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James Buchanan: The American Presidents Series: The 15th President, 1857-1861 (The American Presidents #15)

3.57  ·  Rating Details  ·  418 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews
A provocative reconsideration of a presidency on the brink of Civil War

Almost no president was as well trained and well prepared for the office as James Buchanan. He had served in the Pennsylvania state legislature, the U.S. House, and the U.S. Senate; he was Secretary of State and was even offered a seat on the Supreme Court. And yet, by every measure except his own, Jame
ebook, 192 pages
Published June 7th 2004 by Times Books (first published January 1st 2004)
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(showing 1-30 of 707)
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Mar 05, 2009 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m less disposed than the author to lay blame for the Civil War on James Buchanan. The larger contour of the story must be considered and when it is her arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. One of Baker’s main themes is that Buchanan was a major cause of the Civil War because of his inaction and vacillation on slavery and states rights issues particularly during the four months between Lincoln’s election and his inauguration. Within that period seven states seceded from the Union and upon Lin ...more
Aug 09, 2014 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book Twenty-Three of my Presidential Challenge.

"He was the most dangerous of chief executives, a stubborn, mistaken ideologue whose principles held no room for compromise. His experience in government had only rendered him too self-confident to consider other views. In his betrayal of the national trust, Buchanan came closer to committing treason than any other president in American history."

What makes a president a bad president? More to the point, what makes a bad president, the worst presiden
Fred Kohn
I'm a bit surprised at the rather low average rating of this book. This is the fourteenth book I have read in the series and the only one so far that has gotten five stars from me. Writing a book about a figure as important as an American president in a target of about 150 pages is a daunting task. I think Jean Baker did it brilliantly. Other books put in way too many personal details, taking away from the important story of the politician and leader, and others put in all the personal details u ...more
Andy Miller
Jul 23, 2012 Andy Miller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a thoughtful, well written biography of James Buchanan that focuses on his Presidency, the four years immediately preceding the civil war. The author dispels many of the myths of the time, one being that the political debate was about state's rights and not slavery. Of course, the South's political efforts, with Buchanan's support, in the 1850's were against state's rights, instead they for a national "right to slavery" that would trump efforts by northern states to thwart slavery even ...more
Elaine Nelson
Nov 24, 2008 Elaine Nelson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I picked this up after reading a blog entry that claimed that Bush couldn't be called the worst president ever as long as there was Buchanan.

And I think the guy had a point, although it may be that only the existence of the slavery problem made that so. (Ie, a problem so huge that it was already tearing the country in two before Buchanan ever got there; except for 9/11, Bush seems to have manufactured all this sh*t himself.)

Because otherwise, the failings of the 2 administrations feel quite si
William  Shep
Another excellent contribution to this presidential series, with Goucher College historian Jean Baker a good choice to write this volume. She covers all the basics about this relatively unknown president, the only one from my native Pennsylvania, and rightly argues that his failure in office was not due to incompetence (the common perception) but rather due to his wrong headed and treasonous devotion to the south. Buchanan was not the only Doughface president, that is one who hailed from the nor ...more
Louis Picone
May 28, 2015 Louis Picone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I opened this book with the popular belief that Buchanan's presidency was a failure because he did nothing to stop the dissolution of the Union. What I learned was that he was much more pro-Southern than I understood (surprising since he was a Pennsylvanian) and his policies contributed to Southern secession, leaving Lincoln a much bigger mess than he should have inherited. I only knocked the book down from 5 to 4 stars because I found the author was a little petty with Buchanan's appearance and ...more
Jennifer Daniel
A pretty dry read on a pretty terrible president. Buchanan came into office with a wealth of experience in a vast variety of political positions he had held. Then he basicly stood by and did nothing about the impending sessesion of the southern states. It makes you wonder if we had a stronger 15th president, could the Civil War been avoided? Honestly, I was more interested in his possible homosexuality which was briefly touched on. I'm pretty sure he was our first gay president. In the words of ...more
Scott Cox
"Few historians have defended Buchanan's presidency, and the ratings that habitually place him among our worst presidents - along with Pierce, Harding and Nixon - are not capricious" (p.5). Jean Baker, author of James Buchanan's biography, places much of the blame for the civil war and the subsequent demise of the Democratic Party in the latter part of the 19th century upon this president. What are the factors that cause her to deprecate the 15th president in such strong terms? Three major crise ...more
Dec 29, 2015 MBJ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Buchanan did not want slavery to define his presidency, but he refused to face up to the fact that it did. As Jean Baker aptly notes in this biography, "It is worth taking the measure of those presidents who, given the opportunity, failed to rise to greatness. James Buchanan was one of these."

Was Civil War inevitable by the time of Buchanan's presidency? It seems a fair question to ask. But Buchanan undeniably influenced the downward spiral of events by failing to grasp the course on which
Alex Robinson
Aug 04, 2012 Alex Robinson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, bio
Another good entry in this series of short presidential biographies, this one on the much maligned James Buchanan. There's a tendency to view Buchanan as a doddering, indecisive Jimmy Carter figure but this book argues that this was not the case, that Buchanan's actions (his blinding devotion to the South, doing nothing to stop the Confederacy prepare for treason, etc) actively set the stage for the Civil War. Worse than Nixon!
I suppose it's hard to encapsulate a president whose major policy and plan of action seemed to be "wait it out". Baker does her best.

Buchanan is something of an enigma. He never really seems engaged with his work, strange because no president up to that time had such extensive political experience, serving as legislator, senator, foreign minister and Secretary of State. His almost total lack of vibrant personal life (famously, he was the only bachelor president) would seem to hallow him for a p
A short biography of our 15ht President James Buchanan. A long term veteran of Foreign Service when elected serving as Congressman, Senator, Ambassador to Russia, Secretary of State and Ambassador to Great Britain you would think he might be the man to help stop the pending Civil War. Unfortunately Buchanan would go down as one of our worst Presidents. The argument in the book is that Buchanan is affected by his pro South biased in particular in his handling of Kansas and the short lame duck per ...more
David Sam
Feb 18, 2013 David Sam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent, brief biography of the worst president in US history, and nearly a traitor at that.
David Bales
Mar 14, 2015 David Bales rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Brilliant biography of President James Buchanan, who was in office directly before Abraham Lincoln. Few presidents in history has as much experience as Buchanan did when he became president in 1857; his 40 year political career had started in the Pennsylvania legislature, catapulted him into the House and Senate, sent him to Russia and England as minister and he was Secretary of State during the Polk Administration. Still, Buchanan is remembered as one of America's worst presidents for Jean Bake ...more
Feb 26, 2014 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

“James Buchanan“ is Jean Baker’s 2004 addition to The American Presidents Series. Baker is a history professor at Goucher College in Maryland where she previously received an undergraduate degree. She earned a Masters and PhD at Johns Hopkins and has written several books, the best known being “Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography.”

As the fifth book from The American Presidents Series I’ve read so far, “James Buchanan” meets or exceeds most of my expectations fo
Aug 16, 2011 Ann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought Franklin Pierce was the worst President I have read about so far...and then I read the biography of James Buchanan. Because of his complete loyalty to the South and vilification of Republicans, President Buchanan contributed greatly to the secession of the southern states after Lincoln was elected but before he assumed the presidency. On paper, Buchanan should have been a great President--he had a role in many other administrations and easily came in with the most political experience ...more
Steven Peterson
Aug 17, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Buchanan came to the presidency with a wonderful resume. And he failed dismally. This brief biography, part of the well done "The American Presidents" series, tries to explain that disconnect. In the recurring introduction to each volume in the series that he edited, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. remarked that (Page xvii) "To succeed, presidents must not only have a port to seek but they must convince Congress and the electorate that it is a port worth seeking." And "there's the rub" for Buchana ...more
Jennifer Nelson
I applaud Jean Baker for writing such an interesting, well-written, and informative book about a man that she clearly does not admire. I would have to say that after reading about President James Buchanan and the choices that he made in life I agree with her assessment of him.

James Buchanan started in politics as a young man and served our country in several different capacities: he filled the roles of state legislator, US congressman, US senator, minister to Russia, Secretary of State, ministe
I know I haven’t made it through all the Presidents yet, but I still feel confident is saying James Buchanan might be the wimpiest leader of our early years as a country. He needed to get some guts and stand up as the President should, but instead he wanted to pacify and would often go the very easy way instead of the right way. Looking back, we can see how truly tragic that lack of action turned out to be.

Page after page I found myself rolling my eyes and actually yelling at Buchanan for his ho
James Buchanan was our 15th President and a Democrat, which made me predisposed to like him, him being the incarnation of my favorite number ever. Unfortunately, but hopefully not prophetically, Buchanan sucked.

He was the only President to date to hail from Pennsylvania and the only bachelor. (The author spends an inordinate amount of text laying the case for his homosexuality, which is quite convincing. It makes for good reading but does it matter? Nope.) He was a successful lawyer, Congressman
Shawn Thrasher
Jean H. Baker carves out a convincing argument that the policies of James Buchanan were influenced by his extreme pro-southern attitudes (I'm going to call them crushes), and that it was this, not his dithering or aged mental faculties, which exacerbated the lead-up to the Civil War. The Buchanan that Baker (rightly) paints is a pompous, arrogant ass whose inflexible hate of the Republican Party and his love for southerners fostered a divided government that makes our current situation look like ...more
Gary Schantz
Prior to reading this book, I knew nothing of James Buchanan. Afterwards, I learned how much his presidency contributed to the start of Civil War.

This book is a bit confusing at times due to all the the different constitutional issues that were before Buchanan such as state's rights; slavery; property ownership; federal authority; etc which forced Buchanan to address many problems as the country began to grow. While he was consitutionally correct on some issues, the practicality of those decisi
William Kerrigan
Another well written and thoughtful biography in the American Presidents series. Baker argues that far from being a weak and vacillating President, Buchanan demonstrated that he could be an aggressive and activist one when he chose to be. Pro-Southern sympathies drove most of his actions, not just in response to the LeCompton fraud, but also in his foreign policy 9which focussed largely on acquisition of more slave territory), and in his use of the veto against a homestead act and a land=grant c ...more
Regina Lindsey
Conventional wisdom portrays Buchanan as a weak and inept president that hastened in the approaching Civil War. Baker, however, portrays him in a different light with sound arguments to support her premise. Making no apologies for his presidency, Baker paints a picture of an uncompromising micro-manager whose ambition through Manifest Desitny not only quickened the bloody conflct but may be the most egregious over reach of power the nation has ever seen. This is most evident in Buchanan's appare ...more
A bit repetitive and not overly well-organized. Interesting at any rate to find out that Buchanan wasn't quite the doddering do-nothing I'd always assumed he was. The tone though unfortunately tends toward the schoolmarmish at times, with statements like "assumptions are always the heart of arrogance" (yes, and aphorisms are always the tools of the simplistic). Basically you have the problem that, while actions are over with instantly, historians drone on and on about them for centuries (and in ...more
Henry Sturcke
May 12, 2015 Henry Sturcke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Briefly summarizes the case for the conclusion that Buchanan was indeed, as often supposed, the worst US President prior to 2001. In contrast to his predecessors he not only failed through omission to take the steps that would have avoided the Civil War, but acts of commission (the collusion with Taney in the Dred Scott case was only the most notorious example) were so wrong that they made the war inevitable. Recommended.
Feb 07, 2014 Tyler rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
this book leaves little doubt that Buchanan was among the worst presidents ever. Author did a pretty good job of telling his story and also pointing out the larger themes and issues that were at play during his day, particularly his response to slavery and the lead up to Civil War.
Robert Jones
Well-researched and interesting, but very dry. Jean Baker's writing is in some serious want of poetry and narrative. An extra fifty to a hundred pages would have been a small price to make this a more readable analysis of one of America's least popular presidents.
Robert Brents
Good quick summary of Buchanan's career in politics. Easy to see why he is one of the 7 worst presidents in US history. His actions (or lack thereof) immediately before the Civil War could almost be considered treason against the Federal gov't.
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Jean H. Baker is a professor of history at Goucher College. A graduate of Goucher College, she earned her doctorate at Johns Hopkins University.
More about Jean H. Baker...

Other Books in the Series

The American Presidents (1 - 10 of 41 books)
  • George Washington (The American Presidents, #1)
  • John Adams (The American Presidents, #2)
  • Thomas Jefferson (The American Presidents, #3)
  • James Madison (American Presidents, #4)
  • James Monroe (The American Presidents, #5)
  • John Quincy Adams (The American Presidents, #6)
  • Andrew Jackson (The American Presidents, #7)
  • Martin Van Buren (American Presidents, #8)
  • William Henry Harrison (The American Presidents, #9)
  • John Tyler (The American Presidents, #10)

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