Darn Wright | Our presidents are not equal
Last updated 3/1/2020 at 9:48pm
We are just coming off of celebrating Presidents Day so let’s look back at how this holiday came to be.
The 1885 Congress established President George Washington’s Birthday, Feb. 17, as a national holiday. In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed and caused Washington’s birthday to become Presidents Day, thereby making all 45 presidents “equal but separate” in status.
But should we be acknowledging all our nation’s leaders as having parity? To debate this question let us look at our 15th President who in 1791 was born in Pennsylvania.
James Buchanan’s pre-presidential resume was extremely impressive. He was a successful lawyer. He had served in the Pennsylvania state legislature. He was elected to both houses of the U.S. Congress and went on to serve as Secretary of State. He was also an ambassador to Russia and then to Great Britain.
However, when Buchanan served as Pennsylvania’s federal-level senator he was instrumental in quelling any discussion of slavery on either the House or the Senate floors.
In my opinion, Buchanan could be called “the gag man.” During his campaign for the nation’s highest office, he endorsed the view that the residents of each new territory, rather than the U.S. government, should decide whether or not to allow slavery as part of their constitution. With dreams of a highly successful presidency, this six-foot, blue-eyed, gray-haired, nervous twitching, crotchety lifelong bachelor entered the “dark-rusty-brown, tobacco-sputumsplatter” marshland of Washington, D.C.
It was a time of building up toward the great political crisis over the Southerners having their peculiar institution (slavery). President Buchanan ended up on the wrong side of humanity and our nation’s history for his views. Being on the wrong side of our country’s history was not on Buchanan’s mind on March 4, 1857, day when Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, a staunch States Rights Southerner, administered the Oath of Office to our 15th President. Judge Taney’s court, in a 7-2 finding, went well beyond what they were asked to do in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857.
Shamefully, and forever a stain on the Supreme Court’s history, the Supreme Court legally took away the humanness of the Black race and turned the group into property. Taney’s Court determined “Congress had no power to limit the ability of slave owners to carry their property into the federal territories since property rights were protected by the Constitution,” in the Dred Scott case. And this property “…were not and never could become a U.S. citizen…”
It was only two days after Buchanan’s inauguration address that he cheerfully supported the White Supremacist John Sanford lawsuit in the Supreme Court case against slave Dred Scott. Buchanan believed the highest court of the land’s actions did “speedily and finally” answer the slavery question and he was home free from this irritation.
What this 66-year-old president would sorrowfully learn “A house divided against itself, cannot stand,” and what our nation’s history has sadly shown, is that the issue of slavery was a major reason we had the bloodiest war ever. Buchanan went further toward alienating the strong antislavery forces and divided his own Democratic party with his support for the controversial, pro-slavery, Kansas Lecompton Constitution proposal. The Lecompton Constitution was written and manipulated by slavery advocates and included provisions to legally allow slavery in the Kansas territory and would exclude free Black people from the state’s Bill of Rights.
However, Kansas voters ultimately rejected the document so Kansas entered the Union against the South’s peculiar institution of human trafficking.
While still in office Buchanan didn’t use his Union military power to stop South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas from seceding from the United States. In fact, this president tried to use his position to motivate Congress to pass a constitutional amendment protecting slave owners and to make sure fugitive slaves were returned to them. Due to James Buchanan’s misguided views on human tracking, and his ineptitude in governing our nation during those pre-Civil War crisis years, the majority of our nation’s presidential historians and political historians rate James Buchanan Junior as our very worst president.
Darn right, all our presidents are not equal and we as a nation should not be honoring Buchanan with our best, presidents Washington and Lincoln.