[00:05.87]VOA Learning English presents America’s Presidents.
[00:12.61]Today we are talking about James Buchanan, the 15th president of the United States.
[00:20.34]He was the third in a series of unsuccessful presidents.
[00:26.19]Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce had failed to resolve the country’s increasing division over slavery.
[00:35.79]Democratic Party officials hoped Buchanan could do better.
[00:41.35]After all, he was a gifted lawyer and had been a member of the U.S. Congress, a secretary of state, and a diplomat.
[00:51.11]But Buchanan was not so sure he could resolve the country’s problems.
[00:58.82]He was the last president before the American Civil War.
[01:13.83]James Buchanan was born in the northern state of Pennsylvania.
[01:20.36]His father was a businessman, and his family was financially successful.
[01:25.80]Buchanan – the oldest son in a family with 11 children – received a good education.
[01:33.64]He attended Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and soon began working as a lawyer.
[01:41.63]His abilities earned him a good deal of money and a place in the state’s legislature.
[01:48.58]But they were not able to win him a wife.
[01:52.55]As a young man, Buchanan fell in love with and proposed marriage to a young woman from a wealthy family.
[02:00.94]She accepted. But her father opposed the union.
[02:05.82]One day, his fiancée wrote Buchanan a letter saying she had reconsidered and decided not to marry him after all.
[02:16.01]Three days later, she unexpectedly died.
[02:20.39]Buchanan was heartbroken.
[02:23.31]He promised never to marry anyone else.
[02:26.95]And he did not.
[02:28.68]To date, James Buchanan is the only U.S. president who never married.
[02:35.13]When he entered the White House, his niece served as his first lady.
[02:53.67]Even with problems in his personal life, Buchanan went on to have a strong career as a national politician.
[03:03.37]He hoped his party would nominate him as its candidate for president.
[03:08.10]But in the 1840s and early 1850s, the Democrats nominated other candidates.
[03:16.19]Finally, in 1856, the party chose Buchanan.
[03:21.88]But by then, he was no longer sure he wanted to be president.
[03:26.98]He believed the country would soon be at war.
[03:30.42]Violence had already broken out in the western territory of Kansas.
[03:37.05]White settlers there had clashed over whether Kansas would enter the Union as a slave or free state.
[03:45.17]In one dramatic event, an anti-slavery activist named John Brown had murdered several pro-slavery settlers.
[03:55.05]President Buchanan had clear ideas about slavery.
[04:00.16]He said in his inaugural speech that voters in the territories – a group made up of white men – should be able to decide the issue for themselves.
[04:13.15]In the same speech, Buchanan urged Americans to support an important Supreme Court ruling that became known as the Dred Scott decision.
[04:24.95]Two days later, the court’s justices announced the majority opinion in that case.
[04:32.14]The opinion said the federal government did not have the power to control slavery in the territories.
[04:41.20]In addition, the court declared that enslaved people were not U.S. citizens.
[04:48.19]They were property, it said.
[04:50.53]Enslaved people did not have any more rights than a horse or a chair.
[04:57.61]Buchanan hoped the decision would stop the country’s debate over slavery.
[05:03.63]Instead, it made the debate more intense.
[05:30.04]During his presidency, Buchanan took two other actions that increased tensions and damaged his public image.
[05:39.76]First, he tried to persuade Congress to accept a state constitution for Kansas.
[05:46.77]The constitution permitted slavery, although a majority of Kansas voters had not agreed to it.
[05:54.72]The U.S. House of Representatives decided not to follow President Buchanan’s wishes.
[06:02.00]They permitted Kansans to vote again on the constitution.
[06:06.03]This time, Kansas voters rejected it.
[06:09.85]A majority agreed instead to seek admission into the Union as a free state.
[06:16.97]Buchanan’s image also suffered because of an event known as the raid on Harper’s Ferry.
[06:24.75]The raid was led by John Brown, the anti-slavery activist who had murdered pro-slavery settlers in Kansas.
[06:32.82]This time, Brown hoped to create an armed rebellion of anti-slavery activists and freed slaves.
[06:41.64]To get weapons, Brown and his men attacked a federal arsenal about 110 kilometers northwest of Washington, D.C.
[06:51.98]The armory was in the town of Harper’s Ferry, in today’s state of West Virginia.
[06:58.89]President Buchanan answered the raid by permitting federal troops to use force.
[07:05.96]The U.S. Marines surrounded Brown and his forces. They killed some and captured others, including Brown.
[07:15.66]A few weeks later, Brown was brought to trial, found guilty, and hanged.
[07:21.81]The event further divided Americans. Anti-slavery Northerners believed Brown was a hero.
[07:29.93]Pro-slavery Southerners believed he was a traitor.
[07:34.63]In general, Buchanan agreed with the Southerners.
[07:38.36]He said in a speech that Northerners should not tell Southerners what they could do in their states.
[07:45.93]But his words did not satisfy either side.
[07:50.22]For one thing, a main issue was whether slavery should be permitted in any new states.
[07:56.92]Buchanan did not comment on that point.
[08:09.56]At the end of his single term, Buchanan kept an earlier promise not to seek re-election.
[08:17.27]His party did not urge him to.
[08:19.57]Instead, Northern Democrats and Southern Democrats split.
[08:25.99]They nominated two different candidates.
[08:29.30]The Democrats’ lack of unity provided an opening for a candidate from a new party.
[08:36.59]The Republican Party was comprised of northerners who were against slavery.
[08:43.25]Their candidate was a lawyer without much experience in government.
[08:48.02]His name was Abraham Lincoln.
[08:50.55]Lincoln won the presidential election of 1860.
[08:55.23]In answer, the Southern state of South Carolina withdrew from the Union.
[09:01.32]Buchanan – who was in the last weeks of his presidency – did not support the move.
[09:08.10]But he did not act to stop South Carolina, either.
[09:12.48]He said the Constitution did not give him the power to force a state to stay in the Union.
[09:20.92]Following Buchanan’s inaction, six other slave-holding Southern states also seceded.
[09:39.50]Today many historians agree James Buchanan was one of the worst American presidents.
[09:47.99]Buchanan had many good personal qualities, and he did not want to harm the country.
[09:55.37]Instead, a common belief is that he did not have the right skills to unite a divided nation.
[10:03.69]His behavior appeared to be guided by conflicting ideas.
[10:08.21]Buchanan said he opposed slavery and supported the Union.
[10:13.01]But he often took actions to protect slavery and help the South.
[10:18.53]Buchanan largely blamed anti-slavery activists and opposition politicians for the problems during his administration.
[10:28.13]But the public did not accept Buchanan’s position.
[10:32.12]He was not respected after he left office, and he did not appear in public very often.
[10:39.09]Instead, the former president withdrew to his home in Pennsylvania until his death in 1868.
[10:52.69]I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.