Ten Cent Jimmy

President James Buchanan’s Wheatland home just outside Lancaster, PA, in a recent February snowfall. More than 25 species of trees grace the beautiful estate grounds which are open to the public. Photo by Chris Heisey
In Buchanan Park located a couple of miles from Wheatland, a monument to the 15th President is aptly surrounded by thorny rose bushes. He is the Keystone State’s only president. Rankings of our best and worst presidents frequently rank him at the very bottom given his inaction to the secession of seven Southern states after Lincoln’s electoral victory in 1860. Photo by Chris Heisey

Few political figures in American history came into the White House with a better resume than Democrat James Buchanan. His career spanned some 40 years – one in which he served in both houses of Congress, as well as appointments to ambassadorships –  before he was elected in 1856 as the country’s 15th chief executive. And he remains the only one to hail from Pennsylvania born in a desolate frontier portion of Franklin County 20 miles west of Chambersburg in 1791. His home later in life was Wheatland just outside Lancaster, and his majestic mansion stills stands as a testament to the highly cultivated tastes of this lifelong bachelor.

In John Hay’s 1872 book, The Heroic Age in Washington, Lincoln’s assistant secretary relates a telling story about President Buchanan who met at the White House just minutes before riding with President-elect Lincoln to the U.S. Capitol for the swearing in on Inauguration Day, March 4, 1861.

“I was waiting with boyish wonder and credulity,” Hay wrote, “to see what momentous counsels” would be shared as the nation teetered on the brink of Civil War. Buchanan though proceeded to share “many intimate details of the kitchen and pantry” adding that “the water from the well on the right was better than the left.”

According to Hay, Lincoln displayed that “weary, introverted look of his, not answering. Lincoln later admitted to Hay that he had not “heard a word of what Buchanan had said.”

President Buchanan died in 1868 and his buried in Woodward Hill Cemetery in the heart of Lancaster city some four miles from his home. He had several nicknames one dubbing him “Old Buck” by his friends; by his political foes he was labelled “Old Public Functionary” for his unimaginative and indecisive style of management, and “Ten Cent Jimmy” was another unflattering moniker aimed at him by newspapers after he quipped that 10 cents a day is plenty of pay for a common worker in the 1850s.

10 Responses to Ten Cent Jimmy

  1. I’m not 100percent sure but the term First Lady comes from his administration because he was a bachelor and his niece assumed the role of Hostess?
    Beautiful snow pics..Thx !

    1. Thank you, Duffy! And yes, Flotus does come from Miss Harriet Lane his niece. Thanks again, Chris

  2. When I was in high school all those decades ago, James Buchanan was rated as “worst President ever” primarily due to his role in letting the Secession Crisis fester; and doing nothing to prevent the Civil War. Today, I notice Ol’ Buck is no longer at the bottom: he has risen a couple of notches. It seems President Buchanan is doing more work while dead than he ever managed while alive…

  3. Perhaps Lincoln should have heeded Buchanan’s advice on the ‘better’ water from the right. (Of course, in the spirit of ‘Unity”, I will not refer to the left or the right being better). Nevertheless, the Lincoln family experienced a terrible tragedy, losing a son, Willie, who contracted typhoid from contaminated White House water, as I recall. And, of course, the Veteran in me with a soldier-lineage dating back to the French and Indian War prefers the Buchanan death count over Lincolns. That’s a lot of guys.

  4. I beg to differ on Buchanan’s position at the very bottom of the ranking of the best and worst Presidents. That honor has and will be as long as our constitutional form of government exclusively the 45th.

  5. Old Buchanan is still at bottom of a rotten lot of poltroons that have cluttered up 1600 Pennsylvania Ave with an unhealthy completion from the 28th, 39th, 44th and the 46th & 47th.

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