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President James Buchanan

Updated on January 6, 2017

James Buchanan (1791-1868) was the 15th President of the United States.

Born near Mercersburg, Pasadena, graduated from Dickinson College in 1809. He never married. A Pennsylvania lawyer, he began his political career as a Federalist and later became a conservative Democrat.

A strong secretary of state under President Polk, he settled the Oregon dispute with Great Britain, but the dispute with Mexico over Texas resulted in the Mexican War. In 1853, President Pierce named him minister to Great Britain. While in that post, he negotiated the ill-fated Ostend Manifesto, which would have authorized the United States to take Cuba by force if necessary.

As the Democratic presidential candidate in 1856, he was the narrow winner over John C. Fremont, the Republican, and Millard Fillmore, the candidate of the Whigs and Know-Nothings.

His presidency was marked by the rising animosity between the pro-slavery and the anti-slavery states. His attempt to maintain the "sacred balance" between North and South pleased no one, and the South moved closer and closer to secession. He reluctantly supported the federal garrison at Fort Sumter because of his fear that it would precipitate war. He was right: the Civil War began only weeks after he left office.


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