James Buchanan was a Pennsylvania Democrat elected to
the presidency in 1856 in large part because his overseas diplomatic
service had left him with a public record bereft of public pronouncements
on the issue of slavery and its expansion. But Buchanan quickly proved
that he hoped to preserve the Union by appeasing pro-slavery southerners
insisting that the federal government protect their system of forced
labor in the territories. Only days before Buchanan took office, United
States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney announced the Dred Scott
decision, which held that African-American slaves could not sue for
their freedom because blacks could not be American citizens. Furthermore,
individual states and territories could not prohibit slavery within
their borders. The timing of this decision led abolitionists and other
Republicans to suspect that the Chief Justice, the new president, and
other Democratic leaders had conspired to settle the slavery issue once
and for all. Buchanan's further actions further undermined his credibility.
Abandoning such allies as Illinois' Stephen Douglas, Buchanan accepted
a pro-slavery constitution for the new state of Kansas, despite clear
evidence of intimidation, violence and electoral irregularities by pro-slavery
"border ruffians" there.
For more information about politics in the 19th century, please look at Lincoln/Net's Getting the Message Out! National Political Campaign Materials, 1840-1860 Web site.