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The life of James Buchanan is in essence the story of a man who declined to be a dictator. Republics are traditionally ungrateful, and in Buchanan's case the American republic has been notoriously thankless to the man who was, from log cabin to White House, the relentless foe of fanatics and demagogues; a man who held that reason and restraint were the essential tools of s The life of James Buchanan is in essence the story of a man who declined to be a dictator. Republics are traditionally ungrateful, and in Buchanan's case the American republic has been notoriously thankless to the man who was, from log cabin to White House, the relentless foe of fanatics and demagogues; a man who held that reason and restraint were the essential tools of self-government, and who bent all his energies to achieve by means of law and diplomacy what others later sought to accomplish by civil war. As a result of nearly fifty years' experience in the public service, James Buchanan entered the presidency with more advance training than any man who has ever held the post. As a Congressman he sustained the power of the Supreme Court to review state laws in an argument that Charles Warren has called "one of the great and signal documents in the history of American constitutional law." In the Senate he worked incessantly to keep clearly defined the live between the powers of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches and between the state and federal governments. While he was Minster to Russia he negotiated the first commercial treaty with that country; his English Mission diminished the traditional American hatred for England and laid the foundations for subsequent Anglo-American friendship. As Secretary of State he presided over negotiations leading to the acquisition of the western third of the Continental United States, launched a "good neighbor" policy in Latin America, and insisted upon international rights of neutrals and the rights of American citizens abroad. Buchanan the politician maintained control of his home state against the challenge of such powerful rivals as Simon Cameron, George M. Dallas, and Thaddeus Stevens. In the presidency he fought sectionalism by initiating policies intended to arouse national patriotism, and he sought by law to attain a long-range solution to the slavery problem. In the closing months of his term of office, he refused to yield to the demands of extremists, both northern and southern, for he knew that either course would precipitate a war which almost no one wanted.


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The life of James Buchanan is in essence the story of a man who declined to be a dictator. Republics are traditionally ungrateful, and in Buchanan's case the American republic has been notoriously thankless to the man who was, from log cabin to White House, the relentless foe of fanatics and demagogues; a man who held that reason and restraint were the essential tools of s The life of James Buchanan is in essence the story of a man who declined to be a dictator. Republics are traditionally ungrateful, and in Buchanan's case the American republic has been notoriously thankless to the man who was, from log cabin to White House, the relentless foe of fanatics and demagogues; a man who held that reason and restraint were the essential tools of self-government, and who bent all his energies to achieve by means of law and diplomacy what others later sought to accomplish by civil war. As a result of nearly fifty years' experience in the public service, James Buchanan entered the presidency with more advance training than any man who has ever held the post. As a Congressman he sustained the power of the Supreme Court to review state laws in an argument that Charles Warren has called "one of the great and signal documents in the history of American constitutional law." In the Senate he worked incessantly to keep clearly defined the live between the powers of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches and between the state and federal governments. While he was Minster to Russia he negotiated the first commercial treaty with that country; his English Mission diminished the traditional American hatred for England and laid the foundations for subsequent Anglo-American friendship. As Secretary of State he presided over negotiations leading to the acquisition of the western third of the Continental United States, launched a "good neighbor" policy in Latin America, and insisted upon international rights of neutrals and the rights of American citizens abroad. Buchanan the politician maintained control of his home state against the challenge of such powerful rivals as Simon Cameron, George M. Dallas, and Thaddeus Stevens. In the presidency he fought sectionalism by initiating policies intended to arouse national patriotism, and he sought by law to attain a long-range solution to the slavery problem. In the closing months of his term of office, he refused to yield to the demands of extremists, both northern and southern, for he knew that either course would precipitate a war which almost no one wanted.

30 review for President James Buchanan: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    James Buchanan. Frequently called the worst president history, Klein argues that Buchanan's only goal was union and a middle ground, and that history has remembered him poorly and unfairly. This biography certainly is not all that kind to the Republicans or to Lincoln in its last chapters. At the end of this book, Klein says "his many talents, which in a quieter era might have gained for him a place among the great presidents of his country, were quickly overshadowed by the cataclysmic events of James Buchanan. Frequently called the worst president history, Klein argues that Buchanan's only goal was union and a middle ground, and that history has remembered him poorly and unfairly. This biography certainly is not all that kind to the Republicans or to Lincoln in its last chapters. At the end of this book, Klein says "his many talents, which in a quieter era might have gained for him a place among the great presidents of his country, were quickly overshadowed by the cataclysmic events of civil war." Klein certainly argues this point to its base. I think that in a quieter time, Buchanan indeed may have been remembered as a better president. His steadfast belief in the constitution and his by-the-letter reading of the law and his options as president fit him as something of a Madisonian mold, someone unwilling to be a 'strong' president if it meant stepping on the holy ground of the constitution. Unlike Klein, though, I am certain that Buchanan was the exact wrong man for the time. His intellectual bearing and firm, steady following of the law made him a laughing-stock of a president, a man who desperately hoped to solve the problem of slavery by doing exactly nothing about it. This was a course doomed to failure by 1856, and one that could only lead to ruin as he managed the Kansas situation with impeccable attention to rules but a great dearth of true leadership. Lincoln was exactly the president that Buchanan did not like - a 'strong' president who did step on the constitution, who suspended habeas corpus and made an aggressive war on the south (although Buchanan at least has the good sense to recognize that it was the South that started the war). The Democratic party believed that the issue was 'agitation against slavery' and chose strict constructionist views that erased 'humanity' from the equation of slavery, but in the long memory of history that put Buchanan and Pierce on the wrong side of history. Buchanan was not a bad man. He stuck to his principles like glue, and had a successful career in PEnnsylvania and on the national scene. This book gave us a good look at the dumpster fire that was Pennsylvania politics, and the contradictory position it put Democrats like Buchanan in, half in Jackson's camp and half out of it. Still, Buchanan served as secretary of State under Polk (although Klein gives him more credit than I would as to his behavior in the administration) and ably in England under Pierce (here he serves as a good means of understanding the hectic, shaky way that Pierce handled the presidency). Despite all of this, he did not make a good president, instead managing to upset everyone, lose his party support, and run into a wall in congress and domestic policy. Klein also gives Buchanan a lot of credit in securing an isthmian crossing and pacific trade, the same way that other writers did for both Pierce and Fillmore. I don't really think any of them deserve it. They all tried but in the end failed to totally sift through the morass that was Central American politics in the 1850s. The best light that I think Buchanan's presidency can be viewed in is the one where we decide that he was the best option they had. There was no person who could win the presidency who did not try to steer a middle course, and by 1856 there was possibly no middle course that could have averted civil war. I believe that Buchanan, like weak presidents before him, believed in the union, the constitution, and America, but that he failed to provide the kind of leadership that could have prevented secession. But had Cass won in 1856, or Pierce, or Fillmore, or Fremont, it is difficult to believe that any of them would have prevented the war. As Buchanan argued in his later years, his actions during his presidency were eminently legal if ultimately also ineffective, and the civil war was brought on by much, much more than just his presidency. It is unfair to lay the blame all at his feet, when decades of growing bitterness (and the Kansas debacle, which had much to do with Pierce's impolitic prejudices against abolitionists) had left Buchanan so few options.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2014/... “President James Buchanan: A Biography” is Philip Klein’s 1962 classic biography of our fifteenth president. Born into a family of historians, he grew up in Lancaster County, PA near where Buchanan was raised a century earlier. Klein earned a doctorate in history from the University of Pennsylvania and was a professor at Penn State; he died in 1993. Klein suggests this biography is actually a scaled-down version of the book he originally set out to write. N http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2014/... “President James Buchanan: A Biography” is Philip Klein’s 1962 classic biography of our fifteenth president. Born into a family of historians, he grew up in Lancaster County, PA near where Buchanan was raised a century earlier. Klein earned a doctorate in history from the University of Pennsylvania and was a professor at Penn State; he died in 1993. Klein suggests this biography is actually a scaled-down version of the book he originally set out to write. Nevertheless it is a broad, extensive and valuable look at Buchanan’s life and career. It also seems to be the only full-scale biography of Buchanan published in the one-hundred-thirty years since a two-volume documentary work was published by Buchanan’s heirs. Rather than adding another voice to the chorus of historians vilifying Buchanan for failing to slow the nation’s march to civil war – or eradicate slavery from the continent – Klein portrays Buchanan as a well-intentioned, sympathetic figure who was never able to wrestle the nation’s intensifying sectional challenges to ground. But while successfully arguing that history’s judgment of Buchanan is too harsh, Klein is less convincing in his claim that in a different political climate Buchanan might have been a “great” president. “President James Buchanan” is well-written, exquisitely researched, appropriately detailed and wonderfully penetrating. And by virtue of Buchanan’s long career of public service it provides an excellent review of a broad swath of American history (back to the Monroe administration nearly four decades prior to Buchanan’s presidency). Klein’s discussion of Buchanan’s process for selecting his Cabinet was particularly interesting. Also useful was his description of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its volatile aftermath. In other presidential biographies, this Act is often laboriously described to the point of being incomprehensible to the non-scholar; here it is more cogently summarized. A few critics complain of excessive focus on Buchanan’s early political career. This is fair but for the fact that careful study of these years is designed to provide the reader with insight into Buchanan’s lifelong core political principles. On the basis of these unwavering tenets, Klein positions the older Buchanan as an honest, principled, and ill-timed president rather than a malicious, pro-slavery leader as some suggest. At times, though, Klein does seem too forgiving of Buchanan. Based on my recent study of the Polk presidency, this biography seems to dramatically understate Buchanan’s poor behavior (some might call it insubordination) as Polk’s secretary of state. While Klein does highlight the tension Buchanan brought to the Polk Cabinet, Polk’s biographers paint a far harsher – and more convincing – picture of Buchanan’s conduct during that time. Despite being otherwise thorough in its scope, Klein does not seem the least bit puzzled by Buchanan’s choice to remain a lifelong bachelor. Whether this lack of curiosity is due to an absence of historical evidence, or simply a desire by the author to leave private ground untrodden, I do not know. But in my experience biographers are usually more inquisitive than Klein in this instance. A more important missing element is a comprehensive post-mortem on the Buchanan’s presidential term. Klein consistently lays the groundwork for modest redemption of Buchanan’s legacy. However, he does not dedicate substantial space at the end of the biography to a full warts-and-all consideration of Buchanan’s presidency; such a discussion would have been enormously useful. Overall, Philip Klein’s biography of James Buchanan proves to be thorough, well-written, often interesting and always informative. For good reason “President James Buchanan: A Biography” is likely to remain the definitive biography of Buchanan for the foreseeable future. I’m not convinced it’s even possible to write a more interesting and instructive biography of such a dull and unsuccessful presidency. Overall rating: 4 stars

  3. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Million

    Despite there being no shortage of books on Abraham Lincoln, there are almost no books about his much-maligned predecessor, James Buchanan. Philip Klein's somewhat dated biography of him is one of them. Written in the early 1960s, this biography shows its age in casual references to non-white people. This is unfortunate because Buchanan occupied the presidency at one of the most crucial moments in the nation's history: just as Southern states were beginning to secede from the Union. There are som Despite there being no shortage of books on Abraham Lincoln, there are almost no books about his much-maligned predecessor, James Buchanan. Philip Klein's somewhat dated biography of him is one of them. Written in the early 1960s, this biography shows its age in casual references to non-white people. This is unfortunate because Buchanan occupied the presidency at one of the most crucial moments in the nation's history: just as Southern states were beginning to secede from the Union. There are some positives to the book. Unlike many older presidential biographies (and even some modern ones), Klein pays a lot of attention to Buchanan's pre-presidential life and his formative years. While it may seem odd now, considering the extremely low historical reputation that Buchanan has had for well over a century, at the time of his election (1856) he was highly regarded as a very accomplished politician. He was a successful lawyer in Lancaster, PA, then served in the PA House of Representatives. He then stepped up to the U.S. House as a Congressman. He was appointed Minister (nowadays Ambassador) to Russia by Andrew Jackson and served over there for two years, helping to negotiate important treaties. He returned and was elected (by the PA legislature) to serve as Senator. He then moved straight into another important appointed office: Secretary of State, under James. K. Polk. This is the key Cabinet position both now and back then. Buchanan served at a time of great upheaval, largely thanks to Polk's own deceitfulness and greediness. Polk threatened war with Great Britain over Oregon, and war with Mexico over much of its northern territory and Texas. Buchanan managed to avoid the former, partially by diplomacy, and partially by Britain being too occupied with European conflicts to want to engage in combat with the U.S. Bur war did develop with Mexico, and I don't blame Buchanan for this. It was Polk all the way. The two men had professional respect for each other but also a sharp personal dislike. Following Polk's presidency, Buchanan was out of office for a few years. But he was never far from politics. An inherent political animal, Buchanan always tried to be a fence-straddler, attempting to provide partial mollification to both sides of any conflict. This trait helped lead to the unraveling of his presidency later on. Prior to being elected, he was appointed Minister to Great Britain by Franklin Pierce. While not initially wanting to take this appointment (even though a high honor, it was a step down from being Secretary of State), this turned out to be a godsend for Buchanan as it allowed him to be out of the country when the conflict over admission of the Kansas and Nebraska territories exploded in 1854 and 1855. Buchanan was safely inoculated from this inferno, returning home less than a year before he was elected President. Despite coming into the presidency well-prepared, Buchanan proved to be a disaster as the Chief Executive. His tendency to vacillate, to dither, to attempt to appease all sides, blew up in his face. What he should have seen but did not was that neither the Abolitionists nor the Southern secessionists were willing to give any ground. There were extremists in each camp, with many Unionists (those who did not feel strongly towards slavery one way or the other - their primary focus was preserving the Union) caught in between. I consider Buchanan to be in the latter camp, although he attempted to appease the South - despite Klein trying too hard to say otherwise. Which side was Buchanan on? History has maligned him as a Northern man with Southern sympathies. While I think that characterization is a tad too simple (Buchanan was not pro-slavery per se, he simply didn't care that much about it), it has more than a grain of salt to it. Morally speaking, Buchanan totally failed at his job. While obviously our perspective today is going to be much different than it would have been in 1860, it does not take a high degree of intelligence (and by the way, Buchanan was quite intelligent) to understand that owning other human beings is wrong. Buchanan was so worried about the Union breaking apart that he seemed cowed when it came to Southerners such as Jefferson Davis. Although, it must be pointed out that he angered them as well because, true to his roots, he did not give them everything that they wanted either. In the end, pretty much everyone hated or held him in low regard, and people both in the North and the South wanted to hang him. When you have managed to so botch things as to where partisans on both sides of a hot-button issue literally hate you, the people in between distrust you, and what you took pains to avoid happening happens anyways, you truly have failed at your job. Even with the Union breaking apart as Buchanan left office, he maintained to his death that the path he went down was the correct one. Buchanan was not one for self-reflection and admission of errors. Now, back to the book itself. Klein goes out of his way to paint Buchanan in a positive light. I think that he thought that history needed a correction on Buchanan, that he was too unfairly maligned for allowing the Civil War to start. Klein is anti-Republican here, and attempts to take Lincoln down a few pegs in the process, taking pains to repeatedly point out that Abolitionists, the Republican Party, and then Lincoln himself all contributed to the escalating tensions and anger. I sense that a lot of modern-day readers would reject this line of thinking. I must say that I was put off by it too. It was too anti-Lincoln for my tastes. However, I think it is fair to point out that both sides literally had blood on their hands. Both sides committed transgressions against the other. In the interregnum period between his election and his inauguration, Lincoln basically went silent, and he badly misjudged the intentions of the Southerners. I do not consider Lincoln to be a saint, though I respect him greatly and consider him one of our greatest presidents. Nonetheless, trying to pump Buchanan up at Lincoln's detriment rang hollow to me. Also, Klein never mentions the controversy surrounding Buchanan's sexuality. Buchanan, during his own time, was rumored to be gay. There are letters that he wrote that strongly imply that. Jackson derisively referred to him as "Miss Nancy". But Klein doesn't touch this, doesn't address it at all. In fact, he takes the opposite tack - writing about Buchanan's female relationships and an engagement that he had when he was a young man. I do not know why Klein didn't tackle this most intriguing aspect of Buchanan, but his failure to do so mars the book greatly in my estimation. Another item that is missing: in one cryptic sentence, Klein dismisses the controversy surrounding the Supreme Court's infamous Dred Scott decision, which basically declared that slaves are not people but rather property. Did Buchanan influence this decision? Did he know about it in advance, violating the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches? Did he talk to Chief Justice Roger Taney about it prior to the decision coming down? Klein is silent. As with the refusal to write about Buchanan's sexuality, I find this inexcusable. Klein attempts a historical correction on Buchanan, but way over-corrects. I found Buchanan himself to be a fascinating figure, one that deserves more attention than he gets. When he is remembered today, which is not often, it is simply as the worst president ever (well, until very recently, that is). But it is not that simple. Lincoln faced many of the same problems that Buchanan did, and the result was the Civil War. Perhaps events were too strong for Buchanan to stop them. He was in an unenviable position, made much worse by his hesitant nature. He might have been a decent president at a different period of time, one with much less at stake. He was certainly qualified for the office, but failed miserably at his duties. Perhaps the best take on Buchanan might be one from a distant successor of his, John F. Kennedy. JFK was talking about historians grading Presidents, and had this to say: "No one has a right to grade a President - even poor James Buchanan - who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made decisions." Grade: D+

  4. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Johnston

    Very thorough biography of one of our only bachelor Presidents. This is how I wish presidential hopefuls today would act. He believed people should not campaign for President, so spent most of his career quietly waiting until he was "called." Then, once President, he understood and stuck to the Constitutional restrictions on the office. He understood that Congress, not the President, create the laws, and he merely executes them. He is certainly one of the lesser-known presidents, but I think that Very thorough biography of one of our only bachelor Presidents. This is how I wish presidential hopefuls today would act. He believed people should not campaign for President, so spent most of his career quietly waiting until he was "called." Then, once President, he understood and stuck to the Constitutional restrictions on the office. He understood that Congress, not the President, create the laws, and he merely executes them. He is certainly one of the lesser-known presidents, but I think that is more a sign of the times. The only issue back then was trying to balance the factions amidst America's expansion further west. But there was hardly any compromise that would realistically work; The Civil War would eventually happen, no matter what. Most also probably don't realize that the Civil War actually started at the end of Buchanan's term, not Lincoln's. Needless to say, those were crazy months, and Buchanan's political philosophy of the middle road just didn't win out. Certainly boring at times, but that is not why we read these biographies. Very well researched and you will learn a lot about the man that held the highest office in the land, and plenty about the slippery slope toward War.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    A century after James Buchanan died, he might have finally been at rest, with this defense of his record and the final weeks of his presidency. Philip Klein revealed the patriot behind the unfortunate legend, and the peace-seeker lost in the shadow of his successor. In the preface, Klein apologetically reveals he has kept much from this single-volume biography, and doesn't spend a lot of time on Old Buck's presidency. But I found the detail more than fulfilling, and the glimpse into White House A century after James Buchanan died, he might have finally been at rest, with this defense of his record and the final weeks of his presidency. Philip Klein revealed the patriot behind the unfortunate legend, and the peace-seeker lost in the shadow of his successor. In the preface, Klein apologetically reveals he has kept much from this single-volume biography, and doesn't spend a lot of time on Old Buck's presidency. But I found the detail more than fulfilling, and the glimpse into White House life surpassed many of the bios I have read so far, of presidents 1 through 14. Buchanan's is a life bracketed by heartbreak: A tragic end to an early engagement, and a legacy shattered by the first shots in Charleston. This biography rescues some deserved respect for the bachelor president.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    A well-researched & detailed biography -- but probably more detail than I needed on James Buchanan. The most interesting pieces to me fell toward the end with the focus on the events leading to Civil War. I suppose I also enjoyed a glimpse into Pennsylvania politics back in the day (my home state). On to Lincoln!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mark Roth

    This book is a well-written account of the life of America's 15th President, James Buchanan. It effectively paints a portrait of all periods of the subject's life, from childhood to death, but devotes extra focus on the final 6 months of his administration, leading up to Lincoln's election and the outbreak of the Civil War. While not completely succumbing to the apologist trap of many older biographies (this one was written in 1962), the author does attempt to paint Buchanan in a positive light. This book is a well-written account of the life of America's 15th President, James Buchanan. It effectively paints a portrait of all periods of the subject's life, from childhood to death, but devotes extra focus on the final 6 months of his administration, leading up to Lincoln's election and the outbreak of the Civil War. While not completely succumbing to the apologist trap of many older biographies (this one was written in 1962), the author does attempt to paint Buchanan in a positive light. He does convincingly portray Buchanan as experienced, honest, and good-intentioned. He also explains Buchanan's political positions throughout his life as a consistent focus on legalistic principles above party or sectional issues. However, Buchanan seems to have used that very legalistic focus as a way to duck his own responsibility as a leader, especially during the secession crisis; he stubbornly interpreted the President's role to be strictly that of enforcing the laws enacted by Congress, which prevented him from taking any sort of strong action in the absence of Congressional legislation. The author fails to explicitly criticize Buchanan for this; on the contrary, he seems to defend him by presenting Buchanan's own argument that there was no possible constitutional action he could have taken at the time. The author *does* briefly criticize Buchanan for inappropriately blaming Major Anderson (the C.O. of Fort Sumter) for Buchanan's failure to reinforce the fort, but it seems that this was only one example of Buchanan's tendency to duck responsibilities that were rightfully his. Still, I do accept the author's premise that Buchanan, despite his faults, is unfairly maligned by history. While it's inevitable (and proper) that he get a share of the blame for the onset of the Civil War, it's also unlikely that a stronger leader would have been able to fully avoid the conflict that had been already brewing for 50 years. It's also not surprising that he should come up short when compared to his successor, Lincoln, who is one of the most revered Presidents in U.S. history. Despite Buchanan's faults, this book did improve my opinion of him, and it was a well-written and enjoyable portrayal of his life and times. I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about Buchanan and his era.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    This was drier on the literary palate than eating a burned piece of toast in the desert. The only experience I can compare it to would be reading an AP U.S. History text book from cover to cover in a single sitting. Simply put, if you're expecting the writing of Morris or Caro, then you'll be seriously disappointed. There is no literary flair whatsoever; it's simply a conveyance of information. However, one must take into consideration that there is a sparse collection of biography specifically d This was drier on the literary palate than eating a burned piece of toast in the desert. The only experience I can compare it to would be reading an AP U.S. History text book from cover to cover in a single sitting. Simply put, if you're expecting the writing of Morris or Caro, then you'll be seriously disappointed. There is no literary flair whatsoever; it's simply a conveyance of information. However, one must take into consideration that there is a sparse collection of biography specifically devoted to one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. Are you curious as to why Buchanan "invaded" Utah to put down an imaginary Mormon rebellion rather than use the far reaching executive power to put down an actual rebellion? This book will answer this question. Are you wondering why Buchanan constantly waffled on whether to send Union troops to the South in advance of the Fort Sumter shelling? This book will answer this question. The major problem with this book is that it fails to analyze in any form how a seemingly shrewd politician with a near infinite understanding of foreign affairs and a supple understanding of politics could collapse so spectacularly in the face of the single most significant crisis that had ever faced the nation. As this book is information conveyance rather than an historical synthesis, this book will not answer this question. You'll rather have to cut through the apologetics to come to any conclusions about President Buchanan's motives, intentions, etc.

  9. 5 out of 5

    The other John

    The life of James Buchanan, 15th President of the United States, is somewhat of a depressing tale. He was the last of the compromise generation, those politicians who strictly adhered to the constitutional limitations of the federal government and respected the "right" of the states to allow or eliminate slavery as their people saw fit. (Of course, I have yet to read biographies of Lincoln or subsequent presidents, so maybe, they too, had hoped to maintain that antebellum status quo.) For years The life of James Buchanan, 15th President of the United States, is somewhat of a depressing tale. He was the last of the compromise generation, those politicians who strictly adhered to the constitutional limitations of the federal government and respected the "right" of the states to allow or eliminate slavery as their people saw fit. (Of course, I have yet to read biographies of Lincoln or subsequent presidents, so maybe, they too, had hoped to maintain that antebellum status quo.) For years he had labored in politics, supporting his party, state and country, but once he finally achieved the honored office of President, the compromises gave way and the union fell apart. Buchanan did his best, but with so many people in each region demanding their own way, there wasn't much he could do. Depressing. Reminds me of my church. But I digress. The book was a rather enjoyable read, and as the crisis of Civil War began to loom, it became somewhat dramatic. As one might suspect, this 1962 biography is quite favorable towards Mr. Buchanan and makes the readers question the virtues of his opponents, including Abraham Lincoln. But then, none of the presidential biographies I've read up to this point have had much good to say about James Buchanan. The multiple viewpoints along the way makes for some interesting reading.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    A Hisbschman cousin of mine was defeated for reelection from Lancaster Pennsylvania by James Buchanan. Perhaps family loyalty affects my judgement of the man who I beleive bears a great deal of repsonsibilty for the Civil War by having encouraged the rebels and "sleeping with the enemy" of our country. The book contains facts that are presented in a chronolical fashion but leaves James Buchanan as somewhat of a mystery. The book fills a void but the most useful portion will be the footnotes for l A Hisbschman cousin of mine was defeated for reelection from Lancaster Pennsylvania by James Buchanan. Perhaps family loyalty affects my judgement of the man who I beleive bears a great deal of repsonsibilty for the Civil War by having encouraged the rebels and "sleeping with the enemy" of our country. The book contains facts that are presented in a chronolical fashion but leaves James Buchanan as somewhat of a mystery. The book fills a void but the most useful portion will be the footnotes for locating another volume that may prove more insightful.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brent Ecenbarger

    Much like Martin Van Buren or Millard Fillmore, Buchanan was a politician through and through, although his ambitions are more clearly defined due to the strategies he used being a conscious reflection of those winning recipes by his predecessors. Ben Perley Poore stated of Buchanan that “never did a wily politician more industriously plot and plan to secure a nomination than Mr. Buchanan did, in his still hunt for the Presidency. Speaking of Martin Van Buren, Buchanan took aim at the highest of Much like Martin Van Buren or Millard Fillmore, Buchanan was a politician through and through, although his ambitions are more clearly defined due to the strategies he used being a conscious reflection of those winning recipes by his predecessors. Ben Perley Poore stated of Buchanan that “never did a wily politician more industriously plot and plan to secure a nomination than Mr. Buchanan did, in his still hunt for the Presidency. Speaking of Martin Van Buren, Buchanan took aim at the highest office in the land from every election from Martin Van Buren to when he ultimately won. With that lengthy of a political career, one would expect that Buchanan would be attached to all sorts of interesting and important moments in government, but that was actually not the case. Philip Klein writes on page 142: “In this remarkable galaxy of American politicians, Buchanan always stood on the periphery. He never, in all his legislative career, had his name attached to an important bill or became the focal point of public interest in a debate…He quietly exerted a great deal of influence on important legislation, but his steady craftsmanship attracted little public attention.” How did such a man become president? Precisely because of Buchanan’s nature, as well as some fortunate timing on his part, he managed to avoid being caught in a position that made him unacceptable to the new Republican North or the Democrat South. Klein continues to write on page 248 that Buchanan “could not help wondering about the freak fate which had kept him out of Congress during each of the four most violent sectional controversies of the century: The Missouri Compromise, The Nullification Struggle, The 1950 Compromise, and now the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. If he should become president he feared he should not escape the next outburst.” History now ranks Buchanan among the worst presidents as his great fear was certainly realized in the most violent way possible. Here’s how he scores up on my presidential ratings rubric: Born into – Buchanan’s father was an Irish immigrant, who bought some land from a public sale after earning some money working for a family member. He ended up becoming a successful farmer and store owner, but nothing particularly prolific compared to many of the other presidential families. James had several sisters, but was also the oldest (surviving) child, whose few brothers were much younger (14 years or more). For his parents humble beginning he scores well here, but being the oldest son was also a ticket to success compared to others. 4/5 Pre-President – George Washington was family hero to the Buchanan’s that that they may have even met in the late 1700’s (when James was 3 or 4), so it’s no surprise that Buchanan ended up being a permanent presidential aspirant. Not a lot is known about his younger years that is distinctive of any many of that era. Buchanan went to Dickinson College to learn pre-law; he was expelled for bad behavior, but was also eventually reinstated. Despite that, it was obvious that Buchanan was disliked by Dickinson faculty for his attitude throughout this time. Although he made his share of enemies in politics, this appears to have been a particularly rowdy period for him as later on he was mainly described as having an accountant’s personality, keeping track of everything paid and everything owed, including keeping books indicating where he stood with everybody. Buchanan’s first foray into politics was becoming a State Assembly man after being nominated by a friend. The first speech that Buchanan gave convinced people he was a Democrat; Buchanan over-corrected so much that his 2nd speech was so anti-democrat it created lifetime enemies (Note, Buchanan was a Federalist at this time; the family did idolize Washington). For income Buchanan ran a successful law practice, so much so that Buchanan appears to have been one of the wealthier former presidents upon retirement. Once Buchanan was elected to Congress as a Federalist, he was appreciated by his constituents who then reelected him twice more (which had never happened to somebody from his district previously). Once in Congress Buchanan again made his mark with a speech, this time defending Calhoun on overspending on the war budget, making a formidable ally while doing so. As with every politician alive from the early to mid 1800’s, the election of John Quincy Adams shook up Buchanan’s world. Buchanan played an important role by being the congressman to directly ask Andrew Jackson about promises in his cabinet, as well as alluding to what rumors he had heard. The fallout was Buchanan eventually switched parties from Federalist to Jackson Democrat, even though Jackson never trusted him completely afterwards. Buchanan was still reelected even though he switched parties, although the shuffling among politicians resulted in his branch of the party (called by the author the Amalgamation group) losing ground in political appointments. While Buchanan thought he was in line for a treasury or even Vice Presidency spot, he ended up being appointed as Minister to Russia (a spot the author says was reserved for sending dangerous politicians). Buchanan held this spot for two years, and thought it appears he was liked he also didn’t accomplish anything of note there. When he returned, he was able to be inserted into a Senator spot after all the shakeouts from party conflicts opened one up, even though he wouldn’t have won at an election (per the author). Once there, yet another speech made others take note of him, this time defending George M. Dallas’s position during the National bank controversy, once again creating an ally and positioning himself to get notoriety while not defining Buchanan’s individual politics. He became the chairman of Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, where he got the nickname “10 cent Jimmy” by Whigs based on speech he made about ten cents a day being a sufficient working wage, a nickname that stuck with his detractors afterward. Once note of interest, Buchanan was on the receiving end of the first telegraph from Samuel Morse, which indicated Polk’s surprise Democrat nomination. Once Dark Horse Polk was elected President, he named Buchanan Secretary of State, but before it was finalized the two acknowledged the possibility Buchanan would seek the nomination the following term but would step down from office if that happened. As Secretary of State, Buchanan picked Nicholas Trist for negotiating a treaty with Mexico; Trist ended up being disaster in the eyes of administration, a man who didn’t follow directions and continued representing the country after Polk wanted him recalled. Polk never trusted Buchanan throughout his presidency, according to Polk’s journals. Buchanan was “retired” during the Taylor/Fillmore administrations, during which time he bought a big farm and helped take care of orphaned or poor relatives. His reentry to politics was as London Ambassador for the Pierce administration, where dealt with issues of British presence in Caribbean in violation of Clayton/Bulwer Treaty, though he didn’t have any success in resolving. He also got roped into America’s attempt to purchase Cuba; none of those present for these “negotiations” came away looking great due to a mixup of language (the famous use of the word “detach” discussed in my Pierce review) and personalities (Boulle was detested by Spanish). Following Pierce’s term, the new and strong Republican party (with candidate Fremont) threatened to jail Pierce and others that disagreed with them on handling of Kansas matter if they won. (Between Andrew Jackson’s biography and Pierce/Buchanan, I think I’ve seen every crazy thing from the Trump Administration represented in one of these biographies.) Against this contested political setting, Buchanan was the election by carrying his home state and much of south. It was apparent at that point that the Democratic Party was the only party that was not entirely regional at that point. 2/5 Presidential Career – Buchanan filled his cabinet by trying to represent various states and not ideologies. As a result he was not in touch with the extreme views of the political climate directly prior to the Civil war. Lewis Cass was made the Secretary of State, but mainly an honorary title at that point due to his age. Howell Cobb was the main voice in the Cabinet, a Georgia man against secession as late as 1860. Buchanan’s goals in taking office were to preserve the Union and quiet the anti-slavery element (which he considered the greatest threat to the Union). History has not been kind to his term in office, as many historians list Buchanan as the worst president. Having just read Franklin Pierce’s biographies, it’s tough to say who was worse. In addition to Buchanan’s views of preserving slavery as an institution, he also had a near million dollar embezzlement scandal involving members of cabinet. Buchanan was already out of touch with his country when he was elected. In particular he was naïve about the possible outcomes in Kansas, always assuming it would be a free state and that only real issue was making sure it went Democrat. As with Pierce, Kansas became the key issues of his presidency, as Buchanan supported the original vote that settlers made toward government despite allegations that it had been fixed by the pro slavery faction. Buchanan’s decision to favor those that did vote rather than those that stayed at home seems to have been based on his preference for the law than for sentiments as to what he wanted to have happen. His veto of the Homestead act is defended by author, but apparently not by rest of historians. Per Klein the act was something that would benefit northerners only at expense of mostly southerners and was against all of Buchanan’s already established convictions. Klein also argues that the act was written in such a way that authors were wanting it vetoed by Buchanan so that that they could ridicule him over it and pump up a Republican candidate instead. The eventual election of Lincoln led to South Carolina seceding, as Klein spends as much time on the last few months of his presidency as on the entire rest of the term. Per Klein, the congressional atmosphere in this time was purely obstructionist with no movement to accomplish anything productive. Coupled with Buchanan’s ideology of balance of powers and not usurping the roles of Congress, that led Buchanan’s chief “accomplishment” being keeping the Union from imploding. After the secession, Buchanan struggled with the legality of the concept and had research done on what authority states had and what authority the federal government had to police this new movement. Buchanan did everything he could to not set off hostilities, including allowing a sitting cabinet member to travel to discuss his state seceding, not reinforcing South Carolina forts, and blaming the impending conflict on Lincoln and the radical Republicans. As he left office, he had neither reinforced or abandoned Fort Sumter, with his main goal being for nothing to happen while he was in office. 1/5 Vice President –. John Breckinridge was a surprise nomination as vice president, and like many from that era was not mentioned again for much of the book. 2/5 First Lady – Much has been speculated about Buchanan’s sexuality. As America’s only bachelor president, some historians have “determined” that he was in fact gay. After reading this book I would guess that to be correct, but there’s not enough information to prove or refute it. His lack of a love life was certainly interesting. His only engagement was to a very wealthy woman; she accused him of only being with her for her money and then dumped him when he came to the area she lived and didn’t visit her first. She then died mysteriously later the same day. Also mentioned were a fling/crush with an 18 year old girl when he was about 50; Buchanan wrote her a poem about why it couldn’t work out between the two of them. Finally an attractive widow went to the White House to marry Buchanan, even ending up staying there for awhile, but ended up leaving later in Buchanan’s term unsuccessful in her bid. All the comments about their relationship were by her prior to her even meeting him. Buchanan’s closest relationship was with Howell Cobb, who Buchanan revered as a man and a friend and would spend time with nearly every day they were in office together. 0/5 Post Presidency –Buchanan’s post-presidency was spent in retirement, with a focus on justifying his own term. This included commissioning multiple biographies about himself, none of which were ever completed (the first biography of Buchanan wasn’t released until after his death. The political climate was not one that favored praising Buchanan during the Civil War, and even his allies suggested he put his mission on the back burner which Buchanan mostly did. The one exception was in some letter writing with Winfield Scott as the two blamed each other for some handling of the South Carolina issue. 1/5 Book itself –I prefer a biography that is objective regarding its subject than one that is written from an obvious point of bias. That being said, I couldn’t help but feel that Klein was as unsure of his opinions of Buchanan as any biographer I’ve read. I’m sure it’s difficult to learn everything about a man and his justifications for his actions and still judge him critically, but I think Klein could have done a better job of doing so. The research here was obviously fantastic however, and I didn’t come away with questions about Buchanan’s actions. 3/5

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    To give author Philip Klein his due he was trying hard to make some kind of a case for James Buchanan, that he was a decent sort by 19th century standards in an impossible situation. In fact he was definitely the kind of guy you could go have a drink with and if you were fortunate to be invited to his home called Wheatland in his native Lancaster, Pennsylvania you got a good meal and great conversation. But James Buchanan's talents were for political management, not statesmanship. And when he was e To give author Philip Klein his due he was trying hard to make some kind of a case for James Buchanan, that he was a decent sort by 19th century standards in an impossible situation. In fact he was definitely the kind of guy you could go have a drink with and if you were fortunate to be invited to his home called Wheatland in his native Lancaster, Pennsylvania you got a good meal and great conversation. But James Buchanan's talents were for political management, not statesmanship. And when he was elected statesmen were needed. Our only bachelor president and our only president from Pennsylvania was born in 1791 and his was a long slow road to the White House. He was first elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature from Lancaster in 1815 and it was as a Federalist. In 1820 he was elected to the House of Representatives from the same area. He and just about everyone else saw the Federalist party as withering away though so what to do? The party system of the time was in flux and the election of 1824 was about personalities as things realigned. Buchanan went with John C. Calhoun first, but his good instincts told him the coming man was Andrew Jackson. He moved over to him quite publicly with a lot of public sucking up. Henry Clay was one who noticed and disparaged Buchanan the rest of his life. First with George Dallas and later with Simon Cameron, Buchanan was always vying for control of the Pennsylvania Democrats. Jackson made him Minister to Russia and then in 1934 he was Senator from Pennsylvania. Buchanan was always a quick and good study politically. He knew who and where the power was in every corner of his state and later in other states. In the days of the burgeoning spoils system he was a master. In 1844 he made a first bid for president and delivered his state for James K. Polk with his rival Dallas safely tucked away into the Vice Presidency. Polk made him Secretary of State. Polk also never quite trusted Buchanan, but was afraid of the consequences politically. in dumping him. Buchanan was always bringing him small local patronage issues and looking toward his own advancement. Polk was no political novice and in his published diary years after they both were gone was brutally frank in his assessment of Buchanan. Buchanan made another bid in 1848 then retired to Wheatland for four years. A lucky break for him in that he missed all the controversy surrounding the Compromise of 1850 and the heinous Fugitive Slave Law. He was one of several candidates in 1852 which deadlocked the Democratic convention when they turned to a dark horse, the obscure Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire. Buchanan was our Minister to Great Britain in those years and being abroad missed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and all the agitation therein. He was in a great position and did successfully come home and wrest the nomination from Pierce. In 1856 he was elected our 15th president running against John C. Fremont as a Republican and Millard Fillmore of the American (Know Nothing) Party. Buchanan's election was a reaction to Pierce who had been our youngest president up to that time and represented a movement called Young America. When it and he flopped in the White House the contrast between Pierce of Young America and the old pro James Buchanan was plain for all. A man of experience was needed. When great events were happening and the country was breaking apart Buchanan concentrated on the small things like who would be postmaster in Chillicothe, Ohio. Buchanan knew all the personalities in Chillicothe as in every other area he could learn about and knew who would give him best service. Do that in every hamlet in the land you've unified the country. The country needed people who didn't think so small at that time. This was Buchanan's failure and he quit office in 1861 with the country sliding toward Civil War. In retirement Buchanan kept quiet and worked hard on a book of memoirs he thought would vindicate him for history. It certainly didn't do that job. He died in 1868 known as the guy who let the country slip slide toward rebellion. Klein likes Buchanan despite his failings and that comes through. The kind of man I'd like to dine with, but not to follow.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Luke Johnson

    The author is noticeably sympathetic to Buchanan and unsympathetic to his political enemies – which contrasts with the opinions of some other writers. Nevertheless, this is overall a measured, objective, thorough account of the president, with special attention to his years in politics (which was most of them). It is probably more thorough than necessary for most modern readers, and the best that can be said for the writing is that it is serviceable.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Adam Shain

    I well written bio with insights into a flawed president. He was a strict constitutionalist who refused to act in the time of need.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tom Rowe

    The first time I ever remember hearing about James Buchanan was from a TV show in the 1970s called "Welcome Back Kotter." It was a show about poor kids going to the inner city James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn, NY. In one episode, Mr. Kotter, the teacher, tells his students that they go to a pretty bad high school named after a pretty bad president. Later, I learned that the South began seccession during Buchanan's last few months in office. Usually in the history books, this is pretty glos The first time I ever remember hearing about James Buchanan was from a TV show in the 1970s called "Welcome Back Kotter." It was a show about poor kids going to the inner city James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn, NY. In one episode, Mr. Kotter, the teacher, tells his students that they go to a pretty bad high school named after a pretty bad president. Later, I learned that the South began seccession during Buchanan's last few months in office. Usually in the history books, this is pretty glossed over. It goes something like: 1. Lincoln elected. 2. Southern states secceed. 3. Buchanan does nothing. 4. Lincoln inaugurated. 5. Attack on Ft. Sumter. 6. The American Civil War happens. So, I was sure that there was more to it than that. Buchanan marks the 42nd presidential biography that I have read (clearly not in order), and I was most interested in what happened in the four months between Lincoln's election and all hell breaking loose. Well, this book did not disappoint. The chapters detailing those months were the best parts of the book. I won't give it away, but what Buchanan did and didn't do were mostly out of his control. For this reason, I recommend this book. The rest of the book is OK and needed to understand the man who was in office for those four months. Here is a breakdown of the book: Childhood: 3% Pre-presidency adulthood: 61% First 36 Months of Presidency: 19% Last 4 Months of Presidency: 14% Post Presidency: 6% There is lots of good stuff in here. Learn about all the great antebellum issues such as invading Cuba, railroads, building a canal in Central America, and everyone's favorite: TARRIFFS! As an added bonus, learn why Buchanan had to wear a sword to talk to Queen Elizabeth and then how she sent her son to America where he visited a brothel in New York. What you won't learn is whether or not Buchanan was a homosexual or much about his relationship with William Rufus King. As an ironic aside, the book often describes Buchanan as "gay" but this is in the older "happy" meaning. Also, meet the fabulous Harriet Lane. An orphaned party girl who championed Native Americans and had a medical handbook named after her (now in its 20th edition.) You won't find much of this in here, but keep your eye on her. I really wish I could find a good biography on her. So, if you are interested to see how a presidency can fail so miserable that in the end the country falls apart, read this biography of James Buchanan. It will make you say, "Hillary or Trump? Well, it could be worse."

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

    This book is probably the most generous offering you could find of our 15th President, widely considered one of the worst holders of the office. Klein takes you through Buchanan's life step-by-step to show how such a judicious and serious thinker was pulled down by multiple centrifugal forces tearing the country apart. Buchanan's life is fairly straightforward and not all that interesting. He came from a humble background in Pennsylvania, rose in the legal profession and eventually entered polit This book is probably the most generous offering you could find of our 15th President, widely considered one of the worst holders of the office. Klein takes you through Buchanan's life step-by-step to show how such a judicious and serious thinker was pulled down by multiple centrifugal forces tearing the country apart. Buchanan's life is fairly straightforward and not all that interesting. He came from a humble background in Pennsylvania, rose in the legal profession and eventually entered politics. Buchanan served as a Congressman, Senator, Secretary of State and Minister to Great Britain; his politics were considered quite moderate as he started as a Federalist, became a Democratic-Republican, then half-heartily joined with the Jacksonian Democrats. Buchanan always seemed to hold high ambitions and fancied himself as a politician who could stand along the great Presidents like Washington or Jefferson. His personal life was fairly boring, as he was one of our only bachelor presidents there wasn't much of a family life to speak of (he did have an engagement that unfortunately ended in disaster and seemed leave deep personal scars). Sadly for Buchanan's great expectation he became President well past his prime. After finishing a tumultuous tenure as Secretary of State in the Polk Administration, he took a break from politics and the country moved towards civil war. When he came back to active Presidential politics in 1856, came back to a different country. It seems that everything he tried to do was marred in the controversy, and his natural instinct to compromise found him no friends in Washington. In this Klein tries to find explanations for his failures, a reader can't help escaping that despite all his previous experience, Buchanan was just out of his depth. It didn't help that Buchanan seemed obsessed with ideas like acquiring Cuba, despite strong abolitionist opposition. The last bits of the book have Buchanan limping from crisis to crisis. Despite the controversies, Klein is still able to paint a fairly sympathetic portrait of Buchanan as a pretty likable guy who was dealt a bad hand.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christian Dibblee

    Buchanan is certainly not the most interesting historical figure to come around in a while. And yet his career spanned an amazing four decades in politics, beginning as a Congressman in the 1820s. It's refreshing that this book puts some emphasis on those early years. Klein appears committed to the idea that Buchanan was well-intentioned in his efforts to deal with sectional strife. Whether it be the Kansas constitution, the Panic of 1857, or the Fort Sumter affair, Buchanan brought a consistentl Buchanan is certainly not the most interesting historical figure to come around in a while. And yet his career spanned an amazing four decades in politics, beginning as a Congressman in the 1820s. It's refreshing that this book puts some emphasis on those early years. Klein appears committed to the idea that Buchanan was well-intentioned in his efforts to deal with sectional strife. Whether it be the Kansas constitution, the Panic of 1857, or the Fort Sumter affair, Buchanan brought a consistently formalistic perspective to his presidency. He refused to do anything that was against the law and, like Pierce before him, worked exceptionally hard to ensure the Presidency was an office that would enforce the laws as Congress set them out. Klein paints a very convincing portrait of Buchanan and truthfully made me think that history might be too quick to judge him. That said, Buchanan likely was not the right man for the job at the time. He would've been better in the 1840s, when there was a larger attempt to avoid sectional politics and his view of the presidency still held remarkable cache with the people. Looking back on his administration now, one can't help but think a person with a bit more energy could have dealt with the crisis better. He decided not to send troops to South Carolina because no federal official had requested aid. The same was true in Kansas. On both occasions, it struck me that Buchanan could have sent troops and might have stopped much of what occurred. His stance of status quo did nothing to help matters. I will add the book's description of the Kansas fracas was too boring for me. It was tough to keep track of the key details. Otherwise, it isn;t surprising that this is seen as the definitive biography. On the other hand, given the subject, it also doesn't surprise me that no one else has written a book of similar breadth or length on James Buchanan. Like many of these early presidential bios, sometimes a labor of love, but always informative.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jessica (booneybear)

    This book was a lot like James Buchanan's political career...long, drawn out and nothing substantial happened. I don't know how one would write an enthralling biography of James Buchanan though. He certainly wasn't a very memorable president, with the exception of his bachelorhood. And speaking of his bachelorhood, I never realized that he was at one time engaged. I guess you do learn something new everyday. I do believe learning about his engagement was the highlight of the book for me. It is h This book was a lot like James Buchanan's political career...long, drawn out and nothing substantial happened. I don't know how one would write an enthralling biography of James Buchanan though. He certainly wasn't a very memorable president, with the exception of his bachelorhood. And speaking of his bachelorhood, I never realized that he was at one time engaged. I guess you do learn something new everyday. I do believe learning about his engagement was the highlight of the book for me. It is hinted that James Buchanan never married because of his responsiblities for caring for his orphaned nieces and nephews and poorer siblings. James Buchanan certainly had a very long life in politics. It is said in one section of the book that "James Buchanan always did thing the slow way, that sure way. He had no talent for the sudden devastating move, the brilliant stroke, the daring gamble, or the quick quip...", this just might explain why it took so darn long for him to finally end up as President. Some say that he became president 20 years too late. Once he finally had the chance to run the country, he almost seemed too old and too tired to do so. He vetoed the Homestead Bill an tried to expand the US to the Caribbean which came across as a pro-slavery move in a time when slavery was a major hot-spot. To James Buchanan slavery was not the problem, it was the agitation that slavery caused. He thought that slavery had not destroyed the nation and need not destroy the nation, but the contest over slavery would. Unfortunately for James Buchanan the thing he will most likely always be remembered for in his presidency is that fact that he was the only bachelor president to date. And I am afraid that this book did nothing to help me to remember him as much else.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    Very well written and educational. Buchanan had a very long public career, making it tough to fit in one book. The author dispelled some myths and helped cement some other ideas for me. 1) The Secretary of War had purposely moved arms to the south in anticipation of the Civil War, no so. 2) Grant claimed that the popular vote in Missouri was to stay in the Union and that Missouri joining the Confederacy was based on fraud by rich land owners. This book reports only 3% of Missouri household owned s Very well written and educational. Buchanan had a very long public career, making it tough to fit in one book. The author dispelled some myths and helped cement some other ideas for me. 1) The Secretary of War had purposely moved arms to the south in anticipation of the Civil War, no so. 2) Grant claimed that the popular vote in Missouri was to stay in the Union and that Missouri joining the Confederacy was based on fraud by rich land owners. This book reports only 3% of Missouri household owned slaves at the start of the Civil War, making me thing Grant was correct. 3) Buchanan settled the meaning of a majority in an election as we understand it today: a majority of those who cast votes. 4) I've heard people say, "Buchanan did the South's work for it." By the end of his Presidency all his southern and northern friends had left him, as he was to make decision after decision for which there would be sharp disagreement. By trying to follow the law, which balanced northern and southern interests, he was constantly "wrong" in the minds of politicians from some states. I see Buchanan as in a no win situation. 5) Buchanan made one error that I have seen repeated. When he got the Presidency, rather than putting his 4 most important long-term allies (20 years of pushing Buchanan up the mountain!) into solid positions, Buchanan instead decided to fairly spread the jobs among all the states and get "the best people." I've seen this in business, and I've never seen it work. "Stick with what got ya there" -- I don't know who first said it, but I'll take the credit for applying it to Buchanan.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Karen Koppy

    Very thorough biography but a little too detailed for me, especially when covering the earlier elections. I'm really glad I read it because it helped me understand the struggles and challenges he faced just before Lincoln was elected. He tried to avoid at all costs a civil war and was blamed for setting the stage for it. As I see it there was plenty of blame to go around. From my view he was a patriotic person that based all his decisions on the Constitution as it was in that day, that he favore Very thorough biography but a little too detailed for me, especially when covering the earlier elections. I'm really glad I read it because it helped me understand the struggles and challenges he faced just before Lincoln was elected. He tried to avoid at all costs a civil war and was blamed for setting the stage for it. As I see it there was plenty of blame to go around. From my view he was a patriotic person that based all his decisions on the Constitution as it was in that day, that he favored states' rights and tried to choose a slower approach to eliminating slavery. According to this biography he was in favor of a constitutional convention to get politicians in the north and south together to work on the slavery issue but at that time people were too emotionally engrossed in the differing opinions and just wanted it taken care of. Very few politicians agreed with him because of party politics. I found it interesting that after Lincoln was elected he ended up recommending many of the same ideas that Buchanan had endorsed.

  21. 4 out of 5

    James Ruley

    James Buchanan is widely regarded as one of America’s most reviled presidents. In this work, Klein discusses Buchanan’s failures while persuasively arguing that Buchanan, more than being a bad president, was an unlucky one. This biography paints a vivid picture of Buchanan - an ambitious bachelor who embraced politics as a means of advancing in life and ended up rising to the highest office in the land. However, that honor became a curse as the tensions between North and South accelerated despit James Buchanan is widely regarded as one of America’s most reviled presidents. In this work, Klein discusses Buchanan’s failures while persuasively arguing that Buchanan, more than being a bad president, was an unlucky one. This biography paints a vivid picture of Buchanan - an ambitious bachelor who embraced politics as a means of advancing in life and ended up rising to the highest office in the land. However, that honor became a curse as the tensions between North and South accelerated despite his best efforts to allay them. Klein did not make me like Buchanan, or even reassess the effectiveness of his presidency. However, Klein made me pity Buchanan, empathize with him, and ponder more deeply to what extent a president’s greatness is defined by their talent, and to what extent it is defined by luck.

  22. 5 out of 5

    David Hill

    The book gives a complete history of Buchanan's career as a US Representative, minister to Russia, Senator, Secretary of State, and President. He served his country in turbulent times - from the Missouri Compromise to the secession of South Carolina. History does not view Buchanan well - he ranks near the bottom in most surveys, along with his two or three predecessors. I guess it's fairly normal for an author who spends a good piece of his career writing such a biography to view his subject fav The book gives a complete history of Buchanan's career as a US Representative, minister to Russia, Senator, Secretary of State, and President. He served his country in turbulent times - from the Missouri Compromise to the secession of South Carolina. History does not view Buchanan well - he ranks near the bottom in most surveys, along with his two or three predecessors. I guess it's fairly normal for an author who spends a good piece of his career writing such a biography to view his subject favorably. I suspect that's true here. In any event, I'd say I have a better opinion of Buchanan than either Pierce or Fillmore. Is that because he was better, or because Klein did a better job of presenting his subject than either Rayback or Nichols?

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hope Glidden

    There are few available biographies about James Buchanan. Klein portrays Buchanan as perhaps a politcal game-player, who successfully played the game in order to reach the White House. Although Buchanan seemed to be anti-slavery, he realized that any sudden, overt attempt to abolish slavery would lead to a civil war, and generally kept his opinions to himself. Unfortunately, Buchanan, perhaps afraid to ruffle any feathers, failed to assert his executive powers or otherwise broker any sort of pea There are few available biographies about James Buchanan. Klein portrays Buchanan as perhaps a politcal game-player, who successfully played the game in order to reach the White House. Although Buchanan seemed to be anti-slavery, he realized that any sudden, overt attempt to abolish slavery would lead to a civil war, and generally kept his opinions to himself. Unfortunately, Buchanan, perhaps afraid to ruffle any feathers, failed to assert his executive powers or otherwise broker any sort of peaceful resolution between the north and the south. Klein paints a sympathetic picture of Buchanan, and there are obvious biases; but, I was pleased to learn more about the President who lived and died in my hometown.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    For some reason I had a different edition (with an incorrectly listed author's name?) as what I had read. Righting the wrong now. As I said then, this book really helped me learn that Pennsylvania politics were (are?) nearly as effed as New York politics were/are. Buchanan was not as bad as some make him out to me. Slavery was a massive huge problem that most people who had any sort of power whatsoever were doing absolutely nothing to solve, lest they upset the status quo and/or lose a few dolla For some reason I had a different edition (with an incorrectly listed author's name?) as what I had read. Righting the wrong now. As I said then, this book really helped me learn that Pennsylvania politics were (are?) nearly as effed as New York politics were/are. Buchanan was not as bad as some make him out to me. Slavery was a massive huge problem that most people who had any sort of power whatsoever were doing absolutely nothing to solve, lest they upset the status quo and/or lose a few dollars. Oh, that pesky humanitarian treatment of other people on Earth - always getting in the way of someone's money-making, isn't it?

  25. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    This book completely changed my view on the 15th President (alumnus of my employer and former president of the Board for my alma mater). Buchanan was not one of the greats by a stretch but he was a brilliant political strategist (although he hurt himself most by failing to be bold and waiting for political winds) and one of the most qualified statesmen in US history. He made some poor decisions in and around secession but he should not be yoked with the complete blame as the nation fell apart. H This book completely changed my view on the 15th President (alumnus of my employer and former president of the Board for my alma mater). Buchanan was not one of the greats by a stretch but he was a brilliant political strategist (although he hurt himself most by failing to be bold and waiting for political winds) and one of the most qualified statesmen in US history. He made some poor decisions in and around secession but he should not be yoked with the complete blame as the nation fell apart. He consistently hoped for peace but supported the Union throughout including the Civil War. Franklin Pierce was, in fact, the worst.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marty

    I can't say that the author did not do his research, but I found Buchanan's life dull---whatever political party would further his interests without any particular political philosophy of his own, and I never understood why he wanted to be president. Also, a writing/editing annoyance: the author referred to many people by last name even though the first time that person was mentioned in the book was 300 pages before. He also assumed that the reader was familiar with many of the historical events I can't say that the author did not do his research, but I found Buchanan's life dull---whatever political party would further his interests without any particular political philosophy of his own, and I never understood why he wanted to be president. Also, a writing/editing annoyance: the author referred to many people by last name even though the first time that person was mentioned in the book was 300 pages before. He also assumed that the reader was familiar with many of the historical events that occurred, rather than giving an explanatory statement or paragraph.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    As good a biography of Buchanan as you're going to get. A very interesting man; hard to tell how much of the blame for the Civil War rests on his shoulders. History has judged him harshly; today's Tea Party folks would praise him as a hero. Somewhere in between lies the truth. Interesting viewpoints on the politics surrounding Buchanan, Lincoln, the Federal Government and the Civil War near the end of the book. Would have liked to understand that better (but as it was not the topic of the book...) As good a biography of Buchanan as you're going to get. A very interesting man; hard to tell how much of the blame for the Civil War rests on his shoulders. History has judged him harshly; today's Tea Party folks would praise him as a hero. Somewhere in between lies the truth. Interesting viewpoints on the politics surrounding Buchanan, Lincoln, the Federal Government and the Civil War near the end of the book. Would have liked to understand that better (but as it was not the topic of the book...)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Not a particularly well- written book. In his time JB was deemed responsible for the civil war and called a traitor for supposedly helping the south prepare for war which, according to this biographer, was completely untrue. Like Pierce, he was a strong constitutionalist and believed in the value of compromise and governed accordingly, which seems to have been an impossible strategy for avoiding war due to the extremes of the secessionists in the south and the abolitionists in the north.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chris Fluit

    A flawed but interesting book. The author spends a bit too much time on the inside baseball of internal party politics and not enough on actual positions and principles. He also goes a little overboard trying to defend Buchanan's reputation. He should have followed Old Buck's example and let the facts speak for themselves. On the other hand, I found the book to be informative and occasionally engrossing. A flawed but interesting book. The author spends a bit too much time on the inside baseball of internal party politics and not enough on actual positions and principles. He also goes a little overboard trying to defend Buchanan's reputation. He should have followed Old Buck's example and let the facts speak for themselves. On the other hand, I found the book to be informative and occasionally engrossing.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Duane

    Who could have possibly held the Union together in the turbulent days before the Civil War? Buchanan was a moderate, who went to great lengths to hold the Union together, all the while standing firm on constitutional principles. In an age of radicals, he was vilified by both sides. A highly readable, sympathetic biography of a good man and a good president.

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