Usually when historians are asked to rate the U.S. Presidents, they put James Buchanan at the bottom. I think this is very unfair. He was a very good President, who just happened to be elected at the very worst time in U.S. history.
The country was on the verge of Civil War when he was elected in 1856. Abolitionists in the North desperately wanted to crush slavery and the South along with it. Secessionists in the South were afraid of the dire consequences they would have to face if slavery, which had legally existed in America for 200 years, was outlawed and 4 million negroes were suddenly free to take merciless revenge on their masters. Buchanan had to use everything he learned during his forty plus years of public service to keep the powder keg from exploding, and he managed to do so. Then the election of Abraham Lincoln lit the fuse, and all Hell broke loose.
Rather than acknowledging Buchanan’s peace keeping efforts, both sides immediately blamed him for the war. Though Buchanan had strong sympathies for the South, he was also a strong Unionist and, for the sake of the preservation of the Union, he had to endure the lies that were spread about him by both sides. He didn’t want to further incite the South, so he couldn’t level blame on them for seceding, and he didn’t want to cast aspersions on the new President during wartime by blaming Republicans and Abolitionists for driving the South to secede. He was literally a rock between two hard places, and for the sake of the Union had to take the abuse that was heaped on him without defending himself. His silence only caused both sides to increase their level of abuse until his reputation was utterly destroyed.
He did not wish to stand idly by, though, and he wrote his memoirs to correct all the lies that were being spoken and printed about him. He loved his country so much, though, that he refused to publish his defense until the War was over. Then the Civil War dragged on and on for years and by the time he published his memoirs in 1866 it was already too late to save his reputation. History had already painted him as the villain, and he knew that a century would have to go by before his name could ever hope to be cleared. Unfortunately, a century and a half has gone by, and historians still fail to give him a fair trial. I’m sure they feel that removing blame for the Civil War from Buchanan would force them to place some of the blame on Abolitionists and Lincoln, and that just ain’t gonna happen. Lincoln had already been made into a god. After all, Lincoln freed the slaves, and he was the victim of an assassination. He’s one of the four Presidents on Mount Rushmore. His place in history was literally and perpetually carved in stone. So, Buchanan has to continue suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Maybe, it will be another century before James Buchanan can get a fair hearing with historians and escape the bottom ranking…unless, of course, if Donald Trump continues the way he’s going.
Our representatives are chosen in free elections. The best way to get good representatives in government is for the people to study the issues, study the candidates, and be sure to vote. Tomorrow is Election Day. Vote wisely.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,