James Buchanan

— 15th President of the United States —

View full portraits at:
National Portrait Gallery or the White House Presidential Portrait Gallery


ELECTED FROM: Pennsylvania
March 4, 1857 – March 3, 1861

BORN: April 23, 1791
Franklin County, Pennsylvania
June 1, 1868, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

James Buchanan was the oldest of 11 children. He was born in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania in a log cabin. As a youngster, he worked in his father's store. He learned arithmetic by making change for customers. He went to Dickinson College, where he graduated at age 18. Then he went on to study law and built a successful practice.

Buchanan's most distinctive feature was a neck that stayed slightly cocked to the left. It was the result of one eye being near-sighted and the other eye being far-sighted. To make up for the difference, he developed the habit of tilting his neck to the left and partially closing one eye.

Even though he was a lawyer, James Buchanan was interested in politics. He started out in politics as a member of the Pennsylvania legislature, then he became a representative in Congress, a minister to Russia, a United States senator, Secretary of State, and then a minister to England.

Buchanan lent money freely to those in need and was very charitable toward the poor. While president, he was very careful to avoid anything that might seem unethical. He refused all offers of free transportation and turned all gifts over to the Patent Office.

In 1856, he was elected to the presidency. As president, he struggled with the slavery issue. He believed that the southern states had no right to secede, but at the same time, the federal government had no right to stop them. Therefore, he did nothing to stop the South from forming a new country called the Confederate States of America. Even after South Carolina seceded, President Buchanan did nothing. But others in Washington did. While Buchanan was in office, Minnesota was admitted as the 32nd state, the transAtlantic cable was completed, Oregon was admitted as the 33rd state, and Pony Express service began between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California.

Because of his lack of action on the slavery issue, he was rejected by all political parties in both the North and South. He handed over the reins of government to Abraham Lincoln and returned to his Pennsylvania home. He died there on June 1, 1868.

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