BUCHANAN AND HIS CABINET
WHENEVER there shall be written a complete and authoritative anatomy of ineptitude, its central chapter will concern itself with the life and public services of James Buchanan. He was President from March 4th, 1857 to March 4th, 1861. His portrait affords the reader of character a study in kindly weakness and of vague vacillation. His administration was the greatest failure of any before or since his time, and we have had several both before and since whose blunders were impressive. What South Carolina needed on December 20th, 1860, was the kind of advice she received from the President of the United States on the 11th of December, 1832! But Buchanan was constitutionally weak In the greatest crisis of America he quavered and failed!
In the whole history of impotence there is nothing more relaxed than his message to Congress on December 4th, 1860, denying the right of secession, but fearing to oppose it. The best picture of that low-water mark of statesmanship was drawn by Seward when he said it showed "conclusively that it is the duty of the President to execute the laws--unless somebody opposes him; and that no state has a right to go out of the Union--unless it wants to."1
Eight days after Andrew Johnson made his great speech against secession, commissioners from South Carolina held two conferences with Buchanan. They were angered because Major Anderson had dismantled Moultrie and had removed his garrison to the more defensible position of Fort Sumter. They said they thought that the President had given a pledge against that course, and told Buchanan bluntly to his face that he had broken his word. Here was Buchanan's answer: "You are pressing me too importunately; you don't give me time to consider; you don't give me time to say my prayers; I always say my prayers when required