- Hardcover: 506 pages
- Publisher: American Political Biography Press; 1st edition (May 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0945707118
- ISBN-13: 978-0945707110
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 41 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #593,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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President James Buchanan: A Biography 1st Edition
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The work of a mature scholar who has dug deeply and carefully weighed his evidence. --Washington Post
An excellent biography. --St. Louis, MO Post-Dispatch
Klein has been prodigiously industrious. . . . If the general picture is not altered, proportions are. --Times Literary Supplement
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As an aside, I am a Pennsylvanian who grew up about 50 miles from our only President's home, Wheatland. This book helped me realize it was time to visit that home and give the man some credit for serving as he thought best in the coming storm.
Klein traces Buchanan's development from childhood through the political arena. Having served in both houses of Congress, as a minister to both Russia and England and as Secretary of State, Buchanan was well-qualified to get the highest office in the land. A candidate several times over the years, he finally reached the presidency in 1856, benefiting from being overseas during the Pierce administration and thus removed from the increasingly serious regional conflicts.
Buchanan's strengths were also his flaws. His political canniness and ability to avoid major controversies led to his successes but also prevented him from being an effective leader. In fact, he tried to avoid being a leader, feeling that wasn't the purpose of his position. While it is unlikely that he could have averted the Civil War, he wound up being ineffective in even slowing down the drive to conflict. There is also every indication that if war had broken out during his tenure, things would have played out with less immediate violence but with far severer damage to the nation. Ironically, it would be the less qualified Lincoln who would be the superior president.
If the life of Pierce tells of a man who was unqualified and made a poor president, Buchanan's life shows that experience isn't everything either. Klein has written a great book that lets us know more about this quiet figure; with so few biographies of Buchanan available, it is a happy fact that this one is not only probably the best available, but is also just a good historical biography in general.
These opinions and reviews are unfounded and unfair. Philip Klein does a great job in telling the true story of Buchanan in this outstanding biography.
Buchanan just happened to be President during leadup to the most difficult crisis in the history of the country and was handcuffed greatly by radicals on the Republican side and by the slavery at all costs folks on the other side. He did his best to navigate the middle of these extremes according to his interpretation of the law as laid out in the constitution.
Some might say that Klein is to easy on Buchanan and that he isn't completely fair when looking at his public or personal life. That is hogwash in my opinion. In fact, Klein goes to great lengths to tell the true story of Buchanan's life and provides supporting documentation that is pretty convincing... I was convinced.
One interesting thing to note is toward the end of the biography, Klein writes the following: "(17th President Andrew) Johnson wavered and at last failed to enact the program laid out by the Radicals... for that they impeached him." This is making reference to Andrew Johnson's Presidency that is considered a failure as well due to his inaffective leadership in carrying out the beginnings of reconstruction. The tone of this paragraph suggests to me that Klein thinks Johnson is viewed in an unfair life and thus Buchanan is viewed in the same light.
I totally agree with both notions that Buchanan and Johnson are viewed unfairly. In nearly every respect, Buchanan's Presidency should not be viewed as a failure but rather unfortunate timing. He was, in fact, a scapegoat and not dealt with fairly by his party, Stephen Douglas, Lincoln (not to bad mouth Lincoln though), and the public and media following his Presidency. Not to say he was a great President... he wasn't and neither was Johnson. But Buchanan in particular got no help from his cabinet and congress to handle any of the complicated issues of the time. On those issues where he could make a difference he did.
I would rate this Presidency as effective and unspectacular. Klein is a fair evaluator and a concise and interesting writer in his account of the man and his public life.
The one issue I'm still left wondering about however is Buchanan's sexuality. He never married and never had children. He sounds like he was a bit of a fancy lad. Was he gay? Perhaps. Klein doesn't go into this and in fact talks at length about Buchanan's supposed relationship(s) with women. But, this book was written many years ago when perhaps a biographer might sweep something like Presidential homosexuality under the rug.
Homosexuals routinetly now make the case that Lincoln was gay because of his tendency to share a bed with men. That is complete BS. Buchanan lived with a man much of the time he was in Washington and is considered by the gay community to be the first gay President. Not that there is anything wrong with that... Seinfeld... but I was left wondering if Klein looked into it and found no grounds or again swept it under the rug out of respect for the office and the fact that this book was researched and written in the early 1960s.
This is the book to read on Buchanan though I would just say there were some unanswered questions and your opinion of the President may not mesh with Klein's which could lead to disappointment.