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James Buchanan (1791)close

James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States (1857-1861), was born in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. After graduating from college, he established a successful law practice.

The wealthy and conservative Buchanan spent forty years in public service, as a congressman, senator, Minister to Russia under President Jackson, Secretary of State under President Polk, and Minster to England under President Pierce. As President, Buchanan lacked the energy and decisiveness that was required to lead a country torn by the issue of slavery. After the Dred Scott decision of 1857, a storm of protest erupted against the Supreme Court and the Buchanan administration. As southern states began to separate from the Union, Buchanan maintained that these slave states had no legal right to secede; yet he felt that the government had no right to intervene in the states' rebellion.

After leaving office in 1861, Buchanan retired to his family home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he died in 1868.

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