Buchanan, James (1791–1868)

AuthorPaul Finkelman

Page 258

A Pennsylvania attorney, James Buchanan was a congressman (1821?1831), minister to Russia and Britain (1832?1834, 1853?1856), senator (1834?1845), secretary of state (1845?1849), and President (1856?1861). In 1831 Buchanan thwarted a repeal of the Supreme Court's APPEL-LATE JURISDICTION under section 25 of the JUDICIARY ACT OF 1789. The rest of his prepresidential career reflected his Democratic party regularity and support of STATES ' RIGHTS. He attacked Chief Justice ROGER B. TANEY'S nationalistic opinion in Holmes v. Jennison (1840), denounced the HOLDING in MCCULLOCH V. MARYLAND (1819), and urged a reduction in the number of Supreme Court Justices. In 1844 he declined an appointment to the Court. A close friend of many Southerners, Buchanan hated ABOLITIONISTS, always supported constitutional and congressional protection for slavery, and was the archetypal dough-face?the northern man with southern principles. This outlook continued to his presidency and helped undermine it.

Before his inaugural address, Buchanan conversed with Chief Justice Taney while the audience looked on. In his address Buchanan observed that the question of SLAVERY IN THE TERRITORIES was of "little practical importance," in part because it was a "judicial question, which legitimately belongs to the Supreme Court of the United States, before whom it is now pending, and will, it is understood, be speedily and finally settled. To their decision, in common with all good citizens, I shall cheerfully submit.?" Two days later the decision was announced in DRED SCOTT V. SANDFORD (1857), and it appeared to many that Taney improperly had informed Buchanan of what the pending decision would hold. For over a month before the decision Buchanan had communicated with Justice JOHN CATRON of Tennessee and ROBERT C. GRIER of Pennsylvania about the case, successfully urging them to support Taney's position that the MISSOURI COMPROMISE was unconstitutional. Two years later, in his "House Divided Speech," ABRAHAM LINCOLN would accuse Buchanan of conspiring with Taney, President FRANKLIN PIERCE, and Senator STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS to force slavery into the territories. Although there was no conspiracy on this issue, Buchanan promoted slavery in the territories. In 1858 he unsuccessfully attempted to bring Kansas into the Union under the proslavery LECOMPTON CONSTITUTION. His support of slavery and southern Democrats helped split the party in 1860 over Douglas's...

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