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James Buchanan by Jean H. Baker
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I picked up this book at the bookstore last week because I had just finished the section in McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom that dealt with the time during Buchanan’s presidency and I wanted to know more about the man. Although I did learn more about his life and his career before he became president I found this biography not to be as helpful as I had hoped it would.

No one is going to dispute that Buchanan was one of the worst—maybe even the worst—president we have had. However, Baker wrote her work as if she were afraid he might rise again and run for public office and she wanted to be very sure that no one would vote for him. Often her language bordered on vitriolic. Sometimes even in areas where he is acknowledged to have been somewhat successful she managed to convey the feeling that it was not because of his ability but either because he was well advised or someone else was incompetent and made him look good. Her descriptions of him would also change according to the point she was trying to make. Before he became president she described him as being indecisive, unable to make up his mind, and relying on others to guide him, especially if he did something right. Later she describes him as “…a strong president intent on having his own way, surrounded by advisers who agreed with him.” It seems if things went well it is because he followed good advice and when things went badly it’s because he wouldn’t take advice. Perhaps that is true. But he had a reputation as a competent office holder for many years before his debacle as president. He must have had some redeeming traits. If McCullough, in his biography of John Adams, errs on the side of being too fond of him, at least he has no hesitation in pointing out his flaws and his mistakes. Baker errs on the side of so detesting Buchanan that she can find nothing about him that she can praise.

I would recommend if you want a more balanced view of Buchanan read what McPherson says in Battle Cry of Freedom. ( )
  MusicMom41 | Apr 23, 2009 |
A nicely turned biography of one of the first presidents to use "presidential" or "executive" privilege before the term was coined. Baker makes the story of an experienced politician who craved the office and who, once he was elected, nearly allowed two countries to emerge because he would not or could not see what was happening around him. An excellent introduction to this president; ( )
  Prop2gether | Feb 16, 2009 |
James Buchanan by Jean Baker is a concise overview of the former presidents life before, during and after his time in office. Knowing that he is not the most electrifying topic, I thought Prof. Baker wrote with and a clear and economic style of prose, which made it quite easy to read and comprehend, she hits many of the low and high notes of his life, and at 192 pages you can't go wrong! If one does not want to wade through larger biographies of our 15th president, I suggest this title as a nice substitute. ( )
  Schneider | Nov 6, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805069461, Hardcover)

A provocative reconsideration of a presidency on the brink of Civil War

Almost no president was as well trained and well prepared for the office as James Buchanan. He had served in the Pennsylvania state legislature, the U.S. House, and the U.S. Senate; he was Secretary of State and was even offered a seat on the Supreme Court. And yet, by every measure except his own, James Buchanan was a miserable failure as president, leaving office in disgrace. Virtually all of his intentions were thwarted by his own inability to compromise: he had been unable to resolve issues of slavery, caused his party to split-thereby ensuring the election of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln-and made the Civil War all but inevitable.

Historian Jean H. Baker explains that we have rightly placed Buchanan at the end of the presidential rankings, but his poor presidency should not be an excuse to forget him. To study Buchanan is to consider the implications of weak leadership in a time of national crisis. Elegantly written, Baker's volume offers a balanced look at a crucial moment in our nation's history and explores a man who, when given the opportunity, failed to rise to the challenge.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:00 -0400)

A look at the presidency of James Buchanan, whose administration paved the way for the onslaught of the Civil War, details his failures as a president, including his lack of compromise and his weak leadership in a time of national crisis.

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