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Provides scholars with a fresh and thoughtful examination of the first administration that had to deal with Southern secession.Jonathan M. Atkins, author of Parties, Politics, and the Sectional Conflict in Tennessee, 18321861
In 1856, the violence that swept Bleeding Kansas and the brutal beating of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate reflected the anger and mistrust of a people divided over slavery. Whispers of disunion now became audible. In the midst of this rising crisis, Americans chose James Buchanan to provide the leadership that might calm sectional tensions and prevent the shattering of the nation. In the opinion of many scholars, Buchanan failed to meet the challenge, and his presidency ended in secession and ultimately civil war.
John W. Quist and Michael J. Birkner have assembled a collection of essays by leading historians who reexamine and challenge that conventional wisdom. This collection revisits standard questions such as Buchanans meddling in the Dred Scott case, his role in pressing for Kansas statehood, and his desperate efforts to save the Union in the secession winter of 18601861. The authors also freshly examine his conduct of foreign affairs, impetuous dealings with the Mormons, and troubled leadership of a splintering Democratic Party.
Several essays reveal that Buchanans governance was more complex and, in some respects, more successful than traditionally believed. Others depict him in less-than-flattering terms. Regardless, the authors offer an opportunity to reconsider a president at the vortex of events in a crucial hour of U.S. history. The volume explores the reasons the Pennsylvanian, who followed a course generally sympathetic to the South, found himself abandoned by his old allies and steadied by staunch unionists at the end of his term.
Taken together with the contributions of two distinguished scholars in antebellum political history, the essays in James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War provide a deeper, more nuanced understanding of a flawed president during his turbulent and consequential term in the White House.