FIFTEEN

James Buchanan
1857-61

When James Buchanan ( 1791-1868) was minister to England, the State Department issued a circular instructing American officials abroad to perform their duties "in the simple dress of an American citizen" and to avoid ribbons, jewels, and gold lace. This put Buchanan on the spot. British officials advised him that if he did not wear the customary ceremonial dress he would be denied admittance to court balls and dinners and to the opening of Parliament. Buchanan tried to think of alternative garb: a military uniform like George Washington's or a plain blue coat with gold buttons embossed with the American eagle. Not having made up his mind what to wear by the time Parliament convened, he skipped the opening session. For this he was denounced by the British press for his "Republican ill manners" and for "American Puppyism." After much thought he finally hit upon a solution: he would simply carry a plain blackhilted dress sword when he appeared at Court. This did the trick. "As I approached the Queen," he reported with satisfaction, "an arch but benevolent smile lit up her countenance -- as much as to say, you are the first man who ever appeared before me at Court in such a dress. I must confess that I never felt more proud of being an American." 1

Buchanan was a gentleman of the old school. Distinguished-looking, faultlessly attired, and courtly-mannered, he looked, it was said, like a British nobleman of an earlier generation. An eye defect forced him to tilt his head slightly forward and sideways when engaged

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Presidential Anecdotes
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