Since today is Presidents’ Day, I decided to take this opportunity to do a blog on Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s own President. This will be the first in a series of blogs on the subject of James Buchanan, his death, his funeral, his burial and his gravesite. I will try to post the first blog this week and the blog on his burial and gravesite next week ~ we’ll see if I succeed. This blog will cover his death, viewing and funeral services at his home, Wheatland.
James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States, was the only President elected from Pennsylvania and the only Bachelor President. He had one love in his life, and after Ann Coleman’s death, he never married. That is another story. During his time in the White House, his niece Harriet Lane was considered the Hostess and/or First Lady at formal affairs. Buchanan was succeeded by Abraham Lincoln who became one of the better Presidents; Buchanan is considered to be at the bottom of the list by many historians. Lancaster, however, is proud of him. He had his home here and was active in many circles here, both before and after his Presidency.
An article in the “Lancaster Intelligencer” on 10 June 1868 tells of a visit by his attorney, H.B. Swarr, esq. to Buchanan’s “sick chamber” shortly before his death. According to Swarr’s account:
“. . . He admonished that his earthly life was drawing near its end and that he had requested my presence with the view of communicating to me as a friend, and as one of his Executors, in a few matters relative to his funeral. He directed his remains to be placed in the lots he had purchased for that purpose in the “Woodward Hill Cemetery’ without any pomp or parade and that the religious services of the occasion should be performed by his friend and neighbor, the Rev. John W, Nevin.”
When Swarr asked him if the Masonic and other Societies wanted to participate, could they do so? Buchanan replied:
“Certainly, if it is their pleasure, and they are not moved to it by solicitation. I have a high regard for the Masonic Order, although for years not a working member, and the Mayor and Councils of Lancaster, have, in my lifetime, manifested kindly regards for me.”
He also requested his lots at Woodward Hill be “placed in good order” and wanted a “simple, but substantial oblong tomb, erected, the cap-stone to be the finest and most durable marble. . .” The inscription to read:
HERE REST THE REMAINS OF
15th President of the United States.
Born in Franklin county, Pennsylvania, April 23d, 1791
Died at his residence at Wheatland, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania,
and then said “with the day of death, now so near.”
The same article went on to say that during the conversation he said:
“My dear friend, I have no fear of the future. Posterity will do me justice. I have always felt, and still feel lthat I discharged every public duty imposed upon me conscientiously, I have no regret for any public act of my life, and history will vindicate my memory from every unjust aspersion.”
At his side during his last days, were family and close friends. His brother, Rev. Buchanan and nieces, Henrietta Buchanan (daughter of Rev. Buchanan) and Harriet Lane Johnston, along with Dr. Nevin who was chosen to preach at his funeral. According to a letter written by his niece Henrietta:
“His last hours were free from pain and his mind clear when he died . . . His affairs were all arranged with exactness, so as to cause as little confusion as possible after his death. He chose the exact spot for his final resting place, saying, either expressing a desire or as predicting a fact, that he would lie alone. Having carefully arrange all of his plans, he waited with faith and hope, for the final change which would open to him the real and satisfying life. When the dreaded messenger came, those that loved him knew that rest had come to him at last, and that ‘his faith had changed to glad fruition.’”
James Buchanan was 77 years old on June 1, 1868 when he died from Rheumatic Gout at his beloved “Wheatland” in Lancaster. After his death, his home, Wheatland, was the venue for the viewing of his body and the start of the “Funeral Parade.” His viewing was in a hall in the residence with the coffin
” . . . a metallic case, finished to represent rosewood with silver mountings, lined with white satin and adorned with lace and bullion trimmings, and in place of ordinary handles, a silver rod extended along the upper edge, and by this it was carried.”
The funeral services began at 4PM at Wheatland, with Rev. Dr. J.W. Nevin, President of Franklin and Marshall College. It was Buchanan’s request that Rev. Nevin perform the religious services. Rev. Nevin took his place at the head of the coffin and began the service with the German Reformed services, which was followed by the 9th Psalm and an “appropriate prayer.” The newspaper goes on to say:
“After concluding the initial services, Dr. Nevin delivered a lengthy but very thoughtful and impressive funeral discourse.”
Part One, Death, Funeral and Burial of James Buchanan, 15th President
- Sally Smith Cahalan, At Home with James Buchanan; Science Press, Ephrata, Pennsylvania, 1989, pages 19, 20, 21 and 50.
- H.G. Smith and Co., The Lancaster Intelligencer; June 10, 1868, published Lancaster, Pennsylvania, page 1.
- “Mr. Swarr’s Interview,” The Lancaster Intelligencer, 10 June 1868, page 3.
- George Ticknor Curtis, Life of James Buchanan: Fifteenth President of the United States; Harper & brothers, 1883, pages 664 and 665.