James Buchanan Jr. (April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868) served as the 15th president of the United States from 1857 to 1861, serving directly prior to the American Civil War. Buchanan served as Secretary of State and represented Pennsylvania in both houses of the U.S. Congress before becoming the President.
James Buchanan’s parents, James Buchanan and Elizabeth Speer, both immigrated to the United States from Northern Ireland. His father, James, arrived in 1783 and settled near Cove Gap, Pennsylvania, then an important trading post nestled within the Allegheny Mountains. James Buchanan later described the region as a “rugged but romantic spot.”
His father worked at the community’s only store, saved money and purchased a place called Stony Batter where the previous owner had built a small, but comfortable, log cabin. The trading post was busy and the elder Buchanan soon accumulated other land and business interests.
James Buchanan Jr. was born April 23, 1791, in a log cabin in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania (now known as Buchanan’s Birthplace State Park). He was one of eleven children . In 1797, the family moved to nearby Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. The home in Mercersburg was later turned into the James Buchanan Hotel.
Buchanan attended the village’s Old Stone Academy and then Dickinson College in Carlisle Pennsylvania, graduating with honors on September 19, 1809. Later that year, he moved to the capital of Pennsylvania. The most prominent lawyer in Lancaster, James Hopkins, accepted Buchanan as an apprentice, and in 1812 Buchanan was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar after an oral exam. Lancaster would remain Buchanan’s home town for the rest of his life.
His political career began in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1814–1816) as a member of the Federalist Party. By 1820, the Federalist Party had largely collapsed, and Buchanan ran for the United States House of Representatives as a “Republican-Federalist.
Buchanan began his presidency on March 4, 1857 and served through 1861.
President Buchanan supported the Dred Scott decision and joined with Southern leaders in attempting to admit Kansas to the Union as a slave state under the Lecompton Constitution. In the process, he angered Republicans and alienated many Northern Democrats. Buchanan held to his pledge to serve only one term and supported Breckinridge’s unsuccessful candidacy in the 1860 presidential election. Several Southern states seceded from the U.S. after Republican Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election, and the American Civil War began just weeks after Buchanan left office.
Historians fault him for his failure to address the issue of slavery and the secession of the Southern states; therefore, Buchanan is ranked as the worst president in the U.S. history. His personal life has attracted historical interest as the only president from Pennsylvania, the only president who remained a life-long bachelor, and the last one born in 18th century. Buchanan caught a cold in May 1868, which quickly worsened due to his advanced age. He died on June 1, 1868, from respiratory failure at the age of 77 at his home at Wheatland, Pennsylvania.
James Buchanan Birthplace – Cove Gap, Pennsylvania
Address: 2831 Stony Batter Road, Cove Gap, Pennsylvania
A pyramid structure stands on the site of the original cabin where Buchanan was born. This memorial in the nation’s capital complemented an earlier monument, constructed in 1907–08 and dedicated in 1911, on the site of Buchanan’s birthplace in Stony Batter, Pennsylvania.
The James Buchanan statue in downtown Mercersburg, PA.
The last building from Stony Batter, Buchanan’s home until he was six, is located on the campus of Mercersburg Academy.
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