I want to highlight an interesting letter that James Buchanan wrote about a week after President Abraham Lincoln’s Inauguration on March 4, 1861. Despite four “stormy and turbulent” years in the White House, Buchanan told New York Herald editor James Bennett that ultimately “[his] administration [had] been eminently successful in its foreign & domestic policy.” Seven southern states seceded before he left office, but Buchanan believed that the crisis was unavoidable. “No human wisdom could have prevented” the “sad events [that had] recently occurred,” as Buchanan explained. Whether the Civil War was inevitable has been the subject of debate ever since, but most historians criticize his response to the secession crisis. (Historians who participated in CSPAN’s 2009 Presidential Leadership Survey ranked Buchanan as the worst Chief Executive).Yet perhaps the most interesting part of this letter is Buchanan’s confident stance about how “the public & posterity [would] judge” him. “I feel conscious that I have done my duty…& that I shall at last receive justice,” as Buchanan wrote.
Buchanan also defended his role during the secession crisis in Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion (1866), which you can access through Their Own Words.