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Erik Visits an American Grave (III)

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This is the grave of James Buchanan.

2015-07-28 14.59.44

Buchanan was arguably the worst president in American history. A follower of Andrew Jackson, with all the commitment to white supremacy that entailed, Buchanan was president from 1857-1861, where he was a doughface’s doughface, running the nation to serve the interest of slaveholders. Before this he was Secretary of State under Polk, during the Mexican War, where they acted to steal half of Mexico in order to expand American slavery. In the 1850s, while serving as Ambassador to Great Britain under Pierce, he also helped create the Ostend Manifesto, which sought to acquire Cuba, also in order to expand slavery. Had this happened, ending slavery would have been more difficult because the sugar money far outstripped the wealth of the cotton planters. In the months before his presidency, Buchana worked with Roger Taney and other southerners on the Supreme Court to have the Missouri Compromise declared unconstitutional in the Dred Scott decision, as the judges were originally expected simply to find against the ex-slave on narrow grounds.

Buchanan as president was predictably awful on slavery. Despite initial promises over the idea of popular sovereignty in Kansas, when the slaveholders rammed through the Lecompton Constitution over the will of the people of Kansas that would have guaranteed slavery there, Buchanan offered his support and wanted to sign it. This led to a split between himself and Stephen Douglas, who had hoped to vault himself to the presidency on the idea of popular sovereignty and this helped lead to the split in the Democratic Party in 1860. He actually claimed that he hoped slavery could be limited and that he wouldn’t support acquiring more territory explicitly to expand slavery, but his actions belied these words. Buchanan was president when South Carolina led the succession movement after Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860. His response was to do effectively nothing. He gave a speech saying that secession was not legal but that the North was to blame. This just made everyone hate him. What’s worse, his own Secretary of War John Floyd started moving guns in American arsenals to the South in order to arm his home region, an act of abject treason. Finally, in late December Buchanan got rid of Floyd, as even Buchanan couldn’t deal with this behavior. During the Civil War, Buchanan was widely loathed and he spent the rest of his life defending himself from attacks.

James Buchanan is buried in the Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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