James Buchanan   (1791-1868)

By George Peter Alexander Healy, 1859. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Fifteenth President, 1857-1861

James Buchanan entered the White House at a time when the fight between North and South over slavery was spinning out of control, and both sides ignored his calls for compromise. During Buchanan's presidency, abolitionist John Brown attempted to capture the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, as a base from which slave rebellions could be mounted. Although Brown was caught and hanged, his raid frightened slave owners--as well as the government. Fearing another action, Buchanan sent federal agents to arrest influential abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a former slave. Douglass eluded arrest by fleeing the country, but he soon returned to continue the fight through public speaking and his antislavery newspaper, the North Star.