Thursday, July 24, 2008

James "Doughface" Buchanan: Crappy President

Also: maybe gay.

Why do so many people look like Mr. Weatherbee to me?

So anyway, James Buchanan, Jr.: America's Pennsylvanian-born fifteenth President. He was born in a log cabin, the second of ten kids, graduated from Dickinson College (after being expelled and then reinstated. A forerunner of GWB?), and studied law. He was a Federalist who was opposed to the War of 1812, but when the British invaded Maryland, he was all, "Oh no you didn't" and joined up to defend Baltimore. Many residents and most of the people who have ever visited Baltimore kind of wish they hadn't bothered.

Annnnyway, James Buchanan started his career in the Pennsylvania House, then got elected to Congress, was the ambassador to Russia for awhile, and then became a Democrat and was elected to the Senate in 1834. He did that for a bit, turned down a Supreme Court nomination by Eternally Badass One-Termer James K. Polk, but served as his Secretary of State during that whole Mexican-American War thing. He also helped sew up the Oregon Treaty with England, helping determine the northern border of my home state of Washington. THX. He continued to live a busy public life, including serving as a Minister to the Court of St. James (ambassador to England, pretty much). LUCKILY FOR THE DEMOCRATS. Because meanwhile, back at the Ranch AKA the Capitol, there was a bit of a controversy going on over, like, Kansas and Nebraska(?) or something. But when the 1856 Presidential Election rolled around, James Buchanan was conveniently unsullied by the mess and was nominated by his party. Millard Fillmore pulled a Nader for the Republicans, and Buchanan won the White House.

For some reason, things just kept going poorly for old "Doughface" (supposedly this meant a Northerner with Southerner principles or something) during his term of office. There was this, like, "territorial" debate going on or something. The Wikipedia article mentions some things called "Dred Scott," "Bleeding Kansas," "The Panic of 1857," and the "Utah War," to name a few. Buchanan was a supporter of slaveowner's rights. Also, he wanted to intimidate the Mormons, but ended up failing because "winter" happened and kept the army from getting all the way to Utah. Also, this other thing called "secession" happened, so that distraction ended up working out pretty well for the Mormons. Anyway, the Democratic Party split in 1860, one wing of which nominated Buchanan's arch nemesis, Stephen Douglas. That must've burned. States started seceding, and Buchanan really didn't do much about it. In December of 1860, he sent a message to Congress in which he was like, "Guys, you're totally not allowed to secede from the Union. But then again, we're totally not allowed to try and stop you. So whatevs." And he left a mess for Abraham Lincoln (whoever that is) to clean up.

He was also a Freemason, had a niece of his serve in the capacity of First Lady (except for, we hope, that whole "sex with the President" thing), and wrote the first presidential memoir. He died in 1868, living long enough to see that his non-intervention maybe hadn't COMPLETELY destroyed the country permanently. Good job, James Buchanan.* For some reason historians seem to regard him as "bad" at being President.

*Why didn't Charles Lindbergh cite the "Buchanan Doctrine" of appeasement in the run-up to WWII? It totally would've added some cred.


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