James Buchanan, by Jean Baker
I know I haven’t made it through all the Presidents yet, but I still feel confident is saying James Buchanan might be the wimpiest leader of our early years as a country. He needed to get some guts and stand up as the President should, but instead he wanted to pacify and would often go the very easy way instead of the right way. Looking back, we can see how truly tragic that lack of action turned out to be.
Page after page I found myself rolling my eyes and actually yelling at Buchanan for his horrible decision making skills and his complete unwillingness to even consider any perspective from the Northern states. I half expected to find the next chapter talking about how the Southern states had some sort of blackmail threat on him because at least then it might explain his disgusting inability to think outside the Southern voices all around him.
Basically, Buchanan was a sham of a president, who stood back while the first shots of the Civil War began on his watch. Instead of dealing with it, he just dumped it on Lincoln’s lap and ran like an Olympic track star.
Benjamin Harrison, by Charles W. Cahoun
So Benjamin Harrison is one of these guys whose whole family was in the political biz. His great-grandpa signed the Declaration of Independence, his grandpa was president (holla, William Henry Harrison! 30 days, but it still counts!) and from the time he was in school he pretty much knew politics was just his thing.
So he did the standard lawyer/senator/yadda yadda climb, then ran for president. Here is what I love: He ran against Grover Cleveland, who everyone pretty much loved. In my Grover Cleveland bio, Cleveland’s wife said to the servants at the White House, “Remember where everything is, because we will want it replaced when we come back in four years.” and sure enough, 4 years later they were back.
Harrison won electoral votes, but didn’t win the popular vote. He’s gotten a lot of bad press over the years and even at the time, he just wasn’t a super popular president. The country was divided down the center and he didn’t do much to remedy that. He did work with Congress and try to get stuff done, but looking at it now it just seems like those 4 years were just kind of… nothing. He wasn’t awful or great. Just kind of there.
I’d say that this is the case for the whole biography: not awful or great, but just kind of there. It was a skinny little thing so I didn’t have any trouble finishing it, but I was never into it. This is just another one of those presidents that don’t have biographers lining up to write about them, so you just take what you can get, I guess!
Franklin Pierce, by Michael Holt
Pierce is one of those Presidents who couldn’t see past his own thoughts to consider the bigger picture, which might be why his entire political party melted down during his term and basically empty handed for the next election. I must confess, that even through my dislike of him, I still shed a few tears when his son died and how he handled it.
I shouldn’t be surprised given that I’ve been feeling this way since George Washington’s time, but I’m still shocked by how slavery impacted so many decisions – both presidential and lower level. Slavery was in the minds of so many politicians and general citizens that it was interconnected with almost everything. Expansion of the US – slave state vs non slave state. Importing and exporting – would other countries allow slaves to gain freedom if after capture they would help their captures.