Historians make arguments based on evidence. Show me better evidence and I’ll cheerfully change my argument.

The Civil War may have been an irrepressible conflict. But Buchanan’s 4+ months of inaction in the face of secession represented the worst dereliction of duty ever by a president.

Buchanan and Taney knew one another well. Alumni of the same college, they were Democrats who had held federal office continuously for more than three decades. (As Senator, Buchanan voted to confirm Taney as Chief Justice.)

Buchanan worked to influence the Supreme Court during the transition. Consider this letter from Justice Robert Grier to Buchanan, dated February 23, 1857:

“Sir, your letter came to hand this morning. I’ve taken the liberty to shew it in confidence to our mutual friend Judge Wayne and the chief justice. We fully appreciate and concur in your views as to the desirableness of having an expression of the opinion of the court on this troublesome question. With their concurrence, I will give you in confidence the history of the case before us, with the probable result….

“A majority including all judges south of Mason & Dixon’s line agreeing in the result…, I am anxious that it should not appear that the line of latitude should mark the line of division in the court…. In conversation with the chief justice I have agreed to concur with him. Brother Wayne & myself will also use our endeavors to get brothers Daniel & Campbell & Catron to do the same…. There will therefore be six if not sevenwho will decide the compromise law of 1820 to be of non-effect. But the opinions will not be delivered before Friday the 6th of March.

“We will not let any others of our brethren know anything about the cause of our anxiety to produce this result, and, though contrary to our usual practice, we have thought due to state to you in candor & confidence the real state of the matter.”

The last paragraph means, “Wayne, Taney and Grier won’t tell the other justices we’re making a political decision to please you. We don’t normally communicate decisions in advance to the president, but we trust you not to tell anyone.”

History, politics, education, music, culture. Award-winning high school teacher, former principal. College instructor. Seahawks Diehard. Twitter: @brian_mrbmkz

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