James Buchanan was the oldest of 11 children.
He was born on April 23, 1791, near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.
In 1812, he began a successful law career.
During the War of 1812, he helped defend Baltimore against British attack.
A gifted speaker, he became a state legislator, and later served in the US House of Representatives and Senate and as US minister to Russia.
In 1845, he became secretary of state under President James K. Polk.
Serving as U.S. minister to Great Britain helped in his being nominated for president.
Since he was overseas during that time, he was not involved in the growing controversy over slavery, which had gotten quite serious by the 1856 election.
Buchanan was elected the 15th President of the United States running for the Democratic Party.
Two days after Buchanan was inaugurated, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the controversial Dred Scott decision.
This decision in effect legalized slavery in all US territories, propelling the nation toward civil war.
Buchanan opened ports on the West Coast, which enabled us to trade with Asian countries.
He served one term in office, from 1857 to 1861.
He did not seek re-election.
Buchanan died on June 1, 1868, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.