President James Buchanan: A Biography

President James Buchanan: A Biography


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ISBN-13: 9780945707110
Publisher: American Political Biography Press
Publication date: 05/23/1995
Series: Signature Series
Pages: 506

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President James Buchanan 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If I were James Buchanan, I would hope for two things from my biographer. First, that he portray me as something more than that old colorless bachelor who had the historical misfortune of preceding Abraham Lincoln. Second, that he interpret the convoluted final days of my administration in such a way that I am not remembered as my century¿s Herbert Hoover nor, heaven forbid, as a closet Confederate. Philip Klein gets half the job done. Klein is at his best in providing a fairly rich biography. Buchanan was a true frontier baby, born in 1791 in the mountains of southern Pennsylvania. His early years were not exactly a struggle for survival in the wilderness, as the family business, a hostel and storage facility at a major crossroads, prospered. Two traumatic events colored the young adulthood of a man remembered today as the soul of convention. He was expelled from Dickinson College for disorderly conduct [though he later graduated], and a few years later his fiancée, the tempestuous Ann Coleman, died suddenly amidst a period of emotional conflict between the young lovers. Klein notes that the Coleman tragedy cast Buchanan as something of a mysterious and desirable object of women¿s attentions. In fact he enjoyed feminine companionship immensely throughout his life, as he did good cigars and expensive spirits. We are left with the impression that Buchanan remained a bachelor simply because he was too busy. He made a very comfortable living as an attorney, but his primary avocation was his role as the good uncle to the large and diverse Buchanan family and to the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania. Both roles called for essentially the same skills. Senior by age and easily the most financially successful of his clan, Buchanan devoted much of his time and resources to the care of the family widows, orphans, and failed businessmen. Some members of his family resented his success but took his money all the same. Over time Buchanan placed limitations and conditions upon his familial philanthropy. Easy money made him nervous, as did political colleagues who depended upon patronage rather than established family wealth. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party was also large, divided, and frequently ungrateful; it was more preoccupied with local patronage than national ideology. Buchanan spent the better part of forty years in national office, as congressman, senator, and ambassador to Russia and England. But he understood that the key to his own fortunes rested upon his home state¿s political unity, particularly his ability to hold together the Philadelphia Dallas Family machine and the rustic Trans-Allegheny constituency, among others. Buchanan could claim to have achieved convincing state party unity only once, in 1856, the year of his successful presidential run. As Buchanan himself came to appreciate, his ambassadorships and his state involvement had insulated him from the bruising congressional showdowns that destroyed his major national opponents. Buchanan, in effect, won the nomination in 1856 because he was perceived nationally as pure and bland. The 1856 returns proved to be a harbinger of the difficulties Buchanan would face as president. Although victorious, he was a minority president. A majority of Americans voted for parties that did not exist in 1852, the Republicans [Fremont] and the Know-Nothings [Fillmore]. On the day of his inauguration Roger Taney informed him privately of the impending Dred Scott decision. It was downhill thereafter. John Brown and secession were not far behind. Klein is less successful in his ¿Fort Sumter watch¿ a rather lengthy defense of Buchanan¿s final forty days in office. There is some truth to the author¿s argument that Radical Republicans would have loved to see Buchanan take the blame for starting what they viewed as an inevitable conflict, and that Winfield Scott and Robert Anderson, among others, gave confusing or misleading advice to the president. As Klein warms to the subj
Guest More than 1 year ago
Philip Klein's biography finally places the presidency of James Buchanan in the favorable light it deserves. Buchanan was discredited and vilified by politicians who put their party ahead of the nation. Power was more important to them than preserving the Union. First they obstructed his peace efforts and then scapegoated him for the Civil War when it began. 'Buchanan assumed leadership of the United States when an unprecedented wave of angry passion was sweeping the nation. That he held the hostile sections in check during these revolutionary times was in itself a remarkable achievment. His weaknesses in the stormy years of his presidency were magnified by enraged partisans of the North and the South. His many talents, which in a quieter era might have gained for him a place among the great presidents of his country, were quickly overshadowed by the cataclysmic events of civil war and by the towering personality of Abraham Lincoln. Of Buchanan it might be said, as it was of another, 'He staked his reputation on the supremacy of reason, and lost.' '
cyderry on LibraryThing 23 days ago
Everyone has always said that Buchanan was the worst President we ever had so knowing virtually nothing about him, I began this book with hopefully an open mind to see if he really was as bad as people made him out to be. That said, I'm not sure that he wasn't the worst (I've only read 15 presidents so far), but I know definitely he wasn't the best.When he entered the political arena he was desperate to achieve an 'Historical reputation" but his forte leaned more to the diplomatic corps than to legislative/executive. He was an accomplished diplomat. During his administration (acting basically as his own Sec of State) - he negotiated trade rights on 3 continents, ended the British search of ships at sea, & negotiated protection of American rights abroad.James Buchanan was in no way shape or form a risk taker. Not wanting to appear to be in any one particular camp politically (though an ardent Democrat) his cabinet was made up of members of all different factions as well as areas of the nation. While President, he was always looking for validation from his cabinet members but since the cabinet was made up of all factions, and they never could come to agreement therefore, Buchanan did nothing.Buchanan tried to govern using policy and gentlemen's agreements - never with determination of idea or strength of purpose. When SC federal officers resigned after the vote for secession, Congress would not approve replacements preventing military intervention. As issues heated up, the SC forts requested previsions and manpower, but never received them because of issues between General Scott and the War Department. Cabinet members left one by one as they became unable to support the President's decision/nondecisions.He fought bitterly with Congress who frequently tried to embarrass him by denying the necessary requirements for him to take action under the law. He was labeled a secessionist due to views expressed in the "Administration's' newspaper without his approval as his time in office came to a close. He also needed to reinforce the military presence in the capital to make certain that Lincoln's inaugural would take place without incident.After reading this book, I have to admit that he wasn't a very good President, lacking, IMHO, a strength of character that is required for this momentous task. But, I do believe, that he was hampered by the political atmosphere and passions of the time. Would I have voted for him, NO, but I also can't see that all the blame for the Civil war should be laid at his doorstep. He wanted an Historical Reputation, he got it, just not the one I think he wanted.
drneutron on LibraryThing 23 days ago
Buchanan usually doesn't rank very high on the list of US Presidents - in fact, he's usually near the bottom. Well, he wasn't the best leader we've ever had - after all, the Civil War essentially broke out on his watch - but in some ways he gets a bum rap. JB spent 40 years in public service before he became President. He was at heart a disciplined, self-made man who was an expert in playing the patronage game to succeed at party politics in Pennsylvania. He served in Congress, as minister to Russia and to England, and as Secretary of State before his election to the presidency, yet it's hard to put a finger on any big accomplishments. He was a strong believer in family and took care of many of relative, yet never managed to have a family of his own. His administration was reasonably successful in foreign police, but domestically, was unable to deal with the open warfare between abolitionists and pro-slavery forces in places like Kansas.Part of the problem was that Buchanan wasn't a visionary leader when we needed one. But he also had to deal with a Republican Congress that in many ways hamstrung his attempts to deal with domestic issues. And his own party, the Democrats, were divided into a number of factions, all of which were competing with him to come out on top. Klein's book is a pretty good autobiography of Buchanan, even if it's a tad bit dated. My only real complaint is that he spends quite a lot of time going through the political maneuvering by the various Pennsylvania Democratic factions, and it gets a bit tedious at times. The last third of the book, though, gets quite dramatic as he leads up to the outbreak of the Civil War.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
My favorite president is James Buchanan, and I get very mad at the people who give him a bad rap. Finally, it is proved that he is not such a presidential failure as he was painted. I praise Klien, and enjoyed reading his book.