James Buchanan: A Pennsylvania Dandy
Let's start with the tawdry before we jump into the more serious and disturbing parts of Buchanan's presidency and the descent into civil war.
The popular rumor is that Buchanan was gay and although this is thrown around a lot on presidents from that period, most notably Lincoln, I tend to believe the rumors in regards to him.
The style of writing in the mid 1850's between men was much more intimate than it is now. Lincoln wrote of how he missed his bunk mates who would share his bed on a cold night when he was a circuit judge, but that was a common practice back then and it doesn't indicate anything extraordinary.
Buchanan on the other hand never married, being saved from what must have been an uncomfortable arrangement when his wealthy fiancee suddenly broke it off. She suspected, most likely correctly, that he was just interested in her fortune. Saying that his heart was broken and vowing never again to marry, this severed relationship allowed him to be free to be a lifelong bachelor and continue to form close relationships with the men he'd live with while in Washington.
You may think that never getting married doesn't necessarily mean that someone is gay and closeted and you're probably right. But for god sakes, Charlie Christ in Florida has lost support from conservatives, because as an older bachelor, they think that he may be gay. (like many of his colleagues) This is one hundred and fifty years later!
Now, although I've mentioned that men generally shared their feelings more with other men back then, this excerpt from one of his letters just seems over the top:
"I am now 'solitary and alone', having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone, and [I] should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection."
His manners were also said to be somewhat effeminate, with people referring to him as a dandy. His long time room mate and fellow Senator was also slurred with derogatory names, with Andrew Jackson referring to him as "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy".
Furthermore, on Buchanan's directions, all the letters between him and King were burned upon his death. It wasn't unusual for politicians of the revolutionary or antebellum period to do this, but Buchanan had many of his other correspondences painstakingly preserved, so this also makes me wonder.
Oh well, I guess we'll never know, which is just how he would have wanted it.