James 'Buck' Buchanan (April 23, 1791 - June 1, 1868) was the 15th President of these here United States from 1857 to 1861. He took office with the promise of draining a few swamps and ended up losing half the country to the Confederacy by the time he officially left office in March 1861.
Buchanan has usually marked him down as a big loser with a capital L. So bad was his presidency that later American historians listed him as the worse man ever to sit in the White House. This poll was conducted in 2014. It may require an update following the 2016 elections though.
Before and After
Perhaps it was bad luck that Buchanan would be succeeded by Abraham Lincoln as the next president. Whereas there a monuments, edifices and giant statues to the great Abe, old Bucky has nothing of any importance. True, there is a dull statue of him in Washington D.C asleep in a chair with a book in his cold hands but that's basically it.
His sin was a failure to talk the South into staying in the Union and then spending the rest of his time in office playing nude solitaire in the West Wing. He retired in 1861 after choosing not to run again as president and then refused to talk to anyone until his death seven years later.
As surviving photographs attest, Buchanan was a very dapper looking gentleman. He never married or was ever linked to officially to a woman. This may either suggest a very private life or he was a homosexual. Or...anything. No one is sure and Buchanan burnt all his private letters before he died. So why is Buchanan considered a complete failure?
James Buchanan started his political career with the Federalist Party and switched to the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson. The Federalists had believed in strong government, central banks, musicals featuring Alexander Hamilton and an alliance with Great Britain. The Jacksonians believed in none of these. Somehow Buchanan was able to slide effortlessly into the pro-slavery party without difficulty.
'Bucky' at this time pretended that he was quite the 'gay bachelor' but no one saw him escorting anyone except a few Vice Presidents. Also, unusual for Americans, Buchanan was well travelled. He got a job in Moscow but left under a cloud. His political opponents alleged the Russians had Kompromat on Buchanan involving male ballet dancers.
Secretary of State and England
Buck's next post was a big one - the Secretary of State in the administration of James K. Polk. This was about the only other executive post in government besides being President. You also got a nice house and staff of slaves. Buchanan also claimed it was cunning diplomatic skills which saw the USA gain a new place to surf when it annexed California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas off the Mexicans. In addition, the Brits surrendered most of Oregon and agreed to the 49th parallel as the new northern border.
With these claimed successes to his name, Buchanan expected to breeze into the post of the next president of the USA His support vanished when his Democratic party rivals put around rumours that 'bachelor Buchanan' was a nancy. He lost and then retired to become a postman in his local area.
This should have been the final word on Buchanan but in 1853 the new Democrat president Franklin Pierce gave him the office of ambassador to Great Britain. It's more likely that the offer actually came from Pierce's Vice President William R. King. King and Buchanan had a reputation as the 'gay pair' at a time when the word gay meant be funny rather than a badge wearing, home-dyed scarf owner now normally associated with the homosexual community.
Buchanan packed his pantaloons and arrived in London. He found the place to his liking. At this time the American embassy was essentially a rented room off Piccadilly Circus. Buchanan took it up. He also became friends with the British politicians at the time. His favourite was Viscount Palmerston. An old rake, Palmerston was a good contact for all things vice related. Buchanan evidently had fun there and it enhanced his name back home. Then came the offer. Did he fancy succeeding Pierce? The latter was too 'liberal' and Northern for the Democratic party bosses. They also knew Buchanan liked slavery.
James Buchanan defeated Pierce and his own party rivals and then trounced the Know-Nothings (also known as the American Party) and a new replacement for the Whigs called the Republican Party. Buchanan promised nothing would change and decided to take it easy once in office. He was good to his word.
The pressing issue for the USA was the idea that any state could now 'go slave' if enough of the voting population agreed. Also that anyone who was black would have to prove they were legally free by supplying a current horse riding licence and evidence they paid tax. This was the legal result of the Dredd-Scott decision in 1857. In the South this decision was celebrated by lynchings and barbecues (often held at the same location). In the North there was a fear a slave South would invade the North and turn them all into slaves.
In amongst all this Buchanan did or say nothing. His own party had essentially split into factions. Buchanan tried to tell everyone that he was with 'them' and then sat back on the White House verandah. This growing political chaos got up the bushy nose of a keen shit stirrer known as John Brown. The bearded fanatic attempted to blow up Harper's Ferry as he had shares in a prospective Harper's Bridge to be built in its place. Brown was captured, shaved and executed. Buchanan said this was a state issue and not a federal one.
The same went for 'Bleeding' Kansas. This was in a classic Good v Evil battle over the ownership rights to the native Munchkins who lived there. The Wicked Witch alliance (West and East) supported enchanted servitude whilst the Good Witch of the North promoted liberty and fairy dust. Buchanan sent a wizard to work out a compromise.
Judging himself to be a man of the world, Buchanan saw his presidency as a carry-on to the expansion of the USA in the 1840s. Now he wanted to annex all of Mexico as a super colony and buy/steal/invade [[Cuba] from Spain. This was the time when many Southerners hoped to extend (or re-introduce) slavery to states around the gulf of Mexico. Since in their eyes Hispanics were no better than blacks, this made sense.
The president therefore initially said the USA's new 'Caribbean Strategy' would target all former Spanish colonies and place the British, French, Dutch and Danish were unwilling to hold on to. In the bargain, Buchanan added Alaska as a possible buy from Russia. This at least gave the appearance that he was doing something in the White House.
None of these plans came to pass. There was some minor island/coastline swaps but not directly to the USA. The Russians rejected the offer on the table for Alaska and then reminded Buchanan that they had some interesting drawings they were willing to release to the New York Times to celebrate Buchanan's time in St. Petersburg. Buchanan backed off.
1860 and break up
Buchanan put it around that he fancied 'standing again' for the Democrats as the unity candidate. He got no takers. The Democrats instead gave voters two versions of their party. The Yankee Democrats (Stephen A. Douglas ) and the Dixie Democrats (John C. Breckinridge - Buchanan's VeePee who he had locked away in a cupboard for four years). The Republicans chose Abraham Lincoln whilst a last minute botch job called themselves the Constitutional Union and proposed John Bell, a former Whig. Buchanan - annoyed that no one had taken him seriously - adopted a neutral stance.
When the results pointed to a Republican victory, the Southern slave states started to quit the Union. Buchanan was still legally president for another four months as the official Lame Duck Executive. He took that description to mean it wasn't his job to stop the break up the country. By the time Lincoln walked through the door, the White House was a scene of utter bachelor life style. Piles of unwashed dishes in the sink, long johns draped all over the place and the smell of cheap after shave lingered on for years. Buchanan eventually left the building in a rolled up carpet (a reverse Cleopatra). His last act as president was to send Judy Garland to Kansas.
Buchanan's first inauguration was delayed, because the person was 15 minutes late, meaning he could legally leave.
Many of Buchanan's ex-buddies (or if not, ex-colleagues) headed south to support the Confederacy. Buchanan chose to stay in the North. Lincoln paid 'Old Buck' a pension to keep quiet. Somewhat surprisingly, Buchanan stuck to the bargain.