Vision, direction, determination. Attorney James Buchanan came to the White House, but lacked these and other virtues despite his diplomatic and legislative experience, so his presidency (1856-1860) is considered the worst in the history of the United States, according to most presidential indexes. His was the mess.
“Buchanan was lazy, fearful, cowardly and confused,” notes Professor Paul Johnson in his book America. The story (Editions B). Beyond his training and experience in public affairs, James Buchanan is hard to come by with praise given the scale of the disasters he caused, “his inflexible view of the Constitution” and a stubbornness some biographers attribute to his singleness. Even today, James Buchanan is the only one of 45 US presidents who never married, nor did he leave rumors about his sexuality in a city conducive to White House gossip like Washington DC. One of his biographers, Jean H. Baker, points out that Buchanan was asexual and takes up the theory that much of his political clumsiness is related to the cliché that a single person ignores the mechanisms of everyday commitments.
The marital status of the presidents, however, does not appear in any of the boxes in which historians, academics, and specialists in the White House score each president, which allow the elaboration of the so-called “presidents indexes”: a scientific form and with the ambition of objectivity to put each president in his place under the sun. The sun and the history of the United States.
Buchanan is the only single among the 45 presidents of the United States.
Buchanan is last in line in most of these indexes, and when he is not – in the case of the C-Span public chain list – he is never out of the worst three. The ranks of this chain, for example, unseated Buchanan in 2017 to give up the red lantern to… Donald Trump. A panel of historians evaluated according to ten qualities that are assigned to a tenant of the White House. Here are some scales: “moral authority”, “leadership in times of crisis”, “vision and agenda” …
Since Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. drew up a list from his vantage point at Harvard in 1948 based on the scores of the most distinguished historians, numerous media and educational institutions have produced their own lists. They are already part of the political tradition of the United States and are one of its peculiarities (no European country has reproduced them on a similar scale).
The son of an Irishman who made his fortune, Buchanan seemed ready for the job. He had served on Capitol Hill, as a representative of Pennsylvania in both the Senate and the Lower House, was Ambassador to the Court of the Tsars, Secretary of State (1845-49) at a time of great dynamism, and Ambassador to London, from where he tried to buy the island of Cuba from Spain by hook or by crook. And he did it not only out of fidelity to the doctrine of President Monroe – “America for the Americans,” he said on December 2, 1823 – but also to satisfy the states of the South, in favor of appropriating the Caribbean in order to have more slaves and at better prices.
The crystallization of Buchanan’s appetite for Cuba was made clear in the Ostend manifesto (1854), in which the main US ambassadors in Europe meeting in the Belgian city considered a military intervention legitimate if the Spanish government does not agree to the sale. The declaration had a very short journey because it was intended to be secret and ended up being known in European capitals, reluctant to territorial expansionism (both Great Britain and France had colonies on the American continent).
Buying the island was an obsession in order to satisfy the slave states
Why this American appetite throughout the nineteenth century and especially in the years surrounding the Buchanan presidency? Cuba was part of “domestic politics.” The nearby island presented itself as an attractive slave quarry (in 1850, the population consisted of 651,000 free citizens and 322,514 slaves). For the southern states, more developed and wealthy in the early 1800s than those in the northern United States, it was simply a question of future guarantee of labor for cotton and tobacco. Washington and Madrid would never reach an agreement, and the mere fact of negotiating with the carrot and the stick aroused national pride in Spain, summarized in the bombastic response of General Prim: “Selling Cuba would be a disgrace. Spain is defeated but is not dishonored ”.
James Buchanan was a Democratic politician from the North who tried to reconcile the slavery of the southern states – and appease them to win their votes in the face of the presidential election – with the thriving industrial development of the North, reflected in the world leadership of New York and his region in the 1950s, coinciding with the Buchanan presidency.
Our man stood up for election with the promise that he would be the president capable of preserving the Union and reconciling the demands of the South – whose model was antagonistic to the protectionism demanded by the North – with those of the rest of the country. ” The Civil War, unthinkable a decade ago, became inevitable when Buchanan’s presidency ended, ” wrote Professor Jane H. Baker. He had promised to hold the presidency for a single term and he fulfilled, but his biggest failure was irreversibly accelerating the path to civil war.
All historians accuse James Buchanan of gross inaction during the transitional months between the election of Lincoln, the first Republican president, in November 1860 and the effective succession of March 4, 1861. Six weeks after Lincoln assumed office Presidency, the Civil War broke out as the culmination of the secessionism of the South as soon as Lincoln’s electoral victory was known. “A strong display of presidential determination could have stopped the growth of secessionist sentiment. Buchanan did the opposite: he gave up, ” David C. Eisenbach, an expert on US presidential history at Columbia University, told the BBC.
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He came to the White House promising reconciliation and left the US on fire
James Buchanan spent the rest of his days – he died eight years after leaving the White House – trying to defend his management, given that his contemporaries pointed to him as one of the main responsible for the disaster of the civil war. “Critical times often elevate the best presidents and vice versa. James Buchanan was one of those who missed the opportunity ”, estimates Baker. His successor, Abraham Lincoln, did not. Quite or contrary: he is always among the five best presidents in history.