James Buchanan The American Presidents Series: The 15th President, 1857-1861

The American Presidents

Jean H. Baker; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Editor

Times Books




192 Pages



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Few politicians came to the White House with as stellar a résumé as James Buchanan. He had served in the Pennsylvania state legislature, the U.S. House, and the U.S. Senate; he was Secretary of State and was even offered a seat on the Supreme Court. And yet, by every measure except his own, James Buchanan was a miserable failure as president, leaving office in disgrace. Virtually all of his intentions were thwarted by his own inability to compromise: he had been unable to resolve issues of slavery, had caused his party to split in two—thereby ensuring the election of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln—and had made the Civil War all but inevitable.

Noted historian Jean H. Baker, in this short and accessible account of his tenure as Chief Executive, explains how and why we have rightly come to place Buchanan at the end of our presidential rankings—but she also engagingly argues that the man's poor presidency should not be an excuse to forget him. To study Buchanan is to consider the implications of weak leadership in a time of national crisis, as we can see throughout this work. Elegantly written, Baker's volume offers a balanced look at a crucial moment in our nation's history—and fully explores a man who, when given the opportunity, failed to rise to the challenge.


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  1Ascension–from Stony Batter to the Cabinet, 1791–1848Born in 1791, James Buchanan was almost as old as the United States, a point of pride throughout his life. The location of his birth, in a log cabin at the foot of North Mountain in the Alleghenies of southern Pennsylvania, was no accident. James Buchanan, Sr., had chosen Stony Batter, in Cove Gap, Franklin County, for its economic opportunities. His decision to live and later buy a trading post there eventually ensured his prosperity.An orphaned immigrant from County Donegal in northwest Ireland, twenty-two-year-old James
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  • Jean H. Baker; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Editor

  • Jean H. Baker is a professor of history at Goucher College. She is the author of several books, including The Stevensons and a biography of Mary Todd Lincoln, and is at work on a book about the suffrage movement. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

    Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., is the preeminent political historian of our time. The recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Humanities Medal, he published the first volume of his autobiography, A Life in the Twentieth Century, in 2000.
  • Jean H. Baker Stan Rudick
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Dominique Nabokov