BUCHANAN, James. Manuscript document, secretarially signed ("James Buchanan") at end, comprising an alternate draft of PRESIDENT BUCHANAN'S STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS, Washington, 3 December 1858 [delivered 6 December]. Four sheets of light blue paper attached to form a continuous scroll (84 x 7¾ in.), text in ink on both sides of the sheet, approximately 6½ inches of both ends silked, staining where sheets are attached, occasional marginal stains and a small tear, otherwise in fine condition, felt-lined protective slipcase.
A DRAFT OF BUCHANAN'S STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS IN THE TROUBLED YEAR 1858, URGING AMERICANS TO "CEASE TO REMEMBER SECTIONAL DIFFERENCES IN YOUR CARE FOR OUR NATION'S TRUE INTERESTS, HER PROSPERITY AND GLORY"
After several failed efforts to obtain his party's nomination, James Buchanan successfully entered the office of President in 1857. He immediately inherited a host of problems that had been festering during the watch of his predecessor, the most dangerous of which was the cancer of sectionalism, aggravated by the debate over slavery. In his first two years in office, Buchanan contended with the repercussions of partisan warfare in "Bleeding Kansas." the crisis of the Lecompton Constitution, and the Dred Scott Decision. Matters were made substantially worse by the collapse of the nation's economy during the Panic of 1857.
This scroll, apparently an alternate draft, differing significantly from the published text of the Message, was prepared by at least two Presidential secretaries in the unusual form of a scroll, to facilitate reading. The address would not have been read by the President himself, for with the exception of Washington, no President read his State of the Union Address in person until Woodrow Wilson did so. Buchanan had very little cause for optimism in 1858, and the draft reveals his underlying desire to avoid sectional controversy and to focus on other less devisive matters. "Since my last Annual Message great and important questions have agitated the country," he notes, but he then states that he will address those questions at a later date, and turns to the prospects for economic recovery: "no other nation posesses the power of recovery from a shock such as we have lately felt...At the present time business is beginning to revive, confidence to be restored, and in all of the cities of the seaboard money is plenty." Future panics, he asserts, can only be avoided by banking reform: "[the states] chartered numerable banks...in many instances without a responsible basis...[which] flood the community with their promises to pay, regardless of honor, or their power to redeem." This, he promises, "is is being remedied."
Buchanan devotes a significant portion of the text to foreign policy: "I am exceedingly gratified in being able to inform Congress of our peaceful relations with the different nations of the earth." He discusses relations with England, France, "our ancient ally," and South America. Curiously in light of the bitter debate over slavery taking place in the United States, the President praises Russian efforts to free the serfs: "I rejoice with you Fellow Citizens in the noble stand she has so lately taken in regard to the rights of humanity and republicanism in liberating so large a proportion of her serfs, believing that the liberal institutions of our own country have had a great influence in bringing about so favorable a result."
Buchanan considers territorial expansion and mentions plans for a transcontinental railroad. Our territorial possessions, he asserts, "[are] in a highly prosperous condition." Moreover, "no more are the notes of anarchy & rebellion borne to our ears from the plains of Kansas." Government policy towards the Mormons is discussed in detail: "The Territory of Utah & the army sent thither, have engrossed much attention...It has never been the design of the Executive to interfere with the peculiar religious belief & institutions of the inhabitants...But it was necessary to maintain the doctrine of rotation in office at any cost & at all hazards, & as Brigham Young had held the office of Governor of that territory ever since its organization...the army was put in motion westward, succeeded in reaching the territory without the shedding of blood...[and] without laying a ruthless hand on the ancient institution of polygamy, the end desired has been accomplished." Buchanan does, however, express disapproval of polygamy and, claiming that "the territory is absolutely overrun with small children...the immediate effect is to crush with poverty those having to provide for the support of this numerous progeny...we would recommend that a per capita tax be levied upon all the unmarried male citizens of the nation who are thirty years old or upwards."
Addressing the possibility that several territories might apply for statehood, Buchanan argues "I am totally opposed to the admission into the Union as states, of sparsely settled territory...with equal power in the Senate...it is grossly unequal, & therefore unjust." Hoping to avoid the problems presented by the Lecompton Constitution, he exclaims that all states applying must frame "a constitution acceptable to a clear majority of its inhabitants, whose assent shall be manifested by a direct vote. On the radical new idea of female suffrage, Buchanan takes a neutral course, but on the temperance issue, suggests "the passage of a law forbidding the importation of alcoholic liquors into the country, also prohibiting their sale as a beverage in this District, and recommending to the several states the passage of similar prohibitory enactments...."
Buchanan concludes with an eloquent appeal to the spirit of compromise: "I trust that you will cease to remember sectional differences in your care for our Nation's true interests, her prosperity and glory. And that as the result of your legislation during the present session we may take still higher rank in the confederacy of nations advancing towards that position our Fathers, the formers of this Republic believed we were destined to occupy--The glorious Light-House of the World."
The text as delivered by Buchanan is published in Messages and Papers of the President, ed. J.D. Richardson, 5:497-529; the present alternate draft is apparently unpublished. Provenance: Anonymous owner (sale, Sotheby's, 31 October 1984, lot 89).