said he planned to visit 
every delegate. Even the southerners admitted that the only reason for not 
submitting was the fear that the majority ballot would make Kansas free, 
for it was presumed that most of the 9,251 persons legally registered to vote 
for delegates favored submission and a free state. 

Buchanan finally wrote Walker, "On the question of submitting 
the Constitution to the bona fide residents of Kansas, I am willing to stand 
or fall." 26 He put his Administration on the line with this statement and 
explained very carefully to the Cabinet what he meant by it. He would 
sustain as party policy Walker's unfortunate pledge to achieve submission 
of the whole constitution to a public vote. He did not say that if the con- 
stitutional convention ignored this policy and failed to submit, he would as 
president defy and oppose their action. That would be a different matter, 
a matter not only of policy but also of law, to be handled if the problem 
arose. "Sufficient unto the day." Howell Cobb wrote that the possibility 
of the convention refusing to submit its work to a vote was "full of diffi- 
culty With all my heart, I trust that such an issue will not come upon 

us. I am not authorized to say what course the Administration will pursue. 
We have not anticipated it and have made no programme." 27 With the 
matter temporarily disposed of, Buchanan left for a much needed two 
weeks' vacation at Bedford Springs. 




Meanwhile, Kansas officials had begun the long process of calling a con- 
stitutional convention. Those of the modern age who deplore the skull- 
duggery which both sides practiced ought now to pause and reflect upon 
the nature of the problem. Nothing has so taxed the ingenuity or so 
frustrated students of human affairs as the conduct of a plebiscite to 
determine by a fair vote the fate of a locality inhabited by people of antago- 
nistic loyalties and ideologies, supported by strong and equally matched 
outside allies. In the case of Kansas, the balloting would be administered 
and the results tabulated by one of the parties to the contest, the Lecompton 
government. If the people of Kansas achieved less than a quiet and peaceful 
delivery of the presumed rights of one party into the hands of the other by 
a vote, they at least did better than might have been expected. 

Buchanan had hoped, by the most rigid observance of impartiality 
and technically correct application of legal form, to play the part of umpire. 
Walker thwarted the president by publicly appearing to take sides with the 
free-state party. Black reported in July that Buchanan would apply the law 
and "take no care who frets, who chafes, or who the conspirers are." 28 

On February 19, 1857, the Lecompton legislature provided for 
an election in June of delegates to a constitutional convention to meet in 
September. A census was taken during March. Kansans were given the 
month of April in which to correct errors, and registration of voters 
followed. Rules of eligibility were stricter than they were for ordinary 
elections. Each person had to show proof of three months' continuous 
residence and a receipt for payment of some territorial tax. Quite a few 
illiterate squatters thought the census takers were checking land claims 
and drove them away. .Others sought to avoid taxation by keeping their 
names off the list. The census officials did not visit several remote counties, 
assuming that only Indians lived in them. The Republicans caused serious 
trouble. Apparently the majority of them felt that their registration would 
signify acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the Lecompton government, 
and they therefore boycotted the listing. 29 

Obviously the census and registration were incomplete. But the 
statement, repeatedly made, that only nineteen of the thirty-four counties 
got representation in the Lecompton convention does not convey a correct 
picture. Because of widely scattered population, Kansas counties had been 
grouped into units for electoral purposes. In several units where no white 
population existed, no census was taken; in other units, census work went 
normally in some counties but ran into opposition in others so that the 
electoral unit got representation, even if some counties did not. The 
convention, however, was not a rump affair from which the Republican 
half of Kansas was intentionally excluded, as some charged. Anyone not 



registered had an opportunity to add his name to the rolls, Jbut the Repub- 
licans wanted to keep the registration down to create the appearance of 
of foul play and an unfair vote. 

Despite Walker's inaugural promises to the free-state people, 
only about 2,000 Kansans voted for delegates, nearly all of them proslavery 
adherents. The free-state Republicans who had purposely refused to 
qualify for voting apparently convinced the free-state Democrats not to 
exercise their right after getting it. The election was peaceful, no flitting 
border ruffians or floating New England Emigrants appeared to stuff the 
ballot boxes, and all those registered had an opportunity to vote. The 
delegates who would meet at Lecompton on September seventh were duly 
and legally authorized to act for the people of Kansas. 

While at Bedford, Buchanan drafted an answer to forty prominent 
educators and preachers of Connecticut who had protested his "tyrannical" 
use of the army to "force the people of Kansas to obey laws not their own, 
nor of the United States." In his reply Buchanan exposed some of the 
misinformation being circulated about Kansas and explained his policy. 
The Topeka regime, he reminded them, was "a usurpation of the same 
character as it would be for a portion of the people of Connecticut to under- 
take to establish a government within its chartered limits, for the purpose 
of redressing any grievance . . . against the legitimate State government." 
He emphasized the fairness of the Kansas election law which sought to make 
every bonafide resident a qualified voter, and the efforts to achieve a full 
vote. When "lawless men . . . refused either to register or to vote,*' the 
convention members "were elected, legally and properly" by those who 
were willing to exercise their voting right. He would use the Army in 
Kansas, he concluded, only "to resist actual agression." In words clearly 
prophetic of his policy in 1861, he continued: "Following the wise example 
of Mr. Madison towards the Hartford convention, illegal and dangerous 
combinations, such as that of the Topeka convention, will not be disturbed, 
unless they shall attempt to perform some act which will bring them into 
actual collision with the Constitution and the laws. In that event they 
shall be resisted by the whole power of the government." 30 

When Buchanan returned to Washington in August the future 
of his Administration looked bright. He had just about disposed of the 
patronage, the southern state elections had brought a triumph of the Union 
Democrats over the secessionists, it seemed a certainty that the Kansas con- 
vention would submit its work to a vote, and the "Silliman letter" to the 
Connecticut preachers satisfied most northern Democrats, and brought 
cheers from the South. HoweU Cobb's brother wrote "that B.'s letter to the 
Forty Fools from Connecticut is the greatest state paper for the South, that has 
ever emanated from the executive chair since the days of Washington." 81 



The days of peace and good will proved to be short. On August 24 
the New York Stock Exchange collapsed from a rush to unload securities 
that signalled the Panic of 1857. For the next two months the financial 
problems of the nation and the task of preparing his first annual message 
occupied Buchanan's attention. He kept in touch with Kansas affairs, but 
ceased to worry about them for he believed that the trouble there had 
nearly come to an end. The Lecompton Convention met on September 7, 
but agreed to adjourn until after the election of Territorial ofilcers so that 
no one could accuse the delegates of playing politics. A month before the 
October election of a new Territorial legislature, Walker asked Buchanan 
for information to help him handle conflicts over interpretation of the 
election laws. Cass replied that a Territorial governor had no authority to 
judge the qualification of voters; this power by law belonged to election 
judges who were appointed by County Commissioners. Nor did the 
governor have legal authority to pass judgment on disputed election returns. 
Members of the legislature had jurisdiction over disputed returns for their 
own members; and judges of the courts had jurisdiction if returns for 
court officers were in dispute. The governor ought to express no opinion 
on the elections. 32 

The Territorial law permitted "free" voting; that is, neither proof 
of residence nor tax receipt was required. Walker disposed his troops with 
the utmost care to keep order and assure a fair contest, but his effort failed. 
McGee County, which had polled 14 votes in June, showed 1,226 in the 
October returns. It was in a remote region, and for this reason no troops 
were sent there. In Oxford County, boasting a total of 11 shacks, 1,828 
votes mysteriously appeared. Outraged and shocked, Walker personally 
examined the polling districts of these two counties. He could find no 
population. On these fraudulent returns depended the complexion of the 
new legislature: with them it would be proslavery; without them, free- 
state. After hearing about the McGee-Oxford trickery, the adherents of 
the Topeka government quickly formed their army under General Jim Lane 
and marched on Lecompton. The fraud was so palpable and the probability 
of armed conflict so imminent that the governor, on October 19, issued a 
public proclamation: he would transmit no returns from McGee and 
Oxford Counties. 

The proslavery delegates to the constitutional convention called 
their adjourned session to order at Lecompton the very day of Walker's 
pronouncement on the voting frauds. Furious at his breach of instructions, 
they determined never to be guided by his wishes. Understanding that his 
presence was a detriment, Walker departed from Lecompton, leaving 
Surveyor General John C. Calhoun to work with the convention. 

Calhoun had the able assistance of Colonel H. L. Martin who had 
recently arrived, ostensibly to check some land records. Actually he had 



come as an agent of Buchanan to propose that the convention draw up two 
constitutions: one would protect slavery; the other would not. The White 
House sponsors thought this plan would please Douglas and create a free, 
Democratic Kansas. Calhoun and Martin believed they had won over the 
convention, but it suddenly voted to draft a proslavery constitution and 
send it directly to Washington. 

Working frantically to prevent such a bombshell from landing 
on Buchanan's desk, Calhoun induced the convention to adjourn for a 
few days and reconsider the two-constitution scheme. Almost by a miracle, 
he persuaded the delegates to approve his proposal by a vote of 27 to 25. 
Kansas would have some kind of constitution and could, therefore, become 
a state. In case the vote went antislavery, as Calhoun presumed it would, 
the owners of the 200 slaves in the Territory were to be temporarily pro- 
tected by the anticonfiscation feature common to the abolition laws of 
the northern states, and slavery would vanish as speedily in Kansas as it 
had in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania. Calhoun felt, with reason, that he 
had prevented a renewal of civil war, guaranteed the political loyalty of 
Kansas to the Democrats, and saved both Douglas and the Buchanan Ad- 
ministration from certain ruin. 38 





News of the action of the Lecompton Convention brought shouts of 
"swindle" from all parts of the country. Free-state men were outraged at 
the. refusal of the convention to permit a vote on the constitution and 
Douglas told the Senate that "all those who are in favor of this Constitution 
may vote for or against slavery as they please; but all those who are- against 
this constitution are disfranchised." The Republicans rejoiced that the 
convention had offered them so inviting a target and asserted, erroneously, 
that Kansas would remain a slave state whether people voted for the pro- 
slavery or antislavery constitution. Southern extremists also jumped hard 
on the Lecompton Convention for submitting anything to a popular vote, 
and damned Buchanan for Sustaining a free-soiler like Walker as governor. 
"Nothing short of seeing the Holy Ghost descending on Old Buck in the 
shape of a dove patent to my eyesight," wrote one of them, "could ever 
make me trust him again." 1 

Governor Walker never revisited the convention and soon left 
the territory. Far from returning home in triumph, he would be ruined 
unless he could make out of the unexpected rebellion of the convention 
an issue that would vindicate his mistaken judgment. In Chicago, Walker 
found Douglas much troubled by the events in Kansas. But Buchanan 
occupied the most difficult position of all; he would be denounced for the 
Lecompton Constitution whichever side he took. Political capital might 
be made of his certain discomfiture if it were known what course he planned. 
Walker proceeded to Washington to find out. 

He found Buchanan greatly distressed but still hopeful that the 
people of Kansas would go to the polls, take one constitution or the other, 
achieve statehood and end the controversy. After that they could do what 
they pleased with their constitution. Buchanan said he would urge this 
course in his forthcoming message to Congress. Walker pressed him to 
reject the Lecompton trick and join in a demand for a new convention, but 



Buchanan would have none of it and Walker left, declaiming with fire and 
brimstone that the president had betrayed him. 

Douglas called at the White House on December 3, angry because 
Buchanan had already released the Kansas portion of his message without 
having consulted him. Buchanan, thinking that the Calhoun compromise 
at Lecompton had the support of Douglas and sure that the product of the 
convention, provocative as it was, nevertheless met precisely the terms of 
the Kansas-Nebraska law, had not expected the Little Giant to be up in arms. 
But Douglas believed that he could not possibly survive in Illinois politics 
unless he denounced the Lecompton Constitution; fifty-five of fifty-six 
Illinois newspapers were out against it. The president and the senator 
discussed the problem, dispassionately at first, but with increasing im- 
patience and rancor, since each remained blind to those features of the 
issue which appeared most obvious and compelling to the other. Buchanan 
maintained that unless Kansas came in promptly, the Republicans would 
keep it stirred up for the next three years and undoubtedly win both 
Kansas and the national election of 1860. That would bring civil war. 
He granted there had been fraud and trickery draped all around Kansan 
political affairs, but the constitutional elections had been honest. The 
basest action in these had been the opposition's refusal to register and to 
vote. The constitution-making procedure had been scrupulously legal and 
the president was under oath to execute the law. He had no right to use his 
authority to force a constitutional convention to comply with his private 
wishes. Lecompton had to be sustained; there was no other course. 

Douglas said he would have to oppose it; his people would never 
accept so palpable a fraud. It was a dirty business and a breach of the 
basic principle of majority rule. A minority had swindled the majority 
and made popular sovereignty a joke. Finally, with positions solidified 
by argument and tempers mounting, Buchanan rose and said: "Mr. 
Douglas, I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed 
from an Administration of his own choice without being crushed. Beware 
of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives." Years before, Jackson had destroyed 
the careers of these two men who had opposed him. "Mr. President," 
replied Douglas, "I wish you to remember that General Jackson is dead!" 
and with this he stalked out. 2 

Buchanan, in his first Annual Message on December 8, explained 
1frhy he would be duty bound to transmit the Kansas constitution to 
Congress, no matter which one the voters chose. The convention had been 
legally elected, and federal law only required submission to a public vote 
of the question "with or without slavery." The citizens of Kansas had 
been given every opportunity to register and vote, and the refusal of any 
of them to avail themselves of their right could in no manner affect the 
legality of the convention. Under the existing government, said Buchanan, 



"a majority of those who vote not the majority who may remain at home, 
from whatever cause must decide the result of an election.*' Abraham 
Lincoln, faced with a similar case in West Virginia in 1863, wrote that "it 
is universal practice in popular elections in all of these states to give no 
legal consideration whatever to those who do not choose to vote, as against 
the effect of the votes of those who do choose to vote." 3 

Buchanan approved of submission, and he had hoped that the 
convention would agree. But he had never suggested that he would require 
it. Douglas himself, in his Springfield speech of June 12, 1857, had declared 
that submission was not at all necessary. The convention had done what 
it had a right to do, and the president could not reject its work because he 
had preferred a different decision. Under these circumstances Buchanan 
questioned "whether the peace and quiet of the whole country are not of 
greater importance than the mere temporary triumph of either of the 
political parties in Kansas." 4 

Next day in the Senate, Douglas attacked the legitimacy of the 
Lecompton Constitution. On December 15, Governor Walker resigned, 
charging Buchanan with betrayal. On December 21, the people of Kansas 
cast 6,143 votes for the constitution "with slavery" and 569 "without 
slavery." Meanwhile, in mid-December, acting governor Stanton called 
a special session of the newly elected territorial legislature which otherwise 
would not have met, Buchanan hoped, until after the admission of Kansas 
as a state. Buchanan immediately removed Stanton and appointed Indian 
Commissioner James W. Denver, but the damage had already been done. 
The legislature quickly called for another vote on January 4 on the whole 
Lecompton Constitution. The results of this referendum showed: 

Against the Lecompton Constitution 10,226 

For it, with slavery 138 

For it, without slavery 24 

Despite this blow, Buchanan remained firm and on February 2 transmitted 
the Lecompton Constitution to Congress accompanied by a long explanatory 
message. "I am decidedly in favor of its admission, and thus terminating 
the Kansas question," he concluded. 

What, exactly, was the issue raised by Lecompton? Douglas and 
his allies said it was a question of morality: the vote on the constitution 
had been fraudulent and unfair, and violated the principle of popular 
sovereignty. Buchanan and his allies said it was a question of administra- 
tive law and practical politics: a scabby and unfortunate affair, but legal, 
constitutional, and, given the antecedents, inevitable. These differing 
points of view augured an irreconcilable conflict from the start. The 
argument of those who emphasized the moral issue quickly degenerated 
into ridicule and vilification of Buchanan. The president pointed out the 
futility of trying to settle political questions by appeal to moral principles. 



"The Bible for Heaven, the Constitution for earth," he would say; or, 
"You cannot legislate morality." Douglas agreed with these maxims when 
he talked of slavery, for he declined to discuss its moral aspects, but not 
when he talked of Lecompton and popular sovereignty. 

A great many reasons combined to make Buchanan take the 
position of "no parley with Douglas," and Douglas to threaten, "By God, 
sir, I made Mr. James Buchanan, and by God, sir, I will unmake him." 
Their personalities clashed. Buchanan was the kind of man who tried to 
avoid risk, Douglas the kind who welcomed it as a relish and stimulus. 
No amount of arbitration could alter these differences in their nature. 
Buchanan had little ambition for further political honor, but he was tre- 
mendously eager to achieve a "historical" reputation. He would attain 
this, he thought, if he could settle the problem of slavery in the Territories 
by the swift admission of Kansas. Thus would he not only preserve the 
Union but also encourage a final solution of the sectional problem, for he 
thought that slavery would die out in time "by the silent operation of 
economic and moral forces." 5 

Furthermore, Buchanan took a certain spiteful satisfaction that 
Douglas's principle of popular sovereignty had turned out to be such a 
catastrophe. Finally, as a party politician, Buchanan knew that 36 of the 
39 Democratic Senators and probably 110 of the 130 Democratic Congress- 
men would vote to admit Kansas under the Lecompton Constitution. The 
president could not reject the Lecompton Constitution without renouncing 
the Democratic party. 

Douglas, on the other hand, believed that he would lose the 
senatorship in 1858 If he supported Lecompton, and he had to stay in the 
Senate to attain the presidency in 1860. By denouncing Lecompton as a 
fraud, he could make a case for popular sovereignty and at the same time 
embarrass Buchanan. 


The anti-Lecompton forces brought six indictments against the constitution 
and the Buchanan Administration: that the principle of majority rule had 
been violated; that the constitution was invalid because it had not been 
ratified by popular vote; that the people had no opportunity to choose 
between slavery or no slavery; that the constitution could not be amended 
until 1864; that Buchanan had betrayed Walker; and that the president 
had become the captive of a southern "Directory." 

The debate on majority rule ran wild and revealed that Americans 
could not agree on a definition of it. Buchanan held that a majority meant 
a plurality of votes cast by legally registered voters in an election called by 
proper procedure to decide a question that had a legitimate place on the 



ballot. According to this definition, the Lecompton Constitution met 
every challenge. 6 Anti-Lecompton newspapers variously defined a majority 
as "fifty-one percent of all the potential voters," "a preponderance of those 
registered/' "most of those who actually voted," or "a plurality of the 
representatives" of any of these three groups, 7 

If Douglas meant to protest a violation of the Kansas-Nebraska 
Act because the Lecompton vote failed to comprise a majority of all the 
potential voters, then he had to admit that the October vote for the free- 
state Legislature and the January 4 vote against Lecompton also violated 
the principle, as none of these comprised a plurality of the 24,000 bona fide 
male inhabitants of voting age. That Douglas believed sincerely in majority 
rule seemed refuted by the fact he disregarded the overwhelming majority 
of his own party in opposing Lecompton. Backed by twenty-two colleagues, 
he defied 150 Democratic Senators and Congressmen, using every power 
and parliamentary trick at his command to obstruct the policy of seven- 
eighths of his party's legislators. 

The opponents of the Lecompton Constitution complained of 
fraud and harped on the term "fair vote," Douglas wanted resubmission, 
but Buchanan thought that another election would only produce more 
confusion; it would be an unwarranted admission that the first ballot was 
dishonest and permit the Republicans to prolong the agitation and again 
sabotage the effort of the Lecompton government to get out the vote. 8 

The Douglas bloc declaimed: "We must stand on the popular 
sovereignty principle," but when Buchanan proposed to implement this 
procedure they all repudiated his proposal. If they wished the people to 
act for themselves in their sovereign capacity, said Buchanan, place them 
immediately in a sovereign capacity. Make Kansas a state and then, indeed, 
its people could vote all of their domestic problems up or down. But 
Douglas, emphasizing that his doctrine applied only to the territorial stage, 
jettisoned the main principle and feared to admit Kansas to statehood. 
Buchanan, by urging the speedy admission of Kansas and inviting its 
people to scrap the Lecompton Constitution immediately thereafter, placed 
more faith in the basic principle of popular sovereignty than Douglas. 
Buchanan freely admitted that the proslavery part of the constitution ought 
to be thrown out, but the president could not do it. This was a job for the 
people of Kansas. Admit them to statehood and let them act. 

Some historians, while admitting that the procedures of the 
Lecompton Convention were "quite legal," have airily dismissed this fact 
as a "lame technicality" and condemned Buchanan for his failure to 
"cling to principle.*' 9 Buchanan would have admitted privately that many 
of his arguments for Lecompton were expedient and shallowly political, 
but not his defense of its legality. He would not subvert the law just 



because the law happened to be, in his judgment, bad. The game of govern- 
ment had to be played by the rule book no matter how the crowd reacted. 
Said he, "I acknowledge no master but the law." 

Douglas repeatedly accused Buchanan of trying to "force" the 
Lecompton Constitution on the people of Kansas "against their will, 
in opposition to their protest," and with foreknowledge that they would 
have voted it down if given the chance. "It does not mitigate the evil," 
Douglas argued, "that you are forcing a good thing upon them." 10 Bu- 
chanan thought it odd that there should be such violent resistance to an 
invitation to be free. It seemed to him that the protesting Kansans did 
not really want statehood and a chance to make whatever kind of con- 
stitution they wished; they liked the political effect of continued agitation. 
"Everybody with the least foresight," wrote Buchanan, "can perceive that, 
Kansas admitted, and the Black Republican party are destroyed; whilst 
Kansas rejected, and they are rendered triumphant throughout the 
Northern States. ... I very much fear that the fate of the Union is 
involved." 11 

The second charge, that the Lecompton Constitution had no 
validity because the convention had not submitted it to a popular vote for 
ratification touched an interesting phase of the Kansas controversy, 
Buchanan stated that "under the earlier practice of the government, no 
constitution framed by the convention of a Territory . . . had been sub- 
mitted to the people." The Philadelphia Press said that "Most State 
Constitutions have been submitted." Southern journals and letters 
emphasized that submission, while not wrong, was entirely unnecessary 
and contrary to general practice. Many western newspapers asserted that 
only popular ratification gave validity to a constitution. 12 

Historically, out of the 63 constitutions which had been adopted 
by the 33 states from 1776 to 1858, 30 had been ratified by popular vote 
and 33 had been proclaimed in force by a constitutional convention. Each 
section developed a different method. In the South, 21 of 30 constitutions 
had come into being by convention edict. In the West, 11 of 14 con- 
stitutions had been ratified by a vote of the people. In the New England 
and Middle Atlantic States, 10 constitutions had been submitted to popular 
vote, and 9 declared in effect by a convention. Thus, in the contest over 
Lecompton, each section reacted in conformity with its own historical 
tradition. Southerners fumed with rage when Douglas charged that the 
nonsubmission method of constitution-making was a cheat and a fraud. 
Westerners, so accustomed to popular ratification that they thought of it 
as a "right," immediately smefled a crooked deal when Kansans failed to 
use this practice. By 1858, only 9 of the states still lived under charters 
never ratified by the people, but of these 8 were in the South. 13 There was 



no historic basis for the assertion of Douglas that the validity of a con- 
stitution depended upon its ratification by the people, but it would have 
taken more than a different personality in the White House to overcome 
the prejudices arising from the differing constitution-making traditions 

of the two sections. , , . . 

The third charge was that the "slavery" or "no slavery plebiscite 
offered no choice but protected slavery no matter how the vote went. This 
certainly had all the appearance of a swindle. The facts were these: if the 
voters chose the "constitution with slavery" a four paragraph article 
sustaining slavery would be inserted; if the other option won, the con- 
stitution would be silent on slavery. But a "schedule" accompanied the 
constitution, defining the details of procedure for setting up the new state. 
It stated that "property in slaves now in the territory shall in no manner 
be interfered with" and that the constitution could not be amended before 
1864, and only then by a vote of two-thirds of both houses of the legislature 
confirmed by a popular election. These provisions were foolish and 
provocative, but they were not nearly so ironclad or tricky as the anti- 
Lecompton propaganda made them out to be. Had the free-state people 
of Kansas voted for the "no slavery" option, they would have agreed not 
to confiscate summarily the 200 Negro slaves then in residence, but they 
would not have secured to the owners any right to hold the newborn 
children in slavery. No court proclaimed a natural right in slavery that 
is, its automatic existence without any creative law. Most northern states 
had abolished slavery when a few slaves still remained in their region and 
had avoided outright confiscation. The Pennsylvania abolition kw of 1780 
had projected for some years into the future the point when complete 
abolition would occur. This period gave opportunity for compensated 
emancipation, manumission by slaveowners or the removal of slaves from 
the state, but the law did not annihilate property rights. 

The Lecompton Convention could easily have devised a plan for 
eventual emancipation that would have been less obnoxious to the North, 
but defenders of the Kansas Constitution could mam*a"i with truth that 
the version "without slavery" would have made Kansas a free state just 
as quickly as the laws of Pennsylvania or New Jersey had brought free 
statehood. If Kansas was perpetrating a swindle, nearly every other 
northern state had done the same thing years before. 14 Furthermore, the 
Kansans could change the "schedule" after admission to statehood if 
they wished. 

The next charge was that by means of the "schedule" a trifling 
minority had prevented the majority from making any changes before 1864. 
Buchanan's repeated assertion that no power on earth could keep the people 
of Kansas from amending their constitution or making a new one whenever 
they wished, once they had statehood, was confirmed by the practice of 



other states. The president contended that the fastest conceivable way 
to enable the Kansans to create exactly the constitution they wanted would 
be to admit them to the Union. 

Did Buchanan betray Walker? One will read in vain to find any 
statement from Buchanan that he considered the Lecompton Convention 
bound to submit its product to a public vote, or that he would reject a 
constitution not so submitted. He said on many occasions that he hoped 
the convention would submit; that he assumed it would; and that it should 
be encouraged to do so, but this was a far cry from a presidential order that 
the convention had to do it. Walker and many others read into Buchanan's 
letters a mandate where only a hope had been expressed. 

Even the "stand or fall" letter to Walker on July 12 did not 
pledge the rejection of a proclaimed constitution. It read, "On the question 
of submitting the Constitution to the bona fide residents of Kansas, I am 
willing to stand or fall." Walker repeatedly broke instructions during May 
and June by committing Buchanan to the total submission policy, a position 
the president had never approved or authorized. Buchanan would have 
removed Walker for his insubordinate actions, but a dismissal at the time 
was politically impossible* To have broken with him so soon after all the 
effort to induce him to accept would have indefinitely wrecked any Kansas 
program. Moreover, no one else of similar stature would take the governor- 
ship under such circumstances, unless it would be an ardent partisan, and 
such a man could not administer the policy Buchanan deemed essential. 

The president, therefore, took the calculated risk, gave Walker 
the "stand or fall" pledge, and hoped that the governor might succeed. 
Had Buchanan, at the risk of national safety, supported Walker in the 
abortive policy which the governor himself had originated, this support 
indeed would have demonstrated a weak and spurious consistency. Instead, 
Buchanan reaffirmed the policy he had instructed Walker to observe in 
the first place and philosophically accepted the abuse which came when the 
governor, with White House backing, failed to deliver what he promised. 
Walker did not seem to feel very seriously that Buchanan had "betrayed" 
him. After blustering for a while he came to dinner at the White House 
and a little later tried his best to persuade Douglas to return to the support 
of the Administration. 15 

A final aspect of the "betrayal" charge rests on an allegation that 

Buchanan had promised a "full and fair vote" in Kansas and, by accepting a 

partial vote, had reneged on his pledge. 18 But Buchanan never promised 

anyone that he would produce a full vote in Kansas; he could provide only 

x the opportunity for a full and fair vote, and this he did. 

Lastly, many historians have charged that Buchanan, in accepting 
Lecompton, weakly capitulated to a "Directory" composed of southern 
members of his Cabinet and the fire-eaters. "Through his career," says one, 



"Buchanan had been a <dough-face'-now the Fire-Eaters' threats filled him 
with unquenchable alarm ... if he had not abandoned Walker, the Southern 
States would carry out their threats 'either to secede ... or take up arms 
against him/ " Another writer states: "He was swayed by timidity: he 
quailed before the Southern menaces transmitted to him by Cobb, Thomp- 
son, and a hundred others," A third asserts that the southern clique 
"bent the president at will." 17 

There is no valid evidence that before 1860 any members of 
Buchanan's Cabinet were fire-eaters, nor did the president timidly give in 
to his advisors. Buchanan had included no extremists in his Cabinet; the 
aggressive antislavery wing of the Democracy had no representative in it, 
nor did the fire-eaters. Prior to the election of Lincoln, Cobb was one of 
the leading antisecessionists of the South. His political rivals there were 
the fire-eaters. Buchanan respected him, and it was Cobb, the Union 
Democrat who influenced him, if anyone did. 

If Buchanan deferred to his Cabinet, that was one thing; but it 
was not deference to southern extremists. But did he defer to the Cabinet? 
He picked men who he knew already agreed with him. His ideas on 

by him for a generation. His support of Lecompton and the arguments in 
behalf of it were not prompted by threats or sweet talk, for he merely re- 
stated his old policy. No one needed to bend him into a shape he already 
held. He was going to enforce the letter of the law in Kansas, without 
regard to the advantage of one side or the other. None but the blind missed 
the irony of Buchanan's reply to Walker's bitter and denunciatory letter 
of resignation. The president had learned with pleasure, "he wrote, that 
Walker in all his speeches had "refrained from expressing any opinion 
whether Kansas should be a slave or a free state." 18 If Walker had ruined 
his usefulness as an umpire by publicly declaring he would make trouble 
unless the northern team won, Buchanan would not follow him; and 
threats from the South did not govern the decision. 

Why, we may ask, was Buchanan in the camp of the southern 
extremists in the fight over the Lecompton Constitution? The answer is 
simple: he was a legalist. He based bis decision on the legality of the 
Kansas document. At that time his stand happened to favor the practical 
interests of the South. Cobb wrote, in the midst of the Lecompton struggle, 
that Buchanan could not be driven from his course "by the clamor either 
of the South or North for he has encountered and resisted both." 19 


Buchanan carefully canvassed the Congress and found that the Lecompton 
Constitution would get a large majority in the Senate, and about 100 of 



the 118 votes needed for passage in the House. The prospects looked so 
good and the end to the infernal Kansas question seemed so near that he 
decided to make support of the admission bill a party measure and crack 
the whip to drive the few necessary stray votes into the fold. The opposi- 
tion of Douglas might prove less serious than it had at first appeared. 
Political insiders guessed that he and Walker were "both throwing Ugh dice 
for the Northern Democracy for Pres," and that they wanted to destroy 
Cobb, who seemed to have the inside track to the succession. 20 When this 
word got around, the Douglas crusaders for the "great principle of majority 
rule" might begin to lose their zeal and Douglas, when all the chips were 
down and the Democracy was mobilized for action without him, might give 
up the fight. He could not reach the White House with only the vote 
of Illinois. 

In the South, the Legislatures of Alabama and Georgia had 
adopted resolutions requiring their governors to call state conventions to 
consider secession in the event that Congress denied admission to Kansas 
under the Lecompton Constitution. To quiet down some of the most 
excited southern Senators, Buchanan unwisely let them know some weeks 
in advance that he planned to transmit the Lecompton Constitution to 
Congress with his blessing as soon as the official copy should arrive from 
Kansas. This tied frfr" down completely, and denied him the freedom of 
action which he could possibly have used to advantage later. He received 
a letter from Acting Governor Denver shortly thereafter advising him that 
angry Republicans in Kansas had developed a new scheme which might 
deprive Buchanan of all of the advantages he anticipated from quick 
admission. They had worked up a kind of "murder incorporated" to 
assassinate systematically all officers who might try to serve under the 
Lecompton Constitution. Kansas would be bloodier as a state than it had 
been as a Territory, and the Republicans would continue to have their 
campaign ammunition. Denver reported that most influential Kansans 
preferred the passage of a Congressional enabling act which would start the 
constitution-making process over again under clear authority and specified 
procedure. Buchanan probably regretted that he could not take up this 
plan which he had favored when it was first proposed some years before, 
but he had committed himself beyond recall. He had chosen the course 
which seemed to offer the best chance of success. 21 

Buchanan sent the Lecompton message to Congress on February 2. 
In it he tried to put the best possible face on a bad business, emphasizing 
that by no other means than admission to statehood could Kansas achieve 
peace and the nation be spared further agitation over slavery. In a letter 
to Arnold Plumer, he said, 

I am now thoroughly convinced that the question of the union 

is directly involved. . . . Should the Kansas Constitution be 



rejected by Congress then the Topeka rebels will send a con- 
stitution here, not merely providing for a free state, but stuffed 
with all manner of abominations, ... and everything which can 
be offensive to the South. , . . 

There is much talk about the Lecompton 'swindle.' I have no 
doubt frauds were committed by both parties at contested 
elections, but none of these can be charged at any election 

necessary to give validity to the constitution These elections 

went by default It was the law & order party voting & the 

revolutionary mob headed by Jim Lane refused to vote. I have 
pursued the path of duty which I saw clearly from the beginning 

and I shall pursue it to the end I believe . . . that Kansas will 

be admitted; but upon a question involving the life or death of 
the union neither my anxiety nor my exertions shall cease until 
we are saved. 22 

The Senate would be safe with 39 Democrats; Douglas would 
oppose Lecompton, but would carry with him only David C. Broderick, 
George E. Pugh and Charles E. Stuart. But in the House the fate of 
Lecompton hung by a hair. Here there were 92 Republicans, 14 Americans, 
about 100 Administration Democrats and 21 rebellious anti-Lecompton 
Democrats, although the exact number of the latter remained uncertain 
from day to day. Buchanan's friends wanted the Lecompton message 
referred to the House Committee on Territories, but knowing in advance 
that this motion would not pass they proposed creating a select committee 
which Speaker James L. Orr would appoint. The anti-Lecomptonites 
moved to invest this committee with power to investigate. The Administra- 
tion wanted at all hazards to avoid an investigation, for it could produce 
nothing but free propaganda for the Republicans and might delay action 
indefinitely. After an excited week of parliamentary maneuver, including 
a filibuster and a fist fight on the floor, the critical vote was called. The 
Administration lost, 113-114. One Buchanan Democrat, who straggled in 
a few minutes late, might have changed the course of American history. 
The House then proceeded by another close vote to authorize the appoint- 
ment of a select committee with power to investigate but Speaker Orr 
packed it with pro-Lecompton men. 23 

Buchanan had to find some way to weaken and divide the Demo- 
cratic auti-Lecompton bloc by just a few votes in order to win. The House 
committee waited for the Senate to act. During February and March a 
Senate proposal to admit Kansas and Minnesota as a "package," and a plan 
by Senator John J. Crittenden to submit the Lecompton Constitution to 
another vote in Kansas both failed. On March 23 the Senate passed a bill 
to admit Kansas under the Lecompton Constitution, specifying the right 



of immediate amendment and cutting down the proposed mammoth land 
grant of over 16,000,000 acres to the customary size of about 4,000,000 

Douglas busied himself to prevent a single adherent from wavering 
or quailing under Administration threats. He did this organizational work 
so well that Buchanan at length despaired of breaking down the House 
opposition. The president used every means he could to pick up the few 
votes needed, dismissing friends of Douglas wholesale, holding up new 
appointments, and offering patronage, contracts, commissions, and in some 
cases cold cash. The women, wives of Senators and Cabinet members, used 
their charms to soften up opponents of the Administration. 

President Buchanan held conferences continually, called for 
unselfish patriotism, and when all the softer means failed, invoked massive 
retaliation against Douglas. But one factor nullified much of this monu- 
mental Administration effort: the approaching elections of Congressmen 
in the North. These men feared they would not be re-elected if they 
sustained Lecompton. 

Buchanan got some encouragement from Pennsylvania, whose 
legislature endorsed the Lecompton proposal. "God bless my good & great 
old State," he wrote. "They have not deserted me in my last political trial 
nor deserted the cause of Union & Democracy. / say the cause of Union, 
because if the Lecompton Constitution should be defeated in the House, . . . 
I apprehend it will be the beginning of the end." 2 * But by the end of 
March he knew he could not succeed in his original purpose, to drive 
Lecompton "naked" through the House, Some compromise would have 
to be developed, and until it was ready the Senate bill had to be kept on ice 
in the House Committee room. 

Buchanan's managers had to prevent a House vote on the Senate 
bill, for if it were defeated there could be no hope for further action. But 
if the House would add amendments, then possibly a conference committee 
could work out a compromise. Little risk would attach to the work of such 
a committee, for the Administration would control the appointment of its 
members. Buchanan cagily selected Representative William H. English of 
Indiana, an anti-Lecompton Democrat who favored some compromise 
solution, to initiate the move. "It will be your fate," the president wrote 
to him, "to end the dangerous agitation, to confer lasting benefits on your 
country, & to render your character historical." 25 Buchanan and Cobb 
fed ideas to English which he in turn proposed to his colleagues. In due 
course, the House sent the Lecompton bill back to the Senate with the 
Montgomery-Crittenden amendment for resubmission. The Senate voted 
this down and asked for a conference. The Administration used all the 
discipline it could muster, and English worked on some of his friends to 
support the plan which now had come to bear his name. After one of the 



most dramatic roll calls in the history of the House, the clerk at last read 
the tally: 108 to 108. Speaker Orr broke the tie. 

The conference adopted the expedient of a referendum on the 
land grant. If the people of Kansas voted to accept a reduced grant, the 
English Bill provided for immediate admission under Lecompton. If they 
rejected the offer, they could not reapply for statehood until the population 
had grown larger. 

This proposition put Douglas in a difficult position, for it was, 
in the final analysis, the equivalent of resubmission. Douglas agreed to 
support the measure, but his anti-Lecompton colleagues forced him to 
change his mind and fight the referendum on the grounds that it was not 
the same as resubmission. His aboutface calmed the rising fear of some 
southerners that they were being betrayed by Buchanan into some kind 
of bargain with Douglas. Finally, on April 30, the English Bill passed, in 
spite of Douglas's opposition. 

Of course Douglas and his supporters would continue as a separate 
faction, at least for a while, but Buchanan was not worried. "I have never 
known the Democratic party in Congress more united & compact than they 
were during the last three or four weeks of the session," he wrote. "From 
what I learn, Douglas has determined to come back to the party with a 
bound & to acquiesce cordially ... in the English Bill." 26 With gratitude 
and a sigh of relief, Buchanan wrote to English, "It is painful even to think 
of what would have been the alarming condition of the Union had Congress 
adjourned without passing your amendment." 27 





When the new Democratic nominee told well-wishers at Wheatland in 
June, 1856, that he was "no longer James Buchanan, but the representative 
of the Qncinnati platform," he spoke not in jest. Buchanan considered 
the presidential office not as a place of leadership but as a post of executive 
agency. The president should faithfully implement and enforce the 
policies defined by deliberative bodies: the party convention, the Congress 
of the United States, and the federal courts. He should shoulder the 
responsibility not of invention but of action; he should not initiate policy 
but execute it with skill and efficiency. Party delegates distilled the hopes 
and fears of their constituents into a platform; the lawmakers of the 
winning party sought to translate this statement into statute; the president 
set up the administration of these laws, reporting from time to time the 
results of his efforts and calling for further legislation if needed to achieve 
the proper execution of the will of the legislature. 

The Cincinnati platform did not provide much of a program. 
Except in the realm of foreign affairs, it spoke in the negative. In great 
detail it expounded all the things that the federal government could not do: 
assume state debts, inaugurate a system of internal improvements, aid 
private industry, give proceeds from sale of public lands to the .states, 
establish a bank, or interfere with domestic slavery in any of the states. 
The platform urged vigorous opposition to all parties based on prejudice 
against foreigners and non-Protestants and pledged resistance to all 
attempts to revive the agitation of the slavery question. It endorsed the 
Kansas-Nebraska Act, promised a fair vote to the people of Kansas, and 
proclaimed "adherence to those principles and compromises of the Con- 
stitution which are broad enough and strong enough to embrace and 
uphold the Union as it was, the Union as it is, and the Union as it shall be." 

But the platform endorsed a vigorous foreign policy: the establish- 
ment of "free seas" and "progressive free trade" throughout the world, 



the building and control of interoceanic trade routes in Central America, 
and the imposition of "our ascendancy in the Gulf of Mexico." 

' This program of the status quo at home and active diplomacy in 
the Caribbean well suited Buchanan's talents and desires. It had been his 
hope to settle the Kansas issue quickly and peaceably; he would then divert 
public attention from sectional interests by such foreign adventures as 
would raise the United States to the first rank among the powers of the 
world, and in so doing renew the flagging spirit of national pride and 
patriotism. So he hoped. But even had Kansas gone more nearly accord- 
ing to plan, Buchanan's timetable would have been interrupted. In August, 
out of the blue sky, the Panic of 1857 hit, and in September came word 
that Brigham Young's Mormons proposed to fight the United States army 
then en route to the new ZSon. 

In late July, Dr. Foltz wrote from New York: "The money 
market is easy, and on all sides we have health, abundance, and prosperity. 
We are truly a favored people." A month later the banks were popping 
like crackers, and fear and terror gripped Wall Street where crowds of 
trembling depositors jammed against the locked doors of banks and broker- 
age houses to read the notices posted there. Specie payments stopped, 
making the notes of some 1,400 state banks worthless; investment busi- 
nesses went into bankruptcy, mills closed, and before long crowds of 
hungry workmen flocked to the public squares of northern cities chanting 
"Bread or blood." 1 

Though the causes of the panic were manifold, a few outstanding 
abuses seemed obvious. Americans had been buying goods from Europe 
at such a rate that specie was drained off. Railroads, in frenzied com- 
petition, built lines where for years there would be little likelihood of 
revenue; land speculators mortgaged themselves to the hilt for vast, vacant 
ranges which for decades could not be resold at a profit. The state banks, 
in aggregate, loaned $7.50 in their own notes for every $1.00 of gold or 
silver they had. Buchanan attributed the panic to "the vicious system of 
paper currency" and "wild speculations and gamblings in stocks." Northern 
industrialists blamed the tariff reduction of 1857, which Congress had 
passed the day before Buchanan took office. 

Cobb immediately concentrated a large stock of subtreasury gold 
in New York and won a memorial of thanks from New York merchants for 
his prompt action. Other Departments, when revenue from customs and 
land sales dried up, ordered curtailment of public works. "Not at this time 
of crisis," came the anguished howls. "Labor needs the work. The 
Government can get the money. This is exactly the wrong time for re- 
trenchment, for party and humanitarian reasons." 2 

In his Annual Message of December, 1857, Buchanan announced 
his policy: reform not relief. The government sympathized but could do 



nothing to alleviate the suffering of individuals. It would continue to pay 
its obligations in gold and silver; it would not curtail public works, but it 
would start no new ones. To prevent recurrence of these periodic up- 
heavals, Buchanan recommended that Congress pass a uniform bankrupt 
law which would provide for the immediate forfeiture of the charter of any 
bank that suspended specie payments. He urged the states to require their 
banks to reserve one dollar in specie for every three issued as paper and to 
prohibit the issuance of bank notes of less than twenty dollars so that 
employers would have to pay the weekly wages in coin. Buchanan held to 
the bullion theory of credit, not credit as value or prospects. He thus 
discouraged the use of federal or state bonds as security for bank note 
issues, for he feared that putting the civil debt into circulation would 
inaugurate an endless spiral of inflation. 

This view of the panic conformed not only with the party platform 
but with Buchanan's personal attitude. Men who respected property 
would not put it out to work except with sound collateral; those who took 
the speculative risk deserved the gambler's fate. As to the innocent 
victims, rugged individualism would triumph over adversity; the buoyancy 
of youth and the energy of the people would enable them to recover. The 
prophecy proved correct, but not before untold thousands had suffered the 
misery of broken lives, imminent starvation, and despair. 

Two ideas which would loom large in the future, grew out of 
the panic. In the North the factory workers, abandoned by the Democratic 
Administration, listened with eager belief to the vehement assertion of 
Republican leaders: they could blame their plight on the reduction of 
the tariff; with the Republicans in power the tariff would go up; and wages, 
in the ensuing prosperity, would go up, too. In the South, where the panic 
scarcely touched the cotton economy, James Hammond of South Carolina 
began to preach that "Cotton is King." "Thirty-five million dollars, we, 
the slaveholders of the South, have put into the charity box for your 
magnificent financiers," he said. The North, with its business gamblers, 
beggars, paupers, and so-called free-labor, "the very mud-sill of society" 
he named it, could not exist without the South. Wrote DeBow's Review: 
"The wealth of the South is permanent and real, that of the North fugitive 
and fictitious." 3 

In the western territory, Buchanan inherited an incipient war. 
The Mormons, viciously persecuted during their early existence and 
abominated by most Americans, had trekked to their State of Deseret only 
in time to be reincorporated into the United States by the Mexican cession. 
The Compromise of 1850 made their Zion the Territory of Utah, but for 
five years the government at Washington, except for appointing Brigham 
Young as governor, left the Mormons to themselves. 



The Mormons had legitimate grievances. Congress had twice 
ignored their request for an enabling act to form a constitution and when 
they finally drew up an unauthorized document, President Pierce gave it 
no consideration. There might have been some chance of recognition if 
the leader of the Mormons had been willing to outlaw polygamy. Another 
cause of resentment was the refusal of the government land office to grant 
title to Mormon lands. The reason was that the Indian title had not yet 
been extinguished, but the Mormons feared that the government would 
eventually deprive them of their homes. There was bitter conflict between 
federal judges and local magistrates. 

In 1855 President Pierce appointed three federal judges to Utah 
Territory. Two were renegade Mormons and the third a brutal, dictatorial 
Mormon-hater. They soon had the Territory in a turmoil. In the spring of 
1857 several Mormon emissaries and the judges came to Washington 
carrying conflicting stories. The former charged the judges with conspiracy 
and attempts to defraud them of their land; the latter complained that they 
had been prevented from performing their duties, their official papers had 
been confiscated and burned, and they themselves had been driven from 

the Territory. 

Buchanan should have verified these tales, but Mormon defiance 
of federal authority was traditional and he took the judges' version at face 
value. He appointed a new governor, Alfred Gumming, and in May ordered 
Colond Albert Sidney Johnston to proceed to Utah with 2,500 troops to 
act as a posse comitotus to uphold federal law. It was to be one of the best 
equipped and best provisioned expeditions in American history, but flaws 
maired the planning. Through the pleas of Walker, the cavalry was ordered 
to stay in Kansas, leaving the Utah expedition a helpless target for the 
mounted Mormon guerrillas. Furthermore, the official letter informing 
Brigham Young that he was to be replaced by a new governor never arrived 
because the Pierce Administration had annulled the Utah mail contract. 4 

Young, knowing only that a large military force was moving 
against the Mormons, mobilized his own aimy and ordered a scorched earth 
policy. 'There shall not be one building, nor one foot of lumber, nor a 
stick, nor a tree, nor a particle of grass and hay that will burn, left in 
reach of our enemies," he said. 5 

Among the miseries that were to be the lot of the Mormon 
expedition it will suffice to mention the destruction of the wagon trains, 
the ambushes, the theft of the oxen, the snow, and the gruelling two weeks 
that it took to struggle the last thirty miles to Fort Bridger. "It was a 
scene/ 9 said the Atlantic Monthly, "which could be paralleled only in the 
retreat of the French from Warsaw." 6 

At this point in the ridiculous little war, Buchanan's friend 
Thomas L. Kane of Philadelphia convinced the president that the Mormons 



were a peace-loving people and that Brigham Young would cooperate in 
any honest program of the Administration. Kane asked permission to go 
as a private agent to Utah and try to make peace. His mission was a 
success and the newly appointed governor was soon in office. 

Gumming made the mistake of bringing the troops into Utah 
Territory. Thousands of Mormons fled before the army and burned their 
buildings and crops as they went. Buchanan offered amnesty to all in- 
habitants who would respect the authority of the government and moved 
the troops to a point forty miles away where they remained throughout his 
term in the presidency. Peace came to Son, but it was a year before the 
Mormons who had left their homes in ruins began to return. 7 


Buchanan viewed the panic, Kansas and the Mormon War as unfortunate 
interruptions of his main administrative program. It was in the realm of 
foreign affairs that he proposed especially to engage the interest and 
attention of the nation. In his inaugural address he announced, "No 
nation will have a right to interfere or to complain if ... we shall still 
further extend our possessions." 8 In what direction would this expansive 
force flow? "It is beyond question the destiny of our race to spread them- 
selves over the continent of North America, and this at np distant day. . . . 

The tide of emigrants will flow to the South If permitted to go there, 

peacefully, Central America will soon contain an American population 
which . . . will preserve the domestic peace, while the different transit 
routes across the Isthmus . . . will have assured protection." 9 

Buchanan had outstanding qualifications for conducting foreign 
policy. No president since John Quincy Adams had had such wide diplo- 
matic experience or had been personally acquainted with so many foreign 
heads of state, and none until Theodore Roosevelt would propose so 
aggressive a policy in the Caribbean. The first step would be to sweep 
European influence out of Central America; the second, to establish 
American control by purchase, annexation, or intervention. If the 
United States insisted that Europe should get out, it would have to assume 
responsibility for protecting the lives and property of European nationals 
in Central America. Buchanan urged an interpretation of the Monroe 
Doctrine which would provide for that protection. He assumed personal 
direction of the State Department, maintained an office there, and, with 
John Appleton, administered the diplomatic work of the Secretary of State. 
Cass, however, shared Buchanan's views; he was a rabid expansionist who 
for years had fought against European influence in the Americas, and the 
two worked in close cooperation on most matters of foreign policy. 10 



When Buchanan took office the Central American question had 
been substantially settled by the Dallas-Clarendon Treaty which the Senate 
ratified on March 12, 1857. This treaty provided that Great Britain would 
withdraw from her several Central American positions by agreements with 
the countries immediately concerned. But the Senate amended the treaty 
to include immediate British withdrawal from the Bay Islands and the 
British countered with another amendment unacceptable to Buchanan who 
would consider no proposal that left the fate of the Bay Islands to be 
settled later. He wanted no British base athwart an isthmian canal route. 11 
"That unfortunate Clayton & Bulwer Treaty must be put out of 
the way," he wrote directly to Lord Clarendon, with whom he maintained a 
frank and amiable private correspondence throughout his Administration. 
"It will be the bone of contention & a root of bitterness between the two 
Governments as long as it exists." Lord Napier, British Minister at 
Washington, had already admitted that the British could no longer maintain 
their "prospective" interpretation of the treaty. 12 

To prevent Buchanan from recommending summary abrogation 
of the treaty in his Annual Message of 1857, Britain appointed a special 
envoy to make the necessary withdrawal from Central America and in- 
structed him to discuss his plans with Buchanan in Washington before 
proceeding south. The selection of the envoy obviously aimed at concilia- 
tion. Sir William Gore Ousley, brother-in-law of Mrs. James Roosevelt, 
had been an intimate friend during Buchanan's tenure at the Court of 
St. James. Ousley came to Washington on November 18, 1857, and told 
Buchanan that he would arrange cession of the Bay Islands to Honduras, 
place the Mosquito Indians under Nicaraguan sovereignty, and define 
clearly the boundaries of Belize. This met all American demands. But 
despite these assurances, Buchanan recommended abrogation of the 
Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. "The fact is," he said, "that when two nations 
like Great Britain and the United States . . . have unfortunately concluded 
a treaty which they understand in senses directly opposite, the wisest course 
is to abrogate such a treaty by mutual consent and to commence anew." 13 
This attitude irritated the British, who thought they had leaned 
over backwards to agree, even to the point of raising no formal objection 
to the recently negotiated Cass-Yrisarri treaty between Nicaragua and the 
United States which gave the latter the right to traverse the isthmus and 
protect the route with troops. This treaty was a violation of the Clayton- 
Bulwer pledges. 

British interests in Central America had changed since 1850. 
Originally England sought control, or at least participation in control, of 
transisthmian routes; now she sought primarily commercial development 
in Central America itself. As there could be no exploitation of commerce 
so long as Central America remained the scene of political chaos, the British 



had little objection if the United States wished to bring order to these 
troubled nations and give them the benefit of stable government. "Pray 
believe," wrote Clarendon," / . . that we neither wish nor want to have 
anything to do with Central America." "We would not accept such a 
'damnosa possessio* as Central America," he said, "if it could be oifered to 
England as a gift." 14 

But Britain proposed to keep the treaty and accept the American 
interpretation of it. Thus the United States was still bound by its own 
interpretation, and that included the self-denying ordinance. The United 
States could not seize Central American territory or set up protectorates; 
the procedure would have to be more subtle. Buchanan thought that the 
canny use of claims and the peaceful migration of North Americans into 
the region might accomplish the desired results without raising an issue 
with England. Hence he violently attacked filibustering, which nourished 
hatred and excitement and discouraged peaceful immigration. 

Just about the time of Ousley's arrival, the notorious filibuster, 
William Walker, "eluded" the vigilance of federal officers and set sail for 
Nicaragua with a fully equipped private army aboard his ship and the best 
wishes of southern sympathizers ringing in his ears. Buchanan assured 
the nation that he had alerted military and peace officers to prevent Walker's 
escape and pointed out that they had in fact apprehended him in New 
Orleans, but in accordance with existing law he gained his freedom on 
$2,000 bail and set out again on his military adventure. The president 
emphatically denounced such buccaneering enterprises as "robbery and 
murder" and called for stricter laws to hold and punish their leaders. 

By the end of December word arrived that Commodore Hiram 
Paulding of the U. S. Navy had traced Walker's ship, the Fashion, to 
San Juan de Nicaragua, had seized Walker, and had brought him back. 
A federal marshall took Walker to Washington, where the State Depart- 
ment set him free on the ground that it had no jurisdiction and no charge 
against him. This was true, though why Attorney General Black did not 
promptly develop a charge of violation of the federal neutrality laws 
remains a mystery. 

Buchanan reprimanded Commodore Paulding for exceeding his 
authority by leading an armed force into the territory of a friendly nation. 
Under international law, he could scarcely avoid disavowing this act; the 
United States would probably have declared war had a European naval 
vessel forced an entry into New Orleans to seize one of its nationals in that 
city. The sectional issue immediately arose, the North commending 
Paulding and the South condemning his rash violation of Nicaraguan soil 
to prevent Walker from doing the very same thing. After his release, 
Walker went to Mobile and in a public address told the wild and bizarre 
story that Buchanan had secretly encouraged him to seize Nicaragua but 



had then changed his mind and double-crossed him. Within two years 
Walker met the fate he courted: deatkbefore a firing squad in Honduras. 1 * 
In Central America, the heads of state of Nicaragua and Costa 
Rica issued the Rivas Manifesto. In it they accused the Buchanan Admin- 
istration of directing the attacks of filibusters because of Nicaraguan 
resistance to the Cass-Yrissari treaty. The Central Americans now put 
their countries under the protection of France, England, and Sardinia, 
against the "barbarians" of the United States. 16 In response to this out- 
burst, Buchanan urged the American envoy to work unceasingly for the 
creation in Central America of "a federal system, resembling ... that of the 
United States." Unless the Central Americans acted properly, said the 
president, reparations for the insulting Rivas Manifesto would be demanded 
and, if necessary, collected "by . . . efficacious means." Furthermore, the 
American government would resist at all times the European intervention 
and protection which had been requested. 17 

Sir William Ousley lingered long in the United States and joined 
Buchanan at Bedford Springs in August, 1858. There they enjoyed the 
ovation which the little town provided upon hearing the news that the 
Atlantic Cable had been completed. Two weeks later, Victoria sent to 
Buchanan the first official message to be carried by the cable. American 
newspapers which printed the brief, almost insultingly brusque text, 
thought that the queen had cast an intentional slur upon the nation, and 
they called on Buchanan to respond with indignation. Assuming that 
some mistake had occurred, he prepared a highly complimentary reply. 
For a time Americans grumbled about Buchanan's "toadyism," but it was 
announced a short time later that the cable had failed before the queen's 
communication was completed. 

Victoria was highly pleased that Buchanan had, by an act of trust, 
sustained the good will between the countries and saved her from personal 
embarrassment. The incident was small; yet it may be counted among the 
series that gradually diminished rancor and bred better Anglo-American 
relations. Perhaps the most significant development in the changing 
British attitude was their abandonment, in 1858, of the right of search on 
the high seas. 

Ousley eventually went to Central America, but instead of con- 
cluding the anticipated treaties, he "succeeded in raising the very D 1," 
as Buchanan complained to Clarendon. The envoy not only failed to 
negotiate the treaties which the British government had -desired but also 
contributed to the Nicaraguan rejection of the Cass-Yrissari treaty. Britain 
replaced him with another diplomatic agent, who quickly completed his 
assignment. In his last presidential message, Buchanan was able to report: 
"Our relations with Great Britain are of the most friendly character. . . . 
The discordant constructions of the Clayton and Bulwer Treaty . . . have 



resulted in a final settlement entirely satisfactory to this government." 18 
Buchanan erred in his prediction that a rapid flow of emigrants would now 
move southward into Central America, but he correctly assessed the 
importance to the United States of control of isthmian transit and laid the 
foundation for the building of the Panama Canal. 

Corollary to the effort to drive European influence from Central 
America, Buchanan proposed to project American power into the r^ion. 
He firmly believed that the political and economic ideology of the United 
States would bring peace, prosperity, and happiness to these neighboring 
lands, and he expected that unless the United States maintained law and 
order in Central America, the major European powers would intervene to 
do so. The imperative need to provide speedy and safe travel between the 
East and the West called for prompt action. 

Buchanan urged, in successive annual messages, that Congress 
should authorize the president "to employ the land and naval forces of the 
United States in preventing the transit from being obstructed or closed by 
lawless violence, and in protecting the lives and property of American 
citizens travelling thereupon.** 19 As incidents multiplied, Buchanan used 
the claims of American travellers as a club to obtain either money repara- 
tions or privileges, under the threat of reprisals. This technique Buchanan 
applied to troubles with New Granada, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Mexico. 
Congress, however, regularly declined to authorize the use of troops at the 
president's discretion, and the Administration had to work almost entirely 
by diplomacy. 

During his term of office, Buchanan negotiated a treaty with New 
Granada in which the latter acknowledged its responsibility for claims 
arising out of the Panama riot of April 15, 1856, and induced Costa Rica 
to refer claims against that republic to a board of commissioners. Further- 
more, he persuaded Nicaragua to grant transit rights to the United States 
and bullied Mexico into submitting to American military occupation in 
times of civil disorder. But before these diplomatic objectives had been 
fully achieved, the hostile 36th Congress came in, and to win a two-thirds 
majority for any Administration-sponsored treaty proved impossible. Even 
the South now withdrew from cooperation in an aggressive foreign policy, 
for the southern leaders, already thinking of secession, did not want to 
help strengthen the federal government. Therefore Buchanan's hope of 
preponderance in Central America died a victim of sectionalism. 

The Administration's Mexican policy went a good deal beyond 
the proposals for intervention which characterized efforts to impose law 
and order on the central republics. Buchanan wanted Mexican territory, 
either by purchase or by the creation of a protectorate of Mexico which 
might, in time, lead to the annexation of the northern provinces of Chi- 
huahua and Sonora. 20 



The Mexican government presented a scene of utter chaos. 
John Forsyth, American Minister to Mexico, warned Buchanan that unless 
the United States swiftly offered Mexico her aid, help would come "in the 
form of a French Prince supported by ten thousand bayonets, or British 
gold effecting that floating mortgage on her territories which we decline." 
Mexico had to lean on some power. "Shall it be Europe or the United 

States?" he asked. 21 

After Zuloaga seized control in Mexico in January, 1858, Forsyth 
immediately broached the topic of territorial cession. "You want Sonora?" 
he wrote to Cass in April. "The American blood spilled near its line would 

justify you in seizing it Say to Mexico . . . Give us what we ask for in 

return for the manifest benefits we propose to confer upon you for it, or we 
will take it." 22 This undiplomatic language reflected American reaction to 
the recent murder of the Crabbe expedition, the slaying by Mexicans of a 
group of Americans inside the United States border, the summary execution 
of three American physicians in Tacubaya, and a host of less spectacular 
executions, arrests, property seizures, and studied insults to official 
American agents. When Zuloaga, in May, 1858, began enforcement of a 
new decree taxing foreign property in Mexico, Forsyth on his own initiative 
broke diplomatic relations. 28 

In his message of December, 1858, Buchanan reviewed the 
Mexican situation and concluded that it was the duty of the United States 
"to assume a temporary protectorate over the northern portions of Chi- 
huahua and Sonora, and to establish military posts within the same." The 
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations favorably reported a bill, but the 
Senate defeated it in February, 1859, by a vote of thirty-one to twenty-five. 24 
One other prospect remained. A special agent informed Buchanan 
that the newly established Juarez government might, if the United States 
backed it, part with some land. Forsyth was replaced by Robert McLane, 
who had instructions to deal with any government that seemed able to rule. 
McLane recognized the Ju&rez regime but soon found that he could expect 
no territorial cessions from it; the best he could do without upsetting the 
government, he reported, would be to buy transit rights and get authoriza- 
tion for the United States to use its own troops for protection of the right 
of way. "While he labored to draw up a contract, the advocates of stronger 
measures, some American and some Mexican, bombarded Buchanan with 
pleas that he send soldiers to the border. 25 

In December, 1859, Buchanan urgently requested the power to 
send a military police force of volunteers to Mexico. Such troops, he 
thought, might settle there and become the nucleus of an American colony 
that would lend stability to the Sonora-Chihuahua region and promote its 
annexation. Congress did not grant the request. Early in 1860, Buchanan 
received the McLane-Ocampo Treaty in which Mexico agreed to give the 



United States transit rights and the privilege of policing the route for a 
payment of $4,000,000. More important than the treaty itself was the 
"convention to enforce treaty stipulations" which Ocampo signed re- 
luctantly after McLane assured him that the United States would keep the 
treaty in force, with or without the Mexican's signature. 26 The convention 
bound each government to send military forces, on request, to the aid of 
the other when internal disorder threatened violation of the pact. 

The fate of Juarez lay in the treaty. If it should he rejected and 
Judrez should collapse, McLane reported, "anarchy will he the order of 
the day, and American influence will cease here." "Let us take the con- 
stitutional government firmly by the hand," he urged, "and we will in a 
twelve-month drive out of Mexico every anti-American element and pave 
the way for the acquisition of Cuba. Indeed, if Spain should execute the 
threats she is now making . . . against Vera Cruz, American privateers will 
soon make their anchorage under the Moro." 27 

The treaty received wide discussion in the newspapers; the North 
generally condemned it as another Administration plan to strengthen the 
slave power, and the South in general favored it. The Senate debated and 
rejected the proposal in May, 1860. European nations, except Spain, had 
expressed the hope that the United States might bring order to Mexico, but 
with this prospect now dead they had to consider a plan to collect their own 
claims and protect their interests. Buchanan saw that this meant foreign 
intervention, which the United States could not, under these circumstances, 
oppose. In order to make his position perfectly clear, Buchanan sent a 
circular to Mexico stating the determination of the United States to prevent 
by arms any attempt of Europe to intervene in Mexican politics, but he 
added that his government could not deny "their right to demand redress 
for injuries inflicted on their respective subjects." 28 Not for a half century 
would any president of the United States try as hard to establish his country 
as the policeman of the Caribbean. Buchanan's forewarning of European 
intervention proved true when Prince Maximilian with a French army took 
control of Mexico during Lincoln's presidency. 

Far to the south Buchanan achieved very quickly the settlement 
of claims and protection of American citizens by a show of force. The 
Paraguayans in 1855 had fired on the American steamer, Water Witch, and 
had killed a sailor. In addition, a number of United States citizens claimed 
that Paraguay had seized their property in violation of the 1853 treaty. 
Buchanan obtained authorization from Congress to send commissioners, 
backed by a strong naval force, to Paraguay to demand redress. "We must' 
not fail," Buchanan instructed Secretary of the Navy Toucey. "Better 
take time than run any risk." 29 Toucey sent nineteen warships mounting 
200 guns to convince Paraguay, which had next to no navy, that the power 
of the United States must be respected. The desired redress was speedily 



forthcoming. It must be added that Buchanan saw more at stake than the 
national reputation in Paraguay. The European countries had begun to 
manifest as much interest in the growing economy of the area around the 
La Plata as earlier they had in Central America, and the show against 
Paraguay was put on for a wider audience; its real theme was that the 
United States had the will and the power to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. 
Of all the elements of his Latin-American policy, Buchanan 
personally had most interest in the acquisition of Cuba. He had advocated 
its purchase since the 1830's and as president he called again for money 
and political support to attain the "Pearl of the Antilles." In his efforts to 
persuade Congress to back the renewal of negotiations, Buchanan empha- 
sized Cuba's strategic importance as the Gibralter of the Gulf of Mexico, 
the continual annoyance it had caused the United States, and the confusion 
of its government and economy. Most of the claims against Spain arose 
from injuries to United States citizens by Cubans; the African slave trade 
centered in Cuba, producing incidents which inflamed partisan hatred in 
the United States and kept the American Navy busy in efforts to apprehend 
slave ships; and finally, there existed the ever-present prospect of political 
revolt and race war in Cuba. "If I can be instrumental in settling the 
slavery question . . ., and then add Cuba to the Union," Buchanan said 
after his nomination, "I shall be willing to give up the ghost." 

The president did not mention Cuba in his first annual message, 
but he did authorize the American Minister to Spain to make cautious 
inquiries as to the best way of opening a negotiation to acquire the island. 80 
The next year, however, he came out strongly for its purchase and asked 
Congress to appropriate funds with which to pay Spain the long-standing 
debt that resulted from the old Amistad case. In addition, he requested a 
much larger sum to be used as an advance payment immediately upon the 
conclusion of a treaty with Spain. He termed the remittance prior to 
ratification "indispensable to success. 9 ' 

On January 1 , 1859, Slidell introduced a bill in the Senate 
Ailing for an appropriation of $30,000,000 "to facilitate the acquisition 
of the Island of Cuba by negotiation." The bill was referred to Committee, 
and reported back favorably within the month, accompanied by a full 
account of prior negotiations. The report concluded that there were but 
three solutions for the Cuban problem: control by some European power 
other than Spain; independence, which would probably result in some form 
of protectorate; or annexation to the United States. 

Official introduction of the bill brought a long debate in Congress 
and a full-scale newspaper war in America and Europe. The opposition 
made Buchanan the chief target of its attack. Zachariah Chandler called 
the money "a great corruption fund for bribery." Doolittle of Wisconsin 



said the whole bill was a fraud; the millions were never intended for Spain 
but rather for the Democratic campaign chest. 31 

Others argued that Buchanan had presented "the subjugation of 
Mexico, the taking of Central America and the acquisition of Cuba" as the 
means to secure his renomination in 1860. Crittenden of Kentucky 
thought it was a "mere piece of fanfaronade a sort of political fireworks 
set off ... to amuse and entertain the people." 32 The southerners described 
Cuba as "panting for liberty," pointed to the advantages of making the 
Caribbean a mare dausum for the United States and banishing European 
influence from the Americas, and stated their readiness to acquire territory 
from Alaska to the Horn. 33 To this, Collamer of Vermont replied: "If 
you take Cuba, you must Jake Jamaica; you must take San Domingo; you 
must take the Bahama Islands," for each of these would prove as much an 
"annoyance to Cuba, if part of the Union, as Cuba was to the United 
States." 34 A statement from the Spanish government that it would never 
abandon "the smallest portion of its territory," arrived in the midst of the 
debate and was exploited to the fullest by enemies of the Cuban purchase. 
The opposition proved so strong that Slidell withdrew the bill, fearing to 
wreck the project by letting it come to an adverse vote. 

Buchanan recommended the purchase of Cuba in his messages 
of 1859 and 1860, but the proposal never again got to the floor of Congress. 
The Senate even rejected a Spanish offer to pay claims it owed to the 
United States, fearing some deal about Cuba. Buchanan's determination 
reflected his Scotch pertinacity and his seriousness of purpose. "We must 
have Cuba," he was in the habit of saying, but his enemies took delight in 
translating his statement into the words, "We must have slavery." 


Buchanan projected his interest in territorial expansion not only to the 
south, but also to the Pacific northwest. When a contest arose over owner- 
ship of San Juan, off Vancouver Island, and American settlers challenged 
at gun point the efforts of agents of the Hudson's Bay Company to drive 
them out, he ordered navy units and an army force under General Scott to 
hold possession and negotiated a joint-occupation agreement until final 
settlement could be arranged. His own papers of the 1845 Oregon negotia- 
tion led to British withdrawal from the disputed area. 

But of much more importance was Alaska. During the Crimean 
War, Russia had approached the Pierce Administration with the offer to 
sell the huge Arctic peninsula. In the fall of 1857, the Russian Minister, 
Baron de Stoeckl, talked with Buchanan about it. Since the Monnons 
seemed determined to set up an independent nation in Utah, Buchanan 



toyed with the idea of colonizing them in Alaska. There was a rumor that 
they might go there, anyway; and when Stoeckl asked the president whether 
they would go as conquerors or colonists, Buchanan replied with a laugh 
that it mattered little to him, provided he got rid of them. 

Two years later the Alaskan question was revived. Senator Gwin 
of California discussed it with Buchanan and they agreed that an offer 
ought to be made. Gwin informed Baron de Stoeckl that the United States 
proposed five million dollars as a base of negotiation and urged that he 
begin talks with the State Department. Stoeckl called the price too low for 
serious consideration, but Buchanan would not go higher because the 
treasury was depleted and the Congress hostile to him; he might carry 
through a bargain but felt he could not indulge in an extravagant outlay 
for rocks and ice. 85 Seward later took up the proposal where Buchanan 

had left it. 9 

The Buchanan Administration greatly extended American com- 
mercial opportunities, and opened the door to diplomatic relations with 
Asia. Reciprocal trade privileges in selected commodities were arranged 
with Brazil and with France. An exchange of ministers was projected with 
Persia and initiated with Japan as a huge and colorful Japanese delegation 
visited Washington to officiate at the signing of the first treaty. Buchanan 
sent two of his most trusted friends to China, William B. Reed of Pennsyl- 
vania and later John E. Ward of Georgia. These gentlemen represented 
the interests of the United States during the Anglo-French war against 
China and, coming in at the end, succeeded in obtaining for their country 
trade privileges equivalent to those won by the French and the English. 
Within a year of the signing of the Chinese Treaty, American trade with the 
Orient leaped upward. Buchanan's Asiatic policy represented an extension 
of his program to achieve rapid, safe transcontinental transit and looked 
to the fulfillment of Asa Whitney's dream of the United States as the funnel 
of Oriental trade to Europe. Had Congress been as much interested in this 
as it was in sectional politics, the United States might have entered actively 
into the commercial and political development of Asia a half century before 
it did, and this participation might have altered considerably the course of 
later international events. 

Buchanan's accomplishments in diplomacy fell far short of his 
early hopes and expectations, and he held Congress chiefly responsible for 
his failures. But he had recommended the party program and almost 
without legislative aid carried out a good deal of it. He induced England to 
give up the long-asserted right to search American vessels on the high seas; 
he developed trade by treaty on three continents, and he established rights 
of transit in Central America. Beyond these things he firmly maintained 
the rights of American citizens abroad, by force in Central and South 
America, and by treaty in Europe where France finally acknowledged 



French-born naturalized citizens of the United States as expatriates, no 
longer subject to French military service or jurisdiction when visiting in 
that land. He enlarged the scope of the Monroe Doctrine by asserting the 
responsibility of the United States, "as a good neighbor," to keep order 
in the Caribbean, and by professional diplomacy Buchanan enhanced the 
the reputation of the country in foreign circles. 

Modern Americans hear little of Buchanan's diplomatic efforts 
which, after the outbreak of the Civil War, appeared insignificant enough. 
Yet, during his Administration, the nation considered his foreign policy 
aggressive and adventuresome. Wrote the National Intelligencer: 

We must retrench the extravagant list of magnificent schemes 
which has received the sanction of the Executive. . . . The great 
Napoleon himself, with all the resources of an empire at his sole 
command, never ventured the simultaneous accomplishment of 
so many daring projects. The acquisition of Cuba . . .; the con- 
struction of a Pacific Railroad . . .; a Mexican protectorate; inter- 
national preponderance in Central America, in spite of all the 
powers of Europe; the submission of distant South American 
states; ... the enlargement of the navy; a largely increased 
standing army . . . what government on earth could possibly meet 
all the exigencies of such a flood of innovations? 86 





With the passage of the English Bill, Buchanan renewed his hope of 
achieving an end to the violent agitation of the slavery question. Only 
Douglas stood in the way, and he would have to be conciliated or thrown 
out of the party. Buchanan knew which course would be wisest; he wished 
to end the feud. Although he let the anti-Douglas Democrats in Illinois, 
led by Isaac Cook, go ahead with their preparations to name an anti-Douglas 
senatorial ticket, he cut off further favors to Cook's faction and hinted that 
he would stop fighting Douglas as soon as Douglas stopped fighting him. 

By June, 1858, many Democratic editors wrote as if they could 
not recall that there had ever been any differences between the Little Giant 
and Old Buck, and even Abraham Lincoln observed that Douglas and 
Buchanan had buried the hatchet. 1 The anti-Lecomptonites began to drift 
back to the Administration fold; only the few consumed by personal hatred 
of Buchanan, such as Forney, Broderick, and Shields, remained adamant. 
Their refusal to return to the party worried Douglas, for he perceived that 
he might, indeed, share the fate of Tallmadge and Rives. For a time he tried 
to concoct a deal with Illinois Republicans to run for Senate on both the 
anti-Lecompton and Republican tickets. He took "steep free-soil ground" 
but soon found that this position seriously damaged him in the South and 
failed to persuade the Illinois Republicans. At length he acquiesced rather 
unhappily in the decision of the stiff-backed anti-Lecomptonites that the 
little phalanx should continue as a distinct political bloc. 

On June 9, Cook's convention of Administration Democrats in 
Illinois produced so weak a ticket that even Buchanan admitted the hope- 
lessness of trying to beat Douglas on his home ground. Howell Cobb, who 
had been in charge of firing Douglas officeholders during the spring, now 
strongly urged reconciliation and Slidell agreed. 2 Buchanan remained 
agreeable but wary. He told the Cabinet that Douglas had betrayed the 
Administration once and would not scruple to do it again, but he would not 



block Douglas's return to the party. The door stood open; Douglas would 
have to move if he wished to enter. He made that move on June 15, 
announcing in the Senate that he hoped to rejoin the regular Democracy. 
A tentative agreement was reached: if Douglas would approve of the 
English Bill and stop attacking Buchanan, Buchanan would withdraw 
Cook's Democratic ticket in Illinois and give Administration backing to 
Douglas's senatorial campaign. 3 

In the meantime, the Illinois Republicans, on June 16, named 
Abraham Lincoln as their nominee for Senator. This meant formidable 
opposition to Douglas and a campaign that would center on the Kansas 
issue. Douglas, on his trip back to Illinois in early July, encountered 
such marked evidence of northern disgust with the English Bill that his 
conciliatory mood weakened. In a moment of dramatic inspiration he 
determined to run for the Senate against the Republicans and the Buchanan 
Democrats and take them both into camp. That should make him president. 
On his arrival in Chicago, on July 9, while telegrams completing the peace 
treaty were already speeding toward him from Washington, he delivered a 
harsh public tirade against President Buchanan. 

Buchanan thought the ensuing campaign in Illinois a tragedy. 
Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of debates and these contests 
throughout the summer of 1858 drew the excited attention of the nation 
to the very questions which the president hoped he had removed from the 
realm of campaign politics. Lincoln, in order to widen the Democratic 
split, said that Douglas "had a great deal more to do with the steps that led 
to the Lecompton Constitution than Mr. Buchanan." 4 Douglas spent 
nearly as much effort assailing Buchanan as he did fighting Lincoln. 

Both men scattered firebrand statements about in the heat of 
debate which seemed to serve their immediate local purpose, and some of 
these caught the public imagination and set the nation ablaze. Lincoln's 
friends had made him promise not to use the provocative "house divided" 
argument, but he used it anyway. Lincoln could never thereafter persuade 
fearful southerners that he would not aggressively attack slavery. Douglas, 
with equal lack of reserve, declaimed: "All you have a right to ask is that 
the people shall do as they please." 5 Buchanan observed that such careless 
talk only inflamed public opinion. It would soon destroy all reason, render 
powerless the tools of practical politics, and terminate in national disaster. 
He might heal the split in the party, he might do without Douglas in the 
Senate, but he perceived no way to calm the tempest of sectional hatred 
and bigotry which these debates were regenerating at the very moment 
when the storm seemed at last to be receding. Buchanan condemned both 
men for sacrificing the public interest to their personal ends. 

Governor Wise of Virginia summed up Buchanan's problem 
succinctly. Douglas's success in Illinois, he said, "without the aid of the 



Administration will be its rebuke; his defeat with its opposition will be the 
death of the Administration; and his success with the aid of the Administra- 
tion might save it and the Democratic party." 6 The president agreed with 
Wise. He had ofiered his help, but Douglas had decided that Buchanan's 
enmity was more valuable politically than his support. 

Howell Cobb spoke the view of the Administration: 

If Judge Douglas had done as he promised ... all of us ought to 
have sustained him. Such has not been his course. Publidy he 
attacks the administration. . . . Privately he indulges in the 

coarsest abuse of the President Under these circumstances 

to ask our support is in my opinion asking too much. . . . [Douglas 
is] determined to break up the Democratic party. . . . Forney 
announced in plain language his purpose ... to unite with any- 
body and everybody to defeat us. 7 

Buchanan followed the election returns with nervous apprehen- 
sion. Late summer reports raised his hopes, but by the time the October 
tallies had come in the outlook became bleak as the approaching winter. 
Douglas made good his threat to beat the Republicans and the Administra- 
tion Democrats in Illinois, and his. astounding triumph expanded both his 
reputation and his ego. In Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, 
Indiana, and New England the Congressmen who had sustained the English 
Bill were generally defeated. Worst of all for Buchanan, J. Clancy Jones, 
the Administration "whip" in the House, had been beaten in Pennsylvania 
by the frantic efforts of the "Forney mob." Who could replace him? 

He wrote to Harriet after the election, "Well! we have met the 
enemy ... & we are theirs. This I have anticipated for three months. 
Yesterday ... we had a merry time of it, laughing among other things over 
our crushing defeat. It is so great that it is almost absurd. . . . The con- 
spirators against poor Jones have at length succeeded. . . . With the blessing 
of Providence, I shall endeavor to raise him up & place him in some position 
where they cannot reach him." 8 

In addition to Jones, there were many other defeated candidates 
for whom some new post had to be found. Just at this moment the terms 
of many Pierce appointees in the foreign service came to an end. Buchanan 
might have filled the vacancies with disturbers of the peace or he might 
have used these choice appointments as a means of purchasing needed 
support, in accordance with his patronage policy of 1857. But now he had 
to give the jobs to his wounded friends. In so doing he would gain no 
additional strength and would send out of the country the very people who 
were most valuable on the domestic scene. Within the year he had shipped 
out of the combat zone the strong leaders of the Democratic organizations 



in the northern states whom he needed as delegates to the nominating con- 
vention at Charleston. One after another, he had placed them in positions 
where they were safe from their enemies and at the same time unable to 
help him. Buchanan had made an error in tactics the magnitude of which 
became apparent only in the spring of 1860. His consolation was in the 
thought that he had rewarded his friends. 

The exact complexion of the 36th Congress would not become 
clear until the last state elections in the summer of 1859. The Democrats 
still might control if Douglas behaved himself. With his usual optimism, 
Buchanan wrote to Hiram Swarr in Lancaster: "Politically the prospects 
are daily brightening. From present appearances the party will ere long 
be thoroughly united. Douglas will stand alone in the Senate if he does 
not come back fair & square." Apparently less confident of his personal 
future than of his party's, he enclosed an unsolicited check for $500 for 
Swarr's church. 9 

Buchanan's second annual message of December, 1858, painted 
the picture of a virile nation which had weathered the storm of financial 
panic and the hurricane of Kansas, and now sailed a calm sea of unlimited 
opportunities. Britain had renounced the right of search and would soon 
be forced to withdraw from Central America; commercial treaties were 
being completed with China, Japan, and other countries of the Far East. 
To encourage rapid expansion of the economy Buchanan asked for an 
increase in the navy, authority to protect transport routes through Panama, 
Nicaragua, and Mexico, the construction of a Pacific Railroad, and a 
revision of the tariff to increase revenue. Most important of all, he urged 
the purchase of Cuba to gain dominance of the Caribbean. Through this 
program, the United States would "attract to itself much of the trade and 
travel of all nations passing between Europe and Asia" and would soon 
become the wealthiest and most powerful nation on the globe. 

Except for the sectional passions aroused over Lecompton and 
the refusal of Douglas to rejoin the Administration party, this program 
might have aroused national pride and patriotic enthusiasm. Instead, it 
served only to intensify the sectional contest. The thepaes. of slavery and 
sectional advantage sooner or later came to dominate every Congressional 
debate. The North -killed Cuba, the South killed the tariff, and strange 
combinations of vengeful and frustrated lawmakers prevented action on 
the other proposals. The president's program failed either to command the 
needed votes in Congress or to arouse enthusiasm outside. The people 
back home seemed to have lost interest in national glory and achievement; 
led on by their local representatives, they could be excited only by the 
intramural contest. 

Some people imagined that a stirring voice from the White House 
at this juncture might have interrupted such petty bickering and enlisted 



powerful support behind a president willing to act without reference to 
Congress or the Constitution. Others admitted that even the voice of 
Andrew Jackson could scarcely have united the discordant factions of 
Democrats or altered the sectional bias of Republicans. But Buchanan had 
no desire to rule without Congress, and Congress did nothing. 

By March 3, 1859, the day before adjournment, Congress had not 
even passed the routine Treasury bills. Buchanan, in an agony of frustra- 
tion, sent in a hurried message warning that the government could not pay 
federal salaries unless Congress provided the means. The bill passed only 
after an all night battle, but it failed to include any provision to pay a large 
post-office deficit. Postmaster General A. V. Brown, though desperately ill 
of pneumonia, conducted the fight for his Department from his sickbed, 
but Congress adjourned without passing the post-office bill. Brown, 
defeated and exhausted, died four days later. 10 

While Buchanan continued to express optimism, he knew that 
worse was still to come. If this was a sample of control by the Democrats, 
what would happen when the Republicans commanded the House in 
December? He could scarcely tolerate the thought and sought distraction 
in administrative work, visiting around the Department offices to check up 
on the activities. As others began to lose confidence in him, he boasted 
greater confidence in himself. A newspaper reported, "Mr. B. is delighted 
at the idea that any member of his Cabinet should get sick, and is in the 
habit of saying every day, 'I never was in better health in my life; I can 
take my glass of Old Monongahela, dine heartily, indulge in Madeira, and 
sleep soundly, and yet my Cabinet is always dilapidated.' " n When 
Secretary Thompson asked for some time off, Buchanan told him that "he 
thought all his Cabinet had better leave and he and the different clerks 
would manage matters till their return." 12 


But despite this bold front, the impending collapse of his party weighed 
heavily on him and changed his conduct in ways which nearly everyone 
saw except himself. In the privacy of the White House he became more 
irritable, impatient, fussy, and dictatorial. Harriet complained and chafed 
under the need to suppress all her feelings for "Nunc's sake." Sophie Plitt 
urged her to marry at once, for if she felt lonely in the White House, she 
would be utterly forlorn when they all returned to Wheatland. 13 After 
completing her duty as hostess until Congress adjourned, Harriet left for a 
three months* visit to New York, Philadelphia, and Lancaster. When 
Buchanan's friends asked if he did not miss her, he replied, "I do not care 
how long she stays. I can do very well without her." Responded Kate 


Thompson, "Who can expect anything better from such a hardened old 
Bachelor!" 14 

The row with Harriet arose in part from Buchanan's rigid dis- 
cipline for White House social events no cards or dancing but more 
especially from his nosiness about his niece's private affairs. Harriet found 
it particularly exasperating that "Nunc," either from suspicion or pre- 
occupation, often opened her mail. On such letters he would endorse the 
words, "Opened by mistake. I know not whether it contains aught of love 
or treason." Harriet at length discovered a way to communicate in security 
with Mrs. Plitt. Buchanan received fresh butter regularly from Philadelphia 
in a locked, brass-bound kettle. Harriet obtained the White House steward's 
key, sent a duplicate to Sophie, and during the last years of the Administra- 
tion the two sent their private mail "via the kettle," as they wrote on 
the envelopes. 16 

After quitting his job as secretary, James Buchanan Henry went 
to New York and proceeded to marry without his uncle's blessing. To 
celebrate his independence, James Henry raised a huge black moustache 
which, one guest reported, "looked awful" and which the president would 
have made him shave off had he been present, but Buchanan did not attend 
the wedding and sent no gift at least none was on display, from which the 
guests concluded that none had been given. 16 

The widow Craig, who had been living at the White House during 
December and January, also departed. She had affected Buchanan more 
deeply than most women; he confided to Cobb, much to the latter's amuse- 
ment, that he spent restless nights dreaming of her. The president kept up 
a bold front and proclaimed his indifference, but he felt hurt and lonely* 
During May he practically took possession of Howell Cobb, whose wife had 
returned to Georgia, having him to meals at the White House every day and 
calling on him "to give an account of himself' whenever he was absent. 17 

By mid-Miy Buchanan's social life had dwindled to informal 
parties with his official family, notably the Thompsons, the Blacks, Cobb, 
Cass, the Gwins, Judge Mason and Bob Magraw. Toward the end of the 
month he accepted an invitation from the Mayor of Baltimore to select a 
site for the new courthouse and sujbmit designs for the main courtroom. 
Accompanied by a dozen of the "regulars," he made a frolic of the visit to 
Baltimore. The men toured likely spots, the women window-shopped, and 
all concluded the affair by a sumptuous dinner at Barnum's, enlivened by 
plenty of wine at $10 a bottle. They returned on the evening train, much 
to the annoyance of the younger members of the party, who wanted to stay 
for the theater, but the "old Chief' would have none of this. The inside 
circle considered it something of a triumph to have gotten "Old Pub Func" 
out of the capital at all. rt Who urged him up to it?" inquired Mrs. Cobb. 
"Mrs. Gwin or Mrs. Ledyard? 1 * 



Buchanan at length got on the nerves of his associates. Thus it 
was that some of the Cabinet tried to get him out of Washington and 
cooked up a presidential tour to the South in June. There came to be 
something pathetic in the way the Cabinet bobbed, curtsied, and put on the 
"happy family" act in Buchanan's presence and ridiculed him in private. 
They respected his talent and feared his wrath, but they hated his sancti- 
moniousness. Kate Thompson called him "Old Gurley" (for Phineas 
Gurley, the Senate Chaplain) or "The pride of the Christian World." 
Mrs. Cobb wrote in the broadest sarcasm of 'The greatest President that we 
have had since Washington and Jacksonl And Miss Lane, the modd of an 

American girl!!" 

On Monday, May 30, President Buchanan accompanied by 
Thompson and Magraw left Baltimore by boat for Norfolk; from there they 
went to Raleigh and Chapel Hill. The newspapers reported the president 
"gay and frisky as a young buck," and Cobb said that "the old gentleman 

was perfectly delighted with his trip There has not been since the days 

of Genl. Jackson such an ovation to any President." Even Kate Thompson 
admitted, after hearing the report of her husband, "truly I think the old 
Rip Van Winkle waked up for this occasion. ... He had a good time in 
N. Carolina for Mr. T. says he kissed hundreds of pretty girls which made 
his mouth water!" 19 

Buchanan returned to Washington on June 7, and Harriet came 
back from her vacation shortly thereafter. Since the heat of the summer 
was beginning to set in, the household moved to more comfortable quarters 
at the Soldiers' Home. At this time Buchanan was interested in a wealthy 
grass widow, Mrs. Bass from Virginia. One afternoon she drove out to the 
presidential retreat for a visit. When her rig came in full view of the group 
on the piazza, according to a report of one of the guests, "the President 
immediately left. In a few moments after we had said howdy & got seated 
the Old Chief came tripping and smiling out, dressed in an inch of his life 
& Mrs. Gwin declares he changed his coat, pants & shoes in that short 
time to see the widow. Now, did you think any woman could make him 
do that much?" 20 

Toward the end of July, Buchanan set out for his regular fortnight 
at Bedford Springs, talrmg the widow Bass and her three young children with 
him. The pleasant interlude was marred by only two incidents. Buchanan 
found himself placed in rooms next to Simon Cameron, and the abolitionists 
ran away with Mrs. Bass's Negro servant girl. People at the Springs gener- 
ally assumed that Cameron had arranged the episode to spite Buchanan. 
Apparently, some people of Bedford had persuaded the girl to leave and 
had given her money with which to travel farther North. But Mrs. Bass 
took it calmly, announcing that the girl was honest and capable, and had 
taken none of the money and jewels available in the rooms. She hoped 



only that others would care for her and treat her kindly, which she feared 
they would not. 21 

Buchanan and his "Court" returned to Washington on the first 
of August. It had been a gay, restful summer, a far cry from the nerve- 
wracking pressure of congressional politics. Now it was time to get back 
to business. The last elections for the 36th Congress had been held and 
the exact nature of that body stood revealed. The Democrats would control 
the Senate, but they were a minority in the House whenever the Republi- 
cans allied with Douglas Democrats or Whig-Americans. What kind of a 
program could possibly achieve cooperation from such a Iqjislative body? 
Buchanan had to figure out the answers to that question in the preparation 
of his next annual message. 


While the year 1859 outwardly looked peaceful and calm in comparison 
with the two previous years, it bred its share of ugly incidents. Seward's 
dark prophecy of "irrepressible conflict;" the angry Congressional debates 
on Cuba, the tariff, and public land; the Ohio trial of the Oberlin-Wellington 
prisoners whose crime had been to rescue a human being from slavery; 
the cases of the Echo and the Wanderer, highlighting the overseas slave- 
trade; the Vicksburg Convention proposals to reopen this brutal traffic 
under law; the calculated murder of Senator Broderick in a California 
political duel; and the pamphlet war between Douglas and Attorney General 
Black in August and September all these kept tension high and slavery 
in the spotlight. The October elections brought the worst kind of news 
for Buchanan: more Republican victories in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Iowa. 
Late on Monday morning, October 17, Buchanan received word 
of some trouble at Harpers Ferry. The crew of the night train from 
Wheeling to Washington had telegraphed the news that an armed force of 
abolitionists at the Ferry had captured the bridge and town, shot a watch- 
man, killed a Negro porter, and apparently intended to terrorize the 
countryside. Buchanan hurriedly met with Secretary Floyd and ordered 
a force of artillery and marines under the command of Col. Robert E. Lee 
to the scene. By two p. m. he had on his desk a copy of the Baltimore Sun 
Extra with headlines: "Negro Insurrection at Harpers Ferry. Headed by 
250 AboUtionists. The Aimory SeizedTrains Stopped Cars Fired Into 
One Man Killed" and a more detailed account of events. Not until the 
next day did he learn that old John Brown, the Kansas murderer, led the 
rebel band. His few dozen followers soon capitulated to the state and 
federal troops, and Brown himself was captured alive. Floyd made an 
investigation but found no need to proclaim martial law. Governor Wise 



of Virginia was on hand and laid claim to Brown as a state prisoner. A 
Virginia court found him guilty of murder and treason within two weeks of 
the affair and the authorities hanged him on December 2. 

One can scarcely imagine an episode better designed to arouse 
the worst passions of Americans than John Brown's raid. The South soon 
learned that the idea of the attack had not been confined to the diseased 
mind of the perpetrator. Half a dozen prominent and wealthy New England 
abolitionists who had at least a partial knowledge of Brown's plans had 
financed the arming of the raiders. In addition to the "Secret Six," other 
distinguished northerners had helped Brown and now glorified him with 
their pens. Some northern extremists exploited him as a latter-day Christ 
and set him up as a martyr. 

Governor Wise saw to it that Brown's trial should be conducted 
with the utmost dignity and decorum. He talked at length with Brown, 
pronounced him entirely sane, and made clear to southerners what they 
had scarcely dared to believe before that a perfectly normal antislavery 
partisan of the North, financed by the "best people" there, could calmly 
plot mass murder as if it were a part of the day's business. Although Re- 
publican leaders scurried to disassociate themselves from all connection 
with Brown, the southerners set him up as a stereotype of northern 

John Brown's raid strengthened the Republican party by bringing 
to a dramatic focus the moral issue of slavery. Lincoln and his partisans 
might later pledge that they wished to save the Union, with slavery or 
without it, but after Harpers Ferry no one south of the Ohio or Potomac 
would ever believe them. The disturbance also widened the rift in the 
Democratic party. Congress met three days after John Brown's body 
stretched hemp. What now would southerners think of Douglas Democrats 
who, through the whole past session, had linked hands with Republicans 
on the slavery issue? How could they tolerate men who had made war on 
the Democratic party by alliance with the promoters of Brown's foray? 
Southerners now called the anti-Lecompton bloc the "Black Republican 
Reserve." Douglas might have perceived more clearly than he did the 
depth and conclusiveness of this southern attitude. Finally, the raid made 
the idea of secession, hitherto a radical or "ultra" notion, thoroughly 
respectable in the deep South. To resist Republican rule now meant simply 
to resist surrender to self-confessed conspirators and murderers. The 
insurrection answered the question whether the South could remain in a 
Union controlled by Republicans. The reply was no. 

The House met on December 5 and tried to organize. From that 
day until February 1 the Congressmen ballotted angrily and in vain to 
select a Speaker. After two months of wrangling which occasionally boiled 
over into fist fights, the Representatives chose their officers. The situation 



was foreboding. The Administration party and the southern Democrats 
had lost; the Republicans and the Douglas Democrats were in. 22 Douglas, 
it appeared, still accepted membership in the Black Republican Reserve. 
This appearance hardly coincided with the truth, but the impression gained 
currency in the South. 

Buchanan, laboring over his message, tried to pierce the darkness 
of the future and to plot some safe course. He feared that John Brown's 
raid and the wild enthusiasm with which some northerners welcomed the 
news had "made a deeper impression on the southern mind against the 
Union than all former events." The Cabinet was gloomy. Cobb wrote 
that "the North seems determined to force upon us the issue of Sewardism 
or disunion." "The days of the union are numbered," he said. "I write 
this as my unwilling conviction." 28 

The president sent his message to the Senate on December 27, 
but no one in or out of Congress paid much attention to it. "The message 
has been here a week and I have not yet seen the first person who has read 
it," reported a Georgia politician. It was dull enough, to be sure, to deserve 
this fate, but there lay embedded in its routine comments some ideas that 
were startling: the presidential warning that the Harpers Ferry incident was 
a symptom "of an incurable disease in the public mind, which may . . . 
terminate, at last, in an open war by the North to abolish slavery in the 
South;" the assertion, in direct defiance of Senator Douglas's doctrine, 
that the Supreme Court explicitly promised protection of slavery in the 
Territories; the statement that "without the authority of Congress" the 
president could not fire a gun in any "species of hostility however confined 
or limited," except to repel the attacks of an enemy; the charge that in 
failing to pass deficiency bills, Congress had arrested the action of govern- 
ment and could, by this means, "even destroy its existence." None of 
these points was, in itself, momentous; but all taken together, they showed 
clearly that the president placed squarely on the shoulders of Congress the 
responsibility for solving the problems which confronted the nation. 

By doing so, Buchanan weakened the presidential office. His 
purpose, however, was to keep responsibility clearly defined. Throughout 
his Administration the opposition in Congress had attacked him as a 
dictator, a tyrant, a James the First. But he had always emphasized that 
his duty as executive was only to carry out the will of Congress. He re- 
called the dictum of Governor Simon Snyder, "My duty is to execute the 
laws . . . and not my individual opinions." He now reiterated this idea 
and called national attention to it; he had no intention to be the scapegoat 
for Congressional inattention to business. At the same time that Buchanan 
circumscribed the presidential powers, the lawmakers labored ardently to 
the same end. Enemy Congressmen, hating Buchanan and fearful of his 
dictatorial use of power against them, determined to destroy him by 



destroying the power of the office he held. Between them, they succeeded 
all too well. 

On March 5, 1859, the House adopted a resolution to investigate 
whether the president had tried to influence the votes of Congressmen on 
the English Bill by improper means. Speaker Pennington appointed the 
originator of the resolution, John Covode of Pennsylvania, as chairman of 
the investigating committee. Buchanan assumed that John Forney had 
been the real author of the scheme, for he had proposed something of this 
sort in a violent speech just before Pennington's election. 24 He further 
suspected that the Covode investigation was tied up with Douglas's plans 
to carry off the Democratic nomination at Charleston in April. 

But other factors were at work. In the Senate a Democratic com- 
mittee had been busily compiling testimony which linked the Republican 
party with complicity in the John Brown raic\ Now the Republican- 
controlled House would offer to the public a countervailing exposfi of 
Democratic corruption. Also, John Covode had a personal grudge to settle 
with Buchanan. As a prominent member of a railroad company which 
wanted a huge land grant from several western states, he had taken the 
responsibility to put through Congress a federal land donation act, cloaked 
as a bill to establish agricultural colleges. Buchanan vetoed this bill on 
February 24. "Hence," said the Buchanan press, "the bitter personal 
hostility of John Covode to President Buchanan." 25 Finally, the Douglas 
Democrats saw in the investigation an opportunity to strengthen the 
prospects of their favorite at Charleston. A re-examination of the Kansas 
fight and the handling of patronage in Illinois would certainly damn the 
Administration and strengthen Douglas. 

Unlike most partisan investigations, this one would bring damag- 
ing testimony from members of both parties. Even Douglas may not have 
realized how serious a blow the Covode inquiry might deal to the nation, 
for it aimed at discrediting not only a man, but the power and prestige of 
the whole executive machinery. Buchanan promptly protested. "Mr. 
John Covode," he said, "is the accuser of the President. . . . The House 
have made my accuser one of my judges. . . . Since the time of the Star 
Chamber and of general warrants there has been no such proceeding. ... I 
defy all investigation. Nothing but the basest perjury can sully my 
good name." 26 

The Committee went enthusiastically about its business, question- 
ing all kinds of witnesses, both those in office and disgruntled ones who 
had been dismissed, Forney who in an earlier day had been an active 
influence peddler now planned to tell all. "God knows what he will swear," 
groaned Buchanan when Forney took the stand. "If he should tell any- 
thing like the truth, I have nothing to fear." 27 



The investigators unearthed practices common to every Adminis- 
tration since the days of Andrew Jackson, namely, that politicians used 
public offices and certain types of public funds for political purposes. 
Government printing contracts for decades had been a source of party 
income. Partisan editors received printing contracts as a reward for 
editorial support and then improved their situation by overprinting, over- 
charging, or farming out work for a commission. Buchanan's Administra- 
tion permitted this well-established procedure to continue. The Committee 
thoroughly overhauled the activities of the notorious Ike Cook faction in 
Illinois and spent a lot of time examining the peculiar machinations of 
Cornelius Wendell, financial manager of the Washington Union, the 
Administration paper. 

There was evidence that naval contracts had been awarded for 
political reasons and that War Secretary Floyd had offered to sell govern- 
ment property cheap and to buy dear. Buchanan himself had intervened 
to prevent the payment of $200,000 for a site in California which he thought 
a poor bargain. Such matters formed the burden of testimony before the 
Covode Committee. In May, the Buchanan Administration itself gave 
the Committee an extra boost when the Postmaster General discovered that 
the postmaster of New York City, I V. Fowler, had stolen $160,000 of 
federal funds. Fowler promptly fled to Europe to escape arrest. 28 

The Committee concluded its work in June, had the hearings 
printed, bound them in with previous hearings on naval contracts, and 
franked the results all over the country. Even those who did not read 
must have felt that such a huge tome would record a comparable volume 
of corruption. Had the report been a mere partisan attack, like the censure 
of Jackson in the 1830's, it might have been less damaging; but this time 
there was a difference. The Republicans said that the report showed the 
hand of treason at work, a slave conspiracy pulling the strings on a puppet 
president. The Douglas Democrats pointed out that the Administration 
had used its power to defraud the voters in Illinois, a kind of continued 
Lecompton swindle. Both ideas set Buchanan before the public as a willing 
tool of the slave power, ready to use the public treasure to crush votes 
for freedom. 

Buchanan addressed a spirited reply to the House after the 
investigation, asking why Congress had failed to recommend any resolutions 
of impeachment or even of censure of himself or any executive officer. 
The House had discovered no abuse of executive authority, nor had it 
proposed any corrective legislation. After spreading a drag net over the 
nation "to catch any disappointed man willing to malign my character," 
after listening to every coward that wished to insult the president under 
guaranteed immunity, after hearing all the witnesses who wanted to swear 
away their character before the Committee, after proceeding for three 



months in secrecy without permitting any testimony on behalf of the 
accused, the Committee had found nothing on which to ground a specific 
complaint. Such procedure, Buchanan said, violated public and private 
honor, it denied to the president a fair trial and the right of self-defense, it 
instituted a "reign of terror," and degraded the presidential office to such 
a degree that it became "unworthy of the acceptance of any man of honor 
or principle." "I have passed triumphantly through this ordeal," he con- 
duded. "My vindication is complete." 29 


While the Covode Committee met, the Democrats held their nominating 
convention at Charleston, S. C., April 23 to May 3. For over a year the 
Douglas press had made a concerted effort to create the notion that Bu- 
chanan wished to have the nomination. Buchanan's own friends had 
helped foment the foolish idea through an article in the Pittsburgh Post on 
July 19, 1859. Immediately on seeing it, the president wrote a statement 
that he positively would not accept a renomination. He called B. F. Meyers, 
editor of the Bedford Gazette to his room at the Springs Hotel at midnight 
on the 20th and gave him the article with instructions to print it the next 
day. Then he sent copies to the Pittsburgh Post, the Pennsylvanian, and 
the Washington Constitution. 30 He wrote privately to Howell Cobb, J. B. 
Baker and Wilson McCandless during July, expressing his "final and 
irrevocable" determination to retire. 31 

As the second-term publicity would not stop, he wrote to Baker 
again in February, 1860, denying his candidacy and, before the Charleston 
Convention met, sent to Arnold Plumer, one of the delegates, a letter in 
which he restated that he would not "in any contingency" be a candidate. 
He also sent a copy to another delegate. There is no reason to believe he 
was not sincere. He told Mrs. Polk, "I am now in my sixty-ninth year and 
am heartily tired of my position as President." 32 

The talk of another term afforded certain presidential aspirants a 
weapon for their own cause. The New York Herald published a letter of 
Governor Wise of Virginia stating that "Mir. Buchanan himself is a can- 
didate for renomination, and all his patronage and power will be used to 
disappoint Douglas and all other aspirants." 33 The Philadelphia Press; a 
Douglas organ, alleged that Buchanan swore to his friends that he "had to 
be" the candidate at Charleston; the times demanded it. 34 This had been 
the whole object of the Chapel Hill junket. Ever since the Harpers Ferry 
raid, he had been trying to frighten the nation about secession, "manufac- 
ture a disunion panic," and thus render the nomination of any northerner, 
except himself, impossible. 35 In the South, Toombs of Georgia wrote that 



"Old Buck is determined to rule or ruin us. I think he means to continue 
his own dynasty or destroy the party" and in another letter said, "I think 
Mr, Buchanan would like to prevent the nomination of another in order to 
make himself necessary." 36 

This identity of hostile views from opposite sections highlighted 
Buchanan's lack of rapport with either. He thoroughly disapproved of 
Douglas and equally opposed the nomination of any ultrasoutherner, but 
he had strong hopes that a southern Unionist, particularly Howell Cobb, 
might succeed him. Cobb, however, had become discouraged after the 
John Brown affair. He would not be a candidate, he told his brother-in-law, 
unless strongly pressed by Georgia, and even then he felt gloomy about the 
future of the country. "For that reason," he said, "I feel less solicitous 

about the matter I am more desirous of obtaining the full confidence 

of the people of Ga. that I may serve them in the crisis that is before us 
than I do to obtain even presidential honors." 37 On March 15, the Georgia 
Convention in a dose vote declined to support Cobb as the favorite son, 
and he publicly announced his retirement from the race. Buchanan now 
placed his hopes in such men as Vice-President Breckinridge or James 
Guthrie of Kentucky or Joe Lane of Oregon. These men represented the 
border-state or moderate point of view on the major question that would 
face the Charleston delegates: popular sovereignty as defined by Douglas's 
Freeport Doctrine or federal protection of slaves in the territories, according 
to Jefferson Davis's slave-code resolutions. There was ground for com- 
promise between these extremes, and on this ground Buchanan stood. 
Few others did. 

At Charleston, Murat Halstead, a newspaperman, observed that 
Douglas was the pivotal figure. "Every delegate was for or against him. 
Every motion meant to nominate him or not to nominate him. Every 
parliamentary war was pro or con Douglas." He and his friends intended, 
by focussing attention upon him as the central figure of the party, to force 
everyone who opposed him into the position of schismatics. Only thus 
could Douglas free himself from his reputation as chief apostate of his 
party. He would so crowd the center of the stage that he would force 
Buchanan, Cobb, Bright, Slidell, and all others who opposed him into the 
wings. The more fighting that ensued, the better; it would further empha- 
size his importance. 38 

Buchanan had some influence among the delegates. He had 
achieved a reconciliation with Governor Packer and thus controlled a 
part of the Pennsylvania delegation. The patronage had dictated the 
choice of Administration delegates from California, Oregon, Massachusetts, 
New Jersey, and a scattering from other states. Senator Bigler became 
Buchanan's chief spokesman on the floor, and Caleb Cushing, a loyal 



Buchaneer, presided over the meeting and guided the selection of com- 
mittees. Cobb, Bright and Slidell, none of them delegates but all bitter 
enemies of Douglas, assumed local direction of the Administration plans 
for the convention. The president could now have used the help of those 
friends he had sent away on foreign missions. 

Buchanan's plan had grown out of a careful study of Douglas's 
letter of June 22, 1859, explaining his views on slavery in the territories. 
Buchanan had conferred at length with Slidell about it and had come to 
the conclusion that Douglas intended to stick to the Freeport Doctrine and 
to deny the right of the Supreme Court or of the Congress to speak the 
last word on the question of protecting slave property in a federal territory. 
He also thought that Douglas would not accept a nomination unless the 
convention "shall first erect a platform to please himself." Slidell viewed 
the candidacy letter as "an unequivocal declaration of war." 39 Buchanan 
endorsed the strategy of insisting upon the adoption of the platform first; 
Douglas would then have to modify his views to suit the party or abandon 
his candidacy. 

Douglas, surprisingly, accepted the "platform first" idea which 
passed the day after the convention assembled. The convention then 
split wide open over the platform itself. His supporters bent furthest 
toward a compromise, agreeing at last to say nothing whatsoever about 
popular sovereignty and stand on the old Cincinnati Platform. But the 
southerners demanded more of Douglas than silence; they wanted some 
positive statement to the effect that Congress had a right to protect property 
in the territories, and this wish Douglas would not grant. Bigler, heading a 
conference committee, tried his best to translate the middle ground into 
acceptable words but failed, like the rest. 

Even in the face of this impasse, something might have been 
salvaged from the convention had the southern delegates kept their tempers 
and their seats. But during the vote on the Douglas minority platform, 
which reaffirmed the Cincinnati Platform, the delegates of eight southern 
states walked out leaving the Douglas men in charge. These, unable to 
muster a two-thirds majority of the whole to nominate their candidate, 
adjourned the convention to reconvene in Baltimore on June 18. The 
southerners had done exactly what Douglas wanted, but not in the way he 
had anticipated. By voluntarily assuming the position of bolters, they had 
made Douglas the leader of the regular party. They had torn the apostate's 
cloak from his shoulders and wrapped it around themselves. Had only a 
few withdrawn, the Douglas strategy might have worked; but instead of 
the secession of a mere lunatic fringe, a major portion of the party had 
walked out and made a legal nomination impossible. 

Buchanan read the results with anger. The ground he occupied 
had now been entirely cut away. He could join the knaves or the fools. 



Well, be damned if he would; he would join neither of them. He would 
continue to urge the only course he could devise which might unite the 
Democracy and bring victory in November. He believed that neither 
section should demand both platform and candidate but should be willing 
to give in on one to get the other. If Douglas would accept a modified 
guarantee of protection to slaves during the territorial period, or Davis 
would run on the Cincinnati platform, either might win; if each wanted 
everything for his own section and would concede nothing to the other, then 
the party would lose and the Republicans would take over the government. 

May and June brought such a press of official duties that Buchanan 
had little time to devote to election politics, although he emphasized his 
plan of give and take whenever opportunity offered. During May the 
moderates of the border states organized a Constitutional Union party and 
nominated John Bell of Tennessee for president and Edward Everett of 
Massachusetts for vice-president. Their platform was: "The Constitution 
of the country, the union of the States, and the enforcement of the laws." 
A week later the Republicans at Chicago nominated Abraham Lincoln and 
Hannibal Hamlin to lead them on a program of high tariff, free homesteads, 
and no extension of slavery. Finally, in mid-June, the Democrats met 
again for their adjourned session in Baltimore. The split persisted; the 
Douglas faction placed him in nomination and the Charleston seceders 
retired to a separate hall to nominate John C, Breckinridge for president 
and Joe Lane for vice-president. By June 28, four tickets were formally 
in the field, but only one of them, the Republican, represented a clear-cut 
party organization. 

Tragic irony marked the final disintegration of the Democratic 
party at the Baltimore Convention. At the end Douglas formally asked 
that his name be withdrawn in the interest of party harmony, but his 
managers ignored his request and shoved him through. At the same time 
they adopted the very platfonn which Buchanan had urged upon them all 
along and which, had it been accepted earlier, might have achieved peace. 
Douglas would run on a promise to let the Supreme Court determine the 
"subject of domestic relations" in a territory, thus abandoning the principle 
which he had made the central theme of all his former battles. On the 
other hand the southerners, long champions of the Supreme Court prin- 
ciple, now considered its adoption by Douglas sufficient cause to bolt. Even 
so, their own platform on which Breckinridge would run considerably 
modified the slave-code proposal of Jefferson Davis. It stated merely that 
the Federal Government had the duty "to protect, when necessary, the 
rights of persons and property in the Territories." It thus became very 
clear that the issue went much deeper than a formula for slavery in the 
territories. It had come to the point that southern Democrats would not 



trust their northern colleagues, regardless of principle or party, and the 
northern Democrats reciprocated the feeling. 

Theoretically, Buchanan might even now have saved the party by 
coming out strongly for Douglas. He had no further ambitions to gratify 
for himself and could scarcely have imagined any phraseology of condemna- 
tion that had not already been directed against him. Douglas, with 
Administration support, might possibly have united the Democratic voters 
of the upper South and the lower North, the middle belt which could 
command an electoral college majority. Had the Douglas men not been 
at this very moment busily engaged in upsetting the tar barrel over the 
Buchaneers in the Covode inquiry, such a move might have been con- 
ceivable. Under these conditions, it was not. Buchanan had to agree with 
the Republican editor who wrote: "A penitent prostitute may be received 
into the church, but she should not lead the choir." He decided for the time 
being to withhold the power of his influence from either side. Whatever 
persuasiveness he possessed he would use to promote a withdrawal of both 
Democratic candidates, and to achieve a new and legal nomination sup- 
ported by the border states whose inhabitants could still talk to each other 
as friends and neighbors. As for the future, sufficient unto the day. . . . 





The end of the Congressional session reminded Buchanan very much of 
the days of the John Quincy Adams Administration. Bills were manu- 
factured or side-tracked, it seemed, for the particular purpose of damning 
the Administration. Both Republicans and Democrats joined in the game. 
The tariff bill, which Buchanan favored as a means of strengthening the 
Treasury, was left to rot in Committee. The appropriations bills were 
kicked back and forth between the Republican House and the Democratic 
Senate. The Senate Democrats sabotaged proposals to make American 
influence count in Central America, and the two Houses adopted a Home- 
stead Bill which all knew Buchanan would have to veto. 

Buchanan needed the Morrill Tariff both to get more revenue 
and to conciliate the demands of manufacturers. He had gratified the 
South by vetoing earlier some river and harbor bills which would have 
spent federal funds largely in the northwest, and he deserved southern 
Democratic support for his firmness during the Lecompton fracas. The 
Morrill Bill conformed to his ideas of a moderate tariff and would have 
greatly eased his administrative problems, but the southern Senators 
defeated it 

He needed appropriation bills to maintain the functions aftd 
services of government. When services had to be curtailed the Adminis- 
tration bore the brunt of the complaints. The political opposition, by 
headlining the shocking fact that Buchanan inherited a $4,000,000 surplus 
from Pierce and by 1859 had a deficit of $27,000,000, drummed home the 
idea that the public funds had been wasted in graft and corruption. But 
the figures were misleading. 

Pierce had enjoyed a rich revenue from land sales and customs 
receipts amounting to $273,000,000 during his term of office. In Bu- 
chanan's Administration, because of the panic of 1857 and the near 
cessation of land sales, due partly to the Lecompton fight, the federal income 



dropped to $223,000,000. Thus Buchanan had the task of running the 
government for four years with $50,000,000 less than Pierce. He did this, 
conducted a war with Paraguay and a war with the Mormons, increased the 
navy, and established two new transcontinental postal routes. At the end 
his net deficit was $7,000,000. He had, with rigid economy, actually run 
the country for $39,000,000 less than his predecessor, and therefore 
deserved credit for efficient management of public funds. 1 

Buchanan refused to give away the public domain for fear of 
threatening the financial stability of the nation, since that land formed the 
collateral for public loans. Hence his veto of the Homestead Bill on 
June 22, 1860, which has often been cited as the act which elected Lincoln. 
The Republican press proclaimed that "this act of oppression . . . would 
sink the administration of James Buchanan in infamy as long as it will be 
remembered." 2 A modern writer says that Buchanan acted as "a tool of 
the slave power," and that the veto message was "perhaps the most irra- 
tional, ill-conceived and amazingly inaccurate veto message that has ever 
emanated from an American President." 3 

The message may properly be called labored and in some places 
specious, for it never mentioned the real reasons for the veto; but neither 
did the framers of the bill publicize their real reasons for pushing it through. 
It was actually framed to draw a veto and embarrass the president, for 
Buchanan had earlier made public his antagonism to its provisions. The 
fundamental purpose was to manufacture Republican votes in the 1860 
election and new Republican states thereafter. No one doubted that any 
party which offered free land to small fanners would gain favor principally 
in the North and among antislavery people in general. As had been shown 
in Kansas, these would inundate the new region and, in the continuing 
uncertainty about the controls over slavery, might well reopen the half- 
healed wounds of Kansas. Buchanan thought that the worst thing he could 
possibly do at this moment would be to encourage a frenzied migration into 
the new West. That had been the mistake of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and 
he aimed not to repeat it. 

He interpreted the Homestead Bill as a Republican effort to reacti- 
vate the slavery furor, a demagogic device to buy northern votes with public 
treasure, and a cheat because it would give mainly to northerners land 
which had been acquired in great part through the sacrifice of southerners 
during the Mexican war. In the end even the northern farmers would be 
cheated, Buchanan believed, for as the bill had been written, railroad 
promoters would wind up with most of the land. He paid dearly for the 
veto, for it placed the Administration in the position of condemning the 
West to stagnation and of trampling the wishes of northern freemen to 
gratify the South. It hurt Douglas, and it gave the Republicans the chance 
to stand as champions of free workingmen and free farmers, a combination 



hitherto the backbone of northern Democracy. The veto may well have 
elected Lincoln. But if Buchanan had signed the bill, he would have 
repudiated his whole presidential policy by endorsing a measure that he 
thought fiscally unsound, sectional in its benefits, productive of renewed 
slavery agitation, condemned by his own party platform, and formally 
sponsored by the Republicans. 


After Congress adjourned, many of the Democrats lingered to try once 
again to achieve union between the Douglas and Breckinridge men. The 
Administration or Breckinridge wing of the party succeeded in persuading 
Senator Benjamin Fitzpatrick to surrender his place as vice-presidential 
candidate on the Douglas ticket and promised that if Douglas, too, would 
quit the race, both Breckinridge and Lane would withdraw, and a new 
nomination would be sought. To induce Fitzpatrick to make the initial 
sacrifice, the Buchaneers suggested that he might very well be selected as 
the ultimate presidential nominee, in recognition of his disinterested 
patriotism. But Douglas would not retire, and his managers soon named 
Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia to take the place of Fitzpatrick. 

Buchanan's hope from this point on lay in working out such 
fusion tickets in various states as might possibly prevent an election and 
throw the decision to the House of Representatives. No other plan 
promised the slightest chance of defeating Lincoln. He wondered whether 
he had not erred in refusing to support Douglas at Charleston. Here had 
been the great opportunity for, although nominating Douglas would not 
have kept the Gulf States from walking out and naming their own candidate, 
it might have united the border states back of the Little Giant. These states, 
if they voted en bloc, could triumph over the Yankee North and the fire- 
eating South. Douglas, with Administration support, stood a good chance 
of capturing 161 electoral votes. It took 152 to win. 

That chance had now gone by. Douglas would squander his 
strength where Lincoln was stronger; his prospects were hopeless. Breckin- 
ridge would command the whole South and just might get Pennsylvania 
and the Far West, a combination that would produce 146 electoral votes- 
enough to spike Lincoln if either Douglas or Bell captured a few electors 
from him. If this happened and the election went to the House, it seemed 
likely that a deadlock would ensue. The voting would be by states, and it 
would require seventeen states to name a president. The Republicans had 
only fifteen; the Democrats could be sure of only thirteen; Douglas would 
have one; Bell, one; and three states would probably divide and not vote. 



If the House failed to elect, the Senate would proceed to ballot for a vice- 
president and, because of its strong Democratic majority, would un- 
doubtedly choose Joe Lane. He then would take the helm, in the absence 
of a president. This was a guessing game, to be sure, but it was educated 
guessing upon which the fate of the nation seemed to depend. Buchanan 
thought it the best prospect. 

He did not actively campaign, but stated his position to a Breck- 
inridge rally in front of the White House on the night of July 9. He 
condemned breaches of traditional procedure by both Democratic factions. 
Neither nomination had been according to rule and therefore, he said, 
"every Democrat is at perfect liberty to vote as he thinks proper." He 
planned to vote for Breckinridge because he believed that property was 
guaranteed protection by the Constitution, and that this guarantee could 
could not be thrown out by a local vote in a territory as Douglas claimed. 
He would not interfere between the factions in their state campaigns. His 
main object was to defeat the Republicans. 

The implication of this speech was clear. Buchanan would let 
Douglas do all the damage he could to Lincoln in the North. He would try 
to protect the southern vote for Breckinridge and most particularly try to 
save Pennsylvania where he still held a strong working force. To fight 
Douglas and Lincoln would be to scatter his strength. 


Buchanan found himself distracted, in the critical period between the 
Charleston and Baltimore Conventions, by a large delegation of Japanese 
dignitaries who had come to the United States for the signing of the first 
commercial treaty to be negotiated by this mysterious Oriental Empire. 
The Nipponese visitors took the country by storm. "They are really a 
curiosity," wrote Harriet Lane. "All the women seem to run daft about 
them." 4 Buchanan held a state dinner for them, arranging them in small 
groups at separate tables with one or another of the Cabinet. The Dutch 
Minister gave a garden party, Mrs. Slidefl a matinfie dansante, and others 
plain receptions. "And still," said Mrs. Cobb, "curiosity is not satiated." 
At the White House the Japanese left a whole room full of gifts which were 
placed on exhibit for the edification of the public. 6 

No sooner had the Japanese left Washington than the president 
undertook other social responsibilities. At the wedding of Madame 
de Bodisco, widow of the Russian Ambassador, to a British Army Captain, 
he gave the bride away. About the same time he learned, with a shock, that 
his old flame, Mrs. Craig, had married and was now living in Chicago. 6 



By midsummer the four-year-old fight between Secretary Floyd 
and Captain Montgomery C. Meigs had reached the breaking point. Meigs 
had been superintending a number of construction projects in the Washing- 
ton area, including new wings and a new dome for the national capitol. 
He had been entrusted with this work by Jefierson Davis, Secretary of War 
under Pierce, and deserved his reputation as an honest officer. He immedi- 
ately ran into trouble with Floyd who tried to use the supply contracts for 
these enterprises as political favors. 

The fight between Meigs and Floyd eventually engaged the 
interest of Congress. The anti-Administration legislators now framed 
appropriation bills to prevent the War Department from spending money 
on these projects except through Meigs. Buchanan had several times 
listened patiently to the story from both men and had tried to patch up 
matters, but eventually Meigs lost his temper. He wrote Buchanan a letter 
sharply accusing Floyd of shoddy practice and demanding that one or the 
other be dismissed. Meigs had justice on his side, but he might have 
realized that his Commander in Chief would have considerable difficulty in 
removing his Secretary of War on complaint of a Captain with a long record 
of insubordination. Buchanan agonized over this episode longer than he 
should have, considering the weight of other matters crying for his atten- 
tion. At length he dressed down Floyd, but at the same time he agreed that- 
Meigs would have to be transferred. The latter now entered the growing 
ranks of those who attacked Buchanan as a pliant tool of the South, an 
ingrate, and a corruptionist. Meigs's name had become well known 
throughout the country, and his outraged voice carried wide and clear, 
assisted on its way by Forney's sympathetic pen in the Philadelphia Press. 7 

At the end of August Buchanan went to Bedford Springs for a 
rest. The townspeople there, thinking that this might be his last visit as 
president, prepared a huge celebration for him. The promoters, who wished 
to surprise Buchanan, did not notify him of the plans. He did not arrive as 
expected on Friday and the crowd, after a four-hour wait, went home 
disappointed. Next day he came to the hotel without fanfare and promptly 
went to bed. 8 

During his vacation Buchanan had a serious private talk with the 
Rev. William M. Paxton of the First Presbyterian Church of New York City 
on the subject of religion. Paxton related that the president questioned 
him "closely as a lawyer would question a witness upon all points con- 
nected with regeneration, atonement, repentance, and faith." At the end 
of the conversation, Buchanan said, "Weil, sir . . . , I hope I am a Christian. 
I think I have much of the experience which you describe, and as soon as 
I retire, I will unite with the Presbyterian Church." Paxton asked him why 
he delayed, to which he replied, "I must delay for the honor of religion. 



If I were to unite with the church now, they would say 'hypocrite' from 

Maine to Georgia." 9 

Upon learning that the Prince of Wales planned a visit to Canada 
in September, Buchanan wrote to Victoria and suggested that her son 
conclude his trip with a tour of the United States and a stopover in Wash- 
ington. The <iueen approved. The first visit to the United States of a 
member of the British royal family created great excitement throughout 
the country, but especially in high social circles. 

Harriet wanted to have a huge ball for the prince, but the president 
said, "No dancing in the White House," and when he spoke thus, his 
decision was as irrevocable as the law of the Medes and Persians. He also 
ordered Harriet to remove her picture from the prince's bedroom and put 
it in the library. The evening of his arrival, Buchanan held a grand state 
dinner. Toward the end of it the president grew fidgety and told the waiters 
to hurry up the courses, for he thought that young Edward Albert was 
about to fall asleep at the table. Later the guests played cards, a great 
concession, since Buchanan detested card games and had never before 
allowed them in the White House. At the end of the day, after the royal 
party had been accommodated, Buchanan discovered that all the White 
House beds were full and he had to sleep on a sofa. 

Next day the prince toured the public buildings, appeared at a 
public reception, and in the afternoon visited a gymnasium with Miss Lane 
where he swung on the rings, climbed a rope ladder, and lost to Harriet in 
a game of ninepins. To gratify the ladies, Buchanan arranged a party on 
board the revenue cutter Harriet Lane to enliven the prince's cruise to 
Mt. Vernon. Gautier superintended a splendid lunch on deck, and on the 
return voyage there was music and dancing. The prince first led out Miss 
Lane and as he seated her at the end of the dance he was heard to whisper, 
"Now, Miss Lane, who must I dance with next?" 10 

In New York, where the dance floor caved in during the grand 
ball, Edward was rumored to have escaped the eye of the Duke of Newcastle 
and to have spent the night disporting himself riotously in the city's most 
luxurious brothels. 11 

After her son's return home, Victoria expressed her pride and 
gratification at his reception and described the visit as "an important link 
to cement two nations of kindred origin and character." 12 The occasion 
seemed to symbolize an end to the traditional hatreds of Revolutionary days 
and marked the beginning of stronger Anglo-American friendship. 


The royal visit could scarcely have come at a worse time. The most critical 
election in American history was surging to its climax, and Buchanan 



should have been devoting all of his time to it. Three of the candidates, 
Lincoln, Breckinridge and Bell, had been following the traditional pro- 
cedure; they stayed home and said nothing. But Douglas, though sick, 
proved he was still the same old "Steam engine in breeches." Breaking 
precedent, he began to stump the nation. Starting with a trip to Boston 
on the pretense of visiting his mother, he then carried his campaign all 
through the South. Here he boldly proclaimed that the election of Lincoln 
should give no excuse for secession, but at the same time he accused the 
Breckinridge and Lane partisans of being bent on secession should Lincoln 
be elected. Presumably he intended by this means to frighten pro-Union 
southerners into voting for him in preference to Breckinridge. However, 
Douglas underestimated southern hatred of his past course, and sowed 
broadcast seeds of the very movement he was trying to avert. By smearing 
the Breckinridge party with the tar of secession he weakened Union 
sentiment in the South, and he strengthened the secessionists by harping 
on the probability of a Lincoln victory. 

William M. Browne, editor of the Administration's Washington 
Constitution, wrote angrily in midsummer, "I am almost crazy at the 
shilly-shally, dilly-dally policy being pursued. Make a holocaust of 
Douglas men and even now build an organization and elect Breckin- 
ridge." 13 Cobb thought the only chance to defeat Lincoln lay in the 
withdrawal of Douglas. 14 Buchanan, worried but calm, concentrated his 
efforts on control of Pennsylvania whose electoral vote held most promise 
of deciding the issue and worked for an agreement that all the Pennsylvania 
electors would vote as a unit for either Douglas or Breckinridge whichever 
choice would defeat Lincoln. 

In late August Breckinridge's home state of Kentucky defeated 
the Administration party's local ticket by some 22,000 votes and plunged 
the president in gloom. "All may perhaps depend upon Penna.," Buchanan 
now wrote. "Should Lincoln be elected, I fear troubles enough though I 
have been doing all I can by conversations to prevent them." 15 The October 
elections in Pennsylvania gave the governorship to Andrew Gregg Curtin, 
candidate of the People's party which backed Lincoln. 

Hope now seemed nearly dead. Cobb told his wife that Georgia 
would "not stand for the election of Lincoln. Regard that as a fixed fact." 16 
A few weeks later he wrote his son that when Lincoln became president, 
"the true remedy is to withdraw from the Union on the 4th of March. 
As the government passes into the hands of the Abolitionists we should 
pass out. To secede while the Government is in the hands .of our friends 
would be wrong and unjustifiable." 17 

In the November elections, Lincoln polled some 1,800,000 votes 
to win over the 2,800,000 votes of the combined opposition. He would 
get 180 electoral votes; Breckinridge, 72; Bell, 39; and Douglas, 12. The 



Democrats got little solace from the fact that only 39.8 per cent of the 
voters had cast ballots for Lincoln. Even had all the anti-Lincoln electoral 
votes been concentrated on one candidate, the Republicans would still 
have won in the electoral college. 18 

"Lincoln is elected and we are alive to tell it. J. B. must be in 
an agony of suspense," wrote Sophie Plitt to Harriet. In Georgia a hysteri- 
cal politician cried: 'The voice of the North has proclaimed at the ballot 
box that I should be a slave! At the same time I hear the voice of God 
command, 'Be free! Be free!' " 19 In Columbia, South Carolina, Lawrence 
Keitt orated hoarsely at midnight, "South Carolina will either leave the 
Union or else throw her arms around the pillars of the Constitution and 
involve all the States in common ruin. Mr. Buchanan is pledged to 
secession and will be held to it." 20 Slidell wrote to the president from 
New Orleans, "I deeply regret the embarrassments which will surround 
you during the remainder of your term. I need scarcely say that I will do 
everything in my power to modify them . . . and to arrest any hostile action 
during your administration. I see no possibility of preserving the Union, 
nor indeed do I consider it desireable." 21 

Buchanan retired to the White House library where he thumbed 
abstractedly through his Bible till he came to Ecclesiastes. "Vanity of 
vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which 
he toils?" 





South Carolina moved swiftly after hearing the news of Lincoln's election. 
Her leaders had long since proclaimed that this event would be their signal 
to withdraw her from the Union, and they had taken public action to 
implement this threat in advance. On October 20, the Washington Light 
Infantry of Charleston mobilized, and on the 25th the leading politicians 
of the state met at the Charleston home of Senator James H. Hammond to 
plan the details of procedure for secession. By November the machinery of 
withdrawal had been constructed. News of die election of Lincoln would 
be the only impulse needed to set the wheels turning. 

The day after election the federal grand jury at Charleston quit, 
and all officers of the federal district court resigned. Federal activity 
ceased in South Carolina except in the post offices, the customhouse, and 
the military posts. No one could be charged with breaking federal law, 
since there were no federal courts to which anyone could be brought for 
trial. The resignation of court officers created a kind of sit-down strike 
against the federal authority for which, at the moment, no constitutional 
remedy existed. 

Also on November 7, South Carolina's Governor William H. Gist 
appealed to his compatriot, William H. Trescot, Assistant Secretary of 
State, to find out informally what action President Buchanan planned for 
the federal forts around Charleston. There were four of these. Castle 
Pinckney, inhabited only by an old ordnance sergeant and his family, 
occupied a small island well inside the harbor and close to the Charleston 
city docks. Fort Johnson and Fort Moultrie stood on tips of land about 
three miles apart which formed the neck or entrance to the harbor, and 
between them, in the middle of the channel, was Fort Sumter. Fort 
Johnson, an abandoned barracks and hospital area, had no proper claim to 
the term "fort." Sumter, a brick pentagon fifty feet high resting on a rock 
foundation no bigger than the structure, was in the charge of a lieutenant 



of engineers who daily supervised the work of 120 civilian laborers engaged 
in completing the interior construction of the massive pile. A few cannons 
were scattered about the parade ground; the fort contained no military 


Fort Moultrie housed the main defense command of some 
seventy-five officers and men. It was a strong work, well supplied with 
heavy guns facing seaward, but not designed to repel an attack from the 
rear. At the moment it was short on small arms; 22,000 of these were 
stacked at the federal arsenal a few blocks from the docks in Charleston. 
The people of Charleston felt that they lay at the mercy of these federal 
forts, and the army garrison felt that it was at the