Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

James Buchanan

James Buchanan, the fifteenth president of the United States. This three-act closet drama opens in 1868 with Buchanan, a big man in his late seventies, lying on his deathbed at his estate in Pennsylvania. Because of age and decrepitude, he is in an abnormal mental condition. Most of the people who were important in his life appear in his bedchamber as hallucinations. Among the forty or so characters who make cameo appearances in this biographical pageant are such famous historical figures as Andrew Jackson, Stephen Douglas, James Polk, Jefferson Davis, and Abraham Lincoln. There are also less illustrious people, including relatives and personal friends. Most of those who confront Buchanan accuse him of one fault or another, depending on their individual perspectives and relationships with the former chief executive. Among the many accusations are that he was a cold, selfish, scheming pettifogger who betrayed his country by conspiring with the proslavery faction on the eve of the Civil War and that he was primarily responsible for that tragic conflict. From Buchanan’s explanations of his various actions during his long period of public service, it becomes apparent that he was an exceptionally hardworking, conscientious, and circumspect if not brilliant man who was just as concerned as his successor, Abraham Lincoln, with preserving the Union. Buchanan dies a lonely, friendless, disappointed old man but a much more sympathetic figure...

(The entire section is 495 words.)