5 Ex-Presidents Had Roles to Play; Some Supported Union, Some Did Not

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 18, 2006 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

5 Ex-Presidents Had Roles to Play; Some Supported Union, Some Did Not


Most Americans rightfully associate the Civil War with one U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln.

His monumental role in that conflict preserved the Union and set the stage for the United States to become a world power in the 20th century. However, few recall that there were five living ex-presidents at the outbreak of war in 1861. They were Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.

It is worth noting their contributions to the Union at its time of greatest peril, which ranged from loyal support to outright treason. Max J. Skidmore and William A. DeGregorio help shed some light on this subject in their books "After The White House: Former Presidents as Private Citizens" and "The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents."

The elder of this group, Martin Van Buren, was nearly 80 years old at the beginning of the war. Serving as president from 1837 to 1841, this native New Yorker and protege of Andrew Jackson spent his initial retirement years pursuing farming, traveling, and dabbling in state and national politics.

Van Buren did not support Lincoln in the 1860 election, opting instead for fellow Democrat Stephen Douglas. However, after South Carolina's secession, he declared the Constitution a "perpetual and irrevocable contract" and wholeheartedly supported Lincoln and the Union cause.

He even went so far as to rally New York Democrats to support the new Republican president. However, Van Buren did not live to see the end of the war, passing away in July 1862.

John Tyler, president from 1841 to 1845, pursued a different course in the Civil War era. This Virginian spent his entire public career supporting slavery and states' rights, and gradually alienated himself from all major political parties because of his famous independent streak.

However, Tyler was no "fire-eating" secessionist, and consequently spent the months prior to the war attempting to negotiate a settlement. He chaired a multi-state peace conference in 1861, which passed a series of resolutions meant to prevent war while maintaining slavery. But when Lincoln refused to accept these proposals, Tyler threw up his hands in disgust and openly aligned with the Confederacy.

He served in the Provisional Confederate Congress and was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives in late 1861. However, he died before he could take his seat in 1862. For these actions, Tyler was branded a traitor in the North and is remembered in part as the only American president to support an enemy of the United States. It was not until 1915 that Congress authorized a memorial at his gravesite.

The remaining three ex-presidents lived through the entire Civil War and were known collectively as "doughfaces," or Northerners with Southern principles.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

5 Ex-Presidents Had Roles to Play; Some Supported Union, Some Did Not


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?