James Buchanan – The Least Understood President

As we celebrate the 200th Anniversary of James Buchanan as Worshipful Master of lodge 43 in 1823, I think it is important to reflect on him as a Mason, and as our 15th President of the United States.

Often, we may hear that he was not regarded as a President who accomplished great things in his term as President. I recently recovered an old magazine article from The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine dated April 15, 1962 titled “The Least Understood President” which was written by Hugh Scott.

In the article, Mr. Scott refers to a James Buchanan biography that had been published by Philip S. Klein, who at the time was a professor of History at Penn State University.

In reviewing a portion of the biography that pertains to the title of this article, I would like to quote what Professor Klein has written.

He writes…
“In a sense he was a lawyer’s lawyer, with a vast respect for orderly affairs. He came into the Presidency with more experience in public service (nearly 50 years) than any man who has ever held the post. He had been a Senator, an Ambassador to Russia and to England, and Secretary of State.
But he also came to the Presidency at just about the worst time possible. The Civil War was simmering to a boil. No President could have been universally popular. Buchanan irritated both sides by trying to work out a long-range solution to the slavery problem by law. Too, he refused to yield to the demands of extremists, both Northern and Southern, and was criticized by both.

It was because of this that Wheatland had to be guarded against public violence and threats. Every day at the start of the war, the retired President received threatening letters. Buchanan refused to hire private guards to protect his property, but he did accept the help of his fellow Masons, who took turns guarding Wheatland.

Happily, criticism of Buchanan, largely unfounded, gradually died down, and his last few years were relatively peaceful. When he died in 1868 at the age of 77, more than 20,000 people came to his funeral.”

It may be interesting to note that the atmosphere he found himself embroiled in at that time is not much different to the political climate we find in today’s political arena. We can only hope that civility will prevail and the division we find ourselves in will eventually be resolved.

Nathaniel Gilchrist P.M.
Lodge 43

Photos from the Wreath Dedication Ceremony (April 22, 2023) Photo Credit: Brothers Mike Stevens and Jim Stephens, PM.