The Failure Of James Buchanan Essay

1728 words - 7 pages

In 1856, a Presidential election occurred in the United States at a crucial period. Sectionalism was at an all time high and a leader was needed to unite the country. However, the man who won the election did not prove to be this leader. Instead, his platform was based on a deliberate failure to lead. Due to James Buchanan’s position that supported popular sovereignty in the expanding United States, the country divided even further over the topic of slavery to the point that the Civil War became inevitable.
One of Buchanan’s most significant failures came in regards to the Dred Scott case. Although he had good intentions in how he wanted to handle this case, he did a terrible job. Phillip Auchampaugh describes this by stating, “His desire to keep himself with the Court in this case was but one illustration of his untiring attempts to avert the impending ruin of the Republic” (Auchampaugh 240). This case was very important because the Democratic Party and the Union were split over the question of slavery in the territories. “Many of the conservatives held that not only the continued existence of the party, but the preservation of the Union rested on the outcome of the case” (Auchampaugh 233). Clearly this case carried extreme importance, and it was vital that the decision made would keep the country together.
However, Buchanan acted irresponsibly in regards to the case. He corresponded with both Justice John Catron and Justice Robert Grier trying to learn when the decision of the case would occur (Auchampaugh 236). His purpose in this was to discover if the decision would occur before or after his inauguration, and as such, his inaugural address. In regards to the Chief Justice, “Buchanan emphatically denied that he and Taney had ever conversed on the subject, but he never denied that he knew about the decision” (Auchampaugh 238). Since the decision did not occur until two days after Buchanan’s inaugural address, this address would be a good place to look to discover how much Buchanan actually knew. In the address, he states, “To their decision, in common with all good citizens, I shall cheerfully submit” (Buchanan “Inaugural Address”). Here, Buchanan shows that he is willing to abide by whatever decision the Supreme Court comes to. However, it can be inferred that he knows what the outcome will be. He goes on to state, “though it has ever been my individual opinion that under the Nebraska-Kansas act the appropriate period will be when the number of actual residents in the Territory shall justify the formation of a constitution with a view to its admission as a State into the Union” (Buchanan “Inaugural Address”). Basically, he is revealing his opinion that the Kansas-Nebraska act, or as he refers to it, the Nebraska-Kansas act, has already made this decision clear that popular sovereignty is what will govern the territories instead of congressional jurisdiction. A President would not give their opinion on such an important decision before it...

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