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 James Buchanan

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James Buchanan

US Congressman, Senator, Diplomat, and President. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as the 15th US President from 1857 until 1861 and is the only president who remained a lifelong bachelor. He was the last US President born in the 18th century and, at age 65, was the second-oldest man to be elected President at the time. Born one of eleven children, his father was a businessman and farmer who originally emigrated from Ireland. The family moved to Mercersburg, Pennsylvania in 1797 and he received his education from the Old Stone Academy and later Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In 1809 he moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1812. During the War of 1812 he joined a volunteer light dragoon unit as a private and served in the defense of Baltimore, Maryland. In 1814 he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a member of the Federalist Party, serving until 1816. In 1820 he was elected to the US Congress and was re-elected to four consecutive terms, serving from March 1821 until March 1831), serving as chairman of the US House Committee on the Judiciary during his last term. He did not seek reelection in 1830 and from 1832 to 1833 he was appointed by President Andrew Jackson as Minister to Russia. After returning to the US, he was elected as a Democrat to the US Senate in December 1834 to fill a vacancy and was reelected in 1837 and 1843, serving as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations from 1836 until 1841. In 1845 he resigned his Senate seat to become the Secretary of State under President James K. Polk and helped to negotiate the Oregon Treaty with England that established the 49th parallel as the northern boundary of the western US. From 1853 until 1856 he served as the US Minister to the Court of St. James's (England) and helped to draft a memorandum that became known as the Ostend Manifesto, that described the rationale for the US to purchase Cuba from Spain while implying that the US should declare war if Spain refused. In 1856 he was nominated by the Democratic party for US President and defeated the newly-formed Republican Party candidate John C. Frémont. During his term, he was faced with the slavery issue in the Kansas Territory and the Mormon Rebellion in the Utah Territory. During the presidential campaign of 1860, the Democratic Party became divided, with Vice President John Breckinridge nominated by the Southern Democrats, Speaker of the House John Bell by the Constitutional Union Party faction, and Stephen A. Douglas by the moderate Democrats. This split the Democratic vote and the Republican challenger, Abraham Lincoln, won the election. As a result, South Carolina seceded from the US in December 1860 and was soon followed by six other Southern slave states that formed the Confederate States of America. On his final day as US President, March 4, 1861, he remarked to the incoming Lincoln, "If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man." When the American Civil War broke out the following April, he supported the Union cause. He spent most of his remaining years defending himself from public blame for the war, which was even referred to by some as "Buchanan's War." In May 1868 he became ill with a cold, which quickly worsened due to his advanced age. He died from respiratory failure at his home at the age of 77. A bronze and granite memorial in his honor, unveiled in June 1930, resides near the southeast corner of Washington DC's Meridian Hill Park.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 143
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for James Buchanan (23 Apr 1791–1 Jun 1868), Find A Grave Memorial no. 143, citing Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .