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President who carried tragedy to White House

For The Madera Tribune

Former U.S. President James Buchanan.


Robert Coleman was a self-made man who immigrated to America from Ireland and amassed a fortune by manufacturing cannonballs. His business acquisitions enabled him to become Pennsylvania’s first millionaire. All of that money, however, while making his life pleasant, couldn’t buy happiness for one of his daughters, and her distress had serious consequences for our nation’s history.

Coleman took his obligations as a parent seriously. He was particularly vigilant when it came to the men who began to show up on his doorstep as his daughter Anne reached womanhood. He wanted to make sure that none of them sought her hand because of his money.

As time passed, Anne began to return the amorous attention of a young lawyer who had just moved to Lancaster County to establish his practice, and this sent her father into paroxysms of fear. Robert suspected the barrister’s interest in his daughter was not entirely honorable. Coleman was apparently unhappy with the attorney’s reputation and his checkered history at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Then there was the matter of his money. Rumors came floating to him that Anne’s youthful suitor indeed had his eye more on his money than on his daughter, and if that wasn’t enough, people had seen the young lawyer visiting the wife of one of Coleman’s friends. When the couple sought her father’s approval of their engagement, he turned them down cold. Robert Coleman would brook no nonsense when it came to his daughter, and he certainly wasn’t going to take any chances with the man he thought to be a scoundrel. He demanded that Anne break off her engagement.

Anne was devastated; decent daughters just didn’t disobey their fathers in the early 19th century, so she submitted to his authority and ended her relationship with her beloved. Compliance with her father’s demands, however, had disastrous repercussions for Anne. She descended into the depths of such depression that a doctor prescribed laudanum, an opiate, to calm her nerves. In Philadelphia on Dec. 9, 1819, Anne used the medicine to commit suicide. As much as she loved her father, she couldn’t bear the thought of living without her man.

Anne’s death shattered her young attorney friend, and he vowed to remain a bachelor for the rest of his life. If he couldn’t take Anne for his wife, he would remain single, and that’s just what he did. He totally threw himself into politics, and by 1857, he made it to the White House.

You see, that young attorney over whom Anne Coleman committed suicide was none other than James Buchanan, our 15th President, and he was as good as his word. For 38 years he kept Anne’s portrait above his mantle and when the people elected him to the presidency, he took her picture with him. In a forlorn twist in time, Buchanan served one term and left the White House as America’s one and only confirmed bachelor president.

As for Anne’s picture, Buchanan took it with him back to his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and there it hangs to this day, a symbol of the endurance of true love denied.

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