Better Know A President XV: James Buchanan

31 03 2009


-Served from 1857-1861

-Elected from Pennsylvania

-Before serving as the President, he also served in the Pennsylvania House, the US House for 10 years, US Ambassador to Russia and then England, US Senator, and Sec. of State. He also served in the War of 1812 as a volunteer, although he was wholly against the war.

-During his time as Sec. of State, he established the Oregon Treaty between Britain and the US, which defined the boundaries between American and Canadian land. Prior to this time, both British and Americans claimed ownership of the area around Puget Sound (which includes modern day Seattle and Tacoma). He also was a major supporting author in the Ostend Manifesto (previous mentioned under Pres. Franklin Pierce) while serving as Ambassador to the United Kingdom. (This makes me wonder why the Democrats nominated him over other politicians with less suspect pasts)

-Buchanan is the only President to have remained a single all through his life. He was once engaged to a woman, Ann Coleman, who was the daughter of a major head of an iron business in Pennsylvania. He never took the engagement seriously, and shortly after Ann broke off the engagement, she died. The doctor who was caring for her said that she was “hysterical”, and probably had died from an overdose of laudanum. Buchanan was devastated and vowed never to seek another wife. He was suspected of being a homosexual, however, as he lived with William Rufus King (VP under Pierce) for a number of years while in Washington.

-Buchanan was nominated for the Presidency by the Democrats for the 1856 Presidential election. They did this primarily because slavery had become such a dominating issue in politics, and Buchanan was away in England while the infamous Kansas-Nebraska act was enacted. In the election, he competed against the Republican Party’s first candidate (the Whig Party was dissolved, after slavery split the party) John C. Fremont, and the Know-Nothing candidate, former Pres. Millard Fillmore. Because the former Whig base was divided between the two new parties, and because Buchanan was pro-slavery, he won the election. The entire south supported Buchanan, which was enough in itself to win him the election. It’s important to note, when looking at Buchanan’s presidency, that while he accepted the nomination, he did not want to be President.

-During his Presidency, he strived for citizens to accept the Supreme Court’s authority over issues like slavery. He was also President during many infamous disasters, including the Dred Scott decision (which stated that Congress could not force new territories to outlaw slavery) Bleeding Kansas (Buchanan tried to get Kansas admitted as a slave state, through his efforts in supporting the Lecompton Constitution, which limited the rights of non-slave holders), the Panic of 1857 (a major economic depression), and the Utah War (A literal war between the state of Utah and the US. Brigham Young revolted against the government, after many people in Utah were tired of anti-Mormon sympathies in Congress and the White House. Buchanan himself slammed polygamy and the Mormons during his campaign). All of these incidents destroyed people’s support of Buchanan. He stated in his inaugural address that he would not seek reelection, but even if he had tried it would have been highly unlikely he would have even been re-nominated.

-By the time he was nearing the end of his Presidency, he was being investigated by a committee to see if he had done anything which would be grounds for impeachment.

-The government was all but halted after Republicans saw a majority in the House after the elections in 1860. The Southern Democrats could not get anything passed, which angered them immensely. The Democrats were completely divided after their convention in 1860. Southern Dems left, and instead nominated their own man for president, current VP under Buchanan John Breckenridge. By this time, many southern states were discussing secession or had already seceded from the Union, which Buchanan did nothing about. He only recognized that they could not be legally stopped.

-Both Buchanan and his predecessor Pierce are consistently ranked among the worst Presidents in history, beause of their failure to address the coming Civil War adequately.


When President James Polk appointed James Buchanan to serve as secretary of state in 1845, ex-President Andrew Jackson was greatly perturbed. “But, you yourself appointed him minister to Russia in your first term,” Polk reminded him. “Yes, I did,” Jackson admitted. “It was as far as I could send him out of my sight, and where he could do the least harm. I would have sent him to the North Pole if we had kept a minister there!”

When some women visited the White House once, they said to Buchanan, “We have looked all through this house-it is very elegant and well kept; but we have noticed one deficiency. That you have no lady of the house.” To which Buchanan responded, “That, madam, is my misfortune, not my fault.”


I like the noise of democracy.

What is right and what is practicable are two different things.

(To Pres. Lincoln): If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed.

The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.


Better Know A President XIV: Franklin Pierce

23 03 2009

Two things:

In order to be academically correct, I want to give credit where credit is due. For many of my Presidential Anecdotes, I have used Paul Boller’s book Presidential Anecdotes. It has been incredibly useful to me, and really enjoyable. I couldn’t be doing this series without that book. Anecdotes bring about a real sense of humanity in a person and are essential to really study someone in my opinion.

I also want to acknowledge that there has been an exponential increase in traffic to my blog because of my Better Know A President series. Google is directing people my way and I really appreciate it.

And, many thanks to you people who have been reading this. I’m not doing it to impress anyone or anything like that, but it’s nice to know people appreciate my current hobby.

Onto number 14…


-Served from 1853-1857

-Elected from New Hampshire

-Prior to the Presidency, he was a US Representative and Senator from New Hampshire. Pierce was only 27 when elected to the House, and was by far the youngest man while serving. He also ran a very profitable private law firm in that state. He seemed destined for politics, as his father served two terms as Governor of New Hampshire.

-He was close friends of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, after meeting them both while attending Bowdoin College.

-Pierce had three children in his lifetime. The first, Franklin Pierce Jr. died days after his birth. While serving as a Senator, his second child Frank Robert died of Typhus. His wife used his death as leverage to get Pierce to leave politics and return home. His wife never like politics, and hated that her husband was serving in the Senate. Finally, his third child Benjamin died in a train accident only two months before Franklin’s inauguration. Franklin and his wife both witnessed the accident. His wife, Jane, was incredibly pious, and saw the incident as a sign that Pierce should not become President. During his Presidency, Jane spent two whole years confined to the living quarters of the White House. During this time, she wrote letters to the deceased son, and suffered deep depression. She rarely performed any social obligations.

-In 1847, a full 10 years after being elected to the House, and 5 years after leaving the Senate, Pierce enlisted in the army to serve in the Mexican-American War. He was quickly promoted to the rank of Colonel. He suffered a major wound to his leg when he fell off his horse in the Battle of Contreras. His pain became so great that he couldn’t fight in later battles.

-When the election of 1852 was started, Pierce was never mentioned seriously as a candidate. However, like James Polk before him, he was chosen as a compromise candidate after 35 ballots without a 2/3rd’s majority. He was chosen mainly because he was a solid Democratic supporter, he was quiet on his slavery views, and he was generally popular among everyone. The campaign slogan of that year was “We Polked you in 1844; we shall Pierce you in 1852!”.

-Pierce won the election handedly. He lost only 4 states. It wasn’t so much that Pierce ran a great campaign as it was that his Whig competitor, General Winfield Scott ran a bad one. He never really separated himself from Pierce, except that he was strongly against slavery. Of course, that killed any chance he might have had in the southern states.

-In his inauguration, he did not swear over the Bible. He affirmed his oath over a law book. He also gave his Inaugural speech from memory.

-While he tried to focus on foreign policy, he made many blunders. He upset Great Britain and Spain when he tried to get them to let go of their holding in Central America, the latter nation being involved in the infamous Ostend Manifesto. The O.M. was an attempt by Pierce to get Spain to sell Cuba to the US for 120 Million or go to war. They claimed that Cuba was rightfully America’s and that war was justified if they would not sell it. The document was eventually made public. The North was upsert because they saw it as a Southern attempt to continue slavery. Pierce let the matter of Cuba go after this. To his credit, he made the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico for 10 million. This small part of land that was bought from Mexico proved to be invaluable for railroad expansion.

-His biggest gaffe, however, was the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Slavery was still a major issue at the time, but this act repealed the Missouri Compromise, which at the time was a barrier to the expansion of slavery. With the Compromise out of the way, slavery expansion became a real possibilty. It led to Bleeding Kansas, an actual war between the state of Kansas and Missouri, and it was a major elevation in the conflict between the North and South.

-His failures during his presidency made the Democrats refuse to nominate him in 1856. He grew even more unpopular when he supported the South in the Civil War, and he placed the blame on Lincoln for the Civil War. He was even called the “archtraitor” by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Even his wife didn’t support him. She still blamed him for the death of their third son.


He claimed that after he left the Presidency that “there’s nothing left to do but get drunk”.

Pierce was hunted down after Lincoln’s death, because he didn’t publicly condemn the act. He would later say that it wasn’t necessary “to show my devotion for the Stars and Stripes by any special exhibition upon the demand of any man or body of men…” After this, the crowd left.


A Republic without parties is a complete anomaly. The histories of all popular governments show absurd is the idea of their attempting to exist without parties.

The dangers of a concentration of all power in the general government of a confederacy so vast as ours are too obvious to be disregarded.

Frequently the more trifling the subject, the more animated and protracted the discussion.

9 03 2009

Sometimes I think I hear God speaking to me through the music I listen to than I do when I read the Bible. I don’t care if that’s blasphemous. I also don’t know what to feel about that.

I wrote this poem a very long time ago. Some things happened to me, and this is what I wrote down right after it happened. (Which, apparently, is not what you are to do if you want to write effectively.) I don’t know what to make of it, to be quite honest. Maybe you will like it.

I Can’t Die

Crackling burning bark from the Wisdom Tree
Violet clouds came and greeted us with comfort under the twilight near the maze
Hand-drawn stars in the sky were shooting from the Great Man’s mitten hands
The clouds kissed us, then left, and the Parade drew into the warm grass hut
Dr. McGillicuddy reached his warm hand out from the wooden cabinet and shook my hand
Then I went to my Model-T near the maze and met with the royalty of pizza.
I feel like dying
Electric wires in me since birth awoke in my feet and sent waves throughout everything
And I couldn’t remember what else
Feeling left me, and I could taste the drops of liquid coming from the Dream Pool falling from the hole in the sky
A prom queen was flipped upside down in a strange ritual of a cavewoman.
Big African Oriental man in the corner made echoing booms through his gaping grin
And I couldn’t remember what I was planning
I feel like dying?
The Harlequin pulled of his red mask and revealed more of the true novel
White Aunt Jemima took formal pictures of maybe married couples and…
Everyone was feelin’ crucial.
The ghost Gestapo came in the hut with a bright light
I crawled in the ground to get away, but they might have passed when the light was gone.
I still felt electric, and the sway of my toga lit me up each time
As I was falling away, the Robin Hood of bank robbers was there and welcoming me
And as the beckoning came for me to leave, and the strange Parade was giving me an exam of undeterminable meaning, the electricity was gone
I went to the Model-T outside, and with Blue Jays with me, drove through the maze and made it back late, only to find the beckoning asleep.

Better Know A President XIII: Millard Fillmore

4 03 2009


-Served from 1850-1853.

-He was not elected as a President. He failed to even get the nomination from the Whig party in 1852, and he did not win as the Know Nothing/Whig candidate in 1854 (Yes, there was a political party called the Know Nothings)

-Prior to the Presidency, he was Vice President (obviously), a US Representative from New York, and New York State Comptroller.

-He became an indentured servant to a cloth maker at 14. He later studied law under a prominent judge in New York state. He was admitted to the bar in 1823 and practiced in the town of East Aurora. He later founded a prominent law firm with Nathan Hall, who would become Postmaster General under Fillmore.

-Founded the University at Buffalo. (SUNY Buffalo)

-He was selected as the VP nomination for the Whig party for two reasons: He was from a free state, and he was from New York and would help the Whig Party carry such a large and important state. The fact that he was unknown also helped him, because the party’s leaders did not see him on either side of the split party.

-While he served as Vice President, a Senator from Mississippi pulled a gun on a Senator from Missouri over the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise of 1850 was a major precursor to the Civil War. It reorganized many of the Western territories, and also passed the Fugitive Slave Act. Zachary Taylor’s death was incredibly important to the passing of the Compromise, because he was against it. Fillmore, who was for the Compromise, helped it get passed. California was admitted as a free state, Utah and New Mexico became territories but they were left to decide on slavery on their own, and Texas dropped claims to certain areas of unorganized territory. It resolved some of the disputes that were diving the North and the South at the time, that were centered around the extension of slavery. Fillmore, was against slavery itself, but allowed that the Constitution did not make it specifically illegal.  Of course, the resolution only held off war for so long. However, delaying the Civil War was probably very important to the North, because it gave them time to develop more infrastructure that would be pivotal to their victory in the Civil War.

-While his Presidency was dominated by the Compromise of 1850, he made an unpopular choice to deny safe haven to Lajos Kossuth, a Hungarian revolutionary. He was seen as a Hungarian version of George Washington, and was also highly respected by many people in America. Fillmroe refused him, because he wanted to continue America’s neutrality in European issues. This was an important, unspoken rule among American Presidents prior to Fillmore and established by Washington himself.

-While serving as President, Fillmroe had no vice-president.

-Fillmore was a constant reader and established the White House Library, as there were no books, or any good books, in the White House when he became President.

-Fillmore suggested the idea of colonizing parts of Africa as a solution to the growing conflict between the North and the South.  Colonization would mean that all African-Americans would be removed and placed back in Africa, except ones who were still slaves. Some blacks, however, supported the idea. They thought that a return to Africa was the easiest, most effective resolution to the issue and maybe the only resolution possible. Most Americans were indifferent on the idea. Fillmore said, “There can be no well grounded hope for the improvement of either their moral or social condition, until they are removed from a humiliating sense of inferiority in the presence of a superior race.”

-Although Fillmroe did not win the election in 1854, he achieved 21.6% of the popular vote, one of the best showings from a 3rd party in election history.

-Fillmore later led a group of militia to help in Reconstruction after the Civil War.


When Fillmore announced his need for a new carriage, a White House attendant, Edward Moran, was enlisted to find one. Moran, having hunted far and wide, finally found a handsome vehicle which was being sold at a reduced rate because its owner was moving. Fillmore was troubled: “How would it do, Edward, for the president of the United States to ride around in a second-hand carriage?” he asked. “But surely,” Moran allegedly replied, “Your Excellency is only a second-hand president!”

President Millard Fillmore was once offered an honorary degree (written in Latin) by Oxford University. He declined to accept. “I have not the advantage of a classical education,” he explained, “and no man should, in my judgement, accept a degree which he cannot read.”


It is not strange… to mistake change for progress.

May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not.

“It is a national disgrace that our Presidents, after having occupied the highest position in the country, should be cast adrift, and, perhaps, be compelled to keep a corner grocery for subsistence.”

“The man who can look upon a crisis without being willing to offer himself upon the altar of his country is not fit for public trust.”

“God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil… and we must endure it and give it such protection as is guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Better Know A President XII: Zachary Taylor

3 03 2009


-Served from 1849-1850. (Only 16 months)

-Elected from Virginia.

-Never served a previous political post. Taylor was the first President to have done so. He gained fame through his 40 year military service. He served in the War of 1812, the Blackhawk War, the 2nd Seminole War, and the Mexican-American War (where he really gained his fame.)

-During the War of 1812, he served in Indiana Territory. He successful defended Fort Harrison (near modern day Terre Haute) against Tecumseh and his confederacy. He then led a group of soldiers as a Captain in the Battle of Wildcat Creek, which eventually led to an American defeat by the hadns of the Native Americans. He resigned after the war, but re-enlisted after one year.

-Taylor led an infantry in the Blackhawk War, and personally received the surrender of Chief Black Hawk. He also served in the Seminole Wars in Florida, and by the end, he was made a General and was the head of all American troops in Florida. Then, prior to the Mexican-American War, he was made a Commander of all American troops in the Southern United States.

-In the Mexican-American War, he won two decisive battles in Palo Alto and Monterrey. In the Battle of Palo Alto, Taylor used a artillery strategy called “Flying Artillery”, in which lighter artillery is used to make a quick, decisive attack and then move somewhere else and attack again. In the Battle of Monterrey, Taylor was outnumbered heavily. After 3 days of attempting to take the city, the American forces were at a stand-still. Taylor devised a plan, with the help of the Texas Rangers, to take nearby hills and fire cannons from those hills into the city to force a surrender. Even though Taylor had won and taken the city from the Mexicans, he was ostracized for allowing the Mexicans to negotiate a cease-fire, eventual two-month armistice, and allowing them to walk away with their full honors and their arms. Still, the battle was a major victory for America.

-The battle that made Taylor a hero, however was Buena Vista. Santa Anna (that guy who killed everyone at The Alamo) escaped from exile and quickly rounded up forces to attack the Americans. Apparently he was still upset about the whole Texas independence thing. Taylor took a strategic position at Buena Vista mountain pass, and prepared for the coming attack. Taylor’s forces were vastly outnumbered by Santa Anna’s troops (4,500 to 16,000) Through strategic battle formations, and much better weapons, Taylor repelled Santa Anna’s attack and he was forced to retreat. His words to Captain Bragg “Give them a little more grape” became legendary and were used as a campaign slogan in his election campaign in 1848. (His real words, however, were “double-shot your guns and give them hell, Bragg”) He earned the nickname, “Old Rough and Ready” through his many military campaigns. The Battle of Buena Vista was his last in the military service.

-He ran as the Whig’s Nomination, but he didn’t really believe in most of their platforms. In fact, Taylor never voted in his life. He lacked a permanent residence, and therefore could not vote. His political views are not completely known, because he never made strong statements about them. Abraham Lincoln said of him, “The people say to Taylor: If you are elected, shall we have a national bank? He answers, Your will, gentlemen. Not mine. […] If you do not desire them, I will not attempt to force them upon you.” He was, however, completely against the seccession of the southern states, even though he was both a slave owner and from a southern state himself. He thought that seccession was pointless and only caused more problems. (Guess he had that one right). He was also against the expansion of slavery into new states.

-As President, his major contribution was the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. The treaty was an agreement between Britain and American that any potential canal in Central America that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific would be non-exclusive toward either side. It marked a change in American policy from Manifest Destiny, and was an important first step in American and British cooperation.

-He died after 16 months in office of gastroenteritis or the stomach flu (although this is still speculated by some historians). On the 4th of July, Taylor had a large celebration and ate many different goods made by many different people who attended the celebration. Some historians believe that he died from poisoning, but an autopsy that was performed on his remains in the 80’s showed no signs of poisoning.

During Zachary Taylor’s presidency, visitors to the White House were invited to collect an unusual souvenir: horse hairs from Whitey, the president’s old Army horse. And where could Whitey usually be found? Grazing on the White House lawn of course.

When he was first mentioned as a possible candidate for Presidency, Taylor said to the man, “Stop your nonsense and drink your whiskey!”

Taylor did not have an ego. One Virgina officer had experience with him that goes as follows: “You feel at once comfortable and easy in his society. He paid me a visit the other day; I was sitting on a trunk writing at the time; I arose and offered him the seat, remarking that I had but a poor seat to offer himl oh, never mind, said he, all I am afraid of is that I will spoil the trunk, and he sat down and conversed in the most sociable and familiar manner for some time.”

He hated wearing his regal military uniform as well. Once, when he was to meet another officer who was always dressed in his full uniform, he decided to be cordial. He went through his things and found an old uniform to wear, and painstakingly fixed it up to please the other officer. When the other officer appeared, he was wearing his civilian clothes to appeal to Taylor’s laid-back style. The meeting was full of apologies. Taylor afterward, threw away the uniform and said he would never do it again.


“For more than half a century, during which kingdoms and empires have fallen, this Union has stood unshaken. The patriots who formed it have long since descended to the grave; yet still it remains, the proudest monument to their memory….”

“The idea that I should become President seems to me too visionary to require a serious answer. It has never entered my head, nor is it likely to enter the head of any other person.”

“Upon its preservation [the United States] must depend our own happiness and that of countless generations to come. Whatever dangers may threaten it, I shall stand by it and maintain it in its integrity to the full extent of the obligations imposed and the power conferred upon me by the Constitution.”