James Buchanan as "The Bewildered Old Woman," carrying the Ostend Manifesto, Vanity Fair, January 7, 1860.
flipFlip to "Highly Unsuccessful Performance, by Dismal Jemmy." Currier and Ives, 1860.
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James Buchanan wearing a dress

Credit: Courtesy NYPL Digital gallery, New York Public Library

In 1854 James Buchanan, who was then U.S. minister to Great Britain, participated in secret negotiations for the United States to purchase Cuba from Spain for $120 million, and that threatened to take Cuba by force of arms should Spain refuse the offer. When the "Ostend Manifesto" was leaked to the press, outraged Northerners quickly squashed the plan, which they considered a Southern attempt to extend slavery. In this 1860 Vanity Fair editorial cartoon, the artist dismissed Buchanan's claims of impartiality by reminding readers of his participation in the 1854 scandal. "Sakes Alive! I know no North, no South, no East, no West–no nothing! And who on earth is going to take this plaguy message?" Why did the artist portray the president as an old woman? Buchanan was a life long bachelor, and rumors of his homosexuality had circulated since the presidency of Andrew Jackson in the 1830s. The artist used the president's presumed effeminacy to further condemn his failed leadership.

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