Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in potus_geeks,

Book Review: Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of Rebellion

The night before last, I finished reading Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of Rebellion. Written by President James Buchanan in 1866, over five years after leaving office, this is Buchanan's autobiographical attempt to exonerate himself and rehabilitate his reputation after being blamed for failing to prevent the Civil War. Buchanan does not shrink from the task, he makes a vigorous defense of his policies and actions, and in many cases blames a hostile congress for his inaction.

Buchanan writes in a very lawyerly style, in long rambling and convoluted sentences that run on for full paragraphs. He always refers to himself in the third person. I guess my point is that reading this book can be very laborious. In the end however the reader gains some understanding of what Buchanan must have been thinking, even if his reasoning is hard to accept.

For example, Buchanan begins the book by pointing out that, like it or not, slavery is condoned by the constitution, and until the constitution is amended, the federal government has no business in siding with the abolitionists. He blames them for most of the nation's woes and says that if only they had patiently waited for slavery to die a natural death through some sort of evolutionary attrition, all the lives lost in the Civil War could have been spared. Nowhere in the book does he confront the moral reality that most of the civilized world had acknowledged at that point in history, that forcing human beings of whatever color into involuntary servitude is wrong. Buchanan doesn't see the need to address this.

Buchanan portrays General Winfield Scott as a two-faced liar. Referring to Scott's 1862 criticism of Buchanan as a ditherer and as someone who aided and abetted the secessionists, Buchanan calls Scott a liar and gives repeated examples of where Scott's words conflict with the reality of his actions.

Buchanan gives an interesting account of his encounter with the Covode Committee, his version of the Starr Commission. Covode was a congressman who led an effort to impeach Buchanan for allegations of corruption. The committee never gained enough support for impeachment to fly, and Buchanan makes a persuasive argument against the use of impeachment for purely political motives, instead of what it was intended for.

In summary, if you're a history geek, a details person or if you're into a post-mortem of what led up to the Civil War, this is a worthwhile read. But be aware that reading this book can be more like a walk through a swamp than a tiptoe through the tulips.

Pop Quiz: The next book I'm reading is about a president who had a very impressive civil service resume. He was a war hero, a state legislator, a congressman, a US senator, ambassador to three different European nations, a four term governor of his home state, secretary of state, secretary of war, and finally a two-term President. Who is he?
Tags: book review, james buchanan, winfield scott
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