JAMES BUCHANAN:ADVOCATE IN CONGRESS, CABINET,
JOHN A. CAMPBELL, JR.
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
UNIVERs '"^ OF FL ORIDA
John A. Campbell, Jr.
The writer gratefully acknowledges the assistance given him
in the preparation of this dissertation by the members of his
Superviso2:y Committee, Professors William E. Baxinger, Herbert J.
Doherty, C. Franklin Karns, and Leland L. Zimmerman, and especially
to the Chairman of the Committee, Professor Donald E. Williams.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. INTRODUCTION 1
II. JMES BUCHANAN: A RHETORICAL PORTRAIT 18
III. APPLICATION OF THE "LOWNDES FORMULA" IN HOUSE DEBATE . . 52
rV. A JACKSONIAN "ADVOCATE" AMIDST SENATE PARTY BATTLES . . 95
V. BETWEEN JAMES POLK AND JOHN BULL, A VOICEOF COMPROMISE 122
VI. THE RHETORICAL STRATEGY OP PRESERVING PEACE 154
VII. CONCLUSIONS . .'
A recent biographer of James Buchanan remarks that his many
talents might have won him an honored place among the greater presi-
dents had he served during a less turbulent era. His abilities
were evidently recognized by many of his contemporaries, however,
since his state and country called on him repeatedly to render public
service. Buchanan served in so many important posts before reaching
the White House, posts of wide ranging scope and complexity, that
possibly it could be argued that no man ever came to the Presidency
better qualified for the job in terms of len^h, breadth, and quality
of experience. Inevitably, such a combination of experience and ability
at work in American political life involves the art of public speaking.
The purpose of this dissertation is to describe, analyze, and evalu-
ate the public speaking of James Buchanan throughout his len^hy
political career. This chapter sets forth the specific purposes of
the work and methods of criticism to be employed in the study. Becaiise
of the subject's controversial reputation, however, it will first
be necessary to examine the conflicting schools of historians who
have sought to appraise Buchanan since the Civil War.
Philip S. Klein, President James Buchanan (University Park,Pa., 1962), p. 429.
The Verdict of History
James Buchaxian served his state and nation for forty years
but historians have chosen to judge him on his record during the
last one hundred and fifty days of his presidency. Twenty years
in Congress, five years abroad in ambassadorial positions, and
four years as premier of Polk's Cabinet, all public years involving
many significant events, are overshadowed by the crucial few months
between Lincoln's election and inauguration. It was diiring this
relatively short period that the seeds of secession sprouted, con-
fronting Buchanan and his administration with several alternatives.
Coercion, disunion, postponement were among the courses open to those
at the helm in I86O-I86I. The wisdom of the tack Buchanan took has
been debated for a century. Historians have judged Buchanan accord-
ing to his action during this period seemingly on the assumption
that he alone could alter the course of human events.
A colorful variety of opinions have been offered. Aucham-
paugh says Buchanan has been wrongly "hailed as the Arnold of the
2Sixties," while Klein felt "a quieter era might have gained for
5him a place among the great presidents of his country." Henry
Cabot Lodge said that Buchanan, although not a traitor, did,
"throiogh sheer weakness and helplessness, the things that a traitor
would have done." Amid these conflicting judgments, there appears
to be a division of historians into three distinct categories.
rhilip G. Auchampaugh, James Buchanan and His Cabinet(Lancaster, Pa., 1926), p. 5.
3Klein, Buchanan, p. 429
Consrressional Record , Vol, 56, part 8, 7878
First, many nineteenth century post-bellum historians fall into the
class of Northern "detractors." Revisionists sympathetic to Buchanan
began to appear in the 1880' s. More recently, historians plead for
dispassionate re-examination of Buchanan's role in the crisis of the
As many Southerners feared, "to the South' s overflowing cup
would be added the bitter taste of having the history of the war
5written by Northerners for at least fifty years." The names of
James Schouler, Herman E. von Hoist, and James . Burgess are among
those northern writers who grew up during the dispute over slavery,
inherited the Northern point of view toward that institution, and
;vrote the history of the fifties and sixties from an anti-Buchanan
bias. These men, more literary than historical, less scientific
than passionate, chose to dwell upon Buchanan's weaknesses rather
than his strengths. All nationalists, they accepted Seward's thesis
of the "inevitable conflict" and indicted Buchanan for not taking
forthright military action against the . seceding states. These
"prosecuting historians" wrote as though individual men could in-
fluence the march of history especially during "sublime episodes of
political and military strife." Most Northern detractors found
Buchanan's December Jrd, I860, Address to Congress an inexcusable
and cowardly pronouncement of ineptness and indecisiveness.
James Schouler, author of an exhaustive series of works on
American history, not only thought the December 52^
of cowardice and a "renunciation of responsibility," but also said
it encouraged disunion because Buchanan's loyalty to the Union was
expressed in the form of an apology. These conclusions were prompted
by Schouler's strong personal conviction that slavery was "both
wasteful and unrighteous."
Another historian with a strong anti-slavery bias was Herman
E. von Hoist. Von Hoist agreed with Buchanan that there were Con-
stitutional limitations upon executive power to maintain the Union
but condemned the President for not inspiring "the people with a
qwill to take the bull by the horns at this stage of the secession."
Buchanan did not provide leadership, von Hoist continued, and there-
fore "it came to pass that the years of the republic's highest moral
energy were preceded by those months of deepest darkness, during
which it seemed as if the people... had fallen into a condition of
10the most wretched impotence." These passages reveal von Hoist's
nonobjective approach to Buchanan and exemplify the "great man"
11premise common among nineteenth century post-bellum writers.
Another Northern detractor was James Ford Rhodes. Rhodes
was less attached to the view that a single man may chart the course
of history but was still representative of the Northern nationalist
"^James Schouler, A History of the United States Under the
Constitution , (New York, 1880-89), V, 427-
Klingberg, p. 459.
"von Hoist, as cited in Klingberg, p. 459.
11Klingberg, p. 457.
school of \vriters subscribing to the "irrepressible conriicL" idoa
and critical of Buchanan's personal weaknesses. Buchanan alone
could not have averted the secession crisis as Jackson had done with
the niillification emergency in 18^2; the crisis of I86O-6I was far
greater than that facing Jackson, but its very greatness provided
an opportunity for glory. Such an opportunity, contended Ehodes,
was wasted on Buchanan, a man lacking innate qualities of greatness.
More sympathetic toward Buchanan than Schouler and von Hoist, his
overall evaluation was nonetheless critical:
Those of us who hold to the idea of the irrepressible conflictcan see in such a project [one of Buchanan's compromise proposals]no more than the delay of a war that was inevitable, a postpone-ment proper indeed, if the compromise were not dishonorable
for the stars in their courses were fighting on the side of theNorth. Yet the weight of probability tends to the view thatthe day of compromise was past , and that the collision of senti-ment shaping the ends of the North and the South, had now broughtthem both to the last resort of earnest men.''^
Ehodes, writing e^ post fact
, expected Buchanan to see as clearly
as he that all "last resorts" had been expended.
Nicolay and Hay also thought Buchanan had "served a lost
cause" and led the nation through "a certain process of national
suicide." Burgess conceded that Buchanan had been a man "of
fair judgment and pure patriotism" as a younger man but thought
14.that by I860 he had become "old, timid, and ineffectual."
The position of Northern detractors regarding Buchanan as
12James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States from the
Compromise of 1850 (New York, 1892-1906), III, 1 $5-1 36.
13John G. Nicolay and JohnoHay, Abraham Lincoln: A History
(New York, 1917), II , 381.
14-John U. Burgess, The Civil War and the Constitution, 1859-1865
(New York, 19OI), p. 85.
expressed by representative historians in the class such as Schoxiler,