Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/James Buchanan

For works with similar titles, see Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Buchanan.

BUCHANAN, James (1791-1368), fifteenth President of the United States, was born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. His father, of the same name, was an Irishman who had eight years before emigrated from Donegal, and had become a well-to-do farmer. The son completed his education at Dickinson College, Carlisle, and took his degree in 1809. He then applied himself to the study of the law, was admitted to the bar in 1812, and settled at Lancaster in Pennsylvania. Notwithstanding his youth he soon gained considerable reputation, and with it a large and growing practice. In 1812 he joined a party of volunteers who, under the command of Judge Shippen, marched to the defence of Baltimore against the British; but their services were not wanted. He was at this time a zealous federalist. In 1814 he was elected member of the State Legislature, and constantly recommended the vigorous prosecution of the war. He was re-elected the following year; and in 1820 he became a member of Congress. Among his important early speeches were those on a deficiency in the military appropriation, in January 1822; on the bankrupt law, in March following, when he successfully opposed its extension to all citizens whether traders or not; and on the tariff question, on which he maintained that duties ought to be levied for revenue only. He uttered grave warnings against forming alliances with Mexico and the South American Republics, the condition of which was not calculated to inspire hopefulness, and insisted on the immense importance of Cuba, both commercially and strategically, to the United States. In 1828 he supported General Jackson at the Presidential election, and was at the same time re-elected to Congress. In the following year he succeeded Daniel Webster as head of the judiciary committee, and in this capacity conducted the trial on impeachment of Judge Peck,—one of the causes célèbres of American jurisprudence. On completing his fifth term, Buchanan retired from Congress (1831), and the next year was appointed envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to St Petersburg. His mission is marked by the negotiation of the first treaty of commerce between the United States and Russia, a treaty by which important privileges in the Baltic and the Black Sea were secured to the former. On his return from Russia he was elected United States senator; and he retained his seat till 1845. In the great struggle between President Jackson and the party headed by Mr Calhoun, Buchanan warmly defended the president and his claims. In the first years of the movement against slavery, he saw the large results which were likely to follow, and desired to suppress the agitation in its infancy, and this by suppressing the discussion of the subject in Congress. He advocated the recognition by Congress of the independence of Texas, and at a later time its annexation. During the presidency of Van Buren, Buchanan greatly distinguished himself in support of the principal measure of the Government—the establishment of an independent treasury. In 1845 he was appointed Secretary of State under President Polk; and at the close of his term of office in 1849 he retired into private life. But four years later he accepted from President Pierce the post of United States Minister to Great Britain. In 1854 he was the originator and one of the three members of the Ostend Conference on the subject of the acquisition of Cuba by the United States, and with his colleagues maintained that, on the principle of self-preservation from dangers of the gravest kind, an armed intervention of the United States and the capture of the island from the Spaniards would be justifiable. He returned from England in 1856, and the same year was elected, as Democratic candidate, to the Presidential chair. For a short time there seemed to be ground for hope that political passions and excitement would subside. But this hope was soon found to be fallacious. The troubles in Kansas and the large questions involved in them gave rise to new discussions and division. The president gave his support to the pro-slavery party, and dissensions grew during his administration to such an extent that disruption and war between North and South followed the election of his successor, President Lincoln. From the close of his administration in 1860 till his death, Buchanan led a retired life. He died at Wheatland in Pennsylvania, June 1, 1868. Two years before his death he published an account of his administration.