Magazine article USA TODAY

The President and His First Lady Niece

Magazine article USA TODAY

The President and His First Lady Niece

Article excerpt

The papers of Pres. James Buchanan, who presided in the four years leading up to the Civil War, have been digitized and are available online from the Library of Congress, along with the papers of his niece, Harriet Lane Johnston, who served as First Lady in the White House.

Buchanan was the nation's only president who never married. The Buchanan collection includes approximately 1,600 items dating from 1825-87.

Buchanan's papers include correspondence, notes, drafts of remarks, and other records relating to his career in Congress representing Pennsylvania, as Secretary of State, and as Minister to Great Britain, along with his presidential years. Subjects include politics nationally and in Pennsylvania, sectional disputes in the country before the Civil War, the theory that states could nullify the U.S. Constitution, relations with Mexico, and other issues of the time.

During Buchanan's time as Secretary of State, the U.S. annexed Texas, acquired California, negotiated borders for the Oregon Territory with Britain, and fought the Mexican War. Buchanan served under Pres. James K. Polk, whose papers also are held by the Library and available online.

When Buchanan became president, he was confronted with the question of slavery, the Dred Scott decision from the Supreme Court, and whether popular sovereignty would determine if new states allowed slavery. Near the end of his presidency, southern states began to secede from the Union--just before the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, the first president from the new Republican Party. …

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