sals against France, to enforce the payment of our
claims against that country; and defended the course
of the President in his unprecedented and wholesale
removal from office of those who were not the
supporters of his administration. Upon this question
he was brought into direct collision with Henry Clay.
He also, with voice and vote, advocated expunging from
the journal of the Senate the vote of censure against
Gen. Jackson for removing the deposits. Earnestly he
opposed the abolition of slavery in the District of
Columbia, and urged the prohibition of the circulation
of anti-slavery documents by the United States
As to petitions on the subject of
slavery, he advocated that they should be respectfully
received; and that the reply should be returned, that
Congress had no power to legislate upon the subject.
"Congress," said he, "might as well undertake to
interfere with slavery under a foreign government as
in any of the States where it now exists."
Upon Mr. Polk's accession to the
Presidency, Mr. Buchanan became Secretary of State,
and as such, took his share of the responsibility in
the conduct of the Mexican War. Mr. Polk assumed that
crossing the Nueces by the American troops into the
disputed territory was not wrong, but for the Mexicans
to cross the Rio Grande into that territory was a
declaration of war. No candid man can read with
pleasure the account of the course our Government
pursued in that movement.
Mr. Buchanan identified himself
thoroughly with the party devoted to the perpetuation
and extension of slavery, and brought all the energies
of his mind to bear against the Wilmot Proviso. He
gave his cordial approval to the compromise measures
of 1850, which included the fugitive-slave law. Mr.
Pierce, upon his election to the Presidency, honored
Mr. Buchanan with the mission to England.
In the year 1856, a national
Democratic convention nominated Mr. Buchanan for the
Presidency. The political conflict was one of the most
severe in which our country has ever engaged. All the
friends of slavery were on one side; all the advocates
of its restriction and final abolition, on the other.
Mr. Fremont, the candidate of the enemies of slavery,
received 114 electoral votes. Mr. Buchanan received
174, and was elected. The popular vote stood
1,340,618, for Fremont, 1,224,750 for Buchanan. On
March 4th, 1857, Mr. Buchanan was inaugurated.
Mr. Buchanan was far advanced in
life. Only four years were wanting to fill up his
three-score years and ten. His own friends, those with
whom he had been allied in political principles and
action for years, were seeking the destruction of the
Government, that they might rear upon the ruins of our
free institutions a nation whose corner-stone should
be human slavery. In this emergency, Mr. Buchanan was
hopelessly bewildered. He could not, with his
long-avowed principles, consistently oppose the
State-rights party in their assumptions. As President
of the United States, bound by his oath faithfully to
administer the laws, he could not, without perjury of
the grossest kind, unite with those endeavoring to
overthrow the republic. He therefore did nothing.
The opponents of Mr. Buchanan's
administration nominated Abraham Lincoln as their
standard bearer in the next Presidential canvass. The
pro-slavery party declared, that if he were elected,
and the control of the Government were thus taken from
their hands, they would secede from the Union, taking
with them, as they retired, the National Capitol at
Washington and the lion's share of the territory of
the United States.
Mr. Buchanan's sympathy with the
pro-slavery party was such, that he had been willing
to offer them far more than they had ventured to
claim. All the South had professed to ask of the North
was nonintervention upon the subject of slavery. Mr.
Buchanan had been ready to offer them the active
cooperation of the Government to defend and extend the
As the storm increased in violence,
the slaveholders claiming the right to secede, and Mr.
Buchanan avowing that Congress had no power to prevent
it, one of the most pitiable exhibitions of
governmental imbecility was exhibited the world has
ever seen. He declared that Congress had no power to
enforce its laws in any State which had withdrawn, or
which was attempting to withdraw from the Union. This
was not the doctrine of Andrew Jackson, when, with his
hand upon his sword-hilt, he exclaimed, "The Union
must and shall be preserved!"
South Carolina seceded in December,
1860; nearly three months before the inauguration of
President Lincoln. Mr. Buchanan looked on in listless
despair. The rebel flag was raised in Charleston; Fort
Sumpter was besieged; our forts, navy-yards and
arsenals were seized; our depots of military stores
were plundered; and our custom-houses and post-offices
were appropriated by the rebels.
The energy of the rebels, and the
imbecility of our Executive, were alike marvelous. The
Nation looked on in agony, waiting for the slow weeks
to glide away, and close the administration, so
terrible in its weakness. At length the
long-looked-for hour of deliverance came, when Abraham
Lincoln was to receive the scepter.
The administration of President
Buchanan was certainly the most calamitous our country
has experienced. His best friends cannot recall it
with pleasure. And still more deplorable it is for his
fame, that in that dreadful conflict which rolled its
billows of flame and blood over our whole land, no
word came from his lips to indicate his wish that our
country's banner should triumph over the flag of the
rebellion. He died at his Wheatland retreat, June 1,