Title: James Buchanan
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00097789/00001
 Material Information
Title: James Buchanan advocate in congress, cabinet, and presidency
Physical Description: iv, 208 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Campbell, John Alton, 1931-
Publication Date: 1968
Copyright Date: 1968
Subject: Speech thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Speech -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis - University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 204-208.
Additional Physical Form: Also available on World Wide Web
General Note: Manuscript copy.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00097789
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000559395
oclc - 13484460
notis - ACY4851


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3 1262 08552 3982

Copyright by

John A. Campbell, Jr.







given him

in the


of this


by the members

of his

Supervisory Committee,



Franklin Karns,

William E.

Leland L.





to the


of the



Donald E.




I. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . .




OF COMPROMISE . . . . . . . . . .


VII. CONCLUSIONS .. . . . . . . . .


BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . .





. . .



A recent biographer of James Buchanan remarks that his many

talents might have won him an honored place among the greater presi-

dents had he served during a less turbulent era. His abilities

were evidently recognized by many of his contemporaries, however,

since his state and country called on him repeatedly to render public

service. Buchanan served in so many important posts before reaching

the White House, posts of wide ranging scope and complexity, that

possibly it could be argued that no man ever came to the Presidency

better qualified for the job in terms of length, breadth, and quality

of experience. Inevitably, such a combination of experience and ability

at work in American political life involves the art of public speaking.

The purpose of this dissertation is to describe, analyze, and evalu-

ate the public speaking of James Buchanan throughout his lengthy

political career. This chapter sets forth the specific purposes of

the work and methods of criticism to be employed in the study. Because

of the subject's controversial reputation, however, it will first

be necessary to examine the conflicting schools of historians who

have sought to appraise Buchanan since the Civil War.

1Philip S. Klein, President James Buchanan (University Park,
Pa., 1962), p. 429.


The Verdict of History

James Buchanan served his state and nation for forty years

but historians have chosen to judge him on his record during the

last one hundred and fifty days of his presidency. Twenty years

in Congress, five years abroad in ambassadorial positions, and

four years as premier of Polk's Cabinet, all public years involving

many significant events, are overshadowed by the crucial few months

between Lincoln's election and inauguration. It was during this

relatively short period that the seeds of secession sprouted, con-

fronting Buchanan and his administration with several alternatives.

Coercion, disunion, postponement were among the courses open to those

at the helm in 1860-1861. The wisdom of the tack Buchanan took has

been debated for a century. Historians have judged Buchanan accord-

ing to his action during this period seemingly on the assumption

that he alone could alter the course of human events.

A colorful variety of opinions have been offered. Aucham-

paugh says Buchanan has been wrongly "hailed as the Arnold of the

Sixties,"2 while Klein felt "a quieter era might have gained for

him a place among the great presidents of his country." Henry

Cabot Lodge said that Buchanan, although not a traitor, did,

"through sheer weakness and helplessness, the things that a traitor

would have done."4 Amid these conflicting judgments, there appears

to be a division of historians into three distinct categories.

2Philip G. Auchampaugh, James Buchanan and His Cabinet
(Lancaster, Pa., 1926), p. 3.

5Klein, Buchanan, p. 429.

4Congressional Record, Vol. 56, part 8, 7878.


First, many nineteenth century post-bellum historians fall into the

class of Northern "detractors." Revisionists sympathetic to Buchanan

began to appear in the 1880's. More recently, historians plead for

dispassionate re-examination of Buchanan's role in the crisis of the


As many Southerners feared, "to the South's overflowing cup

would be added the bitter taste of having the history of the war

written by Northerners for at least fifty years."5 The names of

James Schouler, Herman E. von Holst, and James W. Burgess are among

those northern writers who grew up during the dispute over slavery,

inherited the Northern point of view toward that institution, and

wrote the history of the fifties and sixties from an anti-Buchanan

bias. These men, more literary than historical, less scientific

than passionate, chose to dwell upon Buchanan's weaknesses rather

than his strengths. All nationalists, they accepted Seward's thesis

of the "inevitable conflict" and indicted Buchanan for not taking

forthright military action against the .seceding states. These

"prosecuting historians" wrote as though individual men could in-

fluence the march of history especially during "sublime episodes of

political and military strife." Most Northern detractors found

Buchanan's December 3rd, 1860, Address to Congress an inexcusable

and cowardly pronouncement of ineptness and indecisiveness.

James Schouler, author of an exhaustive series of works on

American history, not only thought the December 3rd Address an act

5Michael Kraus, A History of American History (New York,
1937), p. 336.
Frank Wyson Klingberg, "James Buchanan and the Crisis of the
Union," Journal of Southern History, IX, 457.


of cowardice and a "renunciation of responsibility," but also said

it encouraged disunion because Buchanan's loyalty to the Union was

expressed in the form of an apology.7 These conclusions were prompted

by Schouler's strong personal conviction that slavery was "both

wasteful and unrighteous."8

Another historian with a strong anti-slavery bias was Herman

E. von Holst. Von Holst agreed with Buchanan that there were Con-

stitutional limitations upon executive power to maintain the Union

but condemned the President for not inspiring "the people with a

will to take the bull by the horns at this stage of the secession."9

Buchanan did not provide leadership, von Holst continued, and there-

fore "it came to pass that the years of the republic's highest moral

energy were preceded by those months of deepest darkness, during

which it seemed as if the people...had fallen into a condition of

the most wretched impotence."10 These passages reveal von Holst's

nonobjective approach to Buchanan and exemplify the "great man"
premise common among nineteenth century post-bellum writers.1

Another Northern detractor was James Ford Rhodes. Rhodes

was less attached to the view that a single man may chart the course

of history but was still representative of the Northern nationalist

7james Schouler, A History of the United States Under the
Constitution, (New York, 1880-89), V, 427.

Klingberg, p. 459.

9Von Holst, as cited in Klingberg, p. 459.

11Klingberg, p. 457.


school of writers subscribing to the irrepressibleo conflic," .id.ou

and critical of Buchanan's personal weaknesses. Buchanan alone

could not have averted the secession crisis as Jackson had done with

the nullification emergency in 1832; the crisis of 1860-61 was far

greater than that facing Jackson, but its very greatness provided

an opportunity for glory. Such an opportunity, contended Rhodes,

was wasted on Buchanan, a man lacking innate qualities of greatness.

More sympathetic toward Buchanan than Schouler and von Hoist, his

overall evaluation was nonetheless critical:

Those of us who hold to the idea of the irrepressible conflict
can see in such a project one of Buchanan's compromise proposals]
no more than the delay of a war that was inevitable, a postpone-
ment proper indeed, if the compromise were not dishonorable--
for the stars in their courses were fighting on the side of the
North. Yet the weight of probability tends to the view that
the day of compromise was past, and that the collision of senti-
ment shaping the ends of the North and the South, had now brought
them both to the last resort of earnest men.12

Rhodes, writing ex post facto, expected Buchanan to see as clearly

as he that all "last resorts" had been expended.

Nicolay and Hay also thought Buchanan had "served a lost

cause" and led the nation through "a certain process of national

suicide."15 Burgess conceded that Buchanan had been a man "of

fair judgment and pure patriotism" as a younger man but thought

that by 1860 he had become "old, timid, and ineffectual."14

The position of Northern detractors regarding Buchanan as

12James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States from the
Compromise of 1850 (New York, 1892-1906), III, 135-136.
John G. Nicolay and John.Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History
(New York, 1917), II, 381.

14John Burgess, The Civil War and the Constitution, 1859-1865
(New York, 1901), p. 85.


expressed by representative historians in the class such as Schouler,

von Hoist, and Rhodes, rests on the performance of the President

during the last one hundred and fifty days of his administration.

They almost universally conclude that Buchanan was inept, indecisive,

blundering, and negligent. They differ only in the degree to which

Buchanan was responsible for the bloody war that followed and as to

the causes of his failures. Some, like Schouler, believe Buchanan

was a traitor to the Union, while less derisive writers like Rhodes

and Burgess believe his faults were primarily the result of age and

timidity. This verdict has been challenged by historians sympa-

thetic to Buchanan and his policy of appeasement.

The first serious defense of Buchanan was offered by his

official biographer, George Ticknor Curtis.1 Curtis was bent on

vindicating the President and placing the blame on Republican

Senators. The December 3rd Message was in full accord with Buchanan's

training in the art of compromise. Buchanan's legalistic approach

to the secession crisis employs the "true theory of our Constitution."16

Curtis accepted Buchanan's explanation of Executive responsibility

in the secession matter, without qualification:

To the Executive Department it appropriately belonged to suggest
the measures of conciliation needful for one of the alternatives
of a sound and safe policy, and to execute the laws by the means
with which the Executive was then or might thereafter be clothed
by the legislature. But the Executive could not in the smallest
degree increase the means which existing laws had placed in his

15 "1.
George Ticknor Curtis, Life of James Buchanan, 2 vols.
(New York, 1885).
Ibid., II, 350.

17bid., II, 418-419.

Such a position was not indicative of timidity or irresolution but'

was the philosophy of a prudent and lawful man attempting to keep

the peace and solve the greatest test the Union ever faced. In

Curtis' opinion, blame should be placed upon the five Republican

members of the Committee of Thirteen selected to consider the Presi-

dent's message of December 3rd. It was they who rejected the Critten-

den Compromise in committee and aided other Republican Senators in

the use of "parliamentary tactics" to prevent the passage of the

same compromise when offered as a joint resolution on the floor of
the Senate.1

Auchampaugh, a sympathetic revisionist, added words of vindi-

cation in his biography devoted to the history of Buchanan's life

from the election of 1860 to the end of his administration. He


Buchanan had every reason to congratulate himself on the success
of his policy. His main aim, to give things a peaceful direction,
and prevent the opening of a terrible "Brother's War," had
been accomplished midst terrific difficulties. At the same time,
he had held the Northern members of his cabinet in his cabinet
save one, thus preventing the disintegration of his Administra-
tion. No official recognition had been given the seceded States,
so that his successor was under no commitment in this regard.
Some Federal property had been taken, but other points had been
reinforced. No stone had been left unturned to promote measures
of compromise that would be fair to all concerned. The public
was rapidly becoming quieted and reconciled to the idea that
the Union could be saved without a "Brother's War." The Presi-
dent had also escaped the pitfalls of the Republicans, by stand-
ing firmly on his constitutional prerogatives, both in dealing
with Congress and the Southern States. Few men beset by so many
chances of pitfall have ever managed to extricate themselves
so skillfully.19

1Ibid., II, 432.

19uchapauh, pp. 10-11.
Auchampaugh, pp. 190-191.


Moore joined in the chorus of sympathizers by saying Buchanan's

policy during the fateful crisis promised "the largest possible oppor-

tunity for conciliatory and healing measures. Efforts were repeatedly

made, apparently in a spirit of hopefulness, by his successor as

President, to find a basis of compromise."20

The most recent biographer and writer of the most scholarly

analysis of Buchanan's role in the crisis of 1860-61 is Philip S.

Klein. His is the strongest voice ringing out in Buchanan's defense:

Buchanan assumed leadership of the United States when an unprece-
dented wave of angry passion was sweeping over the nation. That
he held the hostile sections in check during these revolutionary
times was in itself a remarkable achievement. His weaknesses
in the stormy years of his presidency were magnified by enraged
partisans of the North and the South. His many talents, which
in a quieter era migh-u have gained for him a place among the
great presidents of his country, were quickly overshadowed by
the cataclysmic events of civil war and by the towering person-
ality of Abraham Lincoln. Of Buchanan it might be said, as it
.was later of another. "He staked his reputation on the supremacy
of reason and lost. "I

Sympathetic historians, then, emphasized the difficulties confronting

Buchanan and applauded him for doing as well as he did. One, as

noted above, would shift the blame for negligence onto the shoulders

of others. Among these contradictory schools of opinion stands a

group of writers influenced by the "new history," who pled for a

dispassionate re-examination of Buchanan and his times. In so doing,

they actually convey a more favorable image of Buchanan.

After the turn of the century, historians began to recognize

the significance of evidence reflecting social attitudes. Such

social historians as John B. McMaster and Frederick Jackson Turner

John Bassett Moore, ed., Works of James Buchanan, 12 vols.
(Philadelphia, 1908-1912), I, v.

2Klein, Buchanan, p. 429.


promoted a re-examination of the crisis of 1860-61 in terms of social
attitudes in the South as well as the North.2 Klingberg reports

that "a new concept of the forces operating during the Civil War

period was beginning to appear which suggested that the conflict

might not have been 'irrepressible,' and that James Buchanan might

have been something more than a weak man who crumbled under a mighty

force."25 The group of historians here called pleaders for re-evalu-

ation, focus on the question of the "irrepressible conflict." Evi-

dence of convincing mass indicates that "there is little doubt that

at the moment Lof the crisis in 1860-61J the majority of the American

people wished for conciliation to be tried."24

Auchampaugh bases his defense of Buchanan upon the concept

of historical relativity.25 Randall and Klingberg concur as they

call attention to public opinion in favor of conciliation during the

time of the crisis. Schouler, Rhodes, and Burgess were writing with

the advantage of hindsight. Revisionists like Randall and Klingberg,

who more and more tend to support sympathizers like Curtis, Moore

and Klein, plead for a dispassionate study of Buchanan in the crisis

from the point of view of 1860 and 1890 or 1918.

History's verdict is not clear. The Northern detractors

had an amazing impact upon twentieth century attitudes toward Bu-

chanan. Text books continue to speak disparagingly of Buchanan,26

Klingberg, pp. 462-463.

25Klingberg, p. 464.

24James G. Randall, The Civil War and Reconstruction (Boston,
1957), p. 194.
2Auchampaugh, p. 2.

2Klingberg, p. 469.


and as late as 1918, the Northern nationalist point of view was
evident.27 Klingberg, however, notes that recent college textbooks

reflect revisionist thinking in that some have shown "the economic

and social problems involved, and the possibilities for mediation."28

With war as the easy alternative, the eventful one hundred and
fifty days before Sumter offer a fertile field for study of the
technique of arbitration, for here with the uncertain balance
between compromise, with his [Buchanan's concept of the impor-
tance of congressional representation of public opinion, with
his belief in the bargaining rights of a minority and his con-
viction that the Union could not be cemented by the blood of
its citizens, it is difficult to see how Buchanan could have
chosen another course.

The verdict of history is still being written. As sectional passions

cool, as new evidence reveals conditions as they looked to those living

in 1860, it appears that history may, at least give Buchanan a more

prominent place in the roll call of presidents, if not applaud him.

Purpose of the Study

It was noted above that historians have gradually recognized

the possibility of mediation at the time of the 1860-61 secession

crisis. As the "irrepressible conflict" psychology diminishes, there

is an increasing need for studies of the rhetoric of compromise during

the fateful period preceding the firing on Fort Sumter. If it is

true that most Americans desired conciliation, the Virginia Peace

Conference of early 1861 and the Crittenden Compromise resolution

take on new significance. They now seem less like hopeless and

foolish gestures and more like courageous and honorable efforts

Congressional Record Vol. 56, part 1, 7878.
28Klingberg, p. 469.

29Ibid., p. 474.


which had tragically disappointing results. The same renewed interest

in the compromises proffered by James Buchanan seem justified. The

desire to evaluate the rhetoric of President Buchanan motivates the

writer, for perhaps no other man had greater opportunity to employ

rhetoric for the achievement of peace in 1860-61.

Further, while historians have concentrated their analysis

on the last days of the fifteenth president's administration, not

to be overlooked is the fact that James Buchanan was repeatedly

called upon by his state and country to render public service before

his election to the presidency. Public service and public speaking

were inextricable in the Nineteenth Century. Beginning his political

career as delegate to the Pennsylvania State Assembly, James Buchanan

rose slowly but steadily to the highest office in the land. He stepped

up from state congressman to become member of the House of Representa-

tives, and then in succession, Ambassador to Russia, United States

Senator, Secretary of State, Ambassador to the Court of St. James,

and finally President of the United States. In all these positions,

Klein observes, Buchanan demonstrated "mental toughness and moral

stamina,"3 legalistic brilliance, political leadership, dialectic

skill in foreign affairs, conversational gifts and periodic eloquence.31

Perhaps of all his talents, the latter is least recognized today.

The total purpose of this study, then, is to focus on Bu-

chanan's rhetorical thought and practice in its political entirety.

Few men spoke as often as Buchanan, and few had opportunities to

exert influence on so many momentous issues through applied rhetoric.

30Klein, Buchanan, p. 428.

1Auchampaugh, pp. 5-20.


That his rhetorical activity was extensive is not surprising con-

sidering the career he chose, the offices he held, and the age in

which he lived. Buchanan spoke and wrote prolifically also because

of his faith in democracy and his reverence for compromise. To

solve problems through conference and debate were to him the sine

aua non of statesmanship. The underlying assumption in this study

is that one so speech-oriented and one blessed with opportunities

to use speech for worthy causes during such trying times, is worthy

of serious rhetorical evaluation.

The specific purpose of this study shall be to conduct a

rhetorical analysis of Buchanan's speaking during his congressional,

cabinet, and presidential career. It is hoped the study will produce

knowledge of value to the rhetorical theorist and critic primarily.

One of the most basic justifications for studies in rhetorical ana-

lysis is the opportunity such investigations provide for the re-

discovery of underlying principles of human communication. Although

this study may bring forth evidence that merely confirms established

rhetorical concepts, the value in such confirmation is nonetheless

worthwhile. Usually, however, each rhetorical investigation affords

further insight into the nature of the communication process.

In addition, another value to be realized will be the resulting under-

standing of James Buchanan at work as a spokesman for ideas:. No

theses or dissertations, no scholarly investigations of any sort,

have been published which deal exclusively with the public speaking

of James Buchanan.

The humanist and the historian also have something to gain

from this study. As Marie Hochmuth Nichols puts it:


I find a large part of the humanities in the examples that are
provided of men in their best moments as men. It has been well
said that "the speech as a form gives us a microcosm of humanity,
a man in high thought and feeling in a worthy cause, seeking, by
his wordartistry, to make his audience know and care." One may
agree with Richard Murphy's lament: "In the best of the past
speeches we have these experiences preserved as illuminations
of man's experience, and of the best in human nature. It is
a pity not to draw freely upon the heritage."52

Whether we find Buchanan's speeches to be among the best, they were

at least delivered in times which required men to be at their best;

whatever their worth as "word-artistry," they reflected Buchanan's

best. It should be of value to both historian and rhetorician as

well as the student of the humanities to observe in depth the efforts

one talented man made to relate his ideas to his fellow countrymen

during trying times.

The historian is long accustomed to relying on speech manu-

scripts for documentary commentary on the times of a public figure.

It is hoped that a more perceptive analysis of the oratory of James

Buchanan will provide a better understanding of the thought of the

Jacksonian and the ante-bellum periods.

The Critical Method

The writer has two critical objectives: (1) to go beyond

historical description and analysis of Buchanan's communication

efforts, and to render a judicial statement as to their rhetorical

worth; and (2), to eschew the traditional approach to rhetorical

criticism wherever its conventions might handicap a just appraisal

of Buchanan's rhetorical worth.

Rhetorical criticism is not true criticism if it fails to

3jarie Hochmuth Nichols, "Rhetoric and Public Address as
Humane Study," Rhetoric and Criticism (Baton Rouge, La., 1963), p.11.


go beyond mere analysis and render some kind of verdict about how

well the speaker adapted his ideas to his audience. Most "criticism"

is not judicial. Critics of speech, for the greater part, engage

in analysis and "the discovery of historical context" alone. These

steps are essential but "beyond perception is appraisal; beyond

seeing a thing is attaching a value to it. These two acts--perception

and evaluation--distinguishable as they are in theory, are generally

experienced as inseparable phases of the same process. That process

is criticism."33 This study is an attempt to obey both commandments

of rhetorical criticism -- clear and accurate perception, accompanied

with just and considered evaluation.

In order to accomplish true criticism, the writer has de-

liberately avoided the "traditional" or neo-Aristotelian approach.

According to Edwin Black, practically all of the forty essays in the

three-volume History and Criticism of American Public Address series

are written in the traditional vein. Some have said Wichelns'

famous article laid down the neo-Aristotelian prescriptions and almost

all speech critics have followed this approach over the last thirty-

five years.4 Briefly, the philosophy of the traditional mode of

criticism is that speakers and speeches should be evaluated on the

basis of effect upon the immediate audience. Speeches are analyzed

in terms of traditional categories. The great difficulty with the

traditional method is that most critics become so entangled in de-

monstrating the existence of traditional categories that they seldom

33Edwin Black, Rhetorical Criticism (New York, 1965), p. 5.

4Herbert A. Wichelns, "The Literary Criticism of Oratory,"
in Studies in Rhetoric and Public Speaking in Honor of James Albert
Winans (New York, 1925), pp. 181-216.


go on to ask how well the speaker employed traditional theory for

his persuasive purpose. Further, to focus on immediate results of

a speech on an immediate audience points up an inherent weakness in

the traditional method. Attention on effect alone constitutes serious

shortsightedness on the part of traditional critics. Burke has re-

minded us that a speaker may have multiple audiences in mind. He

may address himself or those present in the immediate audience, those

millions viewing him on television, those who read accounts of the

speech, the leaders of his society, and perhaps an ideal audience

of which he conceives, and he may do all of this simultaneously.

The neo-Aristotelian system is not capable of evaluating the effect

of a speech on all these audiences.

Yet, perhaps the greatest drawback to the traditional methods

is that it tends to limit the creativity of the critic. It binds

him to a rigid system and precludes exploration. This study has

been written without the encumbrances of traditional jargon and method

although much of the system used may be comparable to one neo-

Aristotelian tenet or another. The present critic has eschewed all

known methods of criticism. Should similarities exist in the final

product it would be an unintended result.

Actually, the only system the writer has employed has been

one of general orientation: "We have not evolved any system of

rhetorical criticism, but only, at best, an orientation to it. An

orientation, together with taste and intelligence, is all that the

critic needs."35

The guiding orientation in this study is one of questioning

35Black, p. 177.


the purpose of the subject on each speaking occasion. Once the

speaker's purpose and audience were identified, the writer sought

to apply his own taste and intelligence along with the standards

derived by scholars of public address, to test "how well" the subject

spoke in light of his own objectives. For example, in Chapter V,

Buchanan sought to draw a legal claim to the Oregon Territory as

far north as the 540 40' parallel. Since the rhetorical specimen

in this instance was forensic rhetoric in perhaps its purest sense,

the writer applied the tests for case strength as devised by Ehninger

and Brockriede. In Chapter III, it was demonstrated that Buchanan

spoke according to a rhetorical formula used and tested by William

Lowndes. Buchanan's speaking in the House of Representatives was

evaluated according to the formula for rhetorical success that the

writer discovered Buchanan himself chose. The primary orientation,

then, was one of evaluating Buchanan's argumentative discourse since

he engaged almost exclusively in this form.

Finally, the writer has chosen the definition of rhetoric pro-

vided by Donald C. Bryant: "Rhetoric must be understood to be the

rationale of informative and suasory discourse both spoken and

written."6 Only "suasory" discourse is studied in this work but

specimens of both oral and written rhetoric are included. Buchanan

attempted to influence audiences through the spoken word but on

several important occasions he relied on the pen as well. To ignore

Buchanan's polemical writings would be to misunderstand his rhetori-

cal efforts and to by-pass some of the most significant rhetorical

considerations of his career. (Both written and spoken specimens are

6Donald C. Bryant, "Rhetoric: Its Function and Its Scope,"
The Quarterly Journal of Speech, XXXIX, 407.


studied in this work. However, this is primarily a study of Buchanan's

speaking since only a few of the subject's many letters, messages,

etc., have been evaluated. Furthermore, most of the samples of

Buchanan's written rhetoric studied were in actuality written as

speeches to be delivered by others.)

In summary, Buchanan's full career is to be studied from

the point of view of the rhetorical critic because he was a prolific

speaker, because he spoke and wrote on grave questions, and was

consistently rhetorically involved in public deliberations of various

momentous issues over a period of forty years. Further, the study

seems justified in the light of recent historical discoveries which

demonstrate that, even during the secession crisis of 1860-61, medi-

ation was still possible because of great public support for main-

taining the Union. Since Buchanan was one of those urging compro-

mise to the last, a study of his rhetorical efforts to save the Union

seem worthwhile. Further, no rhetorical studies of Buchanan have

been published; this omission is unfortunate and unwarranted. Finally,

as a capping reason for essaying a study of Buchanan, the subject is

to be judged, not just analyzed. The communication efforts of a

particular man will be illuminated, but perhaps more importantly,

standards by which his efforts should be judged will be forged,

thereby suggesting directives for other scholars working on other

subjects. No method of appraisal is employed but an orientation

toward taking the measure of Buchanan as an argumentative rheto-

rician has guided the study from beginning to end. Both written and

oral discourse are included in this career length study of "James

Buchanan: Advocate in Congress, Cabinet and Presidency."



A statement was made in Chapter I that James Buchanan's

"periodic eloquence" is perhaps the least recognized aspect of his

long public career. The purpose of this chapter is to illuminate

Buchanan the advocate in an attempt to sketch a rhetorical portrait.

This portrait will be drawn first by isolating those biographical

forces which shapedthe oratorical nature of the man and second by

observing the speaker at work through a life survey of his chief

rhetorical efforts. The underlying theme of this chapter is to bring

into sharper focus those elements of the life, character and career

of James Buchanan which are primarily "rhetorical" so that this here-

tofore neglected dimension stands in bold relief to the familiar

"historical" image current in the Twentieth Century.

Biographical Forces Which Shaped the Speaker

Many events and conditions help to form a human personality.

Family background, childhood environment, religious instruction, and

education are among such forces. The factors seemingly most influ-

ential in the formation of the character of James Buchanan were his

mother and father, his formal education, his legal training, and his

emulation of human models. How did these influences shape Buchanan

the speaker?

Buchanan's Irish father migrated to America in 1783 at the


age of twenty-three and within five years proved he was an enter-

prising and practical young man. He saved his wages until rich

enough to buy out his employer, the owner of a thriving village store

at Stony Batter, Pennsylvania. The elder Buchanan, industrious,

strong, and practical, conveyed these same qualities to young James,

born in 1791. The son also acquired his father's sense of indepen-

dence which was to become a mark of distinction throughout his life.

Working in his father's store as a boy, James learned of the excite-

ment of politics while listening to political arguments among the

customers. The father also taught the importance of recordkeeping,

the rudiments of good business, and the necessity of being neat

and detailed in general. Such an education may account for the prac-

tical and detailed character of many of Buchanan's speeches.

James Buchanan also learned from his father that one should

not jump precipitously into new adventures but should plan each

move prudently. The elder Buchanan's letters to his son at college

and later in Lancaster as a young lawyer, abound in advice about

business, career decisions, and other practical matters. He en-

couraged his son to succeed but never at the expense of his own

integrity. When James had left college to study law in Lancaster

his father admonished him to "tend strictly to business and 'not

be carried off by the amusements and temptations that are prevalent

in that place'."1 His father at one time wrote, "I hope the privation

I have suffered and will suffer in giving you a good education will

be compensated by the station in society you will occupy."2

Klein, Buchanan, p. 14.

2Father to James, April 19, 1811, Klein, Buchanan, p. 14.

The elder Buchanan exerted a strong religious influence

upon his son. His letters to young James are a melange of advice,

mild reproach, encouragement, fatherly love, and religious exhor-


I received yours by Mr. Evans, informing me you were elected to
the Assembly. The circumstances of your being so popular with
your neighbors as to give you a majority over Issac Wayne, who,
I suppose, was one of the highest on your ticket, is very grati-
fying to me, and I hope your conduct will continue to merit
their approbation. But above all earthly enjoyments, endeavor
to merit the esteem of heaven; and that Divine Providence who
has done so much for you heretofore, will never abandon you
in the hour of trial. Perhaps your going to the Legislature
may be to your advantage, and it may be otherwise. I hope you
will make the best of the thing now. The feelings of parents
are always alive to the welfare of their children, and I am
fearful of this taking you from the bar at a time when perhaps
you may feel it most . .3

James Buchanan manuscript collections are filled with letters such

as this which must have instilled a desire to "merit the esteem of

heaven" in the heart of James Buchanan.

The influence of the father on the son is immeasurable. By

setting an example of an industrious business man, a civic-minded

citizen, and a solicitous father,4 the old Irishman helped to mold

the character of a president.

It is interesting to observe how James' attitude toward

his family parallels that of his father. Upon the death of his father,

James assumed the role of head of the family and from that moment

in 1821 until his own death in 1868, he never ceased giving advice,

money, and orders to his mother, sisters and brothers. In 1838,

Buchanan, now forty-seven and midway through his first term in the

3Curtis, I, 11.

4James Buchanan, "Autobiography," in Moore, XII, 289.


Senate, demonstrated his characteristic familial concern:

In November, the death of sister Harriet's husband, the Reverend
Robert Henry of Greensburg, raised family problems so serious
and immediate that James spent the entire month attending to
them before going to Washington. The family was like politics.
He loved both and felt duty bound to both, but their problems
demands, and feuds were ever on his doorstep. For a long while
he anticipated the difficulties that now faced him. He had al-
ready acquired major responsibility for half a dozen young nephews
and nieces, and if tuberculosis continued to afflict the family,
as he feared it would, he would soon have a whole orphanage on
his hands.5

If Buchanan so strongly felt the need to attend to family problems,

it seems likely he may have widened this view of himself and his re-

sponsibilities to include the whole nation. Perhaps this is why he

was elected President in 1856. He certainly looked like a father

figure--tall, portly, whiteheaded (by 1856) and kindly, with a smile

on his face and a head bent slightly to one side suggesting warm

concern for all those in view (actually, Buchanan had a defect in

one eye and tilted his head to one side for purposes of better

vision). The nation certainly needed a strong patriarch in 1856

and perhaps it thought Buchanan was he. It is likely Buchanan thought

of himself in the same way. When James wrote that the elder Buchanan

was "a kind father, a sincere friend, and an honest and religious

man," he apparently realized the strong impression the old gentle-

man had made on him and he intended to demonstrate the same character-

istics toward his family, state and eventually his nation.

Elizabeth Speer Buchanan encouraged religion, love of debate,

and intellectual pursuits in her children. A mother of a large

5Klein, Buchanan, p. 124.

Moore, XII, 289.


brood, for whom she was ambitious, she believed instilling a dis-

putatious spirit within her children would condition them to the

trials of life. She knew the power of argument and tried to mJwko

her sons expert in it. She also recognized the humanizing effect

of literature. Although not formally educated, Mrs. Buchanan was

acquainted with much of the finest English literature. She passed

on her love for Milton and Shakespeare to her children.

In addition to inspiring hard work, good conversation, and

ambition among her sons, she set an example of religious living.

James later remarked that "she was a sincere and devout Christian,

from the time of my earliest recollection, and had read much on the

subject of theology, and what she read once, she remembered forever."

Buchanan was concerned about religious questions all his life and

attended church faithfully. However, he postponed official member-

ship until joining the Presbyterian Church of Lancaster in September,

1865, just three years before his death.

Both parents spent special pains seeing that James Buchanan

be properly raised. The oldest surviving child in the family, he

was always the favorite. Yet the demanding father expected more

from the boy than he could always accomplish. James seemed to merit

from his father more criticism than praise and came to both fear and

love him.10

7bid., p. 290.

8Reverend William D. Paxton to G. T. Curtis, Curtis, II, 671.

Klein, Buchanan, p. 4.

10Ibid., p. 290.


Constantly striving for his father's approval, James Buchanan

early acquired a strong ambitious bent. His easy going mother was

as "modest and self-effacing as the father was proud and arrogant . .

The mother was always satisfied, and the father was hardly ever satis-

fied.11 Both parents, in their different ways, doted on him and

made him the center of family attention:

Thus, for the first fourteen years of his life, James Buchanan,
as the eldest child and only boy, retained the place of favor-
itism into which he had been born. He lived in a woman's world
at home, and until the family moved to Mercersburg he had no
playmates except his sisters, over whom he was an acknowledged
authority. While he commanded more than the usual child's pre-
rogative to be waited upon, he also had more than the usual child-
hood responsibility, and he soon developed a good opinion of
himself that was daily strengthened by the deference of the
younger children. When he reached his early teens, he must have
been obnoxiously conceited and self-assured.12

Some of the conceit and self-assurance was sure to be lost during

his two eventful years at Dickinson College.

Elizabeth Buchanan, unschooled but well read, taught her

children to read and write at home. When the family moved from the

farm at Stony Batter to Mercersburg, James was sent to Old Stone

Academy where he studied Greek and Latin.13 It is not known whether

or not he studied classical oratory at this or any other time. And

not too much is known of the curriculum at Dickinson College where

Buchanan matriculated at age sixteen. How long Buchanan was at Old

Stone Academy is not known, although he had lived in the town of

11Ibid., p. 7.

12Ibid., p. 4.

13Ibid., p. 5.

Mercersburg ten years prior to going away to college. His training

in the academy must have been extensive for he transferred directly

from it to the Junior Class at Dickinson:

After having received a tolerably good English education, I
studied the Latin and Greek languages at a school in Mercers-
burg . .. I was sent to Dickinson College in the fall of
1807, where I entered the Junior Class.14

At Dickinson, Buchanan studied Latin, Greek, mathematics,

philosophy, history, and literature.15 He took part in "extra-

curricular" activities too. James wanted the approval of his fellow

students, and although gaining it required behaving in a manner to

which he was unaccustomed, he made a valiant effort to win friends

and at the same time maintain a respectable academic standing:

The college was, at that time, in a wretched condition; and I
have often since regretted that I had not been sent to some other
.institution. There was no efficient discipline and the young
men did pretty much as they pleased. To be a sober, plodding,
industrious youth was to incur the ridicule of the mass of stu-
dents. Without much natural tendency to become dissipated, and
chiefly from the example of others, and in order to be considered
a clever and a spirited youth, I engaged in every sort of ex-
travagance and mischief in which the greatest- - [illegible]
of the college indulged. Unlike the rest of this class, however,
I was always a tolerably hard student, and never was deficient
in my college exercises.16

Klein has reached some conclusions about the nature of the indulgences

of which Buchanan speaks:

From knowledge of his later activities, we may reasonably assume
that he got into drinking bouts sufficiently rowdy to come to
the attention of the faculty; that he smoked cigars contrary to
to regulations of the college; and that he manifested in and out

14Moore, XII, 291.

15Klein, "James Buchanan at Dickinson College," John and Mary's
College (Carlisle, Pa., 1956), p. 162.

16Moore, XII, 291.


of the classroom a conceit which proved at first irritating and
at length intolerable to his professors. On the Fourth of July,
1803, which the Dickinson boys celebrated with a huge dinner
at the Glebe Farm, he downed sixteen regular toasts before
starting on the volunteers.17

Regardless of what extravagant behavior Buchanan indulged

in, he irritated the faculty to the point that he was expelled after

his first year even though his academic record was high. The dis-

missal notice came in the form of a letter to James' father just

prior to the time the younger Buchanan was to leave for Carlisle to

begin his Senior year:

On a lovely Sunday morning of September he was lounging at ease
in the sitting room of his home, enjoying those deliciously
languorous sensations of well-being that the gods confer only
upon college students on vacation. His reverie was interrupted
by a knock at the door. His father answered it and returned
shortly with a letter he tore open with curious interest. As
he began to read, his expression changed to one of pain and
anger. Whatever this was, it was uncommonly bad news. Buchanan
senior abruptly thrust the paper at his son, turned, and left
the room without a word.18

The letter had come from Dr. Davidson, President of Dickinson College.

The faculty would have expelled James for his misbehavior sooner

except for the high regard in which the Buchanan family was held.

The letter went on to say that reinstatement was impossible. His

pride hurt, reeling from embarrassment, James fought for reinstate-

ment nonetheless. He convinced the Reverend Dr. John King, pastor

at the Mercersburg Presbyterian Church and President of the Dickin-

son College Board of Trustees, that he would behave in a manner be-

yond reproach if he were permitted to return to school. Dr. King

1Klein, Buchanan, p. 9.

18Klein, "Buchanan at Dickinson," p. 177.


was convinced and intervonod in Buchanan's behalf obtaining James'


Back at Dickinson, Buchanan, chastened and remorse by the

unexpected censure, became an impeccable student. He performed so

well that he rose to the top of his class academically. He expected

to be chosen valedictorian by the faculty but they were still pre-

judiced toward him and voted the honor to the second boy instead.

Buchanan was so angered by the slight that he had little good to say

about Dickinson everafter.

Yet, Buchanan profited from his two years at Dickinson.

Without the studies in history, philosophy, mathematics, and classi-

cal languages, it is unlikely his speeches would reveal so much learn-

ing and understanding of the world. His speeches represent a man

exact and precise in the use of the English language, immersed in

classical literature, acquainted with great thinkers, and knowledge-

able about the story of man. Dickinson College was responsible for

much of the eminence among men Buchanan was later to achieve.

More than James Buchanan's intellectual ability was demon-

strated at Dickinson. It is clear he was so eager to be liked by

his peers he would go against his own principles to win favor and

finally to assume leadership. In the end, however, the desire to

be a credit to himself, his father and Dr. King seems tothave been

the stronger motivation. Buchanan learned a hard lesson at Dickinson--

duty comes before pleasure and above friends. This characteristic

is evident throughout much of his life. It was duty, certainly,

which caused him to speak so honestly about the evils of buying mili-

tary deferments. This and other dutiful speeches will be discussed

later in the chapter.


After leaving college, Buchanan studied law under a Lan-

caster preceptor. Under the tutelage of James Hopkins, Buchanan

plunged himself into his legal studies with fervor. His capacity

for hard work became apparent during the time of his apprenticeship,

a capacity which was to become a lifelong feature of his character:

James worked hard. "I determined that if severe application
would make me a good lawyer, I should not fail in this particular.
I studied law and nothing but law." Day and night he read and
struggled to extract the full meaning from pages of print and
to incorporate it accurately in his mind. For relaxation he got
into the habit of strolling out to the edge of town in the even-
ing where, while watching the sun descend beyond the gentle
slope of Chestnut Hill, he tried to put into spoken words the
material he had studied during the day.19

Buchanan was acquiring the capacity for extemporaneous speech a

skill he would greatly need in Congress later. A more important

rhetorical characteristic acquired during these years of training

was the formation of the habit of writing and speaking in the form

of a legal brief. After three years of training under Hopkins

Buchanan's speeches were thereafter to bear the mark of a legal

mind--tightly reasoned, heavily documented, precise, even at the

expense of flavor, and consequently most always dry.

In 1812, Buchanan had completed his apprenticeship. He was

now twenty-one and perhaps his personality was by now formed in its

basic aspects at least. However, since the concern in this chapter

is with those influences which helped to stamp his rhetorical char--

acter primarily, one other significant force should be added. For

some reason,perhaps because of the natural tendency among young men

to seek out human models, Buchanan was very much impressed with

19Klein, Buchanan, p. 14.
Klein, Buchanan, p. 14.


the character and oratorical abilities of Congressman William

Lowndes of South Carolina. Buchanan was a freshman Congressman

when he first met Lowndes in 1821:

lie had learned of Lowndes through Langdon Cheves, former Presi-
dent of the United States Second Bank, a South Carolinian who
for several years had been living in Lancaster. The news that
the South Carolina Legislature had just unanimously nominated
Lowndes for the presidency in 1824 gave special interest to his
presence in the House. Buchanan made Lowndes his ideal, for he
displayed those qualities which James admired and tried to cul-
tivate in himself--sincerity of purpose, full command of informa-
tion, gentleness of address, an aversion to giving offense to an
opponent, and utter fairness in debate. Randolph once remarked
after hearing Lowndes present the argument of an adversary be-
fore demolishing it, "He will never be able to answer himself."20

Just how sound Lowndes' rhetorical practice was and how well Buchanan

managed to emulate it is a matter to be discussed later in this study.

From these biographical details, admittedly selected but

felt by the writer to be most influential in the creation of Buchanan's

rhetorical character, evolves an image of the Squire of Lancaster

as he addressed the House of Representatives for the first time

in 1821. He was a large man, handsome, filled with youthful vigor,

yet cautious and discreet, proud, perhaps vain, humane, and religious,

literate and articulate, although tedious and legalistic in speech,

accustomed to hard work, buoyed with self-confidence and yet unsure

enough to need to follow. Further, he was beginning to demonstrate

that he was the rock his father was--diligent, mature, perservering,

dependable, in all, the family stabilizer. Buchanan came to the

House as a man of great promise--educated, willing to be a "business

member," and inventive. No wonder he was immediately sought out

by Calhoun and Lowndes for an important speech assignment--

20. 8-9.
Ibid. pp. 58-59.


the presentation of Lowndes' case in favor of the War Department

Deficiency Bill and in support of John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War.

How wonderful it must have made this thirty-year-old freshman Con-

gressman feel to be chosen for such an important task. But the

story of Buchanan as public persuader begins long before 1821.

A Neglected Dimension: Buchanan's Role as Public Persuader

Throughout his long career James Buchanan often assumed the

role of public persuader. Among the many occasions on which he

spoke were political rallies, debates in the halls of Congress, and

eventually his own presidential inauguration from the steps of the

Capitol. He exercised control over his political managers and his

constituents by writing many private letters and other letters pub-

lished in newspapers and addressed to the public at large. As

Minister to Russia and Great Britain and later as Secretary of State,

Buchanan used the written and oral media of diplomatic channels to

effect international agreements.

The earliest record of Buchanan's' speaking endeavors date

from his days at Dickinson College. He was a member of the Union

Philosophical Society, in the hall of which "young Jimmie Buchanan

had so proudly delivered youthful orations."21 Young Jimmie was one

of three in his graduating class to deliver orations at the Sept-

ember 19, 1809, Commencement Day ceremony. Buchanan was second on

the program for reasons noted above. He delivered a highly polished

oration, very appropriately entitled "The Utility of Philosophy."22

2Klein, "Buchanan at Dickinson," p. 177.
22bid., p. 169.
Ibid., p. 169.


The first significant public speech on record was delivered

by Buchanan on July 4, 1814, at which time he signaled his entry

into politics. As president of the Washington Association (a young

Federalist organization), he "roundly lambasted Madison for bungling

the war effort and called on Federalists to pitch into the fighting

to force an honorable peace as quickly as possible."23 Just over

a month later, after being nominated on the Federalist ticket for

State Assemblyman, Buchanan addressed a large gathering on the

Court House steps in Lancaster. News of the burning of Washington

had just reached town and James probably felt it essential to his

election in the fall to take some stand on the question of mobili-

zation. Many feared a British assault on Baltimore. Buchanan aroused

enthusiasm among the crowd in forming a fighting force to be sent

for the defense of Baltimore and stated he "was among the first to

announce my name as a volunteer."24 Buchanan, and others, members

of a company led by Captain Henry Shippen, "mounted their horses,

armed with sword, pistols &c., and marched to Baltimore, without

waiting for formal orders, to aid in defending that place."25

Very little is known of the events encountered on this venture by

the gentlemen of Lancaster, but it is likely they were not involved

in armed conflict. It is known Buchanan was among a group of volun-

teers who were ordered to commandeer horses from Maryland farms.

This was not only a humiliating task for the young gentlemen of

25Klein, Buchanan, p. 17.

24Curtis, I, 8.

25Ioore, XII, 294.

Lancaster but succeeded in arousing the iro of the Karylanders

to he point they "had become nearly as serious an enemy as tho
British." Back in Lancaster less than a month later, Buchanan

had proved his patriotism and was elected as a Federalist to the

State Assembly by a heavy margin. But, then, the Federalist

candidate always won in Lancaster.27

Buchanan soon discovered the duties of an Assemblyman in

Harrisburg were paltry. His service in the state legislature was

most productive as a means of improving his law practice. Yet, he

also gained valuable experience as a speaker. He busily advocated

a series of minor bills and petitions which called for the incor-

poration of textile mills in his home district, the reduction of

whisky taxes, and the establishment of new judicial districts.

In an egalitarian spirit, he offered petitions that would place the

property of drunkards in trusteeship rather than subject to pub-

lic confiscation.

Klein notes that Buchanan, "after hearing a few speeches,

made up his mind to avoid impromptu expressions on the floor and to

speak only after thorough preparation."28 His father concurred in

this cautious approach to legislative business.29

Continuing to show egalitarian sentiments, Buchanan made his

maiden speech on February 1, 1815, in which he vigorously denounced

Klein, Buchanan, p. 18.

Ibid., p. 17.

2Ibid., p. 20.
29Father to James, January 20, 1815, Curtis, I, II.
Father to James, January 20, 1815, Curtis, I, II.


a bill on conscription and advocated a volunteer bill already intro-

duced. Speaking from his heart and convictions, the young Lancaster

lawyer made many impolitic remarks: "He attacked special privilege

in the city of Philadelphia, championed the interests of the West

against the East, defended the poor against abuse by the rich, and

balanced the wishes of the State against the different interest of

a minority from Philadelphia."0 This speech, so unlike a Federalist,

doctrinally at least, caused one Democratic Senator to ask Buchanan

to switch parties:

Buchanan encountered such political repercussions from his maiden
effort that when the volunteer bill came up for final vote in
the House, he was 'necessarily absent.' Fortunately for him,
the whole issue terminated when, on February 17, Governor Snyder
announced the news of peace with England.31

It seemed he had spoken from convictions, and these convictions

coincided with Democratic principles. Buchanan had some explaining

to do to his Federalist constituents.

An opportunity to explain his way out of a confusing poli-

tical dilemma arose on January 4, 1815. As youth and inexperience

would have it, Buchanan had little foresight on the occasion. He

could not see that someday his Democratic principles might be in

vogue, as indeed they came to be once Jackson's political star rose.

Buchanan mended his political fences too well on this occasion. He

went too far in denying any allegiance to the Democratic party.

So far that he lived to regret these remarks when he decided to jump

on the Jackson bandwagon in 1827. His purpose, on this occasion,

30Klein, Buchanan, p. 20.


nonetheless, was to prove to the July 4t celebrants that he was

Federalist in loyalty, first, last and always. He succeeded in

convincing Lancaster voters of his genuine Federalist beliefs, ap-

parently, for they returned him for a second term in the Pennsylvania

State Assembly.

During his second term, 1815-1816, Buchanan took a "hands

off" attitude toward state banks in financial difficulty. He felt

the banks should be allowed to work out their own problems without

intervention from the state legislature. Buchanan took the same

noninterference attitude toward the recharter of the United States

Bank which was at that moment a topic of great concern in Washington.

At this point in Buchanan's career, it is difficult to de-

termine just where he stood, rhetorically and politically. His at-

tack on the Conscription Bill sounded anti-Federalist and yet his

July 4, 1815, defense of his Federalistic convictions was extremely

anti-Jeffersonian. His second term speeches, however, had a dis-

tinctly anti-Hamiltonian flavor. His rhetorical thought was def-

initely a mixed bag and, as his tenure in Harrisburg drew to a

close, Buchanan began to probe deeply into his confused mind:

The impetuous, unstable and mob-produced actions of the radical
Democracy he found revolting, sometimes frightening. Control
of business and politics by a closed corporation of the wealthy
he could not accept as just. He had respect for the will of the
majority, but he had an equal respect for individual rights in
property. He believed that the greatest glory of the American
Constitution was that it embodied this dual concept; that it
drew a careful balance between the demands of persons and prop-
erty. But no existing political party accepted both of these
doctrines. With his ideas, Bu3hanan was not sure in which
party he belonged.32

32Ibid., p. 23.


To the ordinary citizen, such an eclectic ensemble of political

tenets would not necessarily pose problems. But to a politician

whose public life depends upon party endorsement, such a mixture

of ideas creates insuperable problems. Buchanan decided to with-

draw from politics in 1816 partly because of intellectual confusion

over political matters and partly because the custom in Lancaster

County was to share the patronage pie. Two terms was the estab-

lished limit and Buchanan felt he lacked the voter appeal and the

party support to force a new precedent by seeking a third term.

Besides, his friend Jasper Slaymaker, a fellow Dickinsonian, was

next in line.

Buchanan left Harrisburg a confused but wiser man. He had

learned to be more thoughtful about public remarks which might

alienate the very factions he would need the support of in order

to rise any farther politically. He decided to quietly return to

his long-neglected law practice in Lancaster for awhile and allow

time for a settling process to take place in his mind regarding his

ideological attachments.

From 1816 to his election to the United States House of

Representatives in 1821, Buchanan performed the vast variety of

duties which is the lot of a hard working lawyer in a small city.

Most of this activity was strictly busy work in handling estates,

tax cases, etc. He tried countless cases in the courts of Lan-

caster and neighboring counties. Most of his forensic activity

during this period was petty and unspectacular but impressive in

a sense:

Slowly, by dint of sheer mental labor and the application of

time to his business, Buchanan built up a reputation for thor-
oughness and competence which brought more and more property
work to his desk. His arguments before court and addresses to
juries were anything but brilliant or spell-binding, but they
achieved their object by sheer mass of data tightly knit by
logic. Some called him a hair splitter. He did not, however,
emphasize detail at the expense of the main point. He carried
argument into areas so minute they were boring, but he never
lost connection with the basic issue. This habit was to affect
his political speeches, from which it is extremely difficult
to extract any sentence without materially damaging a train of
thought. He was long-winded, but in planned papers never re-

Hensel includes the comments left by an unknown Lancaster judge about

the ability of James Buchanan:

There was a combination of physical and intellectual qualities
that contributed to make him a powerful advocate. He was more
than six feet in height, with a fine, imposing figure, a large,
well-formed head, a clear complexion, beautiful skin, large
blue eyes, which he turned obliquely upon those he was addres-
sing, looking so honest and earnest as to engage their sympathy
by his gaze alone; then his voice was strong, resonant and not
unmusical, and his elocution, though very deliberate, flowed
on like a full river in constant current. Add to this, he was
a logician and indefatigable in his preparation of his case.
In fact, he was cut out by nature for a great lawyer, and I think
was spoiled by fortune when she made him a statesman.54

The forgotten judge had a point for Buchanan nearly reached the

Supreme Court on two occasions later in his life. Buchanan there-

fore might have been a great lawyer. He certainly showed early signs

of greatness to come as a young Lancaster lawyer.

A remark above suggested that most of Buchanan's forensic

activity during this period was petty and unspectacular. There is

one astounding exception to this generalization.

At the tender age of twenty-five, James Buchanan was given a

33Ibid., p. 24

34]. U. Hensel, James Buchanan as a Lawyer (Lancaster, Pa.,
1912), p. 7.


remarkable honor for any man, much less one so young. Walter Frank-

lin, a Federalist judge, unpopular with the Democratic majority

in Harrisburg, was impeached by the State Legislature. Franklin,

having decided a case later reversed by the United States Supreme

Court, was impeached on the grounds of rendering a "faulty-decision."

Surprisingly, James Buchanan was chosen by Franklin as defense


Buchanan argued that if a legislature destroyed a judge merely
because it objected to the legal opinion he expressed in a trial,
without any hint of crime or misdemeanor, it equally destroyed
the constitution which established the legislature and judiciary
as independent and co-ordinate branches of government.35

Someone, as yet unknown to us today, remarked that the defense "was

conducted with great ingenuity, eloquence, and address. It made a

deep impression."

So strong was Buchanan's plea for the innocence of Judge

Franklin, the prosecutors postponed the trial for weeks in order

to ready their reply. Judge Franklin was acquitted but was impeached

again in 1817 and again in 1818, each time on trumped up charges.

Buchanan ably defended him in 1817 alone and headed a team of bril-

liant Philadelphia lawyers, in the last instance, which was also

successful in winning an acquittal. Quite naturally, the reputation

of this young attorney spread across Pennsylvania and his law practice

grew accordingly. Buchanan, always neat and precise about figures,

recorded in his biography that his income from legal fees grew from

$2,000 in 1815,to $8,000 in 1818. From these comparatively large

35Klein, Buchanan, pp. 24-25.

SCurtis, I, 17.


sums, Buchanan began to wisely invest in property, stocks and bonds.

His estate was valued at nearly a quarter of a million dollars at

the time of his death and that was in the day before the great in-

dustrialists appeared on the scene. Buchanan may have been one of

the richest men in Pennsylvania at the time of his death. In terms

of what money and property was worth in the Nineteenth Century,

Buchanan's fortune would probably-be valued in the millions today.

This was a remarkable achievement for the son of an Irish immigrant

who had arrived in America penniless just eighty-five years before.

The important aspects of Buchanan's rhetorical portrait which

appear during the years between his service in Harrisburg as a State

Assemblyman and his election to Congress in 1821 are two: (1) his

speechmaking was characterized by precision, tight reasoning and

tedious amplification; (2) as especially revealed in the Franklin

trials, his tendency to view the Constitution as the highest law

first appears. (Later, particularly during the secession crisis of

1860-1861, to be discussed in Chapter VI, Buchanan's devotion to the

concept of strict legal interpretation of the Constitution as a source

of guidance to the settlement of one and all problems becomes clearly


Although Buchanan never really gave up his law practice, he

abruptly pushed it to the side in 1821 to run for the United States

House of Representatives from his own district (the Counties of

Lancaster, York, and Dauphin). His political creed was still unsettled

and bitter experience had taught him to be more circumspect until it

was. Buchanan knew he was the voice of the people and they were,

in his district at least, Federalist. Further, he wanted to be a


"business" member of the House and this meant taking to the floor


His maiden speech in the House was in support of the War

Deficiency Bill, mentioned above. Buchanan was asked to make the

speech in behalf of William Lowndes of South Carolina who had done

research on the question but was too ill to give the speech himself.

Using Lowndes' notes, Buchanan made a successful speech in defense

of the Bill by arguing the right of a public servant to spend money

on official business even if Congress had not yet appropriated the

money. The speech was a good turn for John C. Calhoun, Secretary

of War, in whose aid the bill was presented. The bill passed by a

large majority and Buchanan was given credit for its success.

Buchanan's friendship with Lowndes was unusually significant.

As noted earlier, the young Pennsylvanian was influenced by human

models. Lowndes was the figure who had the greatest rhetorical

impact on him. We shall see in Chapter III that the acquaintance

with Lowndes resulted in a rhetorical transfusion permanently mark-

ing the speaking of James Buchanan.

Buchanan was on the floor ten days after being introduced

to the House and within three weeks delivered the speech for Lowndes.

This was his maiden address. Following his first several speech

efforts, the young Congressman concluded his speeches were given

"tolerable share of attention" although he admitted to feelings

of embarrassment.3

"Most important," Klein says, "he could make himself distinctly

37Buchanan to Judge Franklin, December 21, 1821, Moore, I,


heard, a rare achievement because of the poor acoustics of the

hall."8 Klein describes Buchanan's platform manner using the ; ;'~/

on the War Deficiency Bill as a representative sample:

Reason, supported by quantities of illustrative and supporting
data embellished by pathos ("the shrieks of helpless women and
children under the scalping knife!"), converged upon an inevi-
table answer. In a reasoned debate, Buchanan could so exhaust
a subject that any reply was bound to be a reiteration. Against
wit or ridicule he was helpless, but in serious debate he was

The speech on the War Deficiency Bill was a product of two

minds. Buchanan was alone responsible for his remarks on the Bank-

ruptcy Bill. The Pennsylvania Representative considered it one of

his finest speeches. In it we see Buchanan's thought on matters

of federal jurisdiction and the rights of property owners beginning

to take form. It is a speech which sounds fiercely Hamiltonian.

Buchanan was opposed to extending bankruptcy privileges to those

other than the "mercantile class." His thesis in the speech was

that "the bill would increase the perpetration of fraud because

man was basically criminal and would give way to temptation.,40

In a strikingly anti-Jeffersonian tone, he concluded by saying

"Rest assured that our population require the curb more than the

rein."41 A secondary proposition sounds definitely States Rights

in philosophy. By pointing out the bill would give federal courts

jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases throughout the nation, he seemed

38Klein, Buchanan, p. 39.

39bid. p. 41.

40Ibid., p. 42.

41Moore, I, 41.


to be sounding the alarm against federal power which he feared might

encroach upon the rights of individual states. Buchanan's thinking

was beginning to crystallize but he still found party boundaries

ideologically restraining. He discovered that most of his fellow

Congressmen were in the same dilemma and couldn't distinguish be-

tween Democrat and Federalist except by party label. Everyone in

the House had mixed views and no one espoused a solid party line.

Even the administration, nominally Democratic, Buchanan felt to be

Federalist in principle.42

James Buchanan was returned to Congress again and again. He

served in the House from 1821 to 1851. That any man can sustain

political favor for ten years is remarkable, but for Buchanan, during

this decade, it was extraordinary. What made election so difficult

was that he jumped on the Jackson bandwagon in 1824 and by 1828

had officially changed parties and now called himself a Jacksonian

Democrat. This took some doing. How could he receive the support

of his Federalist district as a Jacksonian? He began his shift of

party labels by attacking President Adams in a truculent speech in

the House in 1828:

Buchanan brought to bear against Adams not epithets and slander,
but a lawyer's marshalled evidence which proved the more damning
for its restraint of phraseology and the evidence of scholar-
ship it suggested.43

This speech announced to the entire population of the nation that

42Ibid. XII, 500-501.

43Klein, Buchanan, p. 60. The writer disagrees somewhat with
Klein's analysis of this speech for he finds, in addition to "a law-
yer's marshalled evidence, "Buchanan attempting to employ invective
and ridicule aimed at John Quincy Adams. See Chapter III.


Buchanan was a strong supporter of Jackson and notified his own

district that he was a member of a movement in Pennsylvania poli-

tics to join the disillusioned Federalists to Democrats now dis-

affected with Adams. It took more than this speech to persuade his

constituents to support him under a new party name. Many letters,

favorable editorials by newspapermen friendly to him, and the knowl-

edge among even die-hard Federalists that the great party was now

defunct were required to convert the masses. Buchanan was elected

along with Jackson in 1828 but the political factions at home con-

tinued to war until Buchanan could no longer command the allegiance

of his party workers. They were split over party labels, over the

personality of Old Hickory and the changes brought by Jacksonian

Democracy, over the Bank issue and over the ever present question

of the tariff. The people were divided on these issues also.

Buchanan tried to make his position clear on most of these issues

by mail and by speeches in the House. But the complexion of

Pennsylvania politics was so marked with factionism that he felt

he could not weld a winning political organization at that time

and decided to retire from politics in 1830. The political situ-

ation at home was chaotic.

From this summary of Buchanan's years in the House, his

rhetorical portrait comes into sharper focus. Buchanan was demon-

strating early his career long preference for argumentation as a

mode of public speaking. Furthermore, we see his employment of

rhetoric for the purpose of political expediency. It was largely

through the medium of House debate that he kept his constituents

apprised of his political alignments. Buchanan's basic rhetorical

strategy was to remain sufficiently aloof from issues so that he

could take new directions and avoid the charge of inconsistency.

(Such strategy is labeled the "Lowndes Formula" in Chapter III.)

When he determined that his future lay with the Democrats, he por-

trayed himself as a Jacksonian by his vicious attack on John Quincy

Adams. Yet, he was not so ideologically uncommitted that his funda-

mental political premises escape attention entirely. Although he

wanted to be allied with the Jacksonian Democrats, his pessimistic

view of the nature of man and his reverence of property over humani-

tarian concerns places him among the conservatives of his day.

Later, in Chapters III and VII especially, we shall see that Buchanan

employed a conservative rhetorical strategy complementary to his

political thought.

Buchanan was appointed Minister to Russia in 1832 and was

chiefly responsible for arranging a treaty of commerce between the

United States and St. Petersburg, a project at which previous am-

bassadors had failed. Although many factors played a hand in bring-

ing the treaty to fruition, Buchanan's personal diplomacy must not

be underestimated. He was on excellent terms with the Emperor,

Czar Nicholas I:

[He] bade me adieu--and embraced and saluted me according to the
Russian custom--a ceremony for which I was wholly unprepared,
and which I had not anticipated. Whilst we were taking leave,
he told me to tell General Jackson to send him another Minister
exactly like myself. He wished for no better . . Thus has
my mission terminated.44

Before leaving, however, Buchanan had been in touch with his poli-

tical managers in Pennsylvania. They urged him to seek a seat in

44Moore, II, 381.

the United States Senate and placed his name in nomination even be-

fore Buchanan sailed from Europe. The first attempt failed bul, in

December of 1834, he was chosen by the Pennsylvania Legislature to

replace William Wilkins, whom Jackson had selected to replace Bu-

chanan in St. Petersburg.

Buchanan took his seat in the Senate on December 15, 1834,

but not before establishing a clever working relationship with the

Pennsylvania Legislature:

Buchanan told the committee of the Legislature which informed
him of his election that he held the right of instruction to be
sacred. "If it did not exist," he said, "the servant would be
superior to the master." He would either obey instructions
from the State Legislature or resign, but in giving a vote against
his own judgment, he continued, "I act merely as their agent.
The responsibility is theirs, not mine." In rare instances,
however, he might question whether the instructions of the
Legislature did in fact represent the public will, and in such a
-case he would try to speak for the people. He wanted to make
his position very clear on the instruction doctrine, for if the
anti-Masons got control of the State Legislature they would cer-
tainly try to embarrass him by ordering him to vote against all
the Democratic measures. This statement, he thought, protected
him all around. When he voted with the national party under
instruction, he could take the credit; when he voted against it
under instruction, he could pass the buck to the State Legis-
lature; when the issue was extremely obscure, he could do what
he pleased by challenging the Legislature's interpretation of
the public will; and if matters were hopeless, he could resign
on principle without the appearance of losing his temper.-

There were many occasions for Buchanan to play the cozy game. For

instance, on the question of rechartering the United States Bank,

Pennsylvanians were in favor of recharter and Buchanan faced Jack-

son's disapproval and possible loss of patronage if he were to fight

in favor of the Bank. Buchanan sidestepped this issue by informing

his constituents and Jackson that he was in favor of recharter but

45Klein, Buchanan, p. 102


only if the bill supplied a remedy to the objections raised in

Jackson's veto message of 1832. This temporarily satisfied both

parties but later Buchanan made an outright anti-Bank speech declar-

ing his complete agreement with Jackson. By then he felt the feelings

of the people had changed even though the State Legislature had not.

Buchanan was a prolific speaker during his years in the

Senate. Mention is made here of but a few of his most significant

rhetorical efforts. Upon first entering the Senate in 1834, Buchanan

found the assembly in a turmoil over France's seeming unwillingness

to pay claims to the United States as agreed. Jackson, in his

December 1854 Message to Congress, had recommended reprisals against

French property and thus fanned the flames of controversy. On the

first and second of February 1836, Buchanan rose to deliver a long

speech strongly supporting Jackson and the Fortifications Bill, a

measure designed to threaten France into payment of her debts. He

was prepared to take extreme steps in obtaining from France what was

rightfully ours:

If war should come, which God forbid--if France should still
persist in her effort to degrade the American people in the per-
son of their Chief Magistrate,---we may appeal to Heaven for the
justice of our cause, and look forward with confidence to vic-
tory from that Being in whose hands is the destiny of nations.46

Just when war seemed inevitable France began to pay the delinquent

claims. This amicable agreement was brought about partly through

the mediation of Great Britain.

One of the subsidiary issues to the Bank controversy involved

President Jackson's dismissal of Treasury Secretaries until he found

46Curtis, I, 280.

one willing to remove federal funds from the Bank and dopo.JL, 1 tinem

in state banks. The Whig Senate censured Jackson for his Bank policy

in 1854 on a resolution by Henry Clay. A bill which would require

the President to give reasons for the removal of executive officers

aroused Buchanan to come to the aid of the President on the 17t of

February, 1835. As was becoming customary, Buchanan cited the


If Congress can command him to give reasons to the Senate for
his remarks, the Senate may judge of the validity of these
reasons to the Senate for his removals, and condemn them if
they think proper; -- a position in which the Constitution of
the Country never intended to place him. In my opinion, this
bill as strongly negatives the constitutional power of the Presi-
dent to remove from office, without the concurrence of the
Senate, as if it were so declared in express language. For
this reason I shall vote against it.47

It was natural that Buchanan should become Benton's chief

ally in support of the resolution to expunge from the Senate journal

the censure of Jackson. Clay impassionedly denounced the Benton

resolution. In reply, Buchanan rose to deliver "a speech which

may perhaps be regarded as the ablest efforts in the Senate,"48

on January 16th, 1857. Curtis applauds Buchanan for getting at the

issues and avoiding partisan debate:

There is one praise to be accorded to this speech, which, con-
sidering the party character of the struggle, is not a small
one. Mr. Buchanan separated what was personal and partisan
in this controversy from the serious question involved; and
covering the whole field of argument upon the really important
topics in a temperate and courteous but firm discussion, he
placed his side of the debate upon its true merits.49

The censure was expunged but it took a party vote to do it suggesting

I4bid., p. 291.




Buchanan's non-partisan approach was unsuccessful. It is interesting

to note at this point that if Curtis' observation is accurate, Bu-

chanan was speaking in the Lowndes mold.

In a survey of this type, comments cannot be made on every

speech effort. Later chapters will probe deeply into Buchanan's

Congressional rhetoric. The survey in this chapter of Buchanan's

years in the Senate is sufficient to add new dimensions to his rheto-

rical portrait, however. First, he obviously continued to employ

rhetoric for the purpose of political expediency, hoping to keep

himself attractive to both national party leaders and the people of

Pennsylvania. Public speaking was by now one of the important tech-

niques Buchanan was to use as a means of reaching the White House.

He hoped to keep in the public eye and yet not become so politically

involved that at a later date his record on any issue might dis-

qualify him for higher office. Yet, he determined to prove his

party loyalty by fighting for Jackson's programs at home and abroad

and this he did largely through Senate debate. Chapter IV investi-

gates Buchanan as the "Jacksonian Advocate in the Senate." Further,

Buchanan's style of speaking continued to be solely argumentative

in nature. The "Lowndes Formula" had become an indispensable part

of Buchanan's rhetoric. In Chapters IV and V the essential questions

raised concern Buchanan's seeming rhetorical rigidity. Was he merely

avoiding partisan debate in the Senate or was he incapable of it?

Mention should be made of the strictly political speaking

during a six-week campaign tour of Pennsylvania made by Buchanan

in 1840. Whig propaganda had put Buchanan in a poor light in Penn-

sylvania, principally by quoting damaging excerpts from his speeches


out of context, and he, although reluctant to mount the stump,

took to the circuit with unexpected enthusiasm. Spcakirj.i tro ':cjrw

as large as 25,000, Buchanan "poured fire and brimstone into the

enemy.50 The tour was physically exhausting but it helped to

repair Buchanan's reputation in the state and persuaded many voters

to support Van Buren in the presidential election. Harrison carried

the state by a mere majority of 350 votes, testifying some said to

the campaigning skills of the Squire from Lancaster.51

In 1844 Buchanan seriously sought the presidential nomina-

tion himself. He failed but since he controlled the Pennsylvania

delegates to the nominating convention and when his own defeat was

obvious he gave Pennsylvania to James K. Polk. He was rewarded

with a post in the new president's cabinet. Buchanan served Polk as

Secretary of State during four of the stormiest military and diplo-

matic years in our history. Buchanan was influential in the admission

of Texas (his last speech on the floor of the Senate called for the

entry of Texas into the Union), in the formation of policy toward

Mexico and the acquisition of California, and played a personal role

in the settlement of the Oregon question. The diplomatic skill of

Buchanan, especially in regard to the Oregon territory, shall be

the subject of Chapter V.

Perhaps the three most significant rhetorical efforts

Buchanan made as president were his Inaugural Address on March

4, 1857,and his Messages to Congress on December 3, 1860,and

January 8, 1861. Buchanan, when he said, "The proposition to

50Klein, Buchanan, p. 136.



compromise by letting the North have exclusive control of the terri-

tory above a certain line, and to give Southern institutions below

that line, ought to receive universal approbation," was certainly

referring to the Crittenden plan. No compromise was possible any

longer, however, as men "appear to have been indifferent to every-

thing but the dogmas of a party platform."52 Buchanan's rhetoric

while president will be studied in more detail in Chapter VI.

The significant questions raised in Chapter VI concern

Buchanan's ability to find new strategies to meet new rhetorical

situations. Would he be able to analyze the complex national

audience and discover rhetorical means for holding back the swelling

tide of sectionalism? Or, his argumentative habit prevailing, would

he treat the crises of the fifties with the same rigid legalisms so

characteristic of his earlier years? We shall examine Buchanan at

the rhetorical apex of his career in the chapter entitled, "The

Rhetorical Strategy of Preserving Peace."

The rhetorical portrait of James Buchanan has many facets.

Among the many sides to his personal and rhetorical character re-

vealed in this chapter, however, certain features distinctly shine

forth to give a clear picture of the man as he appeared on the plat-

form. Buchanan was a prudent, industrious, and well educated man.

These characteristics were reflected in the cautious, legalistic, and

well-prepared public addresses delivered on many occasions throughout

a long and varied political career. Like his father, he was a

solicitous family man (devoted to his sisters, brothers and their

52Curtis, II, 457.


offspring while he himself remained a bachelor all his life) who

eventually saw himself as a national patriarch: "To go down in

history as a great and good man, to be a benevolent father to his

people, was his ideal.",5 His inaugural address was indicative of

his paternal feelings toward all of the American people. Like his

mother, he was devoted to the art of argumentation, a skill he de-

veloped and expanded through his exposure to legal studies, con-

gressional debates, and ideal models such as William Lowndes.

Lowndes' influence on Buchanan was unmistakable, its consequences

immeasurably great.

Buchanan's early ideological difficulties were soon settled.

His early Jeffersonian liberalism gave way to constitutional con-

servatism. Buchanan came to have a low opinion of man's ability to

rule himself. The Constitution, with its inherent restraints on

the vagaries of human conduct, was to become Buchanan's ideal, his

ideology, if not his religion:

Buchanan believed that the essence of self-government was re-
straint. Written constitutions, he thought, were the most use-
ful invention of his age, but what were constitutions "but re-
straints imposed, not by arbitrary authority, but by the people
upon themselves and their own representatives?" "Restraint,"
he said, "restraint--Sir, this Federal Government is nothing
but a system of restraints from begininng to end." That alone
could preserve the Union of several dozen states which differed
from each other in their language, their soil, climate, and

Considering his reverence for the Constitution, it is not surprising

that he was one of its staunchest defenders. Neither is it difficult

53Randall and Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction,
p. 102.

54Klein, Buchanan, pp. 142-145.


to understand how Buchanan came to regard the Constitution as the

hope for peace during the nation's greatest crisis in 1860-61.

As Buchanan engaged in his legalistic and constitutional

advocacy, he found in public speaking the means necessary to win

and maintain political office. Sensitive to the value of relying

on speaking to express his views, he spoke in order to keep the pub-

lic eye focused on him. A part of his rhetorical strategy was the

appearance of non-partisanship. He wished to appear busy, dependable,

loyal to party, but yet detached from entangling issue commitments

which might give political leaders in Pennsylvania or Washington

reason not to prefer him to others. He skillfully established him-

self as a powerful advocate who at the same time remained non-parti-

san on crucial issues. Although it took thirty-five years, Buchanan

seemed to have fashioned an attractive image of himself; or at least

the Democratic Party leaders thought so in 1856:

They [party leaders] might find a leader in James Buchanan
of Pennsylvania. His advantages were impressive. Now aged
sixty-five, he was as ripe as Pierce had been green. Public
office had been his almost continuously through forty-two years:
as Representative, Senator, Jackson's Minister to Russia, Polk's
Secretary of State, and Pierce's Minister to Great Britain.
The last had kept him blessedly free from all Kansas-Nebraska
taint. The old functionary had gained place by a crafty, plod-
ding, uninspired, but effective intelligence. He was canny and
took "sound" conservative ground, which commended him to the
solid German constituency of his home Lancaster County. Backed
locally by this substantial community, he tirelessly cultivated
support outside.55

As we shall see in ensuing chapters,much of this outside support

was acquired through the medium of public speaking.

Only one outstanding feature remains to be noted: Buchanan's

55Roy Franklin Nichols, The Disruption of American Democracy
(New York, 1948), pp. 11-12.


faith in compromise, rhetorically forged:

The willingness of a majority to extend some consideration to
the minority, the acceptance of compromise as the only method
short of war or despotism for settling political disputes, these
attitudes alone could perpetuate self-government and the
federal system.5

It is perhaps this penchant for resolution by compromise within a

constitutional framework which most accurately reveals the rhetorical

portrait of James Buchanan. Both premises figured significantly in

the greatest rhetorical efforts of his life.

56Klein, Buchanan, p. 143.



James Buchanan came to the House of Representatives in

December of 1821 determined to be a "business member" of the Seven-

teenth Congress. As it turned out, he was to remain in Washington

as a "business" representative of his district and state for the

better part of twenty-four years. He served in the House from

1821 to 1831 and in the Senate from 1834 to 1845. All the while

he was a very active parliamentarian, delivering at least twenty-

five major speeches, making countless other remarks in the give and

take debate, and serving as member and then chairman of important

committees. During the course of his congressional career, Buchanan's

path crossed that of great men. "The decade he spent in the Senate,"

Klein remarks, "brought him into daily contact with probably the

most distinguished group of American statesmen ever assembled there,

a company including not only five future Presidents of the United

States (Van Buren, Tyler, Polk, Fillmore, and Pierce) but also such

parliamentary giants as Webster, Clay, Calhoun and Benton." The

purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate how Buchanan met the

rhetorical problems facing him in the House of Representatives and

to evaluate the rhetorical methods he used after he had decided a

rhetorical course to follow.

1Klein, Buchanan, p. 142.


Buchanan's problems were not peculiar to him. They were and

are peculiar to any young congressman who wishes to be an active and

productive legislator, a "business member." The rhetorical problems

the Pennsylvania representative faced, and those that would face any

ambitious congressman, were two: (1) "What rhetorical stance shall

I take on the major issues which are to be discussed in the House?"

and, (2) "What rhetorical strategy shall I employ through the course

of debates in which I become engaged?" He found answers to both

questions through the use of the "Lowndes formula."

The "Lowndes Formula"

Buchanan was no stranger to the art of speaking publicly

when he entered the House in 1821.. After all, he had delivered

several significant campaign speeches to large gatherings in Lan-

caster on the Fourth of July, 1814 and 1815, had spoken frequently

in the Pennsylvania State Assembly from 1815-1816, and had pled cases

at court very often between 1810 and 1820. He reached spectacular

forensic heights when he defended Judge Franklin in 1816, 1817, and

1818. All these experiences provided a good foundation for the

speaking demands facing the young congressman in 1821.

However, the House of Representatives was not the same as

the legislature in Harrisburg. There, his duties required little

more than average skill. Few constituents pressed for legislation

and those that did sought the introduction of bills which placed

only mild demands on his speaking ability. Only once did he face

a difficult task as Assemblyman, and on that occasion he erred
seriously. Further, there were no Henry Clays or John Randolphs

See Chapter II above, pp. 12-15.


with whom one was to be compared in Harrisburg. Lastly, Harrisburg

was only thirty miles down the pike--few Lancasterians worried about

being out of touch with their representative.

On the other hand, the House and Washington were distant.

It is likely constituents took peculiar interest in representatives

who served them at places hundreds of miles from home--at distances

where personal contact was impossible and control by mail slow and

difficult. The very remoteness of the representative placed unusual

demands on the speaker. Some elected officials might feel freer

away from home but Buchanan, who hoped to please his voters, took

his duties seriously. He felt the people of his district were watch-

ing and judging him constantly. What is more, there were great

orators with whom one could choose to compete. Buchanan's instincts,

sharpened by his mother's prodding toward disputatiousness, were to

strive for recognition--the same instincts which motivated him to

be at the head of his class at Dickinson in scholastic and less

admirable competitions. Lastly, Washington was where the laws of

the land were made. Issues of earth-shaking proportions would be

debated iai Congress and he had to decide if he were big enough to

"mix it up with the professionals for high stakes." Though he did

not shrink from the frightening responsibilities, there is evidence

to support the notion that he stood in awe of his new position.

More to the point, there is evidence that Buchanan did not

take his speaking chores lightly. If one decided to become a "busi-

ness member," after all, one had to engage in the medium of House

business--debate, in committee and on the floor. It was the latter


form of public address which challenged Buchanan most at first even

though he was appointed to the committee on Agriculture his third

day in the House. Despite all his past experience in public speak-

ing, Buchanan had the chilling feeling he was at a disadvantage.

And indeed he was.

Although twenty-nine years of age with at least ten years

of speaking experience behind him, he was no match for John Randolph

and Henry Clay, both of whom were endowed with more natural ability

and had been in the House acquiring rich experience for a decade or

more (Randolph since 1799). Concrete evidence found in the words

of Buchanan himself supports the inference drawn here that he was

deeply concerned about the challenge of House debate. The most

significant evidence is in his autobiography in which are to be

found implications showing his awareness of the problem.

Buchanan's account of his first term in the House abounds

with his impressions of the influential members of the House.

Curtis discloses Buchanan's reverence toward great men in both


In the Senate, Rufus King, who had been a Senator during Washing-
ton's Administration, and Nathaniel Macon, who had been a Repre-
sentative at the same time, gave a flavor of the formative period
of the Republic. John Galliard and William Smith (of South
Carolina) and James Brown (of Louisiana) were also among the
older members. A somewhat younger class of men numbered among
them Martin Van Buren, who succeeded General Jackson as Presi-
Mr. Buchanan always considered it one of the great advantages
of his early life that he had the benefit, at this early period,
of the society of Mr. King and Mr. Macon, and he always spoke
in the most grateful terms of their personal kindness to him.3

3Curtis, I, 25.

Buchanan sought the approval of older men and the respect of younger

ones. His autobiography is specific about the rhetorical qualities

of the men he observed in the House. It was from them he wanted

respect and with them he must compete. He pointed to Randolph,

Sergeant, and Lowndes as rhetorical exemplars, choosing lessons in

House debate from the trio. Lessons to Buchanan, who was revealing

important rhetorical distinctions in his autobiography, could be

either positive or negative.

John Randolph, if not a threat to Buchanan, put him on his


John Randolph of Roanoke was the most conspicuous, though far
from the most influential member of the House, when I first took
my seat. He had entered the House in 1799, and had continued
there, with the exception of two terms, from that early period.
His style of debate was in perfect contrast to that of Mr. Lowndes.
Hewas severe and sarcastic, sparing neither friend nor foe, when
the one or the other laid himself open to the shafts of his
ridicule. Hewas a fine belles-lettres scholar, and his classical
allusions were abundant and happy. He had a shrill and penetrat-
ing voice, and could be heard distinctly in every portion of the
House. He spoke with great deliberation, and often paused for
an instant as if to select the most appropriate word. His manner
was confident, proud, and imposing, and pointing, as he always
did, his long forefinger at the object of attack, this gave pe-
culiar emphasis to the severity of his language. He always
attracted a crowded gallery when it was known he would address
the House, and he always commanded the undivided attention of
his whole audience, whether he spoke the words of wisdom, or as
he often did, of folly. For these reasons he was more feared
than beloved, and his influence in the House bore no proportion
to the brilliancy of his talents. He was powerful in pulling
down an administration, but had no skill in building one up.
Hence he was almost always in the opposition, and never what
is called a business member. To me he was always respectful and
sometimes complimentary in debate. I well remember Mr. Ser-
geant putting me on my guard against Mr. Randolph's friendship.4

From Buchanan's speeches it can be determined that Randolph was

both a positive and negative example. Buchanan wished to be a

4Moore, XII, 313-314.


"business member," and from the above quotation this seemed to mean

constructive service. That is, Buchanan did not always want to be

in the opposition for the sake of destroying an administration. He

often tried to build things up (although in 1828, in his speech on

Retrenchment, he desperately needed Randolph's powers of destruc-

tive sarcasm). Further, Buchanan wanted to be beloved and not feared.

Therefore, he usually omitted ridicule, at which, it will soon be

discovered, he lacked talent anyway. Yet he admired Randolph's sway

over the galleries and I believe was envious of the Virginian on this

count. Note that he compliments Randolph on being heard. Buchanan

proudly proclaimed in a letter to Judge Franklin that he could be

heard by all present in the House, not an easy task in view of the

poor acoustics in the hall. Again, Buchanan was envious of Randolph's

genius and his acquaintance with belles-lettres. He occasionally

included classical, biblical and historical allusions in his speeches

too. Overall, he rejected the Randolph style but found some charac-

teristics worthy of cultivation in his own speaking.

Buchanan seems more impressed with John Sergeant, a Phila-

delphia lawyer who reached Congress six years before. Sergeant, a

successful lawyer before his election to Congress in 1815, was a

champion of uniform bankruptcy laws and internal improvements, even

favoring a high tariff when his constituents were opposed to pro-

tection. He was more famous as a friend of Nicholas Biddle and

served as "the chief legal and political adviser to the Second

Bank of the United States."5 When Buchanan arrived in Washington,

5Dictionary of American Biography (New York, 1935), XVI, 558.

Sergeant was already one of the most influential members of Congress.

Buchanan spoke highly of him, but was wary of his rhetorical ways:

Mr. Sergeant entered the House in December, 1815, and had con-
tinued to be a member since that day. As a lawyer, he stood
in front rank among the eminent members of the bar of Philadel-
phia, at a period when its members were greatly distinguished
throughout the country for ability and learning. His personal
character was above reproach. From his first appearance he
maintained a high rank in the estimation of the House. As a
debater, he was clear and logical, and never failed to impart
information. His fault was that of almost every member of
Congress who had become a member after a long and successful
training at the bar. He was too exhaustive in his arguments,
touching every point in the question before the House without
discriminating between those which were vital and those which
were subordinate. His manner was cold and didactic, and his
prolixity sometimes fatigued the House. In his social inter-
course with the members, he was cold but not repulsive. The
high estimation in which he was held, arose from the just
appreciation of his great abilities, and from his pure and
spotless private character. There was nothing ad caotandum
about him. He was regarded by his constituents in Philadelphia
with pride and affection, who generally spoke of him as "our
John Sergeant."

The implications regarding Buchanan's rhetorical awareness

can be partially drawn from whom he has chosen to comment on and

from what he notices about the rhetorical qualities of each. From

Sergeant, we may assume, Buchanan had found an ethical model. It

seems logical he wished to have the "high estimation" the House

members accorded Sergeant because of his abilities and irreproach-

able character. Of course, Buchanan wished to display himself the

same intellectual, efficacious and ethical qualities demonstrated

by Sergeant. Note that he finds most lawyers make long-winded

speakers. We may assume he planned to avoid tiring his fellow

members and thus break away from the habit of prolixity possessed

by most men of the legal profession. We shall see toward the end

6Moore, XII, 314.


of this chapter how well Buchanan obeys the advice he seems to make

appropriate to himself.

There were rhetorical lessons to be learned from many con-

gressmen. Buchanan chose three of the most noteworthy, including

Randolph and Sergeant, just discussed. The contention here, however,

is that Congressman William Lowndes of South Carolina, the third

man singled out for special comment in his autobiography, made the

greatest impression on him. What is more, it was in Lowndes that

Buchanan found his ideal. To him, Lowndes was a "beau-ideal of

a statesman . by whose early death, in 1822, the country lost one

of the ablest, most accomplished and purest men it has ever produced."

It was no accident that Buchanan took such a fancy to this tragic

young South Carolinian. Although few know of him today, Lowndes was

very highly regarded throu ,cut the United States in his own time.

As mentioned in the preceding chapter, Buchanan knew much of Lowndes

before the former got to Congress. Langdon Cheves, another for-

gotten man who was also well known in his day, had lived in Lancaster

for several years and had during that time duly impressed upon Bu-

chanan's mind the greatness that was Lowndes'. Cheves was a member

of that brilliant trio of statesmen South Carolina sent to Washington

in 1810. Of them, only Calhoun has achieved the immortality that

perhaps belongs to Cheves and Lowndes as well.8

Cheves was correct. Lowndes was thought to be great by

his contemporaries. Lowndes, elected to Congress in 1810, along

7Curtis, I, 25.

Fannie White Carr, "William Lowndes," South Atlantic
Quarterly, I (1902), 366.


with Cheves and Calhoun, "was early marked for his clear, luminous

style of writing and speaking"9 The three, along with Clay, formed

the nucleus of the "war hawk" group which opposed Jefferson's Em-

bargo and Non-Intercourse policies. Lowndes "considered his part

as one of the 'war hawks' in bringing on the 'Second War for Inde-

pendence' his greatest achievement."10 Lowndes' reputation grew

as he spoke on measures to increase the military, and especially

the naval strength of the country. He was author of the sinking

fund act under which the national debt was to be retired in fourteen

years. He engaged in countless debates, not the least important

was the question over the admission of Missouri to statehood. Per-

haps only Clay deserves more credit for the peaceful settlement of

the Missouri question. The issue turned, some have said, when

Lowndes advocated the admission of Missouri under a constitution

of her own "by a speech so calm and dispassionate as to win approval

from both sections in the midst of a frenzied debate."1 Toward

the end of the struggle, Lowndes' health, never good, deteriorated

rapidly (he had been ill since age seven from inflammatory rheumatism

contracted while a school boy in England) which forced him to turn

the handling of the Missouri question entirely over to Clay. Not

long after, Lowndes was nominated by the Legislature of South Caro-

lina for the presidential election of 1824, and this above the

immortal Calhoun. No wonder Buchanan was so impressed (as were so

DAB, XI, 475.



many others) by this man, tall, thin, with a grave but dignified

bearing. According to his only biographer, Lowndes was the author

of the enduring adage that "the presidency is not an office to bo

either solicited or declined,"12 a sentiment to be expressed by

such later presidential possibilities as Adlai Stevenson and Nelson

Rockefeller. Buchanan came to the House at the same time as news

arrived of Lowndes' nomination by the South Carolina Legislature.

Buchanan records that "the new members of the House awaited his

arrival in Washington with much interest."15 The older members

thought highly of Lowndes also:

Towards the end of his life Mr. Clay told Colonel John Lee of
Maryland, that among the many men he had known he found it
difficult to decide who was the greatest, but added, "I think
the wisest man I ever knew was William Lowndes;" and Mr. Cheves,
in a conversation with the Reverend Charles Cotesworth Pinckney,
late rector of Grace Church, Charleston, lately published in
"Lippincott's Magazine," but prepared for the press many years
since, said, "Mr. Calhoun is far more brilliant, and his mind
more keen and rapid; he is a man of genius, and has the temp-
tation of such men to leap to conclusions boldly, perhaps too
hastily. But in the power of looking at a subject calmly,
dispassionately, in every light, Mr. Lowndes had no superior.
I should have preferred his judgment to that of any other man,
and such I think was the feeling of his contemporaries. I will
illustrate my view. If the nation were in great peril and Mr.
Lowndes recommended one policy and Mr. Calhoun an opposite one,
I think that a majority of the American people would have said,
Intrust the country to the guidance of William Lowndes, follow
his counsel;' and in my judgment they would have done wisely."14

It is likely James Buchanan had the same faith in Lowndes.

Cheves thought of Lowndes as the ideal leader, the best man to have

in the presidency, especially in times of trial. Could it be that

12rs. St. Julien Ravenel, Life and Times of William Lowndes
(Boston, 1901), p. 226.

13Moore, XII, 509.

14Ravenel, p. 259.

as early as 1821 Buchanan himself was thinking of the presidency

and that he chose as his model of statesmanship a man already nomi-

nated by his state believing that to follow such a man was the best

formula for success in politics? The writer thinks it is highly

likely. We already know Buchanan had a good opinion of himself.

It is not beyond the stretch of the imagination that the young man

dreamed of achieving the respect of his peers to the extent Lowndes

did and even considered the possibility of becoming president.

The following comments excerpted from the autobiography are indic-

ative of the high regard Buchanan had for the ailing representative

from South Carolina:

Mr. Lowndes had been unanimously nominated in December, 1821,
by the Legislature of South Carolina, as a candidate for the
Presidency to succeed Mr. Monroe. To this he made no direct
response. In a letter to a friend in Charleston, after stat-
ing he had not taken and never would take a step to draw the
public eye upon him for this high place, he uttered the memo-
rable sentiment:"The Presidency of the United States is not,
in my opinion, an office to be either solicited or declined."
And such was the general conviction of his candor and sincerity
that no man doubted this to be the genuine sentiment of his
heart. Fortunate would it have been for the country had all
future aspirants for this exalted station acted in accordance
with this noble sentiment. At the time, as Mr. Benton truly
observes, "he was strongly indicated for an early elevation to
the Presidency--indicated by the public will and judgment, and
not by any machinery of individual or party management, from the
approach of which he shrank as from the touch of contamination."

When Mr. Lowndes took his seat in the House, it was apparent
to all that his frail and diseased framebetokened an early death,
though he was then only in the forty-first year of his age.
He was considerably above six feet in height, and was much stooped
in person. There was nothing striking in his countenance to
indicate great and varied intellectual powers. As a speaker
he was persuasive and convincing. Though earnest and decided
in the discussion of great questions, he never uttered a word
which would give personal offense to his opponents or leave a
sting behind. His eloquence partook of his own gentle and un-
pretending nature. His voice had become feeble and husky, and
when he rose to speak, the members of the House, without distinction

of party, clustered around him so that they might hear every
word which fell from his lips. Towards his antagonists he was
the fairest debater ever known in Congress. It was his custom
to state their arguments so strongly and clearly that John Ran-
dolph, on one occasion, exclaimed: "He will never be able to
answer himself." He possessed all the information necessary
to the character of a great American statesman; and this, not
merely in regard to general principles, but to minute practical

Mr. Lowndes' great influence---for he was the undisputed leader
in the House--arose in no small degree from the conviction of
its members that he never had a sinister or selfish purpose in
view, but always uttered the genuine sentiments of his heart
S. . In his social intercourse with his fellow-members he
was ever ready and willing to impart his stores of information
on any subject, without feeling the least apprehension that
these might be used to anticipate what he himself intended to
say, or in debate against himself His health continuing to
decline, he resigned his seat in the House, and by the advice
of his physicians, embarked in October, 1822, from Philadelphia
in the ship Moss, with his wife and daughter, for London. He
died on the passage, on the 27th of that month, and was buried
at sea.

.I have written much more than I should otherwise have done to
repair injustice done to the character of the ablest, purest,
and most unselfish statesman of his day.

It is quite obvious many men were impressed with Lowndes the

man. So was Buchanan. But he was particularly interested in the

rhetorical part of the man. It would be wise to describe the Lowndes

debate formula before analyzing Buchanan's fascination for it. De-

scribing Lowndes' rhetoric is difficult because few of his many speeches

were preserved. According to the National Intelligencer, as quoted

by Buchanan, "of all the distinguished men who have passed periods

of their lives in either House of Congress, there is certainly no

one of anything like equal ability who has left fewer traces on the

page of history or on the records of Congress than William Lowndes,

the eminent Representative in Congress for several years of the

15Noore, XII, 309-311.

State of South Carolina."16 The reason most often given for so few

extant records of Lowndes' speeches is that he wrote out his speeches

neither before nor after he presented them. On one occasion only

did modesty allow him to permit the printing of a speech. The

scribes in the House recorded as best they could, however, and

fortunately the Annals of Congress contain rather full accounts of

several of Lowndes' more important speeches.

The writer has read accounts of two of Lowndes' important

speeches. From these readings, and from commentaries by Lowndes'

contemporaries and modern writers, he has postulated that the South

Carolinian followed a fairly definite pattern of speaking, here

termed the "Lowndes formula." Buchanan, learning much from Cheves

before 1821 and from Lowndes himself as he heard him speak in the

House in 1821, drew certain rhetorical conclusions about his "beau-

ideal." Excerpts taken from Buchanan's autobiography above, point

out Buchanan's awareness of Lowndes' strong ethical appeal, his

summarization of the arguments of opponents, and his dependence

upon reasoned cases fully amplified. Lowndes' biographer, Mrs.

Ravenel, writing her work from original materials (letters, speech

notes and manuscripts, reports, etc.) collected by Lowndes' widow,

remarked on a particular rhetorical characteristic: "It La speech

Lowndes delivered on the Missouri question in 1820] examines the

case so calmly and dispassionately that Mr. Lowndes was asked ironi-

cally whether he came from North or South."17 Klein has observed

16bid., p. 512.

17venel, p. 210.
Ravenel, p. 210.


similar characteristics in the speaking of Lowndes noted by Buchanan,

Randolph, and Ravenel: ". . sincerity of purpose, full command

of information, gentleness of address, an aversion to giving offense

to an opponent, and utter fairness in debate."18

The same characteristics of fairness, courtesy, reason, and

full information are evident in the speeches of Lowndes studied by

the writer. One additional characteristic was discovered, however.

Lowndes seemed to make his speeches toward the end of debates in the

House when, it appears, he hoped to have maximum influence on the

outcome of the discussion. Attention is called to Lowndes' speech

on the Seminole War, January 19, 1819.19 This speech came at the

conclusion of the House debate concerning the progress of the Seminole

War. Lowndes' last speech on the Missouri question was "so calm and

dispassionate as to win approval from both sections in the midst of

a frenzied debate."20 Mrs. Ravenel has summarized the entire con-

gressional career of her subject, indicating the debates in which

he was engaged and the point of his entrance into the fray. The

writer has observed that Lowndes made his major speeches at the

turning point in the debates. Typical of these was the speech on

the War Department Deficiency Bill, which was actually delivered

by Buchanan, coming as it did at the culminating point in the dis-


Miss Carr, basing her remarks on the materials collected by

18Klein, Buchanan, p. 38.

19Annals of Congress, 15 Congress, 2 Session (January,
1819), columns 912-922.

20DAB, XI, 474.


Mrs. Ravenel, reached positive conclusions regarding the speaking

characteristics of William Lowndes which tend to corroborate most

the Lowndesian tenets posited by the writer below:

During the eleven years that Lowndes was a member of congress,
he did not speak as often as some others, but when he spoke there
was that in his manner which commanded attention. The foundation
of his success as a speaker was laid deep. He spared no pain in
getting the facts, oftentimes surprising his opponent with a
truth that the latter had overlooked. His manner was modest
but confident. When others appealed to men's passions, he appealed
to their judgments. It was his habit on taking the floor to
review the arguments of his opponents before proceeding to
refute them.21

From the evidence gathered from a variety of sources, the writer

has concluded that Lowndes' speaking may be characterized as follows:

(1) Lowndes customarily made his major rhetorical efforts at the

rhetorical climax in House debates, when feelings were running high

and-the issue was in doubt; (2) Lowndes presented a reasoned case

at the crucial point, appealing to men's judgment rather than their

passions; (3) Lowndes began his speeches by reviewing the arguments

of his opponents, presenting the opposite side as forcefully and

favorably as he could, before proceeding to refute them; (4) Lowndes

attempted to demonstrate the "truth" with a full command of information

about the subject under discussion; (5) Lowndes made ethos the key-

stone of his rhetoric which he achieved by utter fairness to opponents,

by constantly searching for "truth," by abundant knowledge of the

case, by dispassionately treating the most emotion ladened subjects,

and by a modest but confident manner. This is the formula for de-

bating success Buchanan learned from Lowndes. It was a very ap-

pealing rhetorical formula based on a combination of techniques and

21 71.
Carr, p. 371.


strategies, and it became the ideal system for Buchanan. The formula

itself will be appraised in the conclusion to this chapter.

In many ways Buchanan came to the House naturally ready to

adopt the "Lowndes formula." He was not ready to plunge into de-

bates headfirst because he wasn't sure he knew where he stood on a

given issue. Therefore, the idea of sitting back and waiting for

the rhetorical climax to develop was highly necessary. He had to

wait until the issues became clear and the opposing camps were

identified. Further, his ego was great and it appealed to his sense

of self-importance to come into a dispute when feelings were running

high, when the solution was hidden by party passion, and when the

whole case was confused by the maze of arguments on both sides. At

that juncture, at the point of confusion, he hoped to demonstrate

his political and intellectual acumen by providing a workable solution

as a way of surmounting the impasse. Further, he was conditioned

by years of legislative and courtroom speaking to the use of reasoned

discourse. As noted in Chapter II, "his speechmaking was charac-

terized by precision, tight reasoning and tedious amplification."

Lowndes' rhetoric relied heavily on "full information," a factor also

noticed in Buchanan's early speeches. From the foregoing discussion

in this section, it is safe to conclude the following:

1. When Buchanan came to the House of Representatives in 1821,
he needed a rhetorical formula despite his extensive public
speaking experience previously acquired.

2. Buchanan admired William Lowndes as a statesman and speaker.

3. Lowndes had a distinctively unique rhetorical manner which
was evident to his contemporaries and which contributed to
his success as a parliamentarian.

4. Buchanan was well suited to the Lowndes style of debate.

5. Buchanan adopted the "Lowndes formula."22

The remainder of the chapter will be devoted to studying and ap-

praising Buchanan's efforts to adapt the "Lowndes formula" to de-

bates in which he became involved in the House of Representatives

from 1821 to 1831.

Application of the "Lowndes Formula"

The link between Buchanan and Lowndes, as demonstrated above,

is clear. Buchanan felt unsure in House debate, looked around for

a model, his eyes fell on Lowndes, of whom he was already well informed,

and decided to incorporate into his own speaking definite and distinct

Lowndesian rhetorical characteristics. An even more positive piece

of evidence linking rhetorically these two men is to be found in

connection with Buchanan's maiden speech. It was delivered within

a month after taking his seat:

A few days before Congress reconvened [following the Christmas
recess, December, 18213 several gentlemen called on Buchanan
with a proposition. They wanted him to accept the notes collected
by Lowndes on the War Department Deficiency Bill, construct
them into a speech, and deliver it. Lowndes was ill and unable
to do this job himself. He wished to save John C. Calhoun,
Secretary of War, from his present embarrassment. Would Mr.
Buchanan take over? He would indeed. With the most exquisite

2To substantiate further the conclusion that Buchanan
consciously adopted Lowndes as his rhetorical model, the reader
is asked to consider at once the opinions supporting this conclusion
expressed by Klein, Buchanan, p. 38, and Curtis, I, p.25. In addi-
tion, the reader's attention is called to the rhetorical features
Buchanan singles out in Lowndes' speaking as set forth in the
Buchanan Autobiography and quoted on pp.62-63 in this chapter. The
implication is strong that Buchanan found Lowndes to be a "beau-
ideal of a statesman" because of Lowndes rhetorical attributes.

25Klein, Buchanan, p. 39


In effect, Buchanan and Lowndes would collaborate on the

maiden speech. It is not known how much credit for the finished

speech should go to Lowndes and how much to the young Congressman

from Pennsylvania. The more important consideration is that Buchanan's

maiden speech was an occasion for an actual rhetorical union. It is

all the more important in light of previous discussion--Buchanan

needed a model and found one in Lowndes. In the War Department

Deficiency Bill we literally see one man's rhetoric transfused into

the rhetoric of the other. It is necessary to study the speech on

the War Department Deficiency Bill first for evidence of Lowndesian

rhetoric and then study a representative Buchanan speech or two

given years later in order to clearly see the effect of the trans-

fusion. Buchanan attempted to follow the "Lowndes formula" and he

started doing it in his first major congressional address on Jan-

uary 9, 1822.24

The facts surrounding the occasion for the speech are well

known. John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War in Monroe's second admini-

stration, had spent $70,000 more for Indian affairs than the House

had appropriated for the year 1821. A bill had then been introduced

by Mr. Smith of Maryland calling for an additional appropriation

to meet the deficit and thus relieving Calhoun of the responsibility

of reimbursing the government from his own pocket. Lowndes wished

to support the bill but was physically unable to transform his notes

into a finished speech and deliver it. It was important that a

strong speech be made in behalf of the bill for Calhoun's enemies

24Annals of Congress, 17 Congress, 1 Session (1821-1822),
I, 682-690.

were formidable:

There was in the House at this time a group calling itself the
Radical party whose object was to limit the activities of the
federal government to the narrowest possible range. One means
to this end was retrenchment, a rigorous cutting down of the
expenses of government. William Harris Crawford led this party,
which was particularly hostile to John C. Calhoun. The root of
their antagonism was doubtless their conflicting ambition for
the presidency, but the immediate source of trouble was Cal-
houn's alleged extravagance in administering the War Department
S. . The Deficiency Bill on which Lowndes had planned to
speak would enable Calhoun to pay the debts incurred by the
Indian Bureau of his Department. 5.

Buchanan, barely in the House three weeks when friends of

Lowndes approached him, must have been delighted at the chance to

try out his new debating method, a combination of his own and that

he had adopted from Lowndes.

Buchanan's first speech was a model of logic and common

sense--a sign of the brand and quality of speaking for which he was

to become well known. The speech is organized on a general to

specific principle. Following an introduction, designed to establish

the speaker's qualifications and good intentions, Buchanan proceeds

to a general discussion of the role of Congress with respect to

funding executive departments from which he gradually moves to a

consideration of the charges brought against a specific executive

officer, Calhoun. Within this deductive framework, a series of

arguments, constitutional, economic, moral and common sense, is

employed to destroy the case of the opposition and lead to the in-

evitable conclusion that the appropriation should be endorsed by

the House. The underlying theme of the speech was in the form of

a legal principle borrowed by Buchanan: "It ought to be a maxim

25Klein, Buchanan, p. 39.


in politics, as well as in law, that an officer of your Government,

high in the confidence of the people, shall be presumed to have done

his duty, until the reverse of the proposition is proved." In actu-

ality, the entire speech has a legal flavor to it--the flavor of a

summation speech by a defense counselor in a criminal case. It is

true that Calhoun had been indicted by the Radicals. Buchanan came

along and, in a sense,played the role of the defense counselor,

defending Calhoun of the charges brought against him. As will be

seen shortly, chief among these defenses is a legal argument. There

is to be found, also, pathetic appeals of the same character used

by a lawyer pleading before a jury. It is only natural that Buchanan's

legal background should carry over and blend in with the Lowndes

style. One recognizes certain legalistic features in the speaking
of Lowndes too who was himself a lawyer by profession. The more

immediate concern here, however, is to what degree do we see the

Lowndes influence evident in Buchanan's maiden speech.

First, Buchanan's speech coincides with the rhetorical

climax. He shows he is aware of the arrival of the decision point

in his very first remarks: "On Friday last, when the House adjourned,

I did believe that the subject now before the Committee was involved

in doubt and in mystery. I thought a dark cloud hung over the trans-

action . ."It is at the point of confusion, when the outcome is

in doubt, that Lowndes and Buchanan choose to enter the fray. The

doubt and darkness obviously refers to the state of mind of the mem-

bers of the House who have been overwhelmed with heavy and appealing

26Ravenel, p. 50.


pleas from both sides. Buchanan will begin the habit in this speech,

the habit so long practiced by Lowndes, of attempting to carefully

time his entrance into the debate. Not too soon--arguments can be

wasted before an audience is ready to decide. Not too late--it is

difficult to change the thinking of listeners who have gone beyond

the rhetorical climax and have had their equilibrium restored by

discovering a satisfying solution to the problem,a solution which

provides intellectual and moral peace of mind. Lowndes liked to pick

out that rhetorical moment when decisions are made and come forward

with a sane, rational, reasoned and passionless solution--a solution

which evaporates "doubt and mystery." Listen to how well Buchanan

takes to the "Lowndes formula"--he will attempt to give the pivotal

speech for which Lowndes was famous: "I thought that a dark cloud

hung over the transaction, which ought to be cleared up before the

House could give its sanction to this appropriation. After a careful

examination, the mystery has vanished--the cloud has been dispelled--

and, to my view, the subject appears clear as the light of day."

"Clear as the light of day"--Buchanan is taking credit here for shed-

ding light on a darkened area. In so doing he is showing a natural

talent for Lowndesian style but he is also guilty of a serious miscal-

culation. It would be easier to see the miscalculation, or ethical

flaw, if the introduction to the War Deficiency speech is diagrammed

according to the Ehninger-Brockriede-Toulmin model:27

27Wayne Brockriede and Douglas Ehninger, "Toulmin on Argu-
ment: An Interpretation and Application," Quarterly Journal of
Speech, XLVI (February, 1960), 44-53.


(D) Therefore (C)
"I thought that a dark cloud The members of the House
hung over the transaction, which should listen carefully to
ought to be cleared up before Buchanan's reasons for
the House could give its sanction supporting the War Defi-
to this appropriation. After ciency Bill.
careful examination, the mystery
has vanished--the cloud has been
dispelled--and to my view, the
subject appears clear as the
light of day"

What Buchanan says about the
bill is worthy of serious

Buchanan can be depended upon
to study legislation object-
ively/has carefully studied
this bill/ is a wise man.

Buchanan is presenting an authoritative or ethical argument in the

opening remarks diagrammed above. The serious difficulty arises

when one considers that it is presumptuous of Buchanan to expect

his listeners to accept the warrant and its backing. The warrant

may be true but hardly anyone in the audience is in a position to

know if it is true or false. The speech was delivered on Wednesday,

only four days after Buchanan admits he had an opposite opinion.

The audience is asked to accept him as an authority after only three

weeks of legislative experience in the House. Chances are the "dark

cloud" was removed from the transaction by means of Lowndes' request

and not by "careful examination." Yet, the speech that follows these

opening remarks is indicative of serious study and careful examination

of the facts. Buchanan's listeners may have been appalled at the


outset by his attempt to provide presumptuous authoritative proof,

but by the time the speech was over they more than likely would aCroo

the warrant was justified. Buchanan, with Lowndes' help, had studied

the case thoroughly.' There was no doubt of this at the end. But

further analysis is necessary before definite conclusions are drawn.

Like Lowndes, Buchanan reviews arguments put forth by his

opponents, stating them clearly and forcefully. In the speech on

the War Department Deficiency Bill, there is only one significant

charge against Calhoun and therefore only one significant argument

against passing the bill. It is a compelling argument and Buchanan

states it in its most convincing form. Indeed, the argument is so

powerful that Buchanan spends the bulk of his time attempting to

refute it:

Before I come to the principal question, Mr. Chairman, permit
me to answer one of the arguments which has been eloquently
and ingeniously urged by the gentlemen of the opposition.
It has been said, with truth, that the Constitution provides
"That no money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in con-
sequence of appropriations made by law." It is certain that
this provision is the best security for the liberties of the
people in the whole of the instrument. Once transfer this branch
of power vested in Congress, by the Constitution, to the Ex-
ecutive, and your freedom is but an empty name. That Depart-
ment of Government having command of the purse, might very
soon assume the power of the sword.

Buchanan does not minimize the power of the argument. In fact, he

calls it eloquent and admitsit is based on constitutional truth.

He has hereby put himself at a disadvantage, it would seem, by so

candidly reviewing the most potent argument of the opposition.

The Constitution provides "no money shall be drawn from the Treasury

but in consequence of appropriations . ." This quotation glaringly

calls attention to Calhoun's behavior. He drew $70,000 from the


Treasury above congressional appropriations. It would seem Calhoun

has directly violated the Constitution. Buchanan goes further. This

provision is "the best security for the liberty of the people."

Calhoun seems to have threatened the security of the people. The

power over the purse strings must not be transferred to the Executive.

Should the power be transferred there is the risk of a dictatorship

displacing democracy. By these implications alone, Buchanan has

clearly admitted that the arguments of the opposition suggest Cal-

houn's expenditures above the $100,000 appropriation constitutes

a monstrous menace to the sacred laws of the land and to the peace

and security of the people. To Buchanan's strategy also, Randolph

might have said, "He will never be able to answer himself." But the

strategy, while perhaps dangerous, has the advantage of gaining

attention. Buchanan, and Lowndes, seem to feel the strategy wins

admiration and respect--that there are ethical rewards to be gained

by candidness. Further, if counterarguments can be found to over-

turn the advantage given to the opposition, the obvious reason the

listener must provide to himself is that the case of the speaker is

extremely powerful--so powerful it overwhelms the very strong case

set forth by the opposition. Therefore, the strategy elevates the

significance of the speaker's refutation by the very fact that there

is so much to overcome. Whether this is psychologically sound or

not, it seems to be the chief justification Buchanan and Lowndes

have for the use of the strategy in the first place. Let us see

how it works.

Buchanan begins his parade of arguments by denying the fact

that the truth in the main objection applies to Secretary Calhoun.


"Has the Secretary of War violated this salutary provision? Has

he drawn money out of the Treasury without appropriation made by

law for that purpose? Unquestionably not." Instead of sanctioning

such an unconstitutional act, Calhoun is asking the House". .. to

make an appropriation to supply a deficiency in the means which you

had provided to enable him to discharge positive duties, enjoined

upon him by your own laws."

Buchanan continues: "Here let me ask gentlemen, why they

are so much alarmed at the fact that the appropriation has proved

deficient? Deficiencies must and will occur so long as the men who

wield the destinies of this Government are fallible." Does Congress

expect Calhoun to be a seer? No. Would it be better to appropriate

overwhelming sums and then allow the Secretary to take what he needs?

No, this could lead to extensions of the service greater than the

House deems necessary. Further, ". .at the instant of time when

the sum appropriated is expended in executing your laws, would you

have the wheels of Government stop?" Would it be wise if the Secre-

tary shut down his operations once appropriations were expended in

the midst of foreign invasion? Of course not. Again, but this time

using pathos of which Lowndes would certainly have disapproved:

Suppose the Secretary had thought proper materially to alter our
policy toward the Indians, and the first information you heard
of the change was, as it probably would have been, the howl of
savage warfare around your borders, and the shrieks of helpless
women and children under the scalping-knife? Could you then have
justified his conduct?

Certainly not. Again, "what would you think of his justification,

if he informed you, that he neglected to provide for the common

defense, because the Army appropriation was too small to enable him


to embody the forces. Such conduct would be treason against the


At this point, Buchanan moves to historical and statistical

data in preparation for his primary constitutional argument. Buchanan

points out that the amount appropriated for the Indian Division,

$100,000,was less than half what was necessary to handle Indian

affairs. The average expenditures for Indians business between the

years 1813 and 1820 was $252,750 (in round figures) and the Department

spent $464,000 (in round figures) in 1814. Since 1820, the Indian

Division of the War Department has been greatly extended since new

tribes unheard of before 1820 were now seeking assistance from the

government as settlers pushed Westward into virgin territories. Now,

with his historical and financial data established, Buchanan presents

his strongest argument in support of paying for the 1821 deficiency.

Buchanan argued that by providing less than half the funds necessary

for operating that department, Congress could have relinquished its

control over the purse strings of the executive by making it incum-

bent upon Secretary Calhoun to then decide which of the congressionally

authorized obligations the War Department should honor:

Did Congress intend, by the mere act of appropriating $100,000
for the current expenses of the last year, that the head of a
Department should alter the laws of the land, and that he might
at his will declare what part of the Indian system would be in
force, and what part should be considered as repealed? Was it,
for example, their determination that no treaties should be held
with the Indians, however necessary they might have been, be-
cause the Secretary had thought proper to apply the whole of
your appropriations to other objects? This never could have
been their intention. Congress alone has the power of changing
this system of policy.

If you allow an executive officer to decide which laws shall

be honored and which not it would be like ". .delegating legislative

power to the Head of a Department and would introduce the very evil

against which gentlemen are so anxious to guard." The young congress-

man had in mind, of course, the evil of executive usurpation of the

power reserved for the House of Representatives. This would nrot

only be a threat to our liberties but would be unconstitutional.

Only the Congress has the power to legislate. By failing to make up

deficiencies in departmental spending, the Congress runs the risk

of turning its legislative power over to the Executive branch. Bu-

chanan was forever a constitutionalist and jealous of one branch or

the other encroaching upon what he thought were clearly established

areas of responsibility. Areas or borderlines established by the


The speech continues in this vein. Constitutional, economic

and moral arguments ensue. He concludes with a devastating argument

which is an instance of hypothetical moral suasion:

One other view of the subject, Mr. Chairman, and I shall have
done. In whatever light the conduct of the Secretary may appear,
still the deficit ought to be supplied. This case does not re-
quire such an argument; but suppose, for a moment, he had acted
improperly, is this one of those extreme cases--for I admit,
that such may possibly exist--in which the House should withhold
an appropriation to supply a deficiency? Will any gentleman say,
that individuals who have fairly and honestly entered into con-
tracts with your Secretary of War, on the faith of the Government,
shall suffer? Surely you would not impose the task on every
person who binds himself by agreement, to perform services for the
Government, to inquire whether the appropriation made by Congress
justified his employment. If you did, he then becomes respon-
sible--for what, in the nature of things, cannot be within his
knowledge. To enable him to ascertain whether he might safely
contract with the head of one of your Executive Departments, he
should be informed not only of the amount of appropriations, but
in what manner their expenditure has proceeded, and is proceeding
in every part of the Union. It would be crying injustice to
inform the men who have abandoned civilized life, and undergone
all the dangers, the hardships, and the privations of dwelling
among savages in the wilderness, for the purpose of promoting

the interest and the glory of their country, that they shall
receive no compensation for their services, because the Secre-
tary who employed them has exceeded his appropriation. This
would be making the innocent suffer instead of the guilty. If,
therefore, there has been any impropriety in the conduct of the
Secretary, as some gentlemen have insinuated, but which I utterly
deny, it is a question which should be settled between you and
him, and one in the decisions of which the rights of the persons
employed under his authority ought not to be involved. Indeed,
no gentleman has yet said these men ought not to be paid out of
the public Treasury. Why, then, considering this question in
every point of view which it can be presented, is there any
objection against voting $70,000 to supply the deficiency in the
appropriation of the last year? I hope it will pass without
further difficulty.

Thus Buchanan concludes his first major address in Congress,

his maiden speech. It is Lowndesian rhetoric:

1. Buchanan begins the habit, given him by Lowndes, of entering
debates at the rhetorical climax. From the last line of
the speech, quoted above, it is obvious he feels he has struck
the final blow--that the issue, in doubt when he arose, is
now settled as he takes his seat. The excitement is over
and the only remaining task for the members is to vote as
Buchanan has demonstrated they should. The bill did pass,
incidentally, by an overwhelming majority.28

2. Buchanan will make the pivotal speech by presenting a sane,
reasoned, highly logical case. He will bring order to a
chaotic situation.

3. Buchanan plays fair. He states the strongest argument of
the opposition in the strongest way, giving the implication
that his side is in jeopardy and the opposition safe and

4. Buchanan demonstrates that mastery of information, that
memory of details that characterizesthe speeches of Lowndes.

5. Buchanan depends upon ethical proof as did Lowndes. The
only difference is that Lomwdes already had a reputation
for honesty and wisdom and Buchanan has to demonstrate it in
this speech. His introduction is presumptuous but the over-
all effect is satisfying--by the end, the listener feels the
confidence in the speaker that Buchanan prematurely asks
for in the introduction.

In appraising the speech one would conclude that it was a

28ein, Bucanan, p. 41.
Klein, Buchanan, p. 41.


masterpiece of argumentation. There is only one flaw, in addition

to the miscalculation in ethos, mentioned above. Buchanan argues

that Calhoun was obligated to exceed the appropriation in order to

meet the demands upon the Indian Division. Calhoun spent $170,000

instead of the $100,000 appropriated. One could conclude, however,

that Calhoun must have cut back on the operations of the Indian

office somewhat and at the expense in the quality of the overall

Indian program. Buchanan shows that in 1821 the work of the Di-

vision of Indian affairs expanded its operations. Further, Buchanan

stated that the average expenditures for this office ran close to

$250,000 annually. How could Calhoun operate on less than $250,000

and still do justice to the job of handling Indian affairs, espe-

cially if those affairs were expanding? Buchanan sees this weak-

ness in his case but his reply lacks conviction:

This sum is upwards of $85,000 less than, upon an average, was
appropriated to the same purpose, in each year, from 1815 to
1820, both inclusive. It was but a few thousand dollars more
than was expended for the use of the same department for each
of the last two years of Mr. Jefferson. In the meantime our
relations with the Indians have greatly extended with our ex-
tending frontier, and we have become acquainted with tribes, of
which before we had never even heard the names. This great
curtailment of expenses places the character of the present
Secretary, in this particular, upon an exalted eminence . .

The question remains, how could Calhoun have curtailed expenses and

yet extended the size of his operations? No satisfactory answer is

provided. Yet, this flaw does not weaken the case overall Buchanan

has made for making up the deficiency by an additional appropriation.

We have seen Lowndes' rhetoric transfused into the rhetoric

of Buchanan. The contention in this chapter is that Buchanan used

the "Lowndes formula" throughout practically all the speeches he


delivered during the ten years he was in the House. He spoke in

three ways during those ten years: (1) most of his speeches follow

the "Lowndes formula" practically to the letter; (2) several speeches

show minor departures from the formula for the purpose of adapting

to new situations; (5) very few speeches but at least one are dis-

tinctly not of the Lowndesian variety.

Most of Buchanan's House speeches are distinctly of the

Lowndesian style. He enters the fray late, reviews the case against

him, citing the opponents argument with fairness and force, refutes

them with sound and usually superior arguments and then adopts a

safe, middle of the road position of moderation between the conflict-

ing factions. Speaking on the New Tariff Bill on February 7, 1823,

about a year after his maiden speech, he follows the same formula.29

After both sides have presented their arguments for and against the

bill, Buchanan enters as a peacemaker. He takes the opponents strong-

est argument and states it fairly: "Instead of attacking the pro-

visions contained in the bill, he has, ingeniously, and with a force

of argument which I have rarely heard equalled, assailed some of the

principles by which it has been supported. . .He has declared

that it is an attempt by one portion of the Union, for its own par-

ticular advantage, to impose ruinous taxes upon another. He has

represented it as an effort to compel the agriculturists of the

South to pay tribute to the manufacturers of the North; he has pro-

claimed it to be a tyrannical measure."

But this argument misses the point, according to Buchanan.

29Annals of Co ess, 17 Congress, 2 Session (1822-182),
Annals of Congress, 17 Congress, 2 Session (1822-182$),



The bill is not designed to turn section against section but to

raise revenues, he continues, which are necessary to avoid a budg-

etary deficit:

I confess I never did expect to hear inflammatory speeches of
this kind within these walls, which ought to be sacred to union;
I never did expect to hear the East counselling the South to
resistance, that we might thus be deterred from prosecuting a
measure of policy, urged upon us by the necessities of the country.
If I know myself, I am a politician neither of the East, nor
of the West, of the North, nor the South: I therefore shall
forever avoid any expressions, the direct tendency of which must
be to create sectional jealousies, sectional divisions, and at
length disunion, the worst and last of all political calamities.

Buchanan takes the primary argument, then, and rules it out

of bounds. In doing so, by the way, he previews a sentiment of

unionism which will be his theme during the last months of his own

administration. The central issue he says is not sectionalism but

finding a means of raising revenues. The tariff is the best way.

The second problem is to find a tariff compromise which is fair to

all sectors, all classes, and all occupations. Further, "the end

is the collection of revenue; in its attainment we have adopted a

system of duties calculated to afford protection to our own manu-

facturers, not for the purpose of prohibiting the importation of

foreign fabrics, but to bring our own into fair competition with

them." Thus, tariffs are designed to collect revenues and encourage

domestic industry, commerce and agriculture and not to hinder the

importation of foreign goods, diminish foreign trade, or turn one

class or occupation or section against another. Buchanan, following

the "Lowndes formula," takes up the arguments of his opponents,

which he fairly states. He refutes them calmly, competently, logi-

cally. He appears a master of the entire debate, brandishing


knowledge of the entire subject and demonstrating acquaintance

with all points of view and all speeches for and against the

measure. Lastly, he attempts to speak at what he considers the

rhetorical climax. This speech, like so many others, is typical

of Buchanan using the "Lowndes formula."

Several speeches show minor departures from the "Lowndes

formula." Typical of these is Buchanan's April 11, 1826, speech

on the Panama Mission.0 Buchanan was opposed to the Panama

Mission because he feared Adams and Clay, by sending emissaries

to Panama, would be repudiating Washington's great admonition

against alliances with foreign states:

We have ourselves grown great by standing alone, and pursuing
an independent policy. This path has conducted us to national
happiness and national glory. Let us never abandon it. It is
.time for us once more to go back to first principles, and de-
clare to the world that the policy of Washington has not grown
old. Union at home, and independence of all foreign nations,
ought to be our political maxims. Let us do good to all nations,
but form entangling alliances with none.

Buchanan departs from the formula somewhat in this speech.

It is true he speaks at what he feels is the rhetorical climax,

at a time when others have presented both sides to the question

and once issues have crystallized. It is true also that he appears

a master of all details, legal, pragmatic, historical. Further,

he presents a well reasoned case as is customary for him. He departs,

however, by taking on a partisan hue, even though he denies it:

"If any gentleman upon this floor has intended to charge me with

being engaged in a factious opposition to the measures of the

present Administration, I now indignantly cast back the charge upon

50Register of Debates, 19 Congress, 1 Session (1825-1826),
II, 2168-2182.


him, and pronounce it to be unfounded." The very tone of the denial

smacks of partisanship. Further, Buchanan strays from the "Loiwnies

formula" somewhat by not as objectively presenting the oppncr-e--,

arguments as he usually does:

The gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Webster) has contended
that, if they should prevail [certain amendments under con-
sideration at that moment they will violate the constitutional
power of the Executive, and will virtually amount to instructions
from this House to our Ministers.

Usually, Mr. Buchanan would have dignified Webster's argument by

saying it was "eloquently and ingeniously put" or in some way give

the impression that he has a deep respect for the cogency of the

argument and the good sense of its advocate. In this instance,

however, Buchanan claims to have little regard for the value of

the argument: "I am at a loss to conceive how he will support this

position." Again, "by what logic the gentleman from Massachusetts

(Mr. Webster) will be able to prove that such a resolution will be

an instruction from this House to our Minister, I am utterly unable

to comprehend." He is even rougher on President Adams who authorized

that the mission be sent to Panama. He is especially critical of

Secretary of State Clay for having conveyed messages to the Mexican

government from which they may infer, Buchanan maintains, that the

United States stands ready militarily to defend that nation in the

event of an attack by France, which seemed imminent at that moment.

These instances of criticism of opponents fracture, if they don't

shatter, the "fair play" image demanded by the "Lowndes formula."

But the speech is typical of those that slightly depart from the

formula but retain a preponderance of Lowndesian features.

It is interesting to note that the speech on the Panama


Mission, of all those Buchanan delivered in the House, is most ame-

nable to the Ehninger test of validity.51 To be valid, an argumen-

tative case must meet three tests: "(1) It must cause an opponent

either to abandon his position or to altor it in some fundamental

way. (2) It must cause him to do this out of necessity rather -han

choice. (3) It must make him fully aware of the adjustments that are

required."32 It is easy to conclude that Webster felt morally obli-

gated to abandon his contention, after Buchanan's speech, that one

could not endorse both the amendments (which put restrictions on

the emissaries) to the Panama Mission Bill and the appropriation

for it:

The gentleman from Pennsylvania, with whom I have great pleasure
in concurring on his part of the case, while I regret that I
differ with him on others, has placed this question in a point
.of view which can not be improved. These officers do indeed
already exist. They are public ministers. If they were to
negotiate a treaty, and the Senate should ratify it, it would
become a law of the land, whether we voted their salaries or
not. This shows that the Constitution never contemplated that
the House of Representatives should act a part in originating
negotiations or concluding treaties.35

Webster is forced to abandon his position because of the arguments

presented in Buchanan's speech. According to Ehninger, this is the

surest test of the validity of an argumentative case.

Finally, there is only one speech', known to the writer,

delivered as a prepared address and excluding countless "remarks"

made spontaneously in connection with dozens of debates, that

31Douglas Ehninger, "Validity as Moral Obligation," Southern
Speech Journal, XXXIII (Spring, 1968), 215-222.

32Ibid., p. 220.

33Curtis, I, 65.


materially violates the "Lowndes formula." Reference here is to

Buchanan's "Speech on Retrenchment," February 4, 1020.4 Some less

influential friends of Jackson in 1828, led by Mr. Chilton of Ken-

tucky, "introduced in the House certain resolutions instructing the

Committee of Ways and Means to report what offices could be abolished,

what salaries reduced, and other modes of curtailing the expenses

of the government."35 Buchanan again hesitated. This time, however,

not in search of the climactic point but in doubt as to whether to

join the attack on Adams' administration. He was in a dilemma. If

he supported "retrenchment," and these resolutions should pass, there

would be less patronage for Jackson to dole out when elected. If

he didn't, his constituents would never understand his conversion to

Jacksonianism. He at last decided to speak, but not in the Lowndesian

fashion. The speech lacks the Buchanan flavor. Instead of being

reasoned, it is highly emotional. Instead of being fair, it is a

vicious attack on the character of his target. Buchanan abandons

legal terminology for a bombastic, florid and highly poetic style:

My colleague EMr. Everett] has declared, that he would not have
introduced such resolutions, because they might tend to injure
the Government of the Country, in the estimation of the people.
Against this position I take leave to enter my solemn protest.
Is it the Republican doctrine? What, sir, are we to be told
that we shall not inquire into the existence of abuses in this
Government, because such an inquiry might tend to make the Gov-
ernment less popular? This is new doctrine to me--doctrine which
I have never heard before upon this floor.

Liberty, sir, is a precious gift, which can never long be enjoyed
by any People, without the most watchful jealousy. It is Hesperian

34Register of Debates, 20 Congress, 1 Session (1827-1828),
IV, 1360-1377.

55Curtis, I, 70.

fruit, which the ever-wakeful jealousy of the People can alone
preserve. The very possession of power has a strong--a natural
tendency, to corrupt the heart. The lust of dominion grows with
its possession; and the man who, in humble life, was pure, and
innocent, and just, has often been transformed, by the long
possession of power, into a monster. In the Sacred Book, which
contains lessons in wisdom for the politician, as well as for the
Christian, we find a happy illustration of the corrupting influ-
ence of power upon the human heart. When Hazael came to consult
Elisha, whether his master, the King of Syria, would recover from
a dangerous illness, the prophet, looking through a vista of
futurity, saw the crimes of which the messenger who stood before
him would be guilty, and he wept. Hazael asked, why weepeth my
Lord? The prophet then recounted to him, the murders and the
cruelties of which he should be guilty, towards the children
of Israel. Hazael, in the spirit of virtuous indignation, re-
plied--Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing? "And
Elisha answered, the Lord hath shewed me, that thou shalt be king
over Syria." This man afterwards became king, by the murder of
his master, and was guilty of enormities, the bare recital of
which would make us shudder.

The nature of man is the same under Republics and under Mon-
archies. The history of the human race proves, that liberty
can never long be preserved, without popular jealousy. It is the
'condition of its enjoyment. Our rulers must be narrowly watched.
When my colleague advanced the position which he did, he could
not have forseen the consequences to which his doctrine would
lead. I know that he never could have intended that it should
reach thus far; but yet my inference is perfectly fair, when I
declare it is a doctrine which only suits the calm of despotism.
It is the maxim of despots, that the People should never inquire
into the concerns of Government. Those who have enslaved man-
kind, from Caesar to Bonaparte, have always endeavored, by pre-
senting them with amusements, and by every other means in their
power, to attract the attention of the People from the conduct
of their rulers. I therefore differ, toto caelo, from my col-
league upon this point. If the resolutions of the gentleman from
Kentucky, Mr. Chilton] shall have the effect of more earnestly
and more closely directing the attention of the People to the
concerns of the Government, the result will be most fortunate.
If the Government has been administered upon correct principles,
an intelligent People will do justice to their rulers; if not,
they will take care that every abuse shall be corrected.

After this preface to and justification of a personal attack on the

administration and personal character of John Quincy Adams, Buchanan

begins to indict the President for negligence, mismanagement, and

corruption in government and in his private life. The tone of the

previous quotation is quite different from the maxim of trust in

executive officials set forth in the War Department Deficiency Bill.

At one point Buchanan wishes for the tongue of invective:

I shall now, Mr. Speaker, enter upon a more particular reply
to the arguments of the gentleman from Massachusetts. I wish
I were able to follow the example of the gentleman from Virginia,
[Mr. RandolpEh and to take the general and comprehensive views
of political subjects, which he recommended. As I cannot pur-
sue that course, I must enter into detail, and make such a
speech as he would attribute to a lawyer.

Unfortunately, Buchanan really doesn't try to speak like a lawyer

but instead attempts to give a "Randolph speech."

Many of the complaints he levels against Everett and indi-

rectly at President Adams are petty. Buchanan charged that Adams

refused to return to the Treasury over payments made for diplomatic

liveries and traveling expenses while the latter was United States

Minister to St. Petersburg some fifteen years before. He launched

a fair but devastating attack, however, on Clay and Adams for their

partsin the "Corrupt Bargain:"

If the individual to whom I have alluded, could elect a Presi-
dent, and receive from him the office of Secretary of State,
from the purest motives, other men may, and hereafter will,
pursue the same policy, from the most corrupt. "If they do
these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?"
This precedent will become a cover, under which future bargains
and corrupt combinations will be sanctioned; under which the
spirit of the Constitution will be sacrificed to its letter.

Then Buchanan moves to petty things:

I now come to the part of the argument of the gentleman from
Massachusetts, Mr. EveretiJ which relates to the billiard
table. I should not have said one word upon this subject, did
I not differ entirely in relation to it, from the gentlemen
from Virginia and South Carolina [Mr. Randolph and Mr. Hamil-
tonj I admit that the expenditure of fifty dollars is a very
little matter, and this has ever been the opinion of my friend
from North Carolina, [Mr. Carson] who has been so often in-
troduced into the debate. If there be any gentleman in the

House, who regards fifty dollars less than he does, I do not
know the man. The question worthy of our consideration, is not
whether the price of the billiard table was paid out of the
Public Treasury, or out of the private purse of the President;
but whether a billiard table ought to be set up, as an article
of furniture in the House of the President of the United States?
I am free to say, I think it ought not. In the State of Vir-
ginia, billiard tables are prohibited even in the mansions of
private gentlemen, under very severe penalties. The gentlemen
from Virginia, therefore, cannot now indulge in this game at
home: for I know him too well to believe that he would violate
the laws of his own State. This shows the moral sense of the
People of that ancient and respectable Commonwealth, in relation
to the game of billiards. To use a familiar expression of their
own, they do not go against either the exercise or the amuse-
ment of the play; but they know the temptation which it presents
to gambling, and the consequent ruin which must follow in its
train. It has a direct tendency to corrupt the morals of our
youth. Indeed, I doubt whether there be a single State in the
Union which has not prohibited the game of billiards. The People
of the United States are generally a moral and religious People;
a proper regard, therefore, for public opinion, for the scruples
of the pious, ought to have prevented the first Magistrate of
the Union from setting such an example. Eere Mr. Randolph
observed, there was no law in the District of Columbia, against
.playing billiards] Mr. Buchanan then said, the President
of the United States is not only the President of the District
of Columbia, but of the whole American People; and they condemn
this and every other species of gambling. Ought, then, the man
who has been elevated to the most exalted station upon earth,
whose example must have a most powerful and extensive influence
upon the morals of the youth of our country, to set up a billiard
table, as an article of furniture, in the House which belongs to
the American People? He certainly ought not to keep such an
article of furniture in that house, nor ought be there to play
at the game. I should never have invaded his domestic retire-
ment, for the purpose of discovering whether he kept a billiard
table or not. I should never have been the first to bring this
matter, either before the House, or the country. It has been
brought here by others, and I felt it to be my duty to express
my opinion upon the subject.

It has been said that Washington played at billiards. Be it so.
I will, however, venture the assertion, that he never set up
a billiard table in the house which he occupied, at the Seat of
the Government, whilst he was President of the United States.

Descending from the man who occupies the most exalted station in
the country, nay, in the world, to the Judges of your Courts of
Justice, I would as, whether public opinion, in any portion of
this Union, would tolerate, that such a magistrate might estab-
lish a billiard table in his house, or even play publicly at
the game?


And so on. Buchanan seems utterly unaware of the pettiness of this

subject and unaware, perhaps that he was making a very humorous

spectacle of himself by giving so much attention to such an insigni-

ficant misgiving. Will his constituency be satisfied that Buchanan

has found good reason to turn on Adams and change parties? He seems

to be reaching for damaging evidence and is forced to scrape the

bottom of the barrel.

It is true this speech has the format of a Lowndesian speech--

Buchanan arranges his speech according to a series of arguments set

forth by his opponent (Mr. Everett from Massachusetts) and follows

each with a refutation of it. But Buchanan has lost all sense of pro-

priety and common sense in this speech. He has abandoned the reasoned

discourse, in which he is safe, even formidable, and taken up ridicule,

at which he is ridiculously inept.

In conclusion, Buchanan followed the "Lowndes formula" most

of the time. On occasion he left out some features of it and one

occasion abandoned practically the entire scheme.


Buchanan made excellent use of the "Lowndes formula." For

the most part, he followed the system during his ten years in the

House. In one respect, he out-did even Lowndes. Reference is made to

argumentation. Lowndes himself was no slouch as an analyzer of ar-

guments but he was not the expert Buchanan was. Buchanan could so

analyze an opponent's case that every weakness in it became patently

clear. He managed to see weaknesses that seldom occurred to his

fellow debaters. As an advocate, he knew how to marshall evidence


and draw conclusions as well or better than anyone in the House. No

one, not even Webster, was a match for him in cool logic and common

sense reasoning. Argumentation was the foundation of the Lowndes

scheme and Buchanan was better at it than the inventor.

The keystone to the "Lowndes formula" was Lowndes' ethos.

Buchanan, of course, could not duplicate Lowndes' character but he

recognized the importance of ethos to the success of the formula.

Therefore, he attempts to establish himself as a dependable, wise, and

fairminded person. Almost every introduction contains some sort of

plea for a fair hearing. He states, most always, his unwillingness

to offend anyone and he claims to be nonpartisan. He is generous,

usually, in his praise of friends and members who stand opposite him

on most questions. He was presumptuous in some respects by asking that

members regard him as a sage. This was unfortunate early in his career

in the House because he was unknown. It is doubtful he ever achieved

the status of a sage in House debate but it is likely that his more

than common amount of fairness, his extensive knowledge of each ques-

tion, and his sharp legal mind came to win high respect for him as a

debator before he left the House. In short, he adapted to the "Lowndes

formula" well and rose to a position of eminence as a formidable de-

bat or.

On occasion, the Pennsylvania Congressman departed somewhat

from the strict "Lowndes formula." These departures were necessary

in order to meet unexpected situations. In every instance studied,

in which partial abandonment occurred, Buchanan felt it necessary to

take off the mask of impartiality and non-partisanship. He yielded

fairness in favor of the cudgel although retaining enough of the old


strategy to warrant the Lowndesian label. There seems to be a corre-

lation between Buchanan's use of the cudgel and the growth of party

spirit .n the House. In 1821, and during the early years of the "Era

of Good Feeling," Buchanan found the nonpartisan Lowndes' strategy

quite useful. After 1824, in the aftermath of Jackson's thwarted

presidential campaign and the "corrupt bargain" episode, and as the

great debates over tariff and internal improvements produced ideo-

logical and political division among the congressmen, James Buchanan

used the "Lowndes formula" more flexibly in order to meet each new

political crisis. On one occasion he went so far as to abandon en-

tirely the Lowndes style. This instance involved Buchanan's slashing

speech on retrenchment which was a vehicle for the purpose of attacking

the character and political image of John Quincy Adams and of definitely

notifying his constituents of his change in party labels from Fed-

eralist to Democrat. Buchanan made a ridiculous John Randolph. His

harangue is petty, pitifully inept, and even humorous. It is in-

teresting that Buchanan never agin, while in the House at least, left

the safe Lowndesian method. He must have felt perfectly out of his

element in the role of agitator. Invective was not his weapon and the

conclusion here is that the speech made Buchanan feel worse than Adams.

Once again, Buchanan was formidable in prepared debate using

the "Lowndes formula" strictly. He successfully adapted to growing

partisanship in House debate by a more flexible use of the formula.

There is a historical correlation between the use of the pure "Lowndes

formula" and quiet political waters on the one hand and the growth of

party spirit (toward the middle and latter half of the decade of the

1820's) accompanied by a greater relaxation of the demands of the


formula on the other. Further, Buchanan was at his worst when he

failed to rely on his customary strategy embodied in the "Lowndos

formula." While he was not necessarily an amiable person in all

instances, he found it strange to speak vindictively.

The major advantage of the "Lowndes formula" for Buchanan

was that he found it suitable to his training and way of thinking.

Further it suited his needs upon first entering the House. Over ten

years of heavy debating, Buchanan proved himself to be dependable, safe

and sensible, holder of moderate views, and defender of the Constitution.

He earned the respect of his fellow members and laid the ground work

for his future presidential aspirations.

Furthermore, since Buchanan was, by training and inclination

suited to the Lowndes' method, it seems clear to the writer that the

rhetorical blend fashioned by Buchanan was wise. It was wise because

it suited his needs and abilities, revealing some degree of rhetorical

insight. However, since he found it necessary to fuse the rhetorical

thought of another to his own, we must rate the Pennsylvanian limited

in rhetorical inventiveness and foresight in his own right.

There is one major criticism to be made of Buchanan's use of

the "Lowndes formula." Even though Buchanan used the formula less

rigidly all along, especially after 1825, he never outgrew the system.

At first, he was unsure of himself and of his ideas. It was necessary

for him to delay his involvement in debates until he had learned the

lay of the land, had become acquainted with issues and had time to

research the topic. But, even after his ideas evolved into a poli-

tical creed, he continued to delay his entrance into a debate hoping

to time his speeches so as to swing the doubtful contest in his


direction. Buchanan limited himself considerably by always hesi-

tating. He never had the opportunity to introduce legislation of

his own. He never pounced upon a subject first to give it a Bu-

chanan shape. Buchanan was unable, because of his adopted rheto-

rical device, to give birth to his own ideas. He was always a rheto-

rical parasite feasting on the ideas of others. Never did he inno-

vate themes or programs. Never did he show legislative originality.

Never did he demonstrate a creative spirit. A keen mind he had.

Sharp wits he could spare. Industry he exuded. Knowledge he had in

overabundance. But all of these talents are left only partially

developed. Buchanan fails to live up to his rhetorical potential

because he has chosen a safe system, a system which precludes dash,

genius, and creativity. Perhaps there was no genius or brilliancy

in Buchanan's mind but it is certain that if there were, he used

the wrong rhetorical method for releasing it. We see for the first

but not the last time the lack of rhetorical flexibility in Buchanan.

Rhetorical rigidity becomes more apparent in Chapters IV and V.

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