Search This Blog

Monday, 20 February 2017

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce was born on November 23, 1804, in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. He is the only US President to have come from that particular state.

Franklin Pierce by Matthew Brady

Franklin was the fifth of eight children born to Benjamin, a former Revolutionary War lieutenant and Anna Kendrick (his first wife Elizabeth Andrews had died in childbirth, leaving a daughter).

Benjamin was a prominent state legislator, farmer, and tavern-keeper.

During Pierce's childhood his father was deeply involved in state politics; he later become governor of New Hampshire; public affairs was thus a major influence in his early life.

The Franklin Pierce Homestead was built in 1804 by Benjamin Pierce on the 200 acres of land he'd bought in the Lower Village area of Hillsborough after the new state turnpike opened nearby.

Franklin lived at the homestead until 1834 when he married, with the exception of a seven-year span spent away for school, college, and law study.

Franklin attended school at Hillsborough Center but then moved to Hancock Academy in Hancock at the age of 12. 

One Sunday Franklin was feeling homesick and he walked 12 miles (19 km) back to his home. Consequently, his father then put him in a wagon, drove him half way back to school, and left him on the roadside without saying a word. Franklin walked the seven remaining miles back to Hancock Academy in a thunderstorm. Pierce later cited this moment as "the turning-point in my life".

After attending Hancock Academy for five years, Franklin was transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy in the spring of 1820 to prepare for college. That fall, he was sent to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

During his second year at Bowdoin College, Franklin's grades were the lowest in his class, but he was able to improve them and graduated with the rank of fifth in his class.


Once finished with college, Pierce went to law school in Northampton, Massachusetts. He was admitted to the bar and began law practice in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1827.

Franklin Pierce rose to a central position in the Democratic party of New Hampshire and was elected to the lower house in New Hampshire’s General Court in 1828.

Franklin Pierce was elected Democrat to the 23rd and 24th of Congress from March 4, 1833, to March 4, 1837. At 27 years of age, Pierce was the youngest U.S. Representative at that time.

In 1836, he was elected by the New Hampshire General Court as a Democrat to the U.S Senate, serving from March 4, 1837, to February 28, 1842.

After serving in the Senate, Pierce went back to Concord to resume law practice. The Concord house where Pierce lived from 1842 to 1848 is now known as the Pierce Manse.

The Pierce manse. By Craig Michaud at en.wikipedia,

He then was U.S. Attorney from 1845 to 1847 for the district of New Hampshire, though he declined Democratic nomination for Governor of New Hampshire and refused the appointment as General of the United States.

Pierce took part in the Mexican–American War as a brigadier general before becoming the Democrats' compromise candidate in the 1852 presidential election. His brief term as a general in the war boosted his public image.

Pierce in his brigadier general's uniform

On November 19, 1834, Franklin Pierce married Jane Means Appleton. the daughter of Jesse Appleton, a Congregational minister and former president of Bowdoin College.

Dour, pious and reserved, Jane Pierce was her husband's opposite in many ways. Her pro-temperance views encouraged Pierce to abstain from alcohol. However, after his presidency, Pierce increasingly took solace from the bottle.

Jane was somewhat gaunt, and constantly ill from tuberculosis, psychological ailments and depression.

Jane Pierce abhorred politics and continually nagged her husband to quit. She especially disliked Washington, D.C., creating a tension that would continue throughout Pierce's political ascent. When told he’d been nominated for the presidency in 1852, she fainted.

Jane Pierce

They had three children, all of which died in childhood. Franklin Pierce Jr. died only three days after birth; and Frank Robert Pierce died at four years of age from epidemic typhus.

On January 6, 1853, just two months before his inauguration, Franklin Pierce, Jane and their their 11-year-old son boarded a train bound for Boston. During the journey their derailed car started to roll down an embankment. near Andover, Massachusetts. Franklin and Jane survived, merely shaken up, but had the the horrifying experience of seeing Benjamin get crushed to death. Jane Pierce thought that God was displeased with her husband's political ambitions and the train accident was a divine punishment for his pursuit and acceptance of high office. She never recovered from the tragedy.

Jane Pierce and Benny

Pierce was a lifelong friend with novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter author wrote a glowing biography, The Life of Franklin Pierce, in support of Pierce's 1852 presidential campaign.


Franklin Pierce served as the 14th President of the United States from March 4, 1853, to March 4, 1857.

Franklin Pierce delivered his inaugural address without using notes.

Franklin Pierce entered the White House two months after his 11-year-old son was killed before his eyes in a train crash. He refused to swear his oath of office, opting instead to "affirm" his oath, reportedly due to a crisis of faith in the aftermath of the death of his son.

Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" (a Northerner with Southern sympathies). He saw the abolitionist movement as a fundamental threat to the unity of the nation.

BEP-engraved portrait of Pierce as president
Pierce's melancholic wife refused to act as First Lady. Jane rarely left the upstairs living quarters of the White House, spending  her days writing maudlin letters to her dead son. She left the social chores to her aunt Abby Kent-Means and her close friend Varina Davis, wife of War Secretary Jefferson Davis.

Franklin Pierce’s toughest challenge as President was the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. This act created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. It also allowed these new states to vote on whether slavery was legal or not, thus repealing the Missouri Compromise, which said that slavery was not legal in those areas.

With the passage of the act, thousands of pro- and anti-slavery supporters flooded Kansas. Violent clashes soon occurred and hostilities between the factions reached a state of low-intensity civil war, which was damaging to President Pierce. Kansas was called during this period, "Bleeding Kansas."

Pierce's actions impacted his once high popularity especially in the North. His time in office is regarded to have led to the Civil War and many view him as one of the worst U.S. presidents ever.

Although Pierce expected to be renominated by the Democrats in 1856, he was abandoned by his party and failed in his bid to be re-elected.

When asked what he was going to do next after he failed to get his party's nomination for re-election, Franklin Pierce said, "There’s nothing left to do but get drunk."


After losing the Democratic re-election in 1856, Pierce retired with his wife to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he begun to speculate in property. He remained a vocal political figure after his presidency

Pierce, seen here in 1858. By George Peter Alexander Healy 

Seeking warmer weather for his wife's health, Pierce and Jane spent the next three years traveling, beginning with a stay in Madeira and followed by tours of Europe and the Bahamas.

Jane Pierce died of tuberculosis in Andover, Massachusetts in December 1863.

A heavy drinker in the last decade of his life, Pierce died of cirrhosis of the liver in Concord, New Hampshire on October 8, 1869 at the age of 64. He was buried in Old North Cemetery in Concord.

No comments:

Post a Comment