US Stamps

By Michael Baadke

Born April 23: James Buchanan

April 23, 2015 05:55 AM

  • The 15th president of the United States, James Buchanan, was born April 23, 1791. He is shown on a 15¢ stamp from the 1940 Presidential definitive series.

The last former secretary of state to become president of the United States was James Buchanan, just before the American Civil War. He is also known for being the only lifelong bachelor to serve as president.

Buchanan was born April 23, 1791, and was elected as the nation's 15th president in 1856, serving a single four-year term from 1857 to 1861. His successor was Abraham Lincoln.

A native of Pennsylvania, Buchanan graduated from Dickinson College and served in a volunteer cavalry unit during the war of 1812.

He represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House from 1821 to 1831, then served as the U.S. minister to Russia, and as a U.S. senator (again representing Pennsylvania).

After four years as secretary of state under President James K. Polk, Buchanan was named U.S. minister to the United Kingdom in 1853 under President Franklin Pierce.

In the 1856 presidential election, Buchanan was nominated as the Democratic Party candidate and defeated two major opponents: Republican John C. Fremont, and the American Party candidate, former president Millard Fillmore.

During the first week of his presidency, the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court ruled that people of African ancestry could not become citizens of the United States, sharply limiting the rights of even those who were free. The decision also determined that the nation could not restrict slavery in the U.S. territories.

The divisions between the southern and northern states widened during the Buchanan presidency, and in its final months, after Lincoln's election, the first southern states would secede from the nation.

Buchanan retired to Wheatland, his Pennsylvania home, and died at age 78 on June 1, 1868.

Only two stamps have been issued to honor Buchanan: a 15¢ blue gray definitive in the 1940 Presidential issue (Scott 820), and a 22¢ commemorative in the 1986 Ameripex Presidential set (2217f). A 3¢ black brown commemorative issued in 1956 (1081) depicts Wheatland and is inscribed "Wheatland, the home of James Buchanan."