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President James Buchanan: A Biography

de Philip S. Klein

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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 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. -- goodreads.com… (mais)
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Mostrando 1-5 de 6 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
Well, this was a DUD! Written by the protege of Roy F. Nichols (the dude who wrote the Frankie P. biography), that fact alone should have tipped me off! While it was interesting to see what a legalist Buchanan was and it is clear he was not quite as ineffective as Buchanan, his lack of strong executive powers certainly did not slow the United States' march toward Civil War. While set-up generally in chronological order, the chapters on the presidency were grouped by topic which made it difficult to really piece together Buchanan's presidency as a whole. ( )
  weejane | Jun 1, 2014 |
This illuminating biography helped me understand the coming of the Civil War much better. Buchanan,a gifted lawyer and astute politician, was elected with the hope that his skills could hold the Union together. By hindsight we know it was already too late after Stephen Douglas engineered and Franklin Pierce signed America's worst-ever legislation, the Kansas-Nebraska Act. ( )
  markbstephenson | Jun 3, 2010 |
Everyone has always said that Buchanan was the worst President we ever had so knowing virtually nothing about him, I began this book with hopefully an open mind to see if he really was as bad as people made him out to be. That said, I'm not sure that he wasn't the worst (I've only read 15 presidents so far), but I know definitely he wasn't the best.

When he entered the political arena he was desperate to achieve an 'Historical reputation" but his forte leaned more to the diplomatic corps than to legislative/executive. He was an accomplished diplomat. During his administration (acting basically as his own Sec of State) - he negotiated trade rights on 3 continents, ended the British search of ships at sea, & negotiated protection of American rights abroad.

James Buchanan was in no way shape or form a risk taker. Not wanting to appear to be in any one particular camp politically (though an ardent Democrat) his cabinet was made up of members of all different factions as well as areas of the nation. While President, he was always looking for validation from his cabinet members but since the cabinet was made up of all factions, and they never could come to agreement therefore, Buchanan did nothing.

Buchanan tried to govern using policy and gentlemen's agreements - never with determination of idea or strength of purpose. When SC federal officers resigned after the vote for secession, Congress would not approve replacements preventing military intervention. As issues heated up, the SC forts requested previsions and manpower, but never received them because of issues between General Scott and the War Department. Cabinet members left one by one as they became unable to support the President's decision/nondecisions.

He fought bitterly with Congress who frequently tried to embarrass him by denying the necessary requirements for him to take action under the law. He was labeled a secessionist due to views expressed in the "Administration's' newspaper without his approval as his time in office came to a close. He also needed to reinforce the military presence in the capital to make certain that Lincoln's inaugural would take place without incident.

After reading this book, I have to admit that he wasn't a very good President, lacking, IMHO, a strength of character that is required for this momentous task. But, I do believe, that he was hampered by the political atmosphere and passions of the time. Would I have voted for him, NO, but I also can't see that all the blame for the Civil war should be laid at his doorstep. He wanted an Historical Reputation, he got it, just not the one I think he wanted. ( )
  cyderry | May 11, 2010 |
Buchanan usually doesn't rank very high on the list of US Presidents - in fact, he's usually near the bottom. Well, he wasn't the best leader we've ever had - after all, the Civil War essentially broke out on his watch - but in some ways he gets a bum rap.

JB spent 40 years in public service before he became President. He was at heart a disciplined, self-made man who was an expert in playing the patronage game to succeed at party politics in Pennsylvania. He served in Congress, as minister to Russia and to England, and as Secretary of State before his election to the presidency, yet it's hard to put a finger on any big accomplishments. He was a strong believer in family and took care of many of relative, yet never managed to have a family of his own. His administration was reasonably successful in foreign police, but domestically, was unable to deal with the open warfare between abolitionists and pro-slavery forces in places like Kansas.

Part of the problem was that Buchanan wasn't a visionary leader when we needed one. But he also had to deal with a Republican Congress that in many ways hamstrung his attempts to deal with domestic issues. And his own party, the Democrats, were divided into a number of factions, all of which were competing with him to come out on top.

Klein's book is a pretty good autobiography of Buchanan, even if it's a tad bit dated. My only real complaint is that he spends quite a lot of time going through the political maneuvering by the various Pennsylvania Democratic factions, and it gets a bit tedious at times. The last third of the book, though, gets quite dramatic as he leads up to the outbreak of the Civil War. ( )
  drneutron | Mar 20, 2010 |
One thing that distinguishes the presidents of the 1850s is that they were all "Party" men. Each built and maintained major party apparatus in their home states. They were all very skilled at the art of compromise and yet they all failed miserably when it came to trying to broker a compromise between North and South over the spread of slavery.

Instead of building a bridge between the two sides Buchanan helped tear them asunder with some perfectly terrible decisions—the worst being to support the Lecompton Constitution. If there is a linchpin to the break of civility between the two sides Bleeding Kansas is it and Buchanan's misjudgment over the severity of the issue pretty much symbolizes the futility of his administration. When an underling is always to blame for every miscue what does that say about the boss?

I haven't read enough to judge whether or not Buchanan was guilty of helping the South near the end of his administration. I would guess not, although his actions do leave room to wonder. Did he really expect the Lincoln administration to tie itself to his failed policy? Did he really expect a constitutional convention to solve anything? It boggles the mind, like Stephen Douglas helping to destroy the Missouri Compromise.

This biography is definitely biased towards its subject, which gives it refreshing insight into Buchanan's mind and reasons for acting the way he did. I came into the book expecting to blame him for everything and left feeling that he was as much a victim as anyone, trying to solve a modern problem with an outdated strategy.
  wcpweaver | Sep 24, 2009 |
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James Buchanan paused often in his chores around the Irish farmstead during the early spring of 1783.
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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 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. -- goodreads.com

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