"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Saturday, January 29, 2022

James Buchanan

 This 1929 statue of James Buchanan by Hans Schuler stands in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC. It's part of a memorial to the 15th president designed by William Gordon Beecher and Hans Schuler, that dominates the Southeast corner of Meridian Hill Park.

Goode 2009 says this about the statue of Buchanan:
Washington's memorial to President James Buchanan is in the southern half of Meridian Hill Park. Buchanan never married, and his niece, Harriet Lane (Mrs. Henry Elliott Johnston) , acted as hostess for her uncle throughout his years in the White House (1857-61). Her art collection was later incorporated into the National Collection of Fine Arts of the Smithsonian Institution. Johnston also left a bequest for the erection of a monument to her uncle. Congress was slow to act on a site for this memorial, and steps were taken to begin construction only a few weeks before the fifteen-year time limit was to expire in 1918. The Buchanan statue stands 8 feet tall, while the two allegorical figures measure 7 feet in height and about 4 feet in width.
The Pennsylvania-born Buchanan (1791-1868) is seated in front of a large white marble pylon, flanked at the end of a curving stone bench by two granite allegorical figures, Law and Diplomacy (not shown here). Since Buchanan did achieve more than modest success as a lawyer and diplomat, these two figures are appropriate; however, the same cannot be said for his tenure as the fifteenth president of the United States. Elected in 1856 as a compromise candidate, he was unable to heal the rapidly deteriorating relations between North and South, The Civil War broke out a month after he left office, Buchanan retired to Wheatland, his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he died in 1868.


James Bvchanan of Pennsylvania
President of the Vnited States

The Incorrvptible Statesman Whose
Walk was Vpon the Movntain
Ranges of the Law

Those words,  perhaps without the pseudo-latin v's, where those of Jeremiah S. Black, who was Attorney General and later Secretary of State in the Buchanan Administration.

Hans Schvler

William Gordon Beecher
(and a Cedar Waxwing)

On July 30, 1929 The Evening Star had a headline that read “Buchanan Statue is Due To Arrive in Capital Today” and this picture of the hoisting apparatus belonging to Rullman & Wilson being readied to lift the Statue into place.

Memorial in Meridian Hill Park where the bronze figure of the former President was due to be put in place today. -- Star Staff Photo. 
By June 18 the monument was ready for the scheduled unveiling on June 26, at which Herbert Hoover spoke. Read Hoover's speech.

The memorial to President James Buchanan in Meridian Hill Park, which will be unveiled on June 26. President Hoover will attend the ceremonies and deliver a short address. -- Star Staff Photo
In April of 1930, William A. Millen, described the “Monument to America's First Bachelor President.” and in May of 1931 this  image  of the Buchanan Monument, by Joseph B: Himmelheber, appeared in The Washington Star.

An interesting skyline view from the high slopes of Meridian Park, with the Buchanan statue in the left foreground. The spire of St. Paul's Catholic Church, Fifteenth and V streets, rise at the right, and the Capitol dome looms above the line of Maryland hills. This is the thirty-sixth of a series of drawings for The Sunday Star by Joseph B: Himmelheber. Copyright, 1931 by J. B. H.

It is  currently widely believed that Buchanan was our first gay president. Loewen,  for example, gave a succinct argument for this claim in 1999. For more on the intimate relationship between James Buchanan and William Rufus King watch the video below, in which Thomas Balcerski  “sets the record straight (so to speak)” on the intimate male friendship between those two life-long bachelors. See also Balcerski's article in SmithsonianThe 175-Year History of Speculating About President James Buchanan’s Bachelorhood.

Another, more sentimental, explanation for Buchanan's bachelorhood can be found in the tale of Buchanan's blighted romance with Anne Coleman in 1818. A century later Congressman Isaac R. Sherwood wrote, in the Washington Post, how an acquaintance told him the romantic tale. Read the story here, complete with poetry attributed to Buchanan

Rosemary and Stephen Vincent BenĂ©t wrote a poem about Buchanan's feckless presidency in their 1933 children's book, A Book of Americans. Their conclusion was:
Poor James Buchanan!
He twiddled his four years through,
And left the mess for somebody else
As weak men always do.
For when times are dark and the outlook stark.
The government needs a man on
Its chair of State, not an addlepate
Like weary old James Buchanan.
Here's the rest of the poem.

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