Thursday, December 29, 2016

Happy Holidays from Our Worst President

     B and I are visiting family in Lancaster, Pa. We all got together for Christmas dinner and the exchanging of gifts. Then yesterday we were looking for something to do, so we drove over to Wheatland, the home of our 15th president James Buchanan.

The Lancaster Historical Society, next door to Wheatland
     We checked in at the Lancaster Historical Society, then walked down to the house itself. It is nice, but relatively modest, and the Christmas decorations were muted. Buchanan was a Presbyterian and apparently, at the time, they considered it inappropriate to celebrate the holiday with too much festivity.

     Buchanan was a Pennsylvania lawyer who ran for Congress, then became a U. S. Senator. He was named Secretary of State by President James Polk, then served as ambassador to the United Kingdom for Franklin Pierce. He came home to run for president in 1856.

     First he beat out incumbent Franklin Pierce and Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas for the Democratic nomination, then he won the presidency in a three-way race, defeating Republican John Fremont and the Know-Nothing candidate, former president Millard Fillmore.

We walked down to the mansion
     Buchanan was known as a "doughface," a Northerner with Southern sympathies. In the fiery years leading up to the Civil War he tried to maintain the peace between North and South, between abolitionists and slaveholders. Instead, he earned the enmity of both. He pushed for admitting Kansas as a slave state and secretly intervened in the infamous Dredd Scott case. The decision denied blacks the right of American citizenship and ruled that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the territories.

     The division between northern and southern Democrats allowed Republicans to take control of Congress in 1858. Buchanan had pledged not to run for re-election, and in 1860 Lincoln won in a four-man race against two competing Democrats and another candidate.

     Buchanan went back to Lancaster and lived out his days hosting dignitaries at Wheatland and defending his political legacy. He was the last president to be born in the 18th century, the only president from Pennsylvania, and the only president who was a lifelong bachelor. He is also consistently regarded as one of America's worst presidents for his failure to address the most important issue of his time.

The parlor, with a docent in period costume
     There were rumors that he was gay -- he roomed with a male friend in a Washington boardinghouse for ten years from 1834 to 1844. But the story goes that as a young man he was engaged to Ann Coleman, daughter of a wealthy Pennsylvania businessman. However, due to Buchanan's busy legal and political career, they were not able to spend much time together.

     Some people gossiped that Buchanan was only marrying Coleman for her money; others insinuated that he was seeing other women. In any case, in the fall of 1819 Coleman found out that Buchanan had stopped in to visit a friend's wife, and Coleman, suspecting the worst, called off the engagement.

     Soon after, on December 9, 1819, Coleman fell sick and died. Her doctor attributed her death to "hysteria," while others suspected she overdosed on laudanum, a form of opium, either by accident or on purpose. Heartbroken, Buchanan never courted another woman, and resolved to live out his days as a bachelor.

16 comments:

gigihawaii said...

What a sad little life.

RJ said...

Hi Guys, I enjoyed the article but I don't think the title was appropriate. It seems to me that there are a number of presidents who were much worse than Buchanan. To name a few: Rutherford Hayes, Andrew Johnson, the beloved Andy Jackson, and of course George W. Bush. Buchanan might have been gay and he had a sad life but that does not make him the worst.

But I do enjoy your posts....

DJan said...

Interesting to learn about Buchanan. I never knew anything about him, but there are quite a few presidents I'd rank as worse than he was. We'll see what happens with this incoming one, eh? :-)

Tom Sightings said...

Well, RJ and DJ, I'm just going by what the historians say, and while there does seem to be pretty stiff competition for America's worst president, James Buchanan is always right there in the running, consistently "beating out" Bush and Nixon, and usually ahead (or behind) Harding, Johnson, Pierce and Fillmore. Now let's just hope that our worst presidents are behind us.

Bob Lowry said...

The post title is perfect: it gets people to see who you are "choosing." One of the goals of blogging is to get folks to take a look. Some may disagree with the designation, but the title is spot-on! It got me to click over!

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! Happy New Year! It's always good to remember that bad presidents (or at least ones rated as bad) haven't ruined the country and that we have been able to bounce back from them no matter what. Glad to hear you had a good holiday and may your 2017 be better and more hopeful than we all suspect! ~Kathy

Celia said...

Thanks for the history, love that kind of stuff, but sadly I haven't dug in very far presidentially speaking.

May you and B have a wonderful New Year.

Gabbygeezer said...

Didn't know much about Buchanan; thanks for an interesting introduction. The guy about to occupy the White House may make a strong run at the "worst" title. Let's hope he fails at that, as well as getting a lot of his specific proposals adopted.

Meryl Baer said...

Poor Buchanan. Never contemplated the idea he might be gay, but it is an interesting scenario. I think he was over his head in the Presidency, so much going on and he couldn't handle it.
Happy New Year!

retirementallychallenged.com said...

I didn't know much about Buchanan either. It struck me how little we knew about our presidents back then (and maybe up until 24-hour cable news appeared). Now we want to know everything (except, it appears, about the incoming contender for the worst title). We survived Buchanan and others, so hopefully we'll survive future disasters too.

I've only been to one presidential library (the Truman Library in Liberty, Kansas) but we found it fascinating - so much history.

schmidleysscribblins.com said...

Historians agree, the presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt are generally forgettable. Some day some one will say that about presidents since Ike.

retirementreflections said...

Interesting post, Tom. I found that it did give me hope for the future (i.e The US has survived 'bad' presidents before....). Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017!

Barbara said...

Very interesting. You always come up with the best subjects. Glad to know about this.

Jono said...

Used to get to Lancaster once in a while as a kid. My stepmother was from there. Very beautiful area of Pennsylvania.

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog.... love the story...a history one even better! Don't know much about this president but now I'm curious.....thanks for provoking my curiousity....loving the site so far... thanks!

Blessings and a happy 2017!

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