Title

"James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War" with John Quist and Michael Birkner

Document Type

Audio

Publication Date

6-2-2013

Department

History

Abstract

As James Buchanan took office in 1857, the United States found itself at a crossroads. Dissolution of the Union had been averted and the Democratic Party maintained control of the federal government, but the nation watched to see if Pennsylvania's first president could make good on his promise to calm sectional tensions. Despite Buchanan's central role in a crucial hour in U.S. history, few presidents have been more ignored by historians. In assembling the essays for this volume, Michael Birkner and John Quist have asked leading scholars to reconsider whether Buchanan’s failures stemmed from his own mistakes or from circumstances that no president could have overcome.

Buchanan's dealings with Utah shed light on his handling of the secession crisis. His approach to Dred Scott reinforces the image of a president whose doughface views were less a matter of hypocrisy than a thorough identification with southern interests. Essays on the secession crisis provide fodder for debate about the strengths and limitations of presidential authority in an existential moment for the young nation. Although the essays in this collection offer widely differing interpretations of Buchanan's presidency, they all grapple honestly with the complexities of the issues faced by the man who sat in the White House prior to the towering figure of Lincoln, and contribute to a deeper understanding of a turbulent and formative era.

John Quist is professor of history at Shippensburg University and author of Restless Visionaries. Michael Birkner is Franklin Professor of Liberal Arts and professor of history at Gettysburg College and editor of James Buchanan and the Political Crisis of the 1850s.

Comments

This piece originally aired on PA Books on PCN, the Pennsylvania Cable Network. PA Books features authors of books about Pennsylvania-related topics. These hour-long conversations allow authors to discuss both their subject matter and inspiration behind the books.