ADVOCATE IN CONGRESS, CABINET,
JOHN A. CAMPBELL, JR,
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
3 1262 08552 3982
John A. Campbell, Jr.
by the members
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . .
II. JAMES BUCHANAN: A RHETORICAL PORTRAIT . . . .
III. APPLICATION OF THE "LOWNDES FORMULA" IN HOUSE DEBATE .
IV. A JACKSONIAN "ADVOCATE" AMIDST SENATE PARTY BATTLES .
V. BETWEEN JAMES POLK AND JOHN BULL, A VOICE
OF COMPROMISE . . . . . . . . . .
VI. THE RHETORICAL STRATEGY OF PRESERVING PEACE . . .
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
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
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
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
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."
JAMES BUCHANAN: A RHETORICAL PORTRAIT
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
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
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
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--
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-
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
APPLICATION OF THE "LOWNDES FORMULA" IN HOUSE DEBATE
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
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
.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
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
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),
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
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
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
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-
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),
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
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),
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
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-
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.