February 20, 1857

James Buchanan, Ill with Dysentery Before His Inauguration, Declines Jefferson Davis’ Invitation to Dine

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Buchanan, suffering from a particularly persistent kind of dysentery, is in uncharacteristic seclusion at Wheatland: he cannot meet with Davis for dinner, he writes, though there is no gentleman in the land with whom it would afford him greater pleasure to dine. But he must not be ill on March 4th – his inauguration – and so is “now living with great caution.” He thinks Davis will be pleased to learn that he is offering the position of Secretary of State to Davis' choice, General Lewis Cass. “It is, I think, the best that under all circumstances could have been made.” What Buchanan does not reveal here is that he thinks Cass too old, lethargic, indolent and Anglophobic to make a good Secretary. His plan is to appoint Cass, and then instruct others to do his work.
 
Buchanan’s virulent diarrhea abated, on March 4th, long enough for him to take the Oath of Office with dignity.

Autograph Letter Signed, as President-Elect, 2 pages, recto and verso, quarto, Wheatland [near Lancaster, Pennsylvania], February 20, 1857. To Jefferson Davis.

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Transcript

Wheatland, 20 February 57

My dear Sir

I have received your kind invitation to dinner for the 28th Instant this afternoon. It ought to have reached me yesterday afternoon, but the Washington mail failed, a trek [trick?] which it often performs.

I can say in great sincerity that there is no gentleman in the land with whom it would afford me greater pleasure to dine than yourself.  Indeed, the invitation gratifies me very much.  But I have not been in a condition to dine out since I left Washington.  My disease has been checked & has returned two or three times since my return.  I must not have it if possible on the 4th March: & I am now living with great caution. For this reason & others of a pressing character, I do not intend to go to Washington before Saturday the 28th & probably not till Monday 2nd March.

I am grateful to learn from a reliable source that you will be pleased with the appointment of General Cass. It is, I think, the best that under all circumstances could have been made. I intend tomorrow to make him a formal offer of it.

from your friend

very respectfully,

JAMES BUCHANAN

Hon. Jefferson Davis