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Buchanan, James

James Buchanan, circa 1860, Brady image, portrait size, detail
James Buchanan, fifteenth president of the United States, was born near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania on April 23, 1791 to parents of Scots-Irish descent. Buchanan attended Mercersburg Academy until 1807, when he entered the junior class of Dickinson College. Upon graduation, Buchanan began to study law and dabble in politics. He quickly gained prominence, serving in the Pennsylvania House in 1814 and 1815 as a Federalist and then in the 1820s in the U.S. Congress. In 1831, Andrew Jackson appointed him minister to Russia. Later in the decade, Buchanan served in the U.S. Senate. He served as Secretary of State under James K. Polk and as minister to Great Britain under Franklin Pierce. In 1856, Buchanan was the Democratic presidential nominee and defeated Republican John C. Fremont in a three-way contest that included former President Millard Fillmore. Buchanan's presidency was a stormy one, filled with controversy and numerous domestic difficulties. Buchanan was earnest in his efforts to meet the sectional crisis, but the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 not only brought the start of the Civil War, but also seemed to cement historical opinion that he was one of the least effective presidents in United States history despite being one of the best prepared. Frustrated and exhausted, James Buchanan retired to his estate, Wheatland, in Lancaster where he wrote his memoirs, the first presidential memoirs in American history. He died at Wheatland on June 1, 1868. (By John Osborne)
Life span: 
04/23/1791 to 06/01/1868
Dickinson Connection: 
Class of 1809


How to Cite This Page: "Buchanan, James," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,