On Wednesday night, several students gathered at the Rowan Barnes & Noble to settle a question: Was James Buchanan the worst president in the history of the United States? Author Robert Strauss seemed to think so.
Strauss was there discussing his new book, “Worst. President. Ever.,” which is about the 15th President of the United States. He began the event with a short presentation, and then wrapped it up with questions from the audience.
During the presentation, Strauss mentioned that before being elected into office, James Buchanan had a strong record in politics. He previously served as a representative and a senator in Congress, was an ambassador to Russia under Andrew Jackson and also Great Britain under Franklin Pierce, and had been secretary of state under James Polk.
But once he got in, Buchanan’s hands-off style of leadership was detrimental to the country, Strauss said, and was one of the reasons that the country eventually slid into Civil War. His decision to sit by during the aftermath of events such as the Dredd Scott Supreme Court ruling and Bleeding Kansas weakened the clout of the presidency and eventually tore the country apart, making him the worst president ever in Strauss’ eyes.
Lenny Schnee, a sophomore radio, television, and film major, said he really enjoyed learning about some of what happened during Buchanan’s presidency.
“My favorite part was when he talked about Dredd Scott, and how the Dredd Scott decision came two days after the inauguration of James Buchanan,” Schnee said. “I never knew that. I wasn’t really aware of the timing and how, and I also wasn’t aware, he spoke later about the secession of the states.”
Julianne Tarrant, a freshman secondary education and history dual major, said she initially came to the event out of curiosity.
“Well I just decided to be a history major last week,” she said, “so I figured it was a good way to sort of get into the department and think about it, and I’ve always been interested in presidents, especially presidents before my time, so I figured it was a good way to spend my night.”
Tarrant added that she enjoyed the information and stories that Strauss brought to the presentation.
“[I was impressed by] how exciting his stories were. How much knowledge that he just had about anything that led up to this presidency, specifically like James Buchanan’s life,” Tarrant said. “He was just a wealth of knowledge about it.”
As for the author, when asked why he picked Buchanan of all presidents to write about, Strauss had a simple answer.
“I’m sort of contrarian,” he said. “I like the idea of studying non-success. Most of the books about anybody, forget about presidents, are people who were rousing successes. I think you can learn something by the way people do things that are wrong. Movies do it, but not nonfiction biographies that much.”
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