Robert Strauss’ book, Worst. President. Ever. James Buchanan, the POTUS Rating Game, and the Legacy of the Least of the Lesser Presidents, is a different biography than any of the other presidential biographies I have read as I work to read a biography of each U.S. president. James Buchanan was president from 1857 to 1861. While Worst. President. Ever. tells the story of Buchanan’s life and presidency it also makes a very strong case for what an awful president he was. As Strauss said in a tweet in 2018:
“I know people don’t like Trump, but let’s face it, secession, Dred Scott, the worst depression of the 19th Century, invading more countries than any other president…and more. Buchanan is so clearly the winner (loser)”@rsstrauss
The Dred Scott supreme court decision came out right after Buchanan was inaugurated. He arm twisted and lobbied for the wide ranging decision which basically said once a slave always a slave no matter where the slave lived. Buchanan was so clueless and out of touch with the country that he thought the decision would end the fight about slavery forever and the country could move on. The Dred Scott decision did just the opposite.
Buchanan named a cabinet that was like minded and primarily southerners and southern sympathizers. His secretary of the treasury, Howell Cobb had once owned a thousand slaves on his Georgia plantation. The cabinet were congenial. There was no one who could tell Buchanan when he was wrong.
Duke and I visited Paraguay in October of 2019. It is a land locked country between Brazil and Argentina. Even though I’ve been to Paraguay I had no idea that in 1859 the United States invaded Paraguay! Buchanan sent 2,500 marines and nineteen warships. It took a long time to get to South America and up the Parana River to Asuncion, the capital. By the time they got there the squabble was over.
At least I’ve heard of the other war Buchanan tried to get the U.S. into. The pig war started when a farmer shot a pig that belonged to the Canadian Hudson Bay Company. Buchanan sent General Winfield Scott, Captain George Pickett, troops and warships to the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the Canadian border in northwest Washington state. Luckily Scott negotiated a truce.
The book explains how Buchanan and his policies ensured that he presided over what became the worst depression in the 19th century and how he made sure that he not only did nothing to avoid the civil war but in fact insured that the southern states seceded. A final legacy of Buchanan’s disastrous presidency was essentially the destruction of the Democratic party. In the fifty years after he left office there was only one democratic president, Grover Cleveland.
In his last chapter, The Legacy of the Least of the Lesser Presidents, Strauss points out that we can learn a lot about how to be a better president by studying failures like Buchanan and his presidency.
Worst. President. Ever. was thought provoking and interesting. I learned a lot from it and would recommend it to anyone interested in American history and the American presidency.