|Interment Location||Visited||Sequence in Graves I Have Visited|
|Lancaster, PA||July 7, 2005||24th President visited|
““My dear sir,” outgoing president James Buchanan reportedly told Abraham Lincoln on the carriage ride to his inauguration, “if you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed.” Few were sad to see Buchanan return to his aforementioned Pennsylvania home, far from the seat of executive power. The Democrat’s conservative interpretation of the Constitution, his constrained view of the presidency, and his acquiescence to slaveholders were an ill fit for a moment in which sectional differences put the United States in critical condition. The erstwhile commander-in-chief released a memoir in 1866 in an attempt to bolster his reputation and place the entirety of the blame for the Civil War that followed his administration onto his contemporaries. Most evaluations have not borne out the perspective he put forth. One of my contacts, Heather Rogers of Project POTUS Pages, writes in her blog post “6 speedy facts about 6 Jameses” that Buchanan was “[d]efinitely the worst James of the batch.” Many scholars would assuredly agree with Rogers’ assessment — Buchanan has scored the lowest of all presidents in each C-SPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership since its inception in 2000.
Buchanan’s post-presidency lasted just over seven years before death came for him on the morning of June 1, 1868, as he lay in his bed at Wheatland. His marble memorial in Lancaster’s Woodward Hill Cemetery is a short walk from the gravesite of the U.S. House of Representatives’ first speaker, Frederick Muhlenberg.
Old Buck is alone in his plot at Woodward Hill. His parents, James and Elizabeth, are buried 97 miles west in Franklin County. His White House hostess, niece Harriet Lane, rests in Baltimore. Buchanan had no children, nor was he ever married. Both during and after his lifetime, some people have speculated that the 15th president was gay and that he had a relationship with fellow politician William Rufus DeVane King. Historian Thomas J. Balcerski analyzes their close ties in his 2019 book, Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan & William Rufus King.
As I did during my revisit to the graves of John and John Quincy Adams in 2004, I brought Buchanan’s 1950s Louis Marx Company counterpart to his burial plot (can you spot it in the preceding and following photos?). In 2019, I united this same figurine of the 15th president with its manufacturer when I took it to the Marx mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
Born: April 23, 1791 in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania
Highest Military Rank: Private — Pennsylvania Militia
Primary Political Affiliation: Democratic Party
Served in Cabinet of: James K. Polk
Cabinet Position: Secretary of State
Presidential Term: 1857-1861
Vice President: John C. Breckinridge
Died: June 1, 1868 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Cause of Death: Pneumonia
Last Words: “Oh Lord, God Almighty, as Thou wilt.”
Interment: Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
"The whole Territorial question being thus settled upon the principle of popular sovereignty--a principle as ancient as free government itself--everything of a practical nature has been decided. No other question remains for adjustment, because all agree that under the Constitution slavery in the States is beyond the reach of any human power except that of the respective States themselves wherein it exists. May we not, then, hope that the long agitation on this subject is approaching its end, and that the geographical parties to which it has given birth, so much dreaded by the Father of his Country, will speedily become extinct? Most happy will it be for the country when the public mind shall be diverted from this question to others of more pressing and practical importance."
- James Buchanan
March 4, 1857 in his inaugural address, regarding the pending Supreme Court decision in the case Dred Scott v. Sandford
Buchanan, James. “Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1857. Transcript. From University of Virginia, Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/march-4-1857-inaugural-address.
Picone, Louis L. The President is Dead! The Extraordinary Stories of the Presidential Deaths, Final Days, Burials, and Beyond. Rev. ed. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2020.