Date of Completion

Spring 5-2-2014

Thesis Advisor(s)

Ronald Schurin

Honors Major

Political Science




On March 4th, 1857, James Buchanan was sworn in as the 15th President of the United States of America. Now, more than 150 years later, he is remembered as a presidential failure if he is remembered at all. During his presidency, many events transpired that directly led to the Civil War, and many historians believe that Buchanan’s inaction or inability to prevent the Civil War is evidence that he was an unworthy president. Based on the many rankings of United States Presidents that have been released over the past decade, President Buchanan is the worst president the United States has experienced. My research is aimed at disproving this theory. I have examined the criteria by which the presidents were ranked and the judges who participated in the making of these rankings in order to prove that President Buchanan was a better president than he is given credit. His poor presidential rankings are due to the circumstances that he inherited rather than his leadership skills and ability. He was a successful politician and an able president who is harshly judged because of the time period in which he occupied the oval office. I have challenged the ranking systems that put too much emphasis on aspects of the presidency where Buchanan’s influence was hindered either due to a split congress, the delicate state of the union, or the ineffectiveness of Buchanan’s cabinet and political advisors. However, I do not want this dissertation to act as an excuse for President Buchanan. I am arguing that he was not the worst president that the United States had to endure, not that he was the best president with which the United States has been blessed. I will be looking at situations where Buchanan was successful and deserving of recognition regardless of whether or not he received it. Overall, I portray James Buchanan’s presidency as a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances. He is ruthlessly judged for his shortcomings and denied a fair evaluation as a president because of the time period during which he was in power. He should be remembered with a sense of empathy, for he was a man in a lose-lose situation.

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