April 23 marks the birthday of James Buchanan, the man regarded by many historians as one of the worst—if not the worst—presidents of all time. So what did Buchanan do to earn the disrespect of so many people?
Today, most people know Buchanan for three things: He was single for his entire presidency; he’s the only president from Pennsylvania; and he was the president before Abraham Lincoln.
It’s that final point that has been the lasting part of the Buchanan presidency, with his apparent indifference to the onset of the Civil War, that has riled up so many academics.
Of course, Lincoln was a hard act to precede or follow: Lincoln’s successor Andrew Johnson is usually cast as Buchanan’s biggest rival for the title of worst president (along with the scandal-plagued Warren Harding from the early 1920s).
Buchanan came to the presidency under somewhat traditional but trying circumstances.
He was a five-time member of the House of Representatives, the secretary of state under President James Polk, and the U.S. minister to Great Britain.