Has a natural ring to it, doesn't it...

PRESIDENT BUCHANAN.

November 23, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

PRESIDENT BUCHANAN. Has a natural ring to it, doesn't it? It should. There was one, as Pat Buchanan knows. In fact, a holiday trip connected to that fact -- one you can take, too -- may have inspired Pat to ponder running against George Bush.

The president I'm talking about is James Buchanan, the first Democrat ever to run against a Republican candidate for president.

That was in 1856. Buchanan was a Pennsylvanian who had been secretary of state and ambassador to Great Britain. In 1856, Democrats nominated him to run against the new Republican Party's nominee, John C. Fremont, an explorer of the West and California's first senator -- and an opponent of slavery. James, like Pat, was for it.

(No! No, no, no!! Cheap shot!!! In fact two cheap shots. James Buchanan was for slavery only in the sense that he believed it was constitutional and couldn't be legislated away. Pat Buchanan has never been for slavery, though he does believe racial discrimination is constitutional and can't be legislated away. In that sense he is James Buchanan's "spiritual godson," an idea I stole from Sun assistant foreign editor Myron Beckenstein.)

Actually, liberals have always been conflicted when assessing James Buchanan. If you hate slavery, you have to object to his compromising with the South. But if you hate war, you have to consider what presidential historian Thomas Bailey once wrote: "When Buchanan left office no brother's blood had been shed. When Lincoln left office, more than half a million lay a mouldering in their graves."

This is the bicentennial year of James Buchanan's birth. It is a good time to visit his home, Wheatland, at Lancaster, about an hour's drive away. There are guided tours seven days a week, but you better hurry. These stop Nov. 30, except for special Christmas tours Dec. 2-8 and 13-15. The house will be decorated in mid-19th century Yule artifacts.

There is also a video lecture in the visitor center at Wheatland. Wheatland itself is a handsome Federal style two-story brick house decorated with Victorian and Empire period furniture. The experts say it is an excellent example of the home of a well-to-do but by no means filthy rich family of the era.

There is no need for a small party of visitors to make reservations, but groups of 10 or more should call in advance: 717-392-8721. Hours for the regular tours are 10-4. The house will stay open later for the Christmas tours.

Pat Buchanan took the tour last spring. He enjoyed it so much ("President Buchanan, President Buchanan," he kept murmuring), that he sent his tour guide a signed copy of his autobiography.

* * * There was another resident of Wheatland, who had more of an impact on history in some significant ways -- especially in Baltimore -- than James Buchanan.

Next Saturday: The president's niece.

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