James Buchanan and the Antebellum Press

James Buchanan was the fifteenth president of the United States, who served from 1857 until 1861, preceding Abraham Lincoln. He is considered to have been one of the most ineffective presidents, due to policies that some historians believe helped lead to the American Civil War. This thesis looks at how the antebellum presses viewed Buchanan, and what types of images they projected of him to the public. From the very beginning of his presidency, there were concerns in most of the presses about his leadership. In March of 1857, his inauguration and the Dred Scott decision were two events that happened early in his administration, that offer evidence that the press, from the start, projected negative images of him, especially in regards to his policies regarding slavery. This helped to create the belief that he was an ineffectual leader. Buchanan was aware of the powerful influence the press held over its readership, and he immediately went to work to reconstruct his “organ,” the Washington Daily Union, as a mouthpiece for himself, as well as the Democratic Party. He intended to use the newspaper as a vehicle to express his policies, and to compete with his opponents in the press; the southern, Republican, black, and abolitionist newspapers. These adversarial presses were a constant threat to Buchanan, and in combination with his early missteps, were effective in representing him unfavorably.