James Buchanan cautiously trod the middle ground between opposing sides of the slavery issue, but in the end his relentless hedging caught up with him to lay waste his reputation.
He possessed an instinctive gift for organization as well as superior record-keeping skills developed while helping out on his father's Pennsylvania trading post. After graduating from Dickinson College in 1809, Buchanan became a lawyer and in 1814 was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. In 1820 he moved up to the U.S. House, where he served for 10 years.
Buchanan was appointed minister to Russia in 1831 and went on to draft the first commercial treaty between the two countries. Elected to the Senate in 1834, he served in that body until President James K. Polk appointed him secretary of state in 1845. His notable achievement in that office was the resolution of the Oregon boundary dispute and the Texas annexation.
He lost the presidential nomination to Franklin Pierce in 1854 but was appointed minister to Great Britain.
In 1856, he was nominated for the presidency, and he served as the country's only bachelor president. His adopted niece - Harriet Lane - served as hostess in the White House.
As the slavery crisis intensified, Buchanan froze in place, immobilized by the threat of secession. In the 1860 election, the Democratic party split and each nominated its