The National Constitution Center’s blog recently featured a concise overview of James Buchanan’s controversial political career:
In his inaugural address, Buchanan called the territorial issue of slavery “happily, a matter of but little practical importance.” He had been tipped off about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, which came shortly after the inauguration. Buchanan supported the theory that states and territories have a right to determine if they would allow slavery. (There were also reports Buchanan may have influenced the court’s ruling.) The Dred Scott decision angered and solidified Buchanan’s Republican opponents, and it drove a wedge into the Democratic Party. The country also went into an economic recession as the Civil War approached.
CBS News Sunday Morning spent some time with a few notable scholars to examine this question.
This month marks the 180th anniversary of Lincoln’s first political defeat. In 1832, at the age of twenty-three, he kicked off his career in politics with a run for the Illinois legislature. The election took place on August 6th. Out of thirteen candidates, Lincoln placed eighth. Only the top four (Edmund D. Taylor, Lincoln’s future senior law partner John T. Stuart, Achilles Morris, and Peter Cartwright) went to the legislature.
The young upstart failed to win office, but he was making a local name for himself; Lincoln received 277 out of 300 votes cast in his own precinct of New Salem. Two years later, he ran again, this time successfully.
The Lincoln-Berry Store at New Salem, IL. By Amos Oliver Doyle, via Wikimedia Commons
The Civil War Sesquicentennial blog of The New York Times has an interesting post on Francis Carpenter and Lincoln. Carpenter stayed at the White House while working on his painting of Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to members of his cabinet. The painting itself got mixed reviews, but Carpenter’s book about the time he spent in the Executive Mansion has been a gold mine for historians.
The Huffington Post has an interesting write-up on some of the prominent Lincoln sites in Springfield, IL. Click here.
Aaron David Miller, in an interesting editorial, identifies five factors that make it difficult for modern presidents to achieve greatness. Noting that most “great” presidents are the ones who held office during periods of crisis, he argues that modern crises have not created opportunities for politicians to shine. America has had its share of tough spots in recent years, “but none that have been inescapable, relentless, and nation-encumbering,” like that faced by Lincoln.
Earlier this month the Chicago Tribune ran a story on Lincoln with some interesting input from prize-winning scholar Michael Burlingame. Burlingame discussed Lincoln as a political campaigner, and also offered some reflections on Lincoln’s attitudes about race and slavery. You can read this piece by clicking here.
Douglas Wilson reflects on Lincoln as a lover and reader of Shakespeare in an interesting piece at The American Scholar, which you can read by clicking here.
IBTimes.com has an interesting article on different generations’ opinions about presidential greatness, and the factors that influence those opinions. Click here to read it.
Illustration by Thomas Nast, from Harper’s Weekly. Nast was a popular cartoonist who is often credited with shaping the modern image of Santa Claus.