Skip to comments.How the Worst President Ever Ended Up on a Controverisal New Coin (James Buchanan)
Posted on 08/21/2010 7:17:45 AM PDT by Colonel Kangaroo
Today, the U.S. Treasury released a $1 coin commemorating former President James Buchanan. And people aren't happy about it.
To understand why, some background is helpful. In 2007, thanks to a bill promoted by then-Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire, the Treasury began minting $1 coins with the likenesses of former Presidents, starting with George Washington.
The coins -- which have been appearing ever since, featuring a new President every three months -- are meant to improve use and circulation of America's dollar coins, which are often seen as an awkward misfit among currency, neither fish nor fowl.
Sununu's initiative drew inspiration from the 50 State Quarters Program, which launched in 1999. The runaway success of that effort, according to his legislation, "shows that a design on a U.S. circulating coin that is regularly changed... radically increases demand for the coin, rapidly pulling it through the economy."
The bill also suggested that a program wherein Presidents are featured on a succession of $1 coins, and First Spouses commemorated on gold $10 coins, could help correct a state of affairs where "many people cannot name all of the Presidents, and fewer can name the spouses, nor can many people accurately place each President in the proper time period of American history."
So the bill passed, and the Washington dollar coin appeared not long after. It was followed by Adams, Jefferson, et al., with the First Spouse coins minted alongside.
Now we're up to Buchanan, the fifteenth President, who took office in 1857 and turned things over to Abraham Lincoln in 1861, and whose coin (produced at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints and purchasable through the U.S. Mint website) has occasioned the aforementioned grousing. Here's where some feel the coin program is falling short:
1. The coins aren't circulating.
Many Americans have never gotten into the habit of using $1 coins, and as a result, over a billion commemorative Presidential coins are sitting around in a stockpile at the Federal Reserve. As BBC News reports, if these coins were stacked up and laid on their side, they'd stretch for 1,367 miles, or the distance from Chicago to New Mexico.
2. They don't seem to be educating people, either.
In February 2008, a year after the first presidential coins were minted, The New York Times reported that a survey had found large numbers of American teens to be woefully ignorant of their country's history. It was far from the first time Americans had gotten a dismal grade in history, suggesting that Sununu's commemorative-coin campaign isn't having much of an effect in that arena, either.
3. James Buchanan was kind of a crappy president.
In fairness, this is a grievance with a specific president, not the presidential coins program as a whole. Still, it seems to come up in all the coverage of the new coin: Buchanan wasn't very good at his job.
That's the consensus of historians, anyway, who have traditionally censured Buchanan for his failure to prevent the Civil War. Last year, a C-SPAN survey of historians granted Buchanan the dubious distinction of worst president ever.
Still, all of this isn't reason enough to declare the commemorative-coins program a total failure. If more coin collectors start avidly pursuing the presidential coins, it could have the effect of pushing down the national debt, thanks to the way the value of the coins fluctuates with their availability. And if the dollar coins were to catch on and replace paper $1 bills entirely, it could save the country between $500 and $700 million each year in printing costs.
Plus, if things stay on track, 2012 will see the release of the Chester A. Arthur dollar coin -- marking the first time that long non-commemorated president's face has ever appeared on any nation's currency. And who are we to deprive him of that?
Sunnunu who gave us Souter?
Why hasn’t Tim Geithner signed any money? Every other Sec of Treasury has. Come on Timmay, put your name out there!
Buchanan was not the worst president, but he probably is in the top 20. I think that distinctive title should go to Wilson. But Obama, before his term is over, is going to wrest the title away, I think.
He might have been trying to divert attention from a possible “worst Supreme Court nomination” commemorative coin series.
And, if we stopped printing money to waste on bailouts, entitlement programs, and failed kenysian economics we'd save BILIONS of DOLLARS in costs.
For long term damage I think Wilson is worst but Buchanan is close. Had he reacted like Andrew Jackson did in the Nullification Crisis I do not think we would have ever reached a Civil War.
Good question. I've been waiting on that one myself. I have a "TAX CHEAT" stamp ready to use whenever I see little Timmy's name on a bill.......
I believe that Stroker has already wrested the title.
He is “historic”, you know.
I didn’t even know there were $1 coins until I got four of them in change from a machine in a parking garage! And I had no idea there were $10 gold coins until I read this article.
They guy at a toll booth the other day couldn’t even tell me if the correct change machines on some lanes would accept the $1 coin.
Coins are bad from the environment. They use 10 times the fuel to transport.
The best way to improve circulation of dollar coins is to stop printing dollar bills.
(1) Stop producing the $1 bill and gradually withdraw remaining bills from circulation
(2) Recall ALL $1 coins - ALL OF THEM - and create a single new $1 coin that's as heavy and distinctive as the British pound that features the likeness of one of the Founders, preferably John Hancock
(3) Abolish the penny and nickel, and make the dime the same size as the nickel.
He gets a pass because of his War leadership. but is handling of the depession was terrible.
“Sunnunu who gave us Souter?”
I think that was his father.
Well, if the Roman Empire had issued a commemorative series for Emperors they would have had to issue a Caligula coin. I suppose Buchanan wasn’t quite THAT bad.
Before the Lincoln penny we never used to put any actual people on our coins. We ought to go back to just Liberty.
Agreed, but you have to understand that Buchanan was our first Nancy Boy president and probably had other, more important (in his demented mind) distractions. Hmmmmmmmmmm . . . which modern president does that sound like?
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