Sunday, April 10, 2011

Quick Peek at a Forgotten President

James Buchanan was one of the worst Presidents according to a TV announcement this week, so let's take a look at his record as it relates to the West. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1791 and died in 1868, a life-long and the only bachelor President. First, there was the Dred Scott descision, which says Congress has no business excluding slavery, and Mr. Buchanan didn't become President until a week after. It pertained mostly to the South, but there was slavery in Texas, primarily in the eastern part where the cotton was produced. Buchanan didn't interfere with this decision, although some politicians inferred that he was not completely innocent.
Over the issue of slavery, John Brown showed up for the massacre of Bleeding Kansas, building support for anti-slavery and the advent of the "Border Ruffians" and later (after Buchanan's term)  Quantrill's Raiders with some of the better known Western personalities (the Younger Gang) taking part in support of the pro-slavery forces.  Stephen A. Douglas won the battle with Buchanan and the anti-slavery faction won out.
In 1858 there was the battle with Utah. Buchanan appointed  a governor to take over from Brigham Young, but the Mormons fought back using a "scorched earth" policy against the Army, destroying there supply wagons and burning up the fields, but not harming the drivers or the soldiers. A settlement was finally reached, the Army was let in and the new Governor arrived.
James B. was President from 1857 to 186l, a one-termer, and was superseded by Lincoln. Was he a victim of circumstance or not handling problems to fit the majority of the people? To me, it was the latter.
All this didn't have much effect, if any, on the Western way of life during Buchanan's term, except for those directly involved, because the West didn't really get revved up until after the Civil War. 

(Source: Wikipedia, with my comments thrown in.)


  1. I've been following the blog "Disunion" at the NYTimes commemorating the day-by-day inching of the Union to war with the Confederacy. Buchanan gets a drubbing there, too, though there were so many political forces pulling hard in different directions it's hard to expect a lame duck president of even sterling qualities to provide strong leadership.

    Modern memory has so smoothed over this period of American history, it's shocking to see slavery being justified in one form or another by politicians of almost every stripe. So many were willing to tolerate it so long as the Union was preserved. Buchanan was not up to the task of leadership, and from his first months in office, it looked like Lincoln wasn't either.

    Without the Civil War to distract Washington, it's apparently an open question how far hostilities between Mormons and the U.S. government would have escalated.

  2. I don't think the Mormons would have fought very long to retain the right to polygamy, which was the main reason for invading Utah in the first place, that and the Mormon haters in Washington who thought they were not patriotic since they believed that the civil offices should be subservient to the church. That didn't last long once Brigham's replacement and the Army were in Utah.

  3. I would pick Warren G. Harding as worst. But James B. would be a very close second.

  4. I'll have another one in the next post, David.