Monday, April 25, 2016

When Doing Nothing is the Right Thing to Do

 James Buchanan

In the present judgment of history—or at least those who are counted worthy to opine on that subject—two American presidents occupy positions among the lowest and the highest with regard to their place in the nation’s pantheon of leaders. The interesting thing is that the one followed the other into office which means that the performance of their duties in that office could not have been more dissimilar. Usually, such dramatic differences do not occur in such close historical proximity, but in this case, it in fact, did.

The president occupying the lowest quarter percentile—being placed among the bottom ten in his performance by scholars of history across the board—is Democrat James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States while the president considered among the top two or three—possibly even the greatest American to hold that office—was the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. Of course, the ongoing crisis in the nation that contributed to these determinations by scholars and academicians was that of the secession of thirteen Southern States from the union which resulted in a bloody civil war, a war which President Lincoln brought to a successful conclusion soon after he had been elected for a second term. Much of President Buchanan’s low marks are attributed to the fact that he was a “do nothing” chief executive whose lack of forceful leadership resulted in the crisis which confronted Lincoln when he took office. Indeed, there are those who more than suggest that Buchanan’s Democratic affiliations and his Southern background were unquestionably reasons for his failure to act decisively as the union began to unravel. Yet, Buchanan was no secessionist. Indeed, he wrote a paper stating that he did not see secession—as did many especially in the South—as a constitutional remedy for the degenerating sectional turmoil within the nation.

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