President James Buchanan: A Biography by Philip S. Klein
Read: April 18 - May 11
Format: Hardback 429 pages
Source: Public Library
Subject: 15th President, secession, disunion, civil war
Setting: Lancaster, PA, Washington DC
Category: Who/What/When/Where/How/Why? - Bios/history
Challenges: 101020, 75 Book, USPC, SYLL
Everyone has always said that Buchanan was the worst President we ever had so knowing virtually nothing about him, I began this book with hopefully an open mind to see if he really was as bad as people made him out to be. That said, I'm not sure that he wasn't the worst (I've only read 15 presidents so far), but I know definitely he wasn't the best.
When he entered the political arena he was desperate to achieve an 'Historical reputation" but his forte leaned more to the diplomatic corps than to legislative/executive. He was an accomplished diplomat. During his administration (acting basically as his own Sec of State) - negotiated trade rights on 3 continents, end the British search of ships at sea, & negotiated protection of American rights abroad.
James Buchanan was in no way shape or form a risk taker. Not wanted to appear to be in any one particular camp political (though an ardent Democrat) his cabinet was made up of members of all different factions as well as areas of the nation. While President, he was always looking for validation from his cabinet members but since the cabinet was made up of all factions, and they never could come to agreement therefore, Buchanan did nothing.
Buchanan tried to govern using policy and gentlemen's agreements - never with determination of idea or strength of purpose. When SC federal officers resigned after the vote for secession, Congress would not approve replacements preventing military intervention. As issues heated up, the SC forts requested previsions and manpower, but never received them because of issues between General Scott and the War Department. Cabinet members left one by one as they became unable to support the President's decision/nondecisions.
He fought bitterly with Congress who frequently tried to embarrass him by denying the necessary requirements for him to take action under the law. He was labeled a secessionist due to views expressed in the "Administration's' newspaper without his approval as his time in office came to a close. He also needed to reinforce the military presence in the capital to make certain that Lincoln's inaugural would take place without incident.
After reading this book, I have to admit that he wasn't a very good President, lacking, IMHO, a strength of character that is required for this momentous task. But, I do believe, that he was hampered by the political atmosphere and passions of the time. Would I have voted for him, NO, but I also can't see that all the blame for the Civil war should be laid at his doorstep. He wanted an Historical Reputation, he got it, just not the one I think he wanted.