Most Gettysburg residents took note this past winter when the Appalachian Brewing Company’s branch restaurant near the Lutheran Seminary closed. The Civil War Trust bought the land for its historical value; the structure and an adjacent hotel surround the Mary Thompson House, General Lee’s Headquarters during the battle. From the moment of purchase, the plan had been to demolish the buildings, sow grass, and transfer the four-acre lot to the National Park Service as a prized addition to the park. Most onlookers probably think that the tale is told as soon as the land is bought, cleared, and promised to the park. However, that thinking only pans out in a vacuum. In reality, the results of this purchase—as with any large purchase of land in a community—cannot be foreseen. Too many different actors are involved in and affected by something as simple as the demolition of a couple of businesses and the placing of a conservation easement on a property. And for those who stand to be affected by this purchase, controversy is pervasive and understandable.
While ranking presidents is often a controversial exercise open to great amounts of interpretation, all rankers—and I say this with a certainty I’m usually loath to use when making historical remarks—rank James Buchanan low. Very low. If not dead last, second to last. If not that, third to last. Certainly and absolutely no higher than the bottom five. This is altogether a direct reflection of his perceived status as a president who, when confronted with the brewing Civil War that would kick off as he left office, sat on his hands and did absolutely nothing.
Taken out of the context surrounding the coming of the Civil War, this may come as a surprise. Buchanan’s political resume was, and remains, altogether wonderful, having served in numerous diplomatic posts, the House of Representatives, Senate, and as Secretary of State before his election. As unfortunate employers occasionally find, however, experience does not strictly make a successful employee. Unfortunately, Buchanan’s employer was the citizenry of the United States. Continue reading “James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War: Complicating the Image of the ‘Do-Nothing’ President”