American Presidents

James Buchanan American Presidents Teacher Guide

James Buchanan as Public Servant
June 21, 1999 on C-SPAN
Recommended Use:
Secondary level

Before Viewing American Presidents
Present students with the following statement from President James Buchanan: "I have always felt that I discharged every public duty imposed on me constitutionally. I have no regret for any public act of my life, and history will vindicate my memory."

Use the quote to generate a discussion on the jobs of public servants. What is the significance of James Buchanan's use of the word "public" in the above quote?

Ask students to list "public service" jobs. Elicit a wide variety of examples, such as teacher, police officer, mayor, park ranger, army sergeant, and a president.

Ask students: What do all public servants have in common? Consider, also, the following questions:

  • What motivates someone to go into public service?
  • What are the responsibilities?
  • What are the rewards?
  • What are the challenges?

List some of the "acts" a president may be called to in service to the public. Which might be the most difficult? Which might be the most satisfying?

Based on what students already know about the time in which the President James Buchanan lived and served, make some predictions about some of the challenges he may have faced in his life as a public servant.

While Viewing American Presidents
Directions: Take notes on some of James Buchanan's actions as a public servant in the left-hand column. In the right-hand column, draw conclusions about the level of satisfaction he took from the various acts, noting supporting details when possible.

Acts as a public servant Level of personal satisfaction

After Viewing American Presidents
Which acts gave President Buchanan the most satisfaction? Which gave him the most challenges?

Answer the same question, but consider his actions as a private person.

Did life as a public servant provide or diminish opportunities for James Buchanan? Does public service inherently limit or expand the ways one can contribute to society? What other conditions are important to consider when making that judgement?

Draw a conclusion: What advice might James Buchanan give a person considering running for the presidency?

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