James Buchanan
Burial Location Visited President Grave #
Lancaster, Pennsylvania July 7, 2005 24th Visited

Historians have consistently
James Buchanan among
worst U.S. presidents, but that
has held no bearing on his final
resting place. Buchanan's grave
at Woodward Hill Cemetery in
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was
well-maintained when my
family visited in July 2005.

Woodward Hill Cemetery is less than three
miles away from Buchanan's estate,
Wheatland, which he owned from 1848
until his death there in 1868. When I
returned to Lancaster to tour Wheatland
in 2013, I also paid my respects to House
Speaker Frederick Muhlenberg, who is
buried a short walk from Buchanan at
Woodward Hill, and Senator Thaddeus
Stevens, interred at Shreiner's Cemetery
elsewhere in the city.

The former president is the sole interment
in the Buchanan burial plot. He never wed
or fathered any children. His niece, Harriet
Lane, served as first lady during his lone
White House term. She was laid to rest
at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore.

A 1950s Louis Marx and Co. Buchanan
figurine made the trip from Rhode Island
to Lancaster to visit its real life counterpart's
grave. My Thomas Jefferson piece from
the same American Presidents in Miniature
set broke the night before, and thus did not
complete its journey to Charlottesville,

* Fast Facts * *

- First Lady: Harriet Rebecca Lane Johnston

  - Spouse: None

- Political Party: Democratic Party

- Term: 1857-1861

- Vice President: John Cabell Breckinridge

- Born: April 23, 1791

- Died: June 1, 1868

- Age: 77

- Cause of Death: Pneumonia

- Last Words: "Oh Lord, God Almighty, as Thou wilt."

- Cemetery: Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
- GPS Coordinates: 40°01'44.5"N 76°18'02.5"W

* Background on James Buchanan * *

* In 1819, years before he became the United States' lone bachelor president, attorney James Buchanan was engaged to Ann Coleman, the daughter of a statesman and wealthy Lancaster County ironmaster. The Coleman family was critical of the match; among other matters, Buchanan was once expelled from Dickinson College, where the father of his betrothed was a trustee. Some people also believed that Buchanan was interested in the young woman only for her inheritance, and his politics-induced inattention to his fiancée did nothing to ease her mind. Nonetheless, their relationship endured until Buchanan, returning from an out of town trip, stopped to visit with a friend's wife. Coleman learned of the excursion and, feeling slighted, broke off their engagement. Amid her acute distress, Coleman's mother suggested that she visit her sister in Philadelphia to "ease her depressed spirits." The twenty-three-year-old abruptly died during her stay, and one of the attending physicians described the episode as "the first instance he ever knew of hysteria producing death." Speculation that Coleman succumbed to an overdose of the opiate laudanum devastated Buchanan, who was prohibited from attending her funeral. He preserved the letters she wrote him for the duration of his life, and he was never again romantically linked with a woman. It was conjectured, though, that Buchanan had a relationship with his housemate of thirteen years, William Rufus DeVane King.

* In a rebuke to their own incumbent president, Democrats in 1856 used the slogan "Anybody but Pierce." It was therefore beyond ironic that the Democratic Party selected James Buchanan as its nominee, for he and Franklin Pierce were of a similar mold. Both men were northerners who believed in the sovereignty of the states and sympathized with the South's goal to preserve the institution of slavery. The strategy worked, and Buchanan won every southern state, in addition to California, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and his home state, Pennsylvania. In his inaugural address, the new president stressed that the Constitution protected states' rights and that the Supreme Court would make the final determination on slavery. At that time, the Court was considering the case of Dred Scott, a black man who sued for his freedom and maintained he could no longer be enslaved because his enslaver had brought him to live in free territory. The justices ruled against Scott 7-2. Chief Justice Roger Taney declared that the framers of the Constitution did not intend for black people to be considered citizens, and thus they did not have the right to sue in court. The Court also ruled that Congress could not prohibit slavery in territories. President Buchanan considered the matter settled.

* Buchanan was willing to defer to the Supreme Court on issues concerning slavery in 1857, but in 1858 he assumed a more active strategy in the Bleeding Kansas saga that started during Pierce's administration. In February, he submitted to Congress a pro-slavery state constitution created in Lecompton, Kansas. The delegates who crafted the document had not allowed the public to vote on ratification, so Congress chose to let Kansans decide for themselves whether or not to adopt it. The territory's citizens went to the ballot box six months later and rejected that proposed constitution, with 1,926 votes in favor, 11,812 opposed. Meanwhile, the United States was enduring an economic depression, and the North and South had different strategies on how to remedy the situation. Influenced by southerners, the president vetoed northern bills that were passed by Congress, which deepened the rift between the regions. The slavery debate grew increasingly tense as the presidential election of 1860 neared, and Buchanan opted not to seek the Democratic nomination. In the wake of the victory of Abraham Lincoln, whose Republican Party sought to restrict slavery's expansion, South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20th. Buchanan, now a lame duck, believed that states had no constitutional right to secede, but also felt the president had no constitutional authority to stop such action. Other southern states soon followed South Carolina's lead and severed ties with the U.S. over the coming weeks. On January 21, 1861, the same day that senators from three southern states withdrew from Congress, the Senate passed a bill to admit Kansas as a free state. Buchanan, who once offered patronage positions in order to get Congressional approval for the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, signed the new anti-slavery document eight days later. When Lincoln assumed the presidency in March, the outgoing Buchanan reportedly remarked to him, “Sir, if you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed.”

Sources Consulted                                                                                                                                                     

Cooper, William. "James Buchanan: Life Before the Presidency." Miller Center. Accessed April 30, 2019. https://millercenter.org/president/buchanan/life-before-the-presidency.

Gienapp, William E. "James Buchanan." In The Reader's Companion to the American Presidency, edited by Alan Brinkley and Davis Dyer, 176-85. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

"James Buchanan (1791-1868)." Dickinson College Archives & Special Collections. 2005. http://archives.dickinson.edu/people/james-buchanan-1791-1868.

"Kansas Constitutions." Kansas Historical Society. Last modified August 2018. https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansas-constitutions/16532.

Klein, Philip Shriver. "James Buchanan and Ann Coleman." Pennsylvania History XXI, no. 1. (1954). 1-20. https://journals.psu.edu/phj/article/viewFile/22321/22090.

Lamb, Brian, and the C-SPAN Staff. Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb?: A Tour of Presidential Gravesites. New York: PublicAffairs, 2000. Reprinted. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003.

"March 4, 1857: Inaugural Address." Miller Center. Accessed May 1, 2019. https://millercenter.org/the- presidency/presidential-speeches/march-4-1857-inaugural-address.

The Presidents. "Taylor to Lincoln (1849-1865)." History Channel, 2005.

Silbey, Joel H. "Franklin Pierce." In The Reader's Companion to the American Presidency, edited by Alan Brinkley and Davis Dyer, 166-75. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents. "A House Divided 1849-1865." History Channel, 2013.

"US Presidents Freemasons." Grand Lodge of Virginia. Accessed July 4, 2019. https://grandlodgeofvirginia.org/us-presidents-freemasons/.

"WHEATLAND (James Buchanan House)." Lancaster Township. Accessed May 1, 2019. http://www.twp.lancaster.pa.us/wheatland-james-buchanan-house.

Website Builder