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James Buchanan - with Periodic Presidents 

On paper, no one was more qualified to be president of the United States than Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s James Buchanan.  Buchanan, who was a lawyer, served in Pennsylvania’s state legislature, was a member of the United States House of Representatives, was the United States Minister to Russia during the administration of Andrew Jackson, served in the United States Senate, was Secretary of State during James K. Polk’s presidency, and served as Minister to Great Britain during Franklin Pierce’s administration…All this before winning the election of 1856 and becoming our 15th president.


The topic of slavery dominated the presidential election of 1856.  The Democrats turned away from the incumbent, Franklin Pierce, in favor of James Buchanan.  Buchanan and the Democrats favored a popular sovereignty approach to the issue of slavery.   In their first presidential election, the new Republican party, who nominated explorer John C. Fremont, stood firmly against the expansion of slavery.  This election also included a third party…the American Party (also known as the Know-Nothings)…who nominated former president Millard Fillmore and focused on anti-immigration policies.  In this election, James Buchanan won with a total of 174 electoral votes. 


James Buchanan is widely considered by most historians to be one of our country’s worst presidents.  He was a man of inaction and did little to stop the nation from splitting apart over the ever increasing tensions over slavery.  In the last months of his presidency, South Carolina (followed by 6 more southern states) seceded from the Union.  President Buchanan denied the legal right for a state to secede but held that neither he, nor the federal government, could prevent those states from doing so.  In March of 1861, James Buchanan retired to his home, Wheatland, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania leaving his successor, Abraham Lincoln, to resolve the frightful issue facing the Nation.

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