Buchanan Considered One of the Worst US Presidents

23 July, 2014

From VOA Learning English, this is The Making of a Nation.  I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I’m Christopher Cruise. 

James Buchanan was sworn in as president in 1857.  He was almost 66 years old.  At the time, Buchanan was the oldest person ever elected president.  He was also the only president who never married. 

Buchanan had a successful political career before he became president.  But his administration struggled – and failed – to stop the country’s long dispute over slavery.  Many consider him one of the country’s worst presidents.

Jean Harvey Baker is a historian.  She calls James Buchanan one of the country’s most interesting presidents. 

Buchanan was from Pennsylvania in the northern United States.  But many of his friends were from the South.  Ms. Baker says Buchanan admired the southern way of life.

"The most important thing to remember about him during his presidency is that he was pro-Southern.  Not necessarily rabidly pro-slavery, but pro-Southern. And this colored all kinds of issues that he had to take a position on."

President Buchanan faced important issues that involved slavery. One was a Supreme Court case brought by a man named Dred Scott. 

Dred Scott was a black man who had been born a slave.  But he had lived in some areas where slavery was banned.  So he claimed he was a free man.

President Buchanan thought the case could end the country’s long dispute over slavery.  He decided to intervene. 

Buchanan asked a Supreme Court justice from the north to support the southern justices’ decision.  The northern judge agreed. 

They determined Dred Scott was still a slave. And, the judges said Congress could not ban slavery anywhere in the country.

Historian Jean Baker says President Buchanan expected all Americans to accept the Court’s decision as the final word on slavery. 

"Of course, he was totally wrong.  And that’s one of the reasons he is considered to be one of our worst presidents."

Ms. Baker says Buchanan also violated the U.S. Constitution by intervening in the case.  The Constitution says the powers of the president, legislature and courts must remain separate. 


Later in his term, Buchanan insisted that Congress support a pro-slavery government in Kansas territory.  He even offered Congress a bribe to accept the territory’s pro-slavery constitution. 

But most Kansans did not accept the territory’s government or want a pro-slavery constitution.  And many in Buchanan’s own political party disagreed with his efforts. 

In the end, Buchanan divided his party and failed to win support for slavery in Kansas.

Buchanan served only one term as president. He did not try to be re-elected.  Historian Jean Baker says President Buchanan did not defend the country’s interest well.

"He violated his constitutional pledge to support and protect the Constitution of the United States."

In Buchanan’s final weeks in office, several southern states separated from the Union.  Shortly after, the country burst into civil war.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

And I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

This is The Making of a Nation from VOA Learning English.