Bungled presidencies in run-up to Civil War: Lessons for today
suitable for others than desirable for myself."
A Democrat from Pennsylvania, Buchanan, on the other hand, noted that slavery was "happily, a matter of but little practical importance." He saw no issue in permitting "the slave States ... to be let alone and permitted to manage their domestic institutions in their own way. As sovereign States, they, and they alone, are responsible before God and the world for the slavery existing among them."
The nation was rocked by a major financial downturn in Buchanan's term, as well as a foolish presidential decision to send troops to fight the Mormons in Utah, who were struggling to find a home but were controversial because of their religious beliefs, including polygamy. Little wonder that the 1857-1858 military endeavor was dubbed "Buchanan's Blunder."
To be sure, Congress fiddled with legislation to deal with violence and division within and among the states, but Buchanan saw the presidency as largely ceremonial. "It is beyond the power of any president, no matter what may be his own political proclivities, to restore peace and harmony among the states. Wisely limited and restrained as is his power under our Constitution and laws, he alone can accomplish but little for good or for evil on such a momentous question."
And talk about gloom and doom. When the South began to secede after Lincoln's election, Buchanan wrote: "I am the last President of the United States." And he was wrong again when he indicated just before his death in 1868: "History will vindicate my memory from every unjust aspersion."
But there are some endearing moments in this era of division. When, at midcentury, a constitutional convention was held in California, some 48 delegates assembled, eight of whom were Mexican. "As a result of their influence," we write in our textbook, "the new constitution was the first in the nation to allow a married woman to retain control over her own property. That had been the law in Mexican California. More important, for its impact on the nation, was the delegates' unanimous decision to exclude slavery from California,"