This chapter tells the story of James Buchanan, who came to the presidency with a well-established reputation as a defender of the president's authority to execute the law but ended up as the worst president in American history. His administration got off to a horrible start, according to his biographer Elbert Smith, when the president-elect undertook to communicate with several Supreme Court justices about the pending Dred Scott case. This correspondence involved a severe dereliction of duty by both Buchanan and the justices involved, and Buchanan's involvement, in particular, constituted a failure of his responsibility to faithfully execute the Constitution—in violation of his oath of office. Buchanan had defended the president's veto power on Jacksonian grounds and had personally drafted the Democratic response to Whig assertions of limited executive power as a Democrat in the Senate during the Tyler administration.
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