Essay Posts

Due by Monday, March 4 by 5pm


By Monday, March 4 [REVISED], students will create an essay post (about 800 to 1,000 words or 4 to 5 pages) that analyzes one of James Buchanan’s most significant achievements (or failures) as an American diplomat.  Students may analyze any relevant period from Buchanan’s long career, such as his tenure as Minster to Russia (1832-34), US senator (1834-45), Secretary of State (1845-49), Minister to Great Britain (1853-56) or as President (1857-61), but they should focus on just one particular diplomatic episode or incident even as they also summarize his career and contextualize the topic.


  • All posts should include a thoughtful combination of primary and secondary sources.
  • Each essay should have an engaging opening and a clear thesis statement on historical significance. The body of the essay should quote from sources effectively, both in terms of integrating them smoothly into the rhythm of original writing, and also in terms of citing them properly using Chicago-style footnotes.
  • Essay posts will be evaluated on the basis of research effort, analytical depth, and prose style
  • Late posts will be penalized up to 5 points per day.

Blog Posting

  • After Feb. 18th, all students in the course will receive an invitation to register as authors at the course site.  Make sure to click through that email invite and fill out your full user profile.
  • We will discuss blog posting logistics in class, and there is a handout with detailed instructions below, but always remember to save your work in PRIVATE mode.  That way only you and Prof. Pinsker can view the essay.
  • Handout –Blog Posting

Initial Buchanan Resources

Suggested Primary Sources

  • Historical Newspapers:  There are multiple online collections of historical newspapers from periods in Buchanan’s long career that offer insight into his diplomatic achievements or setbacks.  There are a number of freely accessible databases on the web, such as Chronicling America, from the Library of Congress, that provide excellent coverage of the nineteenth century.  The college’s library database finder also provides special access to Dickinson students to a host of other newspaper collections.  For Buchanan’s earlier career, you might find 19th Century U.S. Newspapers and Accessible Archives as the most useful.  For his presidency, however, students will probably prefer to use Historical Newspapers from ProQuest, which includes the New York Times.  Always check databases before searching to identify which newspapers are within the collection (and which time periods they cover).
  • Government Documents:  Later eras of US diplomatic history offer powerful collections of State Department cables and other materials (Foreign Relations of the US or FRUS), but this series began in 1861, after Buchanan left office.  Instead, students may turn for some materials to the Avalon Project at Yale Law School for nineteenth-century treaties and to A Century of Lawmaking (Library of Congress) for materials from the nineteenth-century Congress, such as the Congressional Globe (forerunner to the Congressional Record).
  • Letters, Diaries & Other Writings: James Buchanan was the first ex-president to publish a memoir while he was still alive.  You can read it at an online collection from the Dickinson Archives.  This collection also includes some of Buchanan’s “unpublished” writings, but relatively few of James Buchanan’s private political papers are available online.  UC/Santa Barbara has organized all major public presidential addresses and documents at its American Presidency Project website, including a helpful section on Buchanan.  The Library of Congress has also digitized about 1,600 items concerning President Buchanan and his niece (and effective First Lady) Harriet Lane.  The bulk of the Buchanan Papers, however, are found only at the archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (or via microfilm).


Suggested Secondary Sources

  • Congressional Biographical Directory (available free online)
  • American National Biography Online (available at library database finder only)
  • George Herring, From Colony to Superpower (2008)
  • Philip S. Klein, President James Buchanan (1962).
  • See also numerous books & articles on particular subjects connected to Buchanan and his diplomatic career through JSTOR, America: History & Life, Dickinson Library Catalog and Google Books.  A good example of such a valuable secondary source would be the one assigned on our syllabus:  John Belohlavek, “In Defense of Doughface Diplomacy: A Reevaluation of the Foreign Policy of James Buchanan,” in John W. Quist and Michael Birkner, eds.  James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War (2013) via Library Catalog.