September 17, 2009

Book Review: James Buchanan and the Political Crisis of the 1850’s Part Two

James Buchanan and the Political Crisis of the 1850's Book Review
In his piece “Dough in the Hands of the Doughface? James Buchanan and the Untamable Press”, Mark Summers describes to us the importance of the political organ (a party newspaper), and Buchanan’s mishandling of the press. From the advent of the printing press and well on in to the twenty-first century, the press and politics were and are forever joined at the hip. By the 1850’s, as Mark Summers writes, “ …no party could have done with out a press establishment of its own…So great was the demand for dailies that every major city had at least three.” (68)  Summers goes on to write, “No lie was too gross, no abuse too coarse for the partisan editor, but, then, his main purpose was not to gather and judge the news of the day, but to further the party.” (69) We can clearly see that it was important for ‘Old Buck’ to have
support among the editors of the democratic rags of the day. Sadly with his mishandling of several key appointments, exacerbation of party infighting and turning a blind eye to corruption, Buchanan was able to kill the party organs and his political career.

Buchanan was an old school Jacksonian democrat who had spent forty years in the trenches of congress. In order to do this you had to first be good moderator, as well as have some close friends in the press, and John Forney was his very best. Forney was the editor of the wildly popular or the Philadelphia Pennsylvanian, and during the campaign of 1856 had put up 42,000 dollars of his own money to print pamphlets for “glorious old Buck,” almost assuring him the Keystone state. After the election Buchanan had to make room for Forney somewhere in government, no one spends that amount of money and doesn’t get a ride on the coattails; however, after many failed attempts Buchanan gave Forney the boot. Since Forney couldn’t get into the administration he took to the media again and established the Philadelphia Press. And after the Lecompton debacle Forney took Douglas’ side, Mark Summers goes on to say that, “The former intimacy of the two men gave the Press attacks special force. So did Forney’s freedom from patronage.”   (81)  Out of these attacks, Forney established a president for other party organs to begin not only attacking the administration but support Douglas in his bid for the nomination in 1860.

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