Monday, August 26, 2019

Booknotes: Bosom Friends

New Arrival:
Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King by Thomas J. Balcerski (Oxford UP, 2019).

Though the Buchanan scholarship has been just a bit more sympathetic of late, Old Buck still tops many 'worst president' lists. Thomas Balcerski's Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King takes a break from concentrating on Buchanan's much-abused presidential tenure to instead closely examine the personal and political friendship the developed between the Pennsylvanian Buchanan and Alabaman King. In the end, his book "discovers one of the most significant collaborations in American political history."

Balcerski "traces the parallels in the men's personal and professional lives before elected office, including their failed romantic courtships and the stories they told about them. Unlikely companions from the start, they lived together as congressional messmates in a Washington, DC, boardinghouse and became close confidantes. Around the nation's capital, the men were mocked for their effeminacy and perhaps their sexuality, and they were likened to Siamese twins."

The book ascribes to both men significant linked roles in the violently divisive politics of the 1850s. "Over time, their intimate friendship blossomed into a significant cross-sectional political partnership. Balcerski examines Buchanan's and King's contributions to the Jacksonian political agenda, manifest destiny, and the increasingly divisive debates over slavery, while contesting interpretations that the men lacked political principles and deserved blame for the breakdown of the union. He closely narrates each man's rise to national prominence, as William Rufus King was elected vice-president in 1852 and James Buchanan the nation's fifteenth president in 1856, despite the political gossip that circulated about them."

Finally, Bosom Friends "demonstrates that intimate male friendships among politicians were—and continue to be—an important part of success in American politics."

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