James Buchanan: Worst. President. Ever.

People are debating who will be more disastrous for the country, Trump or Clinton. But James Buchanan takes the cake.

.. But Obama and Bush can both take heart. And Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton can gain solace, perhaps, from knowing that no matter how badly they do, they almost certainly won’t rank last.

.. things were going well for the country, at least in an economic sense. There had been a bad downturn 20 years before, with multiple causes, like war in Europe, the dissolution of the Bank of the United States, and overspeculation in, oddly enough, slaves and Western land. The great acquisition of land under President James Knox Polk, from Oregon to California to Texas, reinvigorated the economy, and a boom lasted for the next two decades.

.. Buchanan wanted to be a hero, and thought if the case could be decided broadly, it could settle the question of slavery in the Union for good.

.. Taney castigated Scott, whom he said was not a citizen, being a slave, and thus could not bring any suit. He also wrote that the Constitution gave no state or territory the power to institute or, conversely, prohibit slavery. Thus all the compromises about it, going back to the 1820s, were invalid, and, in fact, the Fugitive Slave Law, requiring anyone who knew about it to return slaves to their owners anywhere in the country, was in force.

.. the decision at the time, there was a practical downside, too. Now no one knew whether he or she wanted to go West, to use the railroads, or to start a business that railroads might profit from. Railroad stocks started to decline in value, and then a contagion hit, and it was free fall.

.. Yet the South did not succumb as badly. Its agrarian culture was self-sustaining, and its cotton still had a market in Europe. There was a surge in arms sales there as well

.. He said too many people had speculated in land and slaves and the like and “deserved the gambler’s fate.” Eventually, he noted, the youth and energy of the rugged American individuals would triumph, though there would clearly be an interim of rough times.

.. exacerbating the killings, some done by the wild-eyed anti-slavery radical John Brown.

.. He supported mercenary William Walker’s forays to conquer Nicaragua and Guatemala, and sent troops to try to annex parts of Paraguay, primarily to acquiesce to his Southern base that wanted more slave states to come into the union.

.. A standoff ensued until Buchanan sent troops otherwise guarding Kansas, where there was a real problem, out to calm the nonfatal—except to one pig—battle.

.. Lincoln no doubt was a man with plans and savvy, but I contend that the bar was set so low by his predecessor that maybe if there were no James Buchanan, the “Worst. President. Ever,” there would have been a few notches more on the presidential-rating scale for Abe Lincoln to climb.