September 18, 2009

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

James Buchanan and the Political Crisis of the 1850's Part Three

Even though he made a lot of mistakes, being the policy hawk and compromiser that he was, some of his actions are rewritten as mistakes even though at the time they were not.  Take for instance the case of William Walker, the filibuster as Robert E. May did in his piece “James Buchanan and the Neutrality Laws.” Many have thought that Buchanan supported Walker in his attempts to takeover Nicaragua, by not charging Walker and relieving the arresting commander Paulding of his duties.  First, Buchanan did not charge Walker out of his strict comprehension of the constitution and “international law and historical president rather than from blighted hopes for walkers success.” He relived Paulding, because....
during the Polk administration there was a limit set to the time that a person could command of a ship, and thus let him go because he was at his limit, not because he was upset with him.

Even if some of his decision were not mistakes, Buchanan’s style of governing leaves something to be desired. This point is made clear in William E. Gienapp’s “No Bed of Roses”, with his comparison between Lincoln’s firm handling of his cabinet and Buchanan’s appeasement of his own. What Geinapp wants to drive home here is that, a skilled politician in the white house does not always produce the best president. This is clear in Buchanan’s pick for Secretary of State with Lewis Cass, who at the age of seventy five and “verging on senility…was selected primarily because he posed no threat to any ambitious party leader, either inside or outside the administration.” Buchanan surrounded himself with pro-southern yes men and doughface northerners while consciously excluding dissenting opinions from his party. Lincoln on the other hand combined all the views of his party and, as Gienapp writes, “never felt bound by the prevailing opinion in the cabinet. In the first meeting a majority of the cabinet voted to abandon Fort Sumter, yet Lincoln reversed judgment.”   In doing so, he was able to out flank radicals within his party along with democrats. And as Geinapp stated, “Few presidents have done more in four years to bring the opposing party to power.” As we will discuss latter, a more recent president will be among those few.

No comments: