The Setting Sun

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 1, 1861

To-morrow practically ends the Presidential term of Mr. Buchanan. Few men ever assumed the reins of government of whom more was expected; few men have been assailed so bitterly; not one ever left the White House whose stay in it so fully illustrates the vanity of human expectations. If ever the way of a President promised to be smooth and easy it was his; he came into power at a time when the finances of the government were in so flourishing a condition that the ingenuity of statesmen was taxed, not in devising how the revenue might be increased, but how it could be brought down to the expenditure of the government. There were twenty-three millions of dollars in the treasury; the United States debt was yearly decreasing; its bonds were worth one hundred and twenty-five cents on the dollar; there was hardly a speck of a cloud in the political horizon; the excitement occasioned by the opening of the slavery agitation in repealing the Missouri compromise had in a great measure subsided by the triumph of free-soil principles in Kansas, through the aid of that forced emigration for which so terrible a penalty is now being paid. This was the position of the government when its control was given into the hands of one who had filled most of the subordinate positions under our government,—who had large experience in public affairs at home and abroad,—wealthy, childless,—arriving at a hale old age at the summit of earthly ambition,—he could be actuated by no other motive than to round off his life with four years of creditable administration, and have his name go down to after times honorably connected with the great men who preceded him in office. Alas! for the vanity of human hopes! Buchanan, if ever a statesman did, fell on evil days. The first year of his administration a commercial panic swept over the land, and the revenue shrank to half its former amount; a war that fairly belonged to the previous administration had to be commenced to put down a demoralizing, debasing and rebellious fanaticism in Utah—the government triumphed without bloodshed, but at a cost of ten or fifteen million dollars. The Paraguay expedition followed, carrying away ten millions more. A harrassing division in his own party had in the meantime arisen, and by his former friends, as well as by those from whom he expected nothing but the bitterness of party hatred, his administration was assailed, and his person and character ridiculed and defamed. Almost before the panic had passed away, a trouble for the management of which there was no precedent, sprang up, and in this hour, those whom common manhood should have drawn closer around him, fell away, and the old man was left to battle it alone. No wonder he saw no refuge but to Providence, and no wonder the people, as he asked them, implored for him guidance from above.

When the smoke of party warfare shall have cleared away, and when personal enmity shall have subsided, the difficulty that beset President Buchanan in the last days of his administration will be properly appreciated, and it will be acknowledged that conduct less conciliatory, less prudent, would have involved the country in calamities that the muse of history would for ever weep over and deplore.