15. James Buchanan

“Old Buck”

Presidential Basics

  • Full name: James Buchanan
  • Years in office: 1857–1861
  • Political party: Democratic
  • Vice president: John C. Breckenridge
  • Age at inauguration: 65
  • Nicknames: “Old Buck,” “Ten-Cent Jimmy,” “Bachelor President”

Random Trivia

  • The bachelor:  Buchanan is our only bachelor president.

Birth & Death

  • Birthday: April 23, 1791
  • Birthplace: Cove Gap, Pennsylvania
  • Death date: June 1, 1868
  • Place of death: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Place of burial: Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Last words: “Oh, Lord God Almighty, as thou wilt!”


  • Father: James Buchanan (1761–1821); Businessman, justice of the peace
  • Mother: Elizabeth Speer Buchanan (1767–1833)
  • Wife: None
  • Marriage: None
  • Kids: None
  • Home: Wheatland in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Other Facts

  • Height: 6′
  • Eye color: Blue
  • Ancestry: Scotch-Irish
  • Religion: Presbyterian
  • Born in a log cabin: Yes
  • Owned enslaved people: No
  • Freemason: Yes


  • Early education: Old Stone Academy
  • College degree: Yes
  • College:  Dickinson College (graduated with B.A. in 1809)


  • Military Service: No
  • Lawyer: Yes
  • Lawyer (1812–)
  • Member of Pennsylvania Legislature (1815–1816)
  • Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1821–1831)
  • Minister to Russia: Jackson administration (1832–1834)
  • Member of the U.S. Senate (1834–1845)
  • Secretary of State: Polk administration (1845–1849)
  • Minister to Great Britain: Pierce administration (1853–1856)
  • President (1857–1861)


  • Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion
  • Works of James Buchanan


The topic of slavery dominated the campaign conversations in the election of 1856.  The Democrats turned away from the incumbent, Franklin Pierce, in favor of James Buchanan.  Buchanan and the Democrats favored a popular sovereignty approach to the issue of slavery.

In their first presidential election, the newly formed Republican party stood firmly against the expansion of slavery. And former president Millard Fillmore ignored the slavery issue with his new party, the American, or Know-Nothing, party.  The Know-Nothing party focused on anti-immigration policies. Buchanan would win the election, setting course for a Civil War.

Spotlight Artifact

1856 Campaign Medalet

Image from Virginia Historical Society

In the 1850s the issue of slavery divided the country and threatened to break apart the Union. In the presidential election of 1856, the Democrats nominated James Buchanan of Pennsylvania as their candidate. “Old Buck” won the election, but failed to keep the Union intact. By the end of his term, seven states seceded from the Union, and the nation was on the brink of a civil war.

Stars, a buck, and a cannon adorn the front of this campaign medalet from the 1856 election.  When interpreted as a rebus it reads “Buck-cannon” and Breckenridge – informing us on how to really say Buchanan’s name. 

Evidently, the president’s last name isn’t pronounced “Byoo-cannon.”

The back carries the phrases “The Union Must & Shall Be Preserved” and “United We Stand Divided We Fall.” An image of George Washington and Andrew Jackson’s name evoke strong presidents of the past. Today, most historians view James Buchanan as one of our least effective presidents, mainly because he did little to preserve the Union and didn’t address the problems that plagued a divided nation.

Images from the Virginia Historical Society

Campaign Poster

James Buchanan: Democratic Candidate for President of the United States, wood engraving with letterpress, c. 1856 (Library of Congress)


 © 2021 Periodic Presidents, PJ and Jamie Creek