Archibald Chapman Buchanan was born on January 7, 1890, in Tazewell County, the son of Augustus Beauregard Buchanan and Nancy Emerine Chapman Buchanan. His father served for five years as deputy clerk of the Tazewell County Court and for eight years as postmaster of Tazewell during the presidency of. Buchanan graduated from Tazewell High School in 1906. He received a BA from Hampden-Sydney College in 1910 and an LLB from Washington and Lee University in 1914. Both institutions subsequently bestowed honorary doctor of laws degrees on him, and Buchanan recalled that he had been especially influenced by William H. Whiting, a Latin teacher at Hampden-Sydney, and Martin Parks Burks, dean of the Washington and Lee Law School and later a judge of the state Supreme Court of Appeals.
In partnership with his uncle John William Chapman and, who later served as governor, Buchanan practiced law in Tazewell from 1915 to 1927 in the firm of Chapman, Peery, and Buchanan. He served from 1917 to 1921 as mayor of Tazewell and from 1919 to 1927 as the county’s commissioner of accounts. On April 8, 1927, the General Assembly elected Buchanan to fill a vacancy caused by the death of the circuit judge for the 22nd Judicial Circuit, which consisted of Bland, Giles, and Tazewell counties. He was subsequently elected to a full term on January 19, 1928. He sat from 1928 to 1932 on the first Judicial Council of Virginia, which the assembly created to advise it on improving the administration of justice in the courts. Buchanan also helped the Virginia Advisory Legislative Council develop recommendations for revision of the probation and parole system, which the assembly enacted into law on February 6, 1942.
In 1946, of Abingdon, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals, notified Governor of his intention to retire and expressed a preference that Buchanan be appointed to Campbell’s seat. On September 12, 1946, Tuck duly appointed Buchanan, who had already been mentioned with respect to earlier court vacancies, to replace Campbell.
A modest man, Buchanan was known to his associates as the scholar of the court. “Citizens need to know what they can and cannot do under the law,” he declared in an interview following his retirement. “The fundamental principles of the law are generally well established,” he continued, “and courts should only with great reluctance depart from them or modify them.” In 1955 Buchanan wrote the opinion in Naim v. Naim upholding Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage as a proper governmental objective and one that had traditionally been open to state regulation. The court reaffirmed its validation of the state ban in 1966, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in(1967), declared the state law unconstitutional.
Buchanan also wrote the majority opinion in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward that in 1963 absolved the General Assembly of any constitutional obligation to operate free public schools in Prince Edward County. The nation high court reversed this decision, too. In 1959, however, Buchanan voted with the majority on the state court in Harrison v. Day, which struck down Virginia’s plan of Massive Resistance to desegregation in the public schools on the grounds that it violated the state’s constitutional mandate requiring the assembly to “maintain an efficient system of public free schools through the State.”
Buchanan lived in Tazewell throughout his life and traveled to Richmond and Staunton for the sessions of the state’s high court. He married Olivia McCall on December 18, 1915, and they had one son and one daughter. Buchanan was a Presbyterian teacher and elder, a member of the Tazewell Rotary Club, and a director of the Tazewell National Bank and the Lynn Camp Coal Corporation. He also served on the boards of trustees of Hampden-Sydney College from 1928 to 1969 and of Mary Baldwin College from 1948 to 1962. He retired from the bench in 1969 after forty-two consecutive years as a jurist, and that year the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association honored him with the Virginia Distinguished Service Award. Buchanan died on May 3, 1979, after a long illness and was buried in Maplewood Cemetery in Tazewell.