One of his first experiences was a personal quarrel with Buchanan. When he reached Washington, three days before the session, he went to the President to protest against his adopting the Lecompton Constitution and sending it to Congress for acceptance. Buchanan insisted that he must recommend it in his annual message. Douglas replied that he would denounce it as soon as it was read. The President, excited, told him “to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed. Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives.”
[Sidenote] Douglas, Milwaukee Speech, October 13, 1860.
“Mr. President,” retorted Douglas, “I wish you to remember that General Jackson is dead.”
In the election of Mr. Buchanan as President the South had secured a most important ally for the work of pro-slavery reaction. Trained in the belief that the South had hitherto been wronged, he was ready on every occasion to appear as her champion for redress; and Southern politicians were now eager to use his leadership to make their views of public policy and constitutional duty acceptable to the North. Respectable in capacity but feeble in will, he easily submitted to control and guidance from a few Southern leaders of superior intellectual force. In his inaugural, he sought to prepare public opinion for obedience to the Dred Scott decision, and since its publication he had undertaken to interpret its scope and effect. Replying to a memorial from certain citizens of New England, he declared in a public letter, “Slavery existed at that period, and still exists in Kansas, under the Constitution of the United States. This point has at last been finally decided by the highest tribunal known to our laws. How it could ever have been seriously doubted is a mystery." In the same letter he affirmed the legality of the Lecompton Convention, though he yet clearly expressed his expectation that the constitution to be framed by it would be submitted to the popular vote for “approbation or rejection.”
But when that convention adjourned, and made known its cunningly devised work, the whole South instantly became clamorous to secure the sectional advantages which lay in its technical regularity, its strong affirmance of the “property” theory, and the extraordinary power it gave to John Calhoun to control the election and decide the returns. This powerful reactionary movement was not lost upon Mr. Buchanan. He reflected it as unerringly as the vane moves to the change of the wind. Long before the meeting of Congress, the Administration organ, the “Washington Union,” heralded and strongly supported the new departure. When, on the 8th of December, the President’s annual message was transmitted and read, the Lecompton Constitution, as framed and submitted, was therein warmly indorsed and its acceptance indicated as the future Administration policy.