James Buchananby Allison Lassieur
James Buchanan was elected president in 1856, the most unforgiving of times. Arguments over the extension of slavery had reached a fever pitch, threatening violence between pro- and antislavery forces. Buchanan angered the North by enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law; he angered the South by recognizing an antislavery government in Kansas. In 1859, when the radical abolitionist John Brown attacked a federal armory in Virginia and called on slaves in the South to revolt, all hope of compromise on slavery issues was ended. In 1860, Buchanan announced his retirement, and the Democratic Party split into Northern and Southern factions. When Abraham Lincoln of the antislavery Republican party was elected president in 1860, Southern states began to secede from the Union. Buchanan stood by, refusing even to defend federal arsenals. The first shots of the Civil War were fired weeks after he left office in March 1861.
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