James Buchanan (1791-1868), America’s 15th president, was in office from 1857 to 1861. During his tenure, seven Southern states seceded from the Union and the nation teetered on the brink of civil war. A Pennsylvania native, Buchanan began his political career in his home state’s legislature and went on to serve in both houses of the U.S. Congress; he later became a foreign diplomat and U.S. secretary of state. Buchanan, a Democrat who was morally opposed to slavery but believed it was protected by the U.S. Constitution, was elected to the White House in 1856. As president, he tried to maintain peace between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the government, but tensions only escalated. In 1860, after Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was elected to succeed Buchanan, South Carolina seceded and the Confederacy was soon established. In April 1861, a month after Buchanan left office, the American Civil War (1861-1865) began.