|A guide to|
|Hail to the Chief?|
|Persons of interest|
“”As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except Negroes." When the Know Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except Negroes, foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.
|—from Abraham Lincoln's letter arguing against bigotry, indirectly giving the middle finger to Buchanan's "Neutrality"|
James Buchanan Jr. (1791–1868) was a doughface and the United States' 15th President, serving from 1857 to 1861. Originally a member of the deceased Federalist Party, he later joined the Democratic Party.[note 1]
What you might notice immediately about James Buchanan is that almost everyone who knows about his presidency says outright, or strongly hints, that he was the "Worst US President Ever". American history enthusiasts can assure you that this title is 100% deserved. Buchanan inflicted more damage on his own country than any other American president, damage so severe that it took until 1865 and 2021 to even find two competitors, and the adverse impacts of his failures are still felt today.
Buchanan was worse than George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Tricky Dick and even his godawful predecessor, Franklin Pierce. The only two competitors he has are Andrew Johnson, who bungled Reconstruction and ended up scaling back Civil Rights for a century, and Donald Trump, who incited the aforementioned insurrection after a divisive election in which there were fears of civil unrest, but Buchanan is still far worse than even the racist tailor from Tennessee and the tanned asshole. "Why is he so bad?", you ask? Simple. His incompetence and pro-slavery sympathies brought about the American Civil War, the most savage conflict in the history of the United States, leaving at least 620,000 Americans dead, an unimaginable death toll placed indirectly on his record. At a time when the country needed stability and order, he blatantly favored the interests of slavers despite claiming neutrality, digging the trenches early between the North and South. If he wasn't enough of a hypocrite, he blamed the abolitionists for blocking the solution to the slavery issue. He then proceeded to insist the slaves were treated with "kindness and humanity", which is an absurd defense for perhaps the worst of America's crimes against humanity and was so stupidly false that it leaves one wondering if Buchanan had defenestrated[note 2] his common sense. Although he debatably tried to prevent the American Civil War,[note 3] many of his policies ended up dividing the Union further. Buchanan's passivity on the slavery issue, and being frankly evil to the Northern states and territories, is considered by the majority of historians to have been the leading causal factor in the outbreak of the American Civil War.
Overall, the Democratic reasoning behind the choice of Buchanan, as the "let's all get along guy", is a lie. He was a dyed-in-the-wool racist, was all over slavery at any moment you looked, and he left the United States to kick and scream their way through all manner of demons. Sadly most historians will talk about "how gay he was, and his secret affair with one William Rufus King". The damage done by James Buchanan's presidency is a topic so underdiscussed, that it is frankly avoided, when the USA desperately needed to uproot and acknowledge the nation's domestic and racial extremism, that has been caused over generations of his legacy.
Calm before the storm
Despite what you might think, on paper, Buchanan was remarkably qualified to hold the highest office of Government. He was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, was in both houses of Congress, served as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Minister[note 4] to Russia, Secretary of State AND Minister to the United Kingdom. Dubya would be crying for such qualifications.
Maybe Bush II would be a good President if he had this portfolio. This, however, belies his own personal beliefs, which are remarkably important for being a president. It's weirdly congruent with Nixon: Qualified guy who was a crook and an asshole. Still, he did a lot of quite notable things, good or not. He helped to organize the boy band of Andrew Jackson into the Democratic Party, and was one of his biggest cheerleaders himself. Mentor to student, Jackson's fervent racism and anti-abolitionist beliefs got reflected right onto Buchanan. Perhaps it did not help that Jackson reeeeallyyyyy cozied up to Buchanan ("lol he must be gay then"), and appointed him Minister to Russia. Soon, he was serving on the senate, and even stamped on his own clock voting against John C. Calhoun when he attempted to press a gag rule for anti-slavery petitioning. However, he only really opposed it believing it would only further strengthen the abolitionists, and blamed them, as usual, for "making slavery an issue".
Just before his election, he served under the utterly awful Franklin Pierce as ambassador to the UK. Early signs of awfulness began to slip onto the surface as he became ever more determined to purchase and annex Cuba. The Pierce administration managed to fuck that up for themselves, pretty much writing it should be forcibly seized by the Spanish if not handed over. Along with the rabid controversy caused by the Kansas–Nebraska Act (he literally begged Congress to admit Kansas as a slave state), this utterly failed, as the US does NOT, in fact, have Cuba.[citation NOT needed] Buchanan would never get the chance during his presidency, so his imperialistic racism would have to be put on hold in that regard.[note 5] Still, when it came down to it, he pretty much thought God had declared the USA had every right to take over North America continent.
A close observer is (perhaps you are) probably thinking "How in the name of any deity is this your 'neutral' president"? Well, that's precisely the point. James Buchanan was so obviously pro-slavery, it is rather insulting to call him as such. Then again, the Democratic Party was EXTREMELY stupid in its years of youth. Nevertheless, there's no time to rest on this point, because it is...
Time for an Election!
The absolute worst part about this all is that Buchanan didn't even desire fully to be president, regardless not discouraging the movement behind him. His lovely platform for election had such marvellous views such as supporting the Fugitive Slave Law, the USA swiping the Gulf of Mexico, and … not being Pierce?? The Democrats nominated him anyway, by the blessing that his foreign tasks meant he wasn't present for the debate on the Kansas–Nebraska Act. Because, of course, not being present means you know the answers,Do You Believe That? and nobody bothered to ask for Buchanan's opinions upon his return. The biggest threat to his victory was the Republican Party, but they were new enough that it was unlikely to be their victory, moreover people thought the Democratic ideas of benevolent slavery and "popular sovereignty" was going to solve the slavery issue.[note 6]
We unfortunately know how this ends. In case you were not aware, however, and wondering how he became president, Buchanan won. Except, it's hardly a victory to speak of. He only won the plurality of the popular vote (45.3%
of Americans took leave of their senses), and had Millard Fillmore[note 7] and John C. Frémont come out on top in a few key states, there would have been a contingent election. Republicans couldn't even get on the ballot in Southern states. The country was still divided. Regardless of how close it was, Buchanan was about to tear apart the United States barehandedly over a period of four years, so retroactively we can term this a dark, dark day for the United States of America.
“”There is no such person running as James Buchanan. He is dead of lock-jaw. Nothing remains but a platform and a bloated mass of political putridity.
Not even more than President-Elect at this point of scribe, Buchanan managed to spit in the face of unity...
Dred Scott case
Buchanan spearheaded the Dred Scott versus Sandford case as political leverage, and aligned with flaming racist (and former slave owner) Chief Justice Roger Taney, hellbent on using it to settle the slavery issue for good. First, he wrote to Justice John Catron about whether it would be settled before his inaguration. This wasn't enough for Buchanan; he then engaged in a Trump-tier of bullying, by squeezing Justice Robert Cooper Grier, who was from the same state, until he joined the majority in the decision. Even for the time, such actions were extremely unethical. Buchanan pretty much revealed that he de facto wanted to destroy the Republican brand in his inaugural address, claiming the Supreme Court would "speedily and finally settle" the matter. In one of the most abhorrent and vile judicial decisions made in
the United States ANY country, the Supreme Court basically ruled that black people were not citizens, and "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect". Instead of destroying the Republicans, they all dug their heels hard into the dirt and became even more determined, and the Democratic Party became sharply divided.
He managed to make the list of the worst presidents with his actions, before he had even started doing anything as president.
"Oh, I'm sure it will be better after a while"
“”Violence reached the floor of the United States Senate, where Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina savagely beat Abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner with his cane. Southern sympathizers sent Brooks new canes. Members began carrying knives and pistols into the Chamber. Meanwhile, the Nation's Chief Executive, James Buchanan, did nothing.
|—David McCullough narrating The Civil War by Ken Burns.|
Now that Buchanan had struck a fissure in the United States with Supreme Court meddling, it was time to do even more damage.
Only half a year into his presidency came the Panic of 1857, which collapsed 1,400 state banks and 5,000 businesses. Thanks to a basis in agriculture, the South got out with minimal repercussion, whereas the North suffered pretty badly in comparison. Rather than offer any measure of support, he joined the South in blaming the North for being greedy capitalists with serious overspeculation issues. Naturally, the people of the Northern states were even more pissed off and suffered while the economy took several years to recover.
While fucking up things in the Utah Territory, he started meddling with the Kansas Territory, in order to further collapse any sense of unity in the Democratic party. He did everything he could to make sure Kansas could only be admitted as a slave state. When he pushed the Lecompton Constitution, it got crushed in the House. Instead of giving up, he pushed the 1858 English Bill, which said "Look, we'll give Kansas statehood and loads of land, ONLY if they come as a slave state". Kansas destroyed this one TOO in a referendum, which widened the split between Northern and Southern Democrats (the Northerners rallied behind Stephen Douglas). He was continuously battling from then on to weaken the influence of Douglas, which is just a terrible state to be in. Simply, Buchanan was the President, Douglas was not.
A painful, agonising last two years
James Buchanan's already terrible presidency went from bad to worse in 1858. Buchanan really, really wanted Douglas to lose his seat in the senate, and did everything in his power to stop him from attaining re-election. He was so obsessed with getting Douglas ousted, hated him so fervently, that he missed the real threat to his entire pro-slavery platform: Abraham Lincoln. Despite losing the opportunity to be in the Senate, Lincoln had become a star, and had equally, convincingly secured anti-abolitionist credentials that he used only to win the presidency in 1860. Not that Buchanan realised the magnitude of the man he let be unleashed, as he was pissed off enough that Douglas was able to hold onto his seat in the Senate. It gets
better worse: the Democrats got ruined in the House, as the Republicans swiftly took a massive plurality of 116 seats. It truly was an incredible triumph, as now they had the power to block Buchanan's disgusting agenda, preventing him from doing much of anything.
Instead of taking his loss like a president should and having any sympathy for the Republican cause, the Dark Lord Buchanan ramped up his aggression, and over the next two years would veto seven bills from the Republicans, rather than trying anything bipartisan. He certainly wasn't capable of that, not by any means, all while the South grew more extreme by the
month week day hour minute second. The debate about Buchanan's gayness is nothing compared to asking whether he'd love up the South if they were a person,[WTF?!] because that's what he spent 99.99% of his time doing.
Buchanan was pretty much crippled at this point, all while tensions got worse and the United States of America shredded itself in front of his eyes. He responded to this predicament by doing nothing. No really,[citation NOT needed] because there is literally no goddamn source on Planet Earth that even gives a whippet of any action by Buchanan to keep the Union … well, united. Ol' Jimmy thought more slavery legislation was much more important, because he just hadn't had enough of that, apparently. In essence, Southern radicals wanted to pass a federal slave code to protect slavery in the territories. They equally declared they'd leave the party if their 1860 platform included popular sovereignty. Douglas and supporters fired back by saying they'd bolt the party if the platform included the slave code. Only Buchanan could reunite the party at this time of division, but he threw away neutrality for cozying up to the Southern extremism. Thanks in all part to being so shit, the Covode Committee was even set up to investigate his administration for corruption, treason, and incompetence, possibly for potential impeachment and they were successful in uprooting many issues of this kind. Despite no grounds for impeachment, they agreed his administration was the most corrupt since the adoption of the Constituion. (I mean, wouldn't your administration be corrupt as fuck, too, if you only appointed loyalists? Even Jackson didn't sink to Buchanan's level in this regard, despite his plague of cabinet infighting.)
Buchanan had utterly succeeded in festering an unhallowed, chilling, and frankly depraved division in the entire United States. He constantly blamed the North and the anti-abolitionists for ruining everything, while having a country-wide house party with a South so far to the right that they fell off the political spectrum.
ATTENTION! CIVIL WAR INEVITABLE!
By the dawn of the 1860 presidential election, the Democratic division became a tangible reality. While he said he wouldn't run for a second term, it's not as if he'd have ever stood a snowball's chance in hell of getting nominated. Upon Douglas winning the nomination for President, the Southern Democrats did a modern-day GOP, and refused to accept a result like this. They nominated Buchanan's VP, John C. Breckinridge, as a "Southern Democratic nominee". Despite Lincoln not being able to get on the ballot in the Southern states, he utterly pwned Breckinridge. With Abraham Lincoln now the President-Elect of the United States, secession became a reality, thereby forming the Confederate States of America. Instead of realizing how apeshit insane the South were, he blamed the North AGAIN in his State of the Union address, for bullying the poor Southerners. He also de facto stated in such address that the federal government didn't have the power to prevent secession. So, the federal government CAN strong arm Supreme Court justices, meddle directly in territories, veto bills like you throw out wrapping paper, and just generally abuse power, but could not be bothered to help the North out with the Panic of 1857, or do ANYTHING to TRY and prevent states from seceding? That's priorities, not "lacking power".
Along with the gift of leaving the presidency, he left Lincoln with some other gifts, like an outrageous deficit of $17 million and, even worse, a ticking time bomb, units away from detonating into the bloodiest and most disgusting war in the history of the United States. Notwithstanding the fact that the country has not recovered from the full magnitude of that war. What a happy ending … Thank fuck that Lincoln was just a total legend when it came to dealing with a threat of such immense caliber.
“”Americans have conveniently misled themselves about the presidency of James Buchanan, preferring to classify him as indecisive and inactive... In fact Buchanan's failing during the crisis over the Union was not inactivity, but rather his partiality for the South, a favoritism that bordered on disloyalty in an officer pledged to defend all the United States. He was that most dangerous of chief executives, a stubborn, mistaken ideologue whose principles held no room for compromise. His experience in government had only rendered him too self-confident to consider other views. In his betrayal of the national trust, Buchanan came closer to committing treason than any other president in American history.
|—Jean H. Baker, American historian and biographer.|
Buchanan's legacy is just unbelievable. He managed to wreck the United States more than even the worst presidents after, with the possible exception of Andrew Johnson and Donald Trump, could ever dream of. He nearly destroyed the United States!! No amount of True Christianity, dreams or ideals could undo what James Buchanan wrought upon the country. So, to put the seal on this article, it's good to recap and summarise everything we discussed about this evil and diabolical figure:
- Managed to be so racist that he was even a total racist for his time. Pretty much a super-racist by today's standard.
- Didn't even want to be President.
- Coerced the Supreme Court Justice into supporting the "worst Supreme Court decision ever", according to many accounts.
- Refused to even support the North during the Panic of 1857.
- Gave the Mormons in Utah territory absolute hell.
- Bullied Kansas into admittance only as a slave state.
- During midterm elections, instead of being President, he tried extremely hard to block Douglas from winning back his seat in Illinois.
- He therefore gave rise to Abraham Lincoln, because he was too focused on hating Douglas.
- Terrible loss in the House of Representatives, to which he responded by vetoing any Republican bills.
- Did nothing to keep the Union intact.
- Did nothing to pursue peace and avoid the Civil War.
- Did nothing to stop the South from leaving the Union.
- Got titled by the Covode Committee as the most corrupt administration since the formation of the Constitution.
- Spent public money as outrageously as Justin Trudeau.
- And through every single screw-up he made, he blamed the North and the anti-abolitionists for EVERYTHING.
And how could we forget:
- Because of his incompetence and pro slavery sympathies, he help cause the American Civil War through all of this. He made what is effectively the contents of a YouTube theory video into a real, terrifying reality. Which also leads to:
- The Confederacy and, post-Confederacy, continued racism and extremism from the South, which has continued to get worse.
- The Southern strategy, which resulted from such.
- The polarisation of US politics, stemming from
a piss-poorzero attempt at unity.
- And finally, the magnification of other dire issues such as Y'all Qaida and anti-intellectualism.
Nothing more needs to be said. Except for the fact that on his deathbed the man had the flagrant, unbelievable gall to declare "History will vindicate my memory from every unjust aspersion." As we can all see, it did no such thing.[note 8]
Non-exhaustive list. Believe me, you never know when it will be expanded. Is there anything good to say?
Umm … well, he gave rise to who is considered by many to be the best US president ever, Abraham Lincoln. And hey, at least Joe Biden got an easy road to the title "Best President from Pennsylvania",[note 9] managing to achieve such in a single day, since Buchanan was such a liability—yyyyeahhh.
So, yes, James Buchanan Jr. is the absolute worst President of the United States of America. Bar none.
- Abraham Lincoln, his much better successor and one of the best presidents ever. He had no choice but to clean up the whole mess Buchanan left for him.
- Andrew Jackson, his genocidal mentor.
- Andrew Johnson, another terrible US president. If James Buchanan was the one who broke the Union, Andrew Johnson was the one that prevented it from being fixed by being an authoritarian racist.
- Joe Biden, another US president from Pennsylvania.
- Woodrow Wilson, another US president who was a despicable racist.
- Donald Trump, another US president who was a despicable racist and brazenly contemptuous of the concept of civic unity.
- Although, remember at this time, the party was EXTREMELY racist. You can thank one Andrew Jackson for that one
- In case you aren't aware. Defenestration is literally the act of chucking something/someone out a window. No, seriously! Enjoy learning something new today. Well, either way, Buchanan most definitely defenestrated the entire future of the USA by extension. Thanks a lot, mate.
- If you were to consider merely speaking out against secession as "trying". AKA, the bare minimum effort
- The early American government thought "Ambassador" was too highfaluting a title for representatives abroad and used "Minister" instead for a century or so after the federal founding.
- That's not to say he did not try to do it during his presidency. Oh no, he did. Just the Republicans gave him the middle finger. :)
- TL;DR it's allowing states to choose whether they wanted slavery or not. We put it in quotes because it is some bollocks rhetoric by Buchanan specifically, because he did everything to preserve slavery in all capacity.
- He ran on a third-party anti-immigration ticket, being endorsed by the ludicrously misnamed "Native American" Party.
- Well, none of the above can be considered "aspersion" since they are all true, and they cannot be unjust since he thoroughly deserved them, so maybe he was right?
- Well, "The Better President from Pennsylvania," since no president between them was connected to the Keystone State by birth or residence at the time of inauguration, if you want to be a grammar cop.
- Letter to Joshua Speed quoted in "Suffering Under a Great Injustice": Ansel Adams's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar Library of Congress (archived from July 1, 2009).
- JAMES BUCHANAN: LIFE BEFORE THE PRESIDENCY. Miller Center
- Why is James Buchanan considered one of America’s worst presidents? History.
- Eric Black, “Worst U.S. president? Consider James Buchanan”, Minnpost, October 10, 2020
- James Buchanan: Worst US president? BBC.
- Worst. President. Ever. Politico Magazine
- One of the worst US presidents in history wasn't just incompetent — it was his beliefs that led to failure. Business Insider
- Even the Top 10 lists are nasty.
- Walmart pulls guns and ammos from stores, citing potential post-election civil unrest
- Civil War Casualties, American Battlefield Trust.
- James Buchanan Bought and Freed Slaves—But Not For the Reason You Might Think. History
- The Four Worst American Presidents, Daily Kos. (The article, from 2013, reports on a ranking placing Buchanan at the bottom, with Pierce, Warren G. Harding and William Henry Harrison coming ahead of him, in ascending order.)
- Slave Life and Slave Codes, UShistory.org.
- You can see all his roles and tenures on his Wikipedia page.
- U.S. Senate: Gag Rule
- Buchanan, James, American National Biography.
- JAMES BUCHANAN: DOMESTIC AFFAIRS, Miller Center.
- Klein 1962, pp. 248–252.
- Many biographies mention this, but here is one.
- If Fremont had shifted the nation over 3% to his direction, there would have been a contingent election.
- The Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens, Volume 1: April 1865-August 1868.
- Maltz, Earl M. (2007). Dred Scott and the politics of slavery. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-7006-1502-5.
- Robert Cooper Grier, Law Library.
- His entire inaugural address right here!
- James Buchanan: Quotes about Buchanan, Wikiquote.
- James Buchanan by Jean H. Baker, page 90.
- Baker, Jean H. (2004). James Buchanan. Times Books. ISBN 0-8050-6946-1. p. 90–91
- James Buchanan by Jean H. Baker, page 105.
- The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, ThoughtCo.
- Party Divisions of the House of Representatives, 1789 to Present, History, Art and Archives.
- This link has been vetoed … Just kidding, here we are.
- The Presidency of James Buchanan by Elbert B. Smith, page 84–89.
- Joshua Zeitz, What Democrats Can Learn from the Forgotten Impeachment of James Buchanan, Politico, December 18, 2019.
- James Buchanan by Jean H. Baker, page 77.
- Read all of this. It will no doubt convince you that Buchanan is a true asshole like no other.
- Baker, Jean H. (2004). James Buchanan. Times Books. ISBN 0-8050-6946-1. p. 141.
- "Dred Scott – Worst Decision Ever?" Amazing Black History.
- "Judicial Overreach in High Partisan Times: How the Dred Scott Decision Broke the Democrats and Boomeranged on the Court", History News Network.