Our picture of the week is Wheatland, the home of President James Buchanan. President Buchanan is not rated highly by historians due to his inability to prevent the Southern states from seceding from the Union, but he came to the office with impressive credentials, having served as a lawyer, Secretary of State, Minister to the United Kingdom and Russia, United States Senator, member of the United States House of Representatives, and member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from Lancaster County. But as the introductory film in Wheatland’s visitor’s center concluded, Buchanan had a much more limited view of the powers of the presidency than Americans have today. As such, he believed there was little he could do to prevent the Southern states from seceding. Buchanan resolved to maintain and reinforce federal forts in Southern states and wait for the Confederate states to make a move against them. That action took place with the firing on Fort Sumter after Abraham Lincoln had taken office. As Buchanan rode in a carriage with Abraham Lincoln to Lincoln’s inauguration, Buchanan is said to have remarked, “My dear 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.”
The tour guide pointed out several interesting artifacts that were owned by Buchanan, including some of his legal texts, a bottle of wine from his personal collection, a teak desk from India that he used in his office in the White House, and even the bed that he died in. When asked about Buchanan’s legacy, the tour guide acknowledged that while he may not be considered a great president, Buchanan’s influence can be felt elsewhere, in that he raised his niece, Harriet Lane, to become an independent, educated woman, and part of his legacy can be felt through her work to promote the availability of pediatric medicine and the arts.