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.