BUCHANAN, James (1791-1868), President. Autograph letter signed ("James Buchanan") as Senator, to Robert Tyler, "Wheatland, near Lancaster," Pennsylvania, 19 March 1851. 1½ pages, 4to (10 x 8 in.), address leaf with repaired seal hole, otherwise in very fine condition.
BUCHANAN EXPRESSES CONFIDENCE IN THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM AND LOOKS FORWARD TO HIS NOMINATION FOR PRESIDENT
An exuberant political letter which offers a revealing glimpse into the thoughts of a potential presidential candidate during the intricate pre-election negotiations and manipulations so typical of antebellum party politics. Buchanan was a career politician from Pennsylvania whose service as a Congressman, Senator, Foreign Minister and Secretary of State primed him for the Presidency. A dedicated Democrat, he began working within his Party to win the White House as early as 1844, but was forced to take a back seat to the dark-horse candidate James Polk. He failed to garner the nomination again in 1848, but his supporters ("Buchaneers") determined not to fail again: "Some had begun work even before Taylor was sworn, and from Wheatland, Buchanan encouraged, cajoled, and arbitrated, and supervised all" (Coleman, The Disruption of the Pennsylvania Democracy, p. 49).
Writing to Robert Tyler, son of the former President and an important Pennsylvania politician in his own right, Buchanan expresses confidence: "I found the prospects there [in Harrisburg] better, far better than I had anticipated. The Pennsylvania feeling is daily growing stronger. My friends assured me that within the last four weeks there had been a very sensible & marked change in my favor & from my own observation I do not doubt the fact. Should your prediction in regard to the City & County [Philadelphia] be verified...there can be no doubt of Pennsylvania by a very large majority." Power over the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania was contested by Simon Cameron, Lewis Cass and others. Here, Buchanan acknowledges the intensifying struggle: "My enemies have grown desperate & I have been assured from a credible source, that they will attempt to pass a Cass resolution at the Reading Convention, if there should be the least possible chance of success. Many of the delegates have been long since elected without any view to the Presidential question & on these they will endeavor to operate."
In the wake of the sectional turmoil over slavery's expansion which preceded the Compromise of 1850, Buchanan is mindful of the factional politics in the South, where Union Parties which supported the Compromise opposed Southern Rights Democrats. This battle proved particularly fierce in Georgia's 1851 elections. Buchanan predicts confidently that "The Union Party may & probably will prevail in Georgia at the next elections" but he is confident that the two-party system will ultimately prevail: "after all, there can never be any permanent parties in this country, except the Democratic & Whig parties."
Buchanan's optimistic predictions proved wrong. Pennsylvania's support did not prevent the Democrats from nominating Franklin Pierce for President over Buchanan in 1852. Although he did secure the nomination in 1856 and subsequently became President, the permanence of the Whig/Democrat party system which seemed so secure proved an illusion. The collapse of the Whig Party after 1852 paved the way for the Republicans and a new two-party system.