The James Buchanan Presidential Memorial

The James Buchanan Presidential Memorial

Located just a short bike ride away from the downtown cluster of monuments and memorials, the Presidential memorial to James Buchanan is located in the Southeast corner of Meridian Hill Park in Northwest D.C. (MAP).

Commissioned in 1916, but not approved by the U.S. Congress until 1918, the bronze and granite memorial to the 15th President of the United States was completed and unveiled June 26, 1930.  The memorial features a statue of Buchanan bookended by male and female classical figures representing law and diplomacy, and is engraved with the following text, “The incorruptible statesman whose walk was upon the mountain ranges of the law.”

Buchanan is the last President born in the 18th century, and held the office immediately prior to the American Civil War, from 1857 until 1861.  Buchanan’s unsuccessful efforts to maintain peace between the North and the South not only alienated both sides but led to the Southern states declaring their secession from the Union.  Buchanan’s opinion was that secession was illegal, but that going to war to stop it was also illegal.

By the time he left office, popular opinion was against him, and the Democratic Party had split. Buchanan had once aspired to a Presidency that would rank in history with that of George Washington.  However, his inability to impose peace on sharply divided partisans on the brink of the Civil War has led to his consistent ranking by historians as one of the worst presidents in American history, and often assess his failure to deal with secession the worst presidential mistake ever made.  The manner and process by which his memorial came to be reflects this widely-held opinion about him and his Presidency.

Buchanan is the only President to have never married.  As a result, he relied on his niece, Harriet Lane, to serve as White House hostess during his presidency.  After Buchanan left office, the now-married and fairly wealthy Harriet Lane Johnston became a philanthropist, supporting children’s charities and donating a great deal of art to government museums.

Johnston, being pretty much the only defender of the Buchanan Administration, in her will left money to build a memorial to Uncle.  Interestingly, even the memorial would require no public funding, because of their opinion of Buchanan, lawmakers did not initially accept the bequest.  In debating legislation about the bequest and memorial, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts stated, “This joint resolution proposes at this moment, in the midst of this war, to erect a statue to the only President upon whom rests the shadow of disloyalty in the great office to which he was elected.”

Someone eventually noticed that the bequest had an expiration date, and so Congress, always willing to spend money the is not there own, finally approved accepting the bequest and appropriated the funds for the memorial in 1918.

JamesBuchanan1

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s