Essential Pittsburgh
7:04 pm
Mon February 17, 2014

Pennsylvania's Only U.S. President and His Neutral Stance on Slavery

James Buchanan's home, Wheatland, in Lancaster was purchased by Buchanan in 1848.
Credit Jim Bowen / Flickr

While the White House is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, only one Pennsylvanian has ever occupied the executive office; Lancaster area native James Buchanan, the fifteenth President of the United States.

Patrick Clarke, Director of President James Buchanan’s home Wheatland, believes that Buchanan’s childhood in the Keystone State helped him develop into the leader he would become.

“There are some historians that believe growing up so close to the border of Virginia, today of course the border belongs to West Virginia, but some believe it kind of shaped him and his thinking.”

Buchanan's presidency was at a time when the nation was in growing turmoil.

“In general the nation, was a nation being driven apart, the divide was over the balance of power in Congress and the unspoken nightmare that they were all fighting over, that was causing this struggle over power was slavery. One part of the country wanted to abolish slavery, and the other part wanted to not only retain slavery but see it expand.”

As a presidential candidate, Buchanan managed to stay above the frey by serving the Democratic Party’s President, Franklin Pierce, as the ambassador to Great Britain.

"And so Buchanan really was kind of an untainted candidate, as far as the Democratic Party could see." Says Clarke "When the nomination process came about, the candidates that were vying for the nomination, the incumbent president himself, and the other party favorite was Stephen Douglas, kind of had their hands in the blood of the outbreaks in the territory of Kansas.”

While documents show that Buchanan had a private dislike of slavery, he fell on the wrong side of history by publicly backing the Democratic Party's pro-slavery stance.