15. James Buchanan

The Periodic Table of the Presidents - James Buchanan  James Buchanan Official Portrait - The Periodic Table of the Presidents

“Old Buck”

  • Full Name: James Buchanan
  • Years in Office: 1857–1861
  • Political Party: Democratic
  • Nicknames: “Old Buck,” “Ten-Cent Jimmy,” “Bachelor President”
  • Age at Inauguration: 65
  • Vice President: John C. Breckenridge
  • Birth: April 23, 1791 in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania
  • Death: June 1, 1868 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Place of Burial: Woodward Hill Cemetery – Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Height: 6’
  • Ancestry: Scotch-Irish
  • Father: James Buchanan (1761–1821); Businessman, justice of the peace
  • Mother: Elizabeth Speer Buchanan (1767–1833)
  • Wife: None
  • Marriage: None
  • Children: None
  • Home: Wheatland – Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Education: Old Stone Academy; B.A. from Dickinson College (1809)
  • Religious Affiliation: Presbyterian
  • Military Service: No
  • Career:
    • 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)
  • Writings: Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion; Works of James Buchanan


Spotlight Artifact

1856 Campaign Medalet

James Buchanan - 1856 Campaign Rebus Medalet Front - 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 how to really James Buchanan - 1856 Campaign Rebus Medalet Back - Virginia Historical Societypronounce 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)

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