America’s First Bachelor President
The 15th U.S. president, James Buchanan, was the only president to never marry. Born in Pennsylvania, President Buchanan held various political positions in Congress before being elected to the presidency, including senator, secretary of state, and minister to the court of St. James.
Like his presidential predecessor Franklin Pierce, the Northern-born Buchanan was known as a “Doughface,” or a Southern sympathizer. During his presidency, he alienated both Northerners and Southerners because of his inability to give each side what it truly wanted.
A Lawyer and a Freemason
Buchanan, who grew up in Pennsylvania, studied law after his general studies were over, and in 1812 he passed the bar.
During this time, Buchanan became involved with his local Freemason organization. He was named master of the Lancaster Masonic Lodge No. 43 and also district grand master of the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge.
James Buchanan’s Pets
- Pair of bald eagles
- Punch, a toy terrier
- Lara, a Newfoundland
MORE PETS! Check out our photo gallery of selected White House pets
A Disastrous Presidency
Buchanan’s political career began when he was elected into the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. During his early political career, he was a member of the Federalist Party, but once the Federalists disbanded, he positioned himself with the Democratic Party and went on to serve in the U.S. Senate.
He resigned from the Senate in 1845 and was subsequently nominated as secretary of state by President James K. Polk. To this day, he is the only president who has served as secretary of state.
He also promised to submit to the Supreme Court’s decision on the western territories slavery issue that had been plaguing the administration during Pierce’s presidency. In fact, the Supreme Court statement on the matter — the Dred Scott decision — simply said Congress could not deny slavery rights to the western territories.
Buchanan’s role in the matter, both during and after the announcement, led many people to denounce him, including future President Abraham Lincoln. While Buchanan may have been viewed as a “doughface,” the Southern states also felt alienated by him and formally announced their declaration of secession.
The economy also fell into a depression during Buchanan’s presidency, which it eventually recovered from. But when he left office, the federal deficit had grown to $17 million as a result.
Did You Know…?
- James Buchanan was an original participant of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. However, after an archery accident, he was unable to make the trip and Sacagawea was chosen to attend in his place.
- While he claimed to hold more moderate views on the slavery issue, Buchanan also saw no wrongs with the slave industry as a whole — and he publicly stated that he believed slaves were treated in a respectful and humane manner.
- Because Buchanan was unmarried, his niece Harriet Lane took on the role of first lady, which included hosting duties and attending political events on his behalf.