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Who Was President James Buchanan?

Updated on January 15, 2015
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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

James Buchanan image credit:
James Buchanan image credit:

Looking for great YouTube video clips, books, and free worksheets and lapbooks for teaching and/or learning about President James Buchanan? Here you will find my favorite picks we used while studying the individual Presidents of the United States.

James Buchanan by George Healy
James Buchanan by George Healy | Source

Just the Facts on Our 15th President

Presidential Term: 1857-1861

Political Party: Democrat

Vice President: John C. Breckinridge

Birthplace: Pennsylvania

Occupation: Lawyer

Yearly Salary as President: $25,000

Height: 6'0"

First Lady: Never married after the sudden death of his fiancée, Ann Caroline Coleman

Map highlighting the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854
Map highlighting the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 | Source

Elected President Because He Missed a Debate

Buchanan was nominated to be the Democratic presidential candidate since he had been in England during the Kansas-Nebraska debate and had therefore never publicly stated his view on the issue.

Dred Scott Political Cartoon image credit:
Dred Scott Political Cartoon image credit:

Dred Scott v. Sandford Decision

Two days after Buchanan's inauguration, the Supreme Court delivered their decision on the Dred Scott case, with the conclusion that slaves do not hold the rights of a citizen and that Congress did not have the right to exclude slavery in the territories.

Political cartoon: Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler
Political cartoon: Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler | Source

Forcing Congress to Admit Kansas as a State

Buchanan used both legal and illegal means to force Congress to approve the statehood of Kansas where major, bloody battles erupted between pro-slavery settlers and Free-Soil settlers, who were opposed to slavery and made up the majority of the state. Later in his presidency, Buchanan was investigated and deemed guilty of bribery and extortion throughout his term by the Covode Committee. He was never impeached, though.

Panic of 1857
Panic of 1857 | Source

Financial Crisis: Panic of 1857

The Panic of 1857 broke out due to the large amounts of goods purchased from England, railroad construction, land speculation in the West, draining the supply of American coins. The financial crisis had less of an impact on Southerners, who mainly led an agricultural way of life. Buchanan insisted on offering "reform not relief" with the government continuing its public works but not adding any new projects.

Political cartoon showing Buchanan, as Little Bo Peep's dog, being unsuccessful at herding her sheep back
Political cartoon showing Buchanan, as Little Bo Peep's dog, being unsuccessful at herding her sheep back | Source

Failing to Stop the Secession

In October of 1860, Buchanan was warned that if Lincoln was elected as President, at least 7 states would secede. Buchanan called for immediate action, but Congress refused to allow for federal troops & artillery to be deployed to those states to protect federal property.

Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter | Source

Unsuccessful at Fort Sumter

Without direct orders from Washington, Major Robert Anderson, moved his command to Fort Sumter. Buchanan attempted to send reinforcements to the fort, and South Carolina opened fire, sending the ship back to NY. Buchanan continues to be criticized for not doing more to prepare for or prevent the impending war.

James Buchanan Presidential Dollar
James Buchanan Presidential Dollar | Source

Timeline of Major Events During Buchanan's Presidency

-Dred Scott Decision
-Panic of 1857 (severe financial crisis)
-Utah War

-Minnesota admitted as 32nd state
-Atlantic cable completed & 1st news dispatch by telegraph
-Abraham Lincoln stated his famous quote: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
-Harris Treaty signed between US and Japan

-Oregon admitted as 33rd state
-Comstock Silver Lode in discovered in Nevada
-Elevator patented
-First successful oil well drilled (It was in Pennsylvania.)
-John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry. He was hanged shortly thereafter.
-Electric range patented by George Simpson

-Mail delivered by Pony Express
-Abraham Lincoln elected as 16th President. Buchanan sent a note to Lincoln saying, "My dear sir, If you are as happy on entering the White House as I on leaving, you are a happy man indeed."
-South Carolina seceded, declaring itself a "independent commonwealth"

-SC opened fire on Star of the West as it attempted to supply Fort Sumter
-Kansas admitted as 34th state
-Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, & Texas seceded from the US
Confederate States of America formed

Our Favorite Family-Friendly Video Clips Giving an Overview of the Life and Presidency of James Buchanan

When searching out YouTube video clips that provided helpful information about James Buchanan and were completely child-friendly, these were our favorites.

Presidential Minute With James Buchanan

American President #15: James Buchanan (1857-1861)

James Buchanan by

Our Favorite Children's Books on James Buchanan

Our Favorite Picture Book on James Buchanan

James Buchanan: Fifteenth President 1857-1861 (Getting to Know the US Presidents)
James Buchanan: Fifteenth President 1857-1861 (Getting to Know the US Presidents)
This was our favorite picture book on Buchanan. It presents the information on Buchanan in an interesting manner and has fun illustrations that keep the attention of even my younger children.

More Good Children's Books Related to President James Buchanan

James Buchanan: Fifteenth President of the United States (Encyclopedia of Presidents) by Marlene Targ Brill is a good option to use if you are looking for a book for a report. This 100 page biography was our favorite of the longer books on Buchanan. It is full of political cartoons and portraits and is slightly more interesting than many of the other children's biographies.

How to Draw the Life and Times of James Buchanan (Kid's Guide to Drawing the Presidents of the United States of America) by Melody S. Mis is nice because it combines drawing lessons with the events of Buchanan's life and times. Each page spread has one to three paragraphs about something from his life (the home he grew up in, John Brown's raid, etc.), and then the opposite side has step-by-step drawing lessons so you or your child can draw the picture.

John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry (Graphic History) by Jason Glaser covers John Brown's Raid with plenty of factual information and includes comic book-style illustrations, which my boys love. This would be a good option to read since it occurred during Buchanan's presidency.

Our Favorite Free Worksheets, Lapbooks, Recipes, & Trivia on James Buchanan

We found these to be helpful when creating a notebook, lapbook, and cooking project on President James Buchanan

James Buchanan for Teachers offers links to free worksheets, book suggestions, general information and trivia, interactive computer games, and more related to president James Buchanan.

Presidents Lapbook provides free lapbook pages for each of the Presidents of the United States. This is ideal if you are simply looking for one page to use to give a quick overview of each President.

James Buchanan's Favorite Confederate Pudding, Moss Rose Cake, & Apees Recipes provides recipes for 3 of Buchanan's favorite foods (Confederate Pudding, Moss Rose Cake, and Apees) and also includes a a description of some of his other favorite dishes.

Presidential Statistics and Points of Interest includes an overview of James Buchanan's life and some fun points of interest.

Image credit: Stew Thornley:
Image credit: Stew Thornley:

James Buchanan's Death and Burial

The day before he died, Buchanan stated that "history will vindicate my memory." He was not accurate, however, as numerous historians continue to criticize him for his inability or unwillingness to prevent the secession.

Where was James Buchanan buried?

Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania:
Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, PA 17603, USA

get directions

Do You Think James Buchanan Was a Good President?

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© 2012 Shannon


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