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In 1818, Buchanan met Anne Caroline Coleman at a grand ball at Lancaster's White Swan Inn, and the two began courting. Anne was the daughter of the wealthy iron manufacturing businessman (and protective father) Robert Coleman and sister-in-law of Philadelphia judge Joseph Hemphill, one of Buchanan's colleagues from the House of Representatives. By 1819, the two were engaged, but could spend little time together; Buchanan was extremely busy with his law firm and political projects during the Panic of 1819, which took him away from Coleman for weeks at a time. Conflicting rumors abounded, suggesting that he was marrying her for her money, because his own family was less affluent, or that he was involved with other women. Buchanan never publicly spoke of his motives or feelings, but letters from Anne revealed she was paying heed to the rumors.
After Buchanan visited a friend's wife, Coleman broke off the engagement. She died suddenly soon afterward, on December 9, 1819. The records of a Dr. Chapman, who looked after her in her final hours, and who commented just after her death that it was "the first instance he ever knew of hysteria producing death", reveal that he theorized, despite the absence of any valid evidence, that she had overdosed on laudanum, a concentrated tincture of opium. Buchanan was prevented from attending the funeral service. In a letter to her father he wrote, however, that "I feel happiness has fled from me forever."
After Coleman's death, Buchanan never courted another woman or seemed to show any emotional or physical interest; a rumor circulated of an affair with President James K. Polk's widow, Sarah Childress Polk but it had no basis. It has been suggested that Anne's death in fact served to deflect awkward questions about his sexuality and bachelorhood. While Buchanan may have been asexual or celibate, there are many indicators that suggest he was homosexual. The argument has been put forward by Shelley Ross, biographer Jean Baker, sociologist James W. Loewen, Robert P. Watson, and historian John Howard.
A source of this interest has been Buchanan's close and intimate relationship with William Rufus King (who became Vice President under Franklin Pierce). The two men lived together in a Washington boardinghouse for 10 years from 1834 until King's departure for France in 1844. King referred to the relationship as a "communion", and the two attended social functions together. Contemporaries also noted the closeness. Andrew Jackson called them "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy" (the former being a 19th-century euphemism for an effeminate man), while Aaron V. Brown referred to King as Buchanan's "better half". James W. Loewen described Buchanan and King as "Siamese twins." In later years Kat Thompson, the wife of a cabinet member, expressed her anxiety that "there was something unhealthy in the president's attitude".
Buchanan adopted King's mannerisms and romanticized view of southern culture. Both had strong political ambitions and in 1844 they planned to run as president and vice president. One historian has found them both to be soft, effeminate, and eccentric. In May 1844, Buchanan wrote to Cornelia Roosevelt, "I am now 'solitary and alone,' having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone, and I should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection."
King became ill in 1853 and died of tuberculosis shortly after Pierce's inauguration, four years before Buchanan became President. Buchanan described him as "among the best, the purest and most consistent public men I have known." The length and intimacy of their surviving letters illustrate "the affection of a special friendship."
Buchanan caught a cold in May 1868, which quickly worsened due to his advanced age. He died on June 1, 1868, from respiratory failure at the age of 77 at his home at Wheatland and was interred in Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster.
- ↑ Klein, Philip Shriver (December 1955). "The Lost Love of a Bachelor President". American Heritage Magazine 7 (1). Retrieved on 2012-11-29.</cite>
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Charles Dunn, The scarlet thread of scandal: Morality and the American presidency, Maryland, 2001 </li>
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Robert Watson, Affairs of State: The untold story of presidential love, sex and scandal, 1789-1900, Plymouth, 2012 </li>
- ↑ Loewen, Jim (May 14, 2012). Our real first gay president. Salon. Salon Media Group, Inc.. Retrieved on February 19, 2014. </li>
- ↑ The Wordsworth Book of Euphemisms by Judith S. Neaman and Carole G. Silver (Wordsworth Editions Ltd., Hertfordshire) </li>
- ↑ Baker 2004, p. 75. </li></ol>
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