James Buchanan's Obituary

[From page 5 of The New York Times, June 2, 1868]


Death of James Buchanan, Ex-President of the United States.

     James Buchanan, the fifteenth President of the United States, died at half-past eight yesterday morning, at his residence in Wheatland. He had been seriously ill for several days, and his decease was not unexpected.
     James Buchanan was of Irish descent, his father, James Buchanan, Sen., emigrated to this country in 1783, and settled in what was then a comparatively wild part of Pennsylvania. His mother was Elizabeth Spear, daughter of a well-to-do farmer of Adams County, in the same State. There is some doubt respecting the exact date of his birth. According to his biographer, he was born on the 22d of April, 1791, but Mr. Buchanan himself never mentioned his age, and his most intimate friends were of the impression that he was born from two to three years earlier.
     His father, who commenced life as a hard-working pioneer, was able to give him a thorough classical education at Dickinson College, Carlisle, where he graduated in 1809, with high honor. The same year he commenced the study of the law, in the office of Mr. James Hopkins, of Lancaster, and was admitted to the bar in November, 1812. Four years afterward he successfully defended a distinguished Pennsylvania Judge, who was tried before the Senate of that State on articles of impeachment, and his business increased so rapidly that at the early age of 40 he was able to retire from the bar with a large fortune. He appeared only once after his retirement, to defend the case of a widow who was threatened with ejectment from her scanty property.
     In the war of 1812, between the United States and England, he enrolled himself in a band of volunteers to march to the defence of Baltimore. Their services were not required for active duty, however, and they were soon honorably discharged.
     At the age of twenty-three Mr. Buchanan was elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature. In this position he supported every measure of public defence. On his reëlection, in 1815, he warmly supported a bill, which was passed, appropriating $300,000 as a loan to the Government to pay the militia and volunteers of the State in the service of the United States.
     Mr. Buchanan entered Congress in 1820. The first elaborate speech, delivered Jan. 11, 1822, on a deficiency in the military appropriation, was in support of Federal authority, and in defence of Mr. Crawford, then Secretary of the Treasury. In March of the same year he took ground against the extension of the bankrupt law to all citizens of the United States, without regard to profession, and was thought to have contributed largely to the defeat of that measure. On the tariff question he took the ground that duties ought to be raised merely for revenue, though in the indirect operation of a tariff of duties, certain domestic manufacturers may be more benefited than others. These views he continued to hold until the close of his public career.
     During the election of President by the House of Representatives, in 1825, Mr. Buchanan favored its taking place in the presence of the people, with the galleries of the House open to the public, and not in secret conclave, as was suggested by many of the Representatives and Senators.
     Naturally timid and cautious, he distrusted the wisdom of Mr. Clay's proposed mission to the Panama Congress of the Mexican and South American Republics. He believed they would end in political and social anarchy, and was strongly opposed to entering into any sort of alliance with them. He was strongly opposed to the acquisition of Cuba by any of the Governments of South or Central America, believing that the safety of the island and the domestic tranquility of our own Southern States depended in a great measure on the maintenance of peace among the black population of Cuba. He feared the example of emancipation and insurrection there might prove disastrous to the peace of the South.
     Mr. Buchanan took an active part in the Presidential election of 1828, throwing the weight of his influence in favor of Gen. Jackson. He was himself re-elected to Congress at the same time, and during the following session was placed at the head of the Judiciary Committee. It was during this session that articles of impeachment were passed against Judge Peck, of the District Court of the United States for Missouri, on which he was afterward tried before the Senate. Mr. Buchanan was chairman of the Board of Managers chosen by the House to conduct the impeachment. The trial was conducted with great ability on both sides; and though the Senate, by a vote of 22 to 21, refused to convict Judge Peck, it subsequently passed an act removing the technical objections that stood in the way of his conviction, and so framed the law that no Judge has ventured to repeat his offence.
     Mr. Buchanan served through five terms in Congress, and then, in 1831, voluntarily withdrew, but was soon afterward selected by President Jackson as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Russia. In this capacity he concluded the first commercial treaty between the United States and Russia, which secured to our merchants and navigators important privileges in the Baltic and Black Seas.
     On his return, in 1833, he was elected to the United States Senate, and supported Gen. Jackson in all the measures of his Administration. He opposed the attempt made by Mr. Clay to deprive the President of the power of removal from office, without the advice and consent of the Senate, and asserted the justice and expediency of leaving the appointing and removing power in the control of the Executive. The opposition of the Senate to the acts and measures of Gen. Jackson rose to historic importance, and only terminated with the close of Jackson's career, when that body itself expunged the record of the animosity by a decided. vote.
     Mr. Buchanan took a very decided ground against the agitation of the slavery question. He was afraid of its ultimate political consequences, and desired to prevent them by an act of Congress which should shut out the question of slavery from the deliberations of that body. In 1835, when petitions for the abolition of slavery began to pour in upon Congress, he advocated their reception and a declaration that Congress had no power to legislate on the subject. He shared, with many statesmen of his time, the belief that the agitation of the slavery question might be kept out of Congress and deprived of its power to disturb the councils of political parties. Time has proved how vain and short-sighted was this policy of repression.
     As was to be expected, Mr. Buchanan warmly sympathized with the people of Texas in their struggle with Mexico; and he was among the earliest to urge the recognition of their independence by the United States. Subsequently he advocated the admission of Texas into the Union.
     Toward the close of President Jackson's administration, Mr. Buchanan supported his demand for an appropriation of $3,000,000 for the increase of the navy and the defence of a maritime frontier in view of the refusal of France to indemnify the United States for the debt due our citizens. On the question of the admission of Michigan and Arkansas into the Union, objection was made to the right of voting of resident aliens, which right Mr. Buchanan defended. He supported the celebrated "expunging resolutions," introduced by Mr. Benton, to which allusion has already been made. During President Van Buren's Administration he advocated the establishment of an independent treasury, and defended an unpopular measure against a strong combination of talent and circumstances -- Clay, Webster and John Davis, of Massachusetts, being especially pitted against him. He also defended the preëmption rights of settlers on the public lands, on the ground of justice to the settler and economy to the Government; and successfully opposed a measure proposing to punish Federal officers for interfering in elections.
     Under President Polk, Mr. Buchanan held the office of Secretary of State, and had the initiation of those measures which he had hitherto defended as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate. England and America both claimed the whole Northwestern Territory. The protocol between Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Packenham induced England to accept the compromise line of lat. 49 N., but it was rejected by Mr. Packenham, whereupon Mr. Buchanan exhibited the claims of the United States to the whole territory, and concluded by a formal withdrawal of his offer. This decided the fate of the controversy, amounted to a dismissal of Mr. Packenham as a negotiator, and shortly after led to a direct proposal from England to settle the boundary on the terms first proposed.
     Mr. Buchanan also directed the negotiations that led to the termination of the war with Mexico.
     On the succession of Mr. Pierce to the Presidency, Mr. Buchanan was appointed Minister to England. This fact of his public career is chiefly memorable for the part he took in the Conference at Ostend, subsequently adjourned to Aix la Chapeles -- but still known as the Ostend Conference. This consultation exhibited the importance of the Island of Cuba to the United States in a commercial and strategical point of view. The American Ministers believed that if Cuba was about to be transformed into another St. Domingo the example might act perniciously on the slave population of the Southern States, and excite the blacks to insurrection. In this case they held that the instinct of self-preservation would call for the armed intervention of the United States, and we should be justified in wresting the island from Spain. Mr. Buchanan returned to the United States in April, 1856. He was tendered the hospitalities of the City of New-York, and his journey to Lancaster resembled a triumphant march. The Democratic National Convention, which assembled at Cincinnati in June following, nominated him unanimously to the Presidency; and he was elected over his Republican competitor, Col. Fremont, by a large majority of the electoral college, receiving 174 electoral votes from 19 States.
     To give even an outline of the exciting political events that agitated the whole country during his term of office would require more space than we have at command; nor would such a recapitulation be necessary. Those events are still fresh in the recollection of all our readers. It is hardly necessary to remind them that President Buchanan held the North responsible for all the troubles arising out of the Kansas disputes; and in his messages to Congress wrote vehemently against what he styled "the long-continued and intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States." He met the crisis of secession in a timid and vacillating spirit, temporizing with both parties, and studiously avoiding the adoption of a decided policy. In his message of December 8, 1860, he characteristically argued that while the Constitution affords no warrant for the secession of a State, it also affords no warrant for the "coercion" of a State that desires to secede, and its compulsory retention in the Union. To every appeal from the loyal men of the country for an energetic and patriotic opposition to the plots of the Secessionists, his only reply was: "The South has no right to secede, but I have no power to prevent them." Temporizing in this pitiful manner with the gravest crisis that ever fell upon a nation, he did nothing to prevent the accomplishment of secession; and when his successor, Abraham Lincoln, was inaugurated, on the 4th of March, 1861, he retired to the privacy of his home in Wheatland, followed by the ill-will of every section of the country.
     During the long and bitter struggle that ensued, Mr. Buchanan maintained the strictest privacy. In 1865 he published a history of his Administration, intended to be a justification of his course on the eve of the rebellion of the Southern States. The attempt was feeble and inconclusive, and made no impression on the judgment of the country.