Monday, July 5, 2010

Meet President Buchanan

Only one United State President hailed from Pennsylvania. Since President James Buchanan (1791-1868) sometimes is classed as the worst of all incumbents of the office, historically-minded Pennsylvanians often prefer not to pay much attention to him.
Still, many states have not had even ONE President--so let us get to know the one we have. I will be posting more about him later, and then readers can make up their own minds as to where he stands historically.
A lawyer and a graduate of Dickinson College, Buchanan should have been among the best prepared Presidents in our history. In the course of his career he was a member of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate. He also served as U.S. minister (diplomatic representative) to Russia and to Great Britain, and U.S. Secretary of State.
That's quite a resume. But it wasn't enough to enable him to cope with the tragic Civil War which was looming over the nation when he was in the White House. He lived through the whole thing, and most of us can only wonder what he thought about it as it unwound. Perhaps he left letters that only professional historians know about. If I find that to be true, I'll be sure to post about it.
Buchanan's Pennsylvania life was lived in a small area of the south central part of the state. If you are interested, you can visit several Buchanan sites within a reasonably small area.
The first of these is the site of his birthplace, the 18-plus acre Buchanan Birthplace State Park at Cove Gap. This has a small stone pyramid on the site of the future President's natal log cabin, and opportunities for camping and fishing. Nearby Cove Gap State Park is much larger, with cabins, camp grounds, and more extensive recreational opportunities.
(But I don't want to write much about the state parks just now. As I post this their future seems to be on the chopping block for financial reasons. As I learn more about the situation I'll post the information, together with what, if anything, we can do to help.)
To return to the subject of this post, President Buchanan: I am told that the actual log cabin, so conspicuously missing from the site of his birthplace, is on the grounds of Mercersburg Academy, the distinguished preparatory school in nearby Mercersburg.
At the heart of Buchanan's life, though, was his stately home, Wheatland, located at 230 North President Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17603. The handsome Federal-style house is kept up and administered by Lancaster County's Historical Society, online at, and visitors are welcome.
Special events coming up in the next few months include, on Saturday, July 17, from 1 to 3 p.m., A Day In the Life Of Harriet Lane: First Lady and Philanthropist, celebrating Buchanan's gifted niece, who served as his White House hostess; and, on Saturday, August 28 and Saturday, September 11, from1 to 3 p.m. both days, Life Below Stairs: The Servant's Tour, a look at the lives of Wheatland's servants.
For more information on these or other events, call Wheatland at (717) 392-8721; or call Lancaster County's Historical Society at (717) 392-4633.

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