James Buchanan

Portrait of James Buchanan
James Buchanan – 15th President of the United States of America

James Buchanan Senior was born in Low Cairn, Ramelton and raised at Stony Batter, Ards Little, Ramelton. In 1783 following the end of the American War of Independence, his uncle Joshua brought him to Pennsylvania. There he bought a trading post, naming it ‘Stony Batter’ after his grandparents’ home. He later married Elizabeth Spear and their oldest son was born on the 23rd April 1791, named after his father James. This boy would grow up to become the 15th President of the United States.

In 1797, the family moved to nearby Mercersburg, Pennsylvania where Buchanan attended the village academy (Old Stone Academy) and later Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1809. Following graduation he moved to Lancaster, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1812. Buchanan began his political career in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1814 as a member of the Federalist Party.

On March 4, 1821 he was elected to the 17th United States Congress, serving as chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary in the 21st United States Congress. His support saw him serve in this position for another four congresses until 1831.  From 1832 to 1833 he served as Minister to Russia. With the Federalist Party defunct, Buchanan was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate to fill a vacancy and served from December 1834.  He had re-election success in 1837 and 1843, resigning in 1845 to accept President James K. Polk's nomination of him as Secretary of State. Buchanan served as Secretary of State under Polk from 1845 to 1849 and as minister to the Court of St. James's (Britain) from 1853 to 1856. This time and service abroad helped Buchanan in the Democratic nomination of 1856 as it had exempted him from involvement in bitter domestic affairs.

Former president Millard Fillmore's "Know-Nothing" candidacy helped Buchanan defeat John C. Frémont, the first Republican candidate for president in 1856, and he served from March 4, 1857  to March 4, 1861. The Civil War erupted within two months of Buchanan's retirement. He supported it, writing to former colleagues that ‘the assault upon Sumter was the commencement of war by the Confederate states, and no alternative was left but to prosecute it with vigor on our part’. 

However, Buchanan spent most of his remaining years defending himself from public blame and attack for the Civil War, which was even referred to by some as "Buchanan's War". Initially suffering from depression because of these attacks, Buchanan eventually began writing his fullest public defense, in the form of his memoir Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of Rebellion, published in 1866. He died on June 1, 1868, from respiratory failure at the age of 77 at his home at Wheatland and was interred in Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster.