America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink

By Kenneth M. Stampp | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The President, the Chief Justice, and a Slave Named Scott

Unfortunately, Buchanan's White House entourage and official advisers included no diarists to record, day by day, his domestic life, personal relationships, and shifting moods, or to discuss and interpret the formal business transacted at Cabinet meetings, his conferences with individual department heads, and the complex manner in which policies evolved during his presidential years. The voluminous correspondence of the President and some of those close to him, notably Black and Cobb, the facts and rumors served up by friendly and unfriendly reporters, and the recollections, more or less reliable, of his associates tell us much about life behind the White House doors. But there are gaps at crucial times -- occasions when an instinctively reticent President seemed determined to deny his countrymen, then and forever, access to the inner workings of his administration. Secrecy soon begot suspicion that there were things Buchanan feared to have known about its purposes and about who was in control. With this advantage, Republicans found it politically useful to accuse him of weakly abdicating his authority to a prosouthern Cabinet clique and of becoming a willing tool of the Slave Power. Eventually their highly partisan accusation hardened into a durable tradition that has affected Buchanan's historical reputation ever since. Considering its durability, the tradition was based on a remarkably insubstantial foundation.

During the difficult weeks immediately following the inauguration, while heavily burdened with both domestic and administrative problems, Buchanan continued to endure the misery of the National Hotel disease. Recovery finally came in mid-April, but his nephew, Elliott Eskridge Lane, Harriet's elder brother,

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