Better Know A President XIV: Franklin Pierce

23 03 2009

Two things:

In order to be academically correct, I want to give credit where credit is due. For many of my Presidential Anecdotes, I have used Paul Boller’s book Presidential Anecdotes. It has been incredibly useful to me, and really enjoyable. I couldn’t be doing this series without that book. Anecdotes bring about a real sense of humanity in a person and are essential to really study someone in my opinion.

I also want to acknowledge that there has been an exponential increase in traffic to my blog because of my Better Know A President series. Google is directing people my way and I really appreciate it.

And, many thanks to you people who have been reading this. I’m not doing it to impress anyone or anything like that, but it’s nice to know people appreciate my current hobby.

Onto number 14…


-Served from 1853-1857

-Elected from New Hampshire

-Prior to the Presidency, he was a US Representative and Senator from New Hampshire. Pierce was only 27 when elected to the House, and was by far the youngest man while serving. He also ran a very profitable private law firm in that state. He seemed destined for politics, as his father served two terms as Governor of New Hampshire.

-He was close friends of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, after meeting them both while attending Bowdoin College.

-Pierce had three children in his lifetime. The first, Franklin Pierce Jr. died days after his birth. While serving as a Senator, his second child Frank Robert died of Typhus. His wife used his death as leverage to get Pierce to leave politics and return home. His wife never like politics, and hated that her husband was serving in the Senate. Finally, his third child Benjamin died in a train accident only two months before Franklin’s inauguration. Franklin and his wife both witnessed the accident. His wife, Jane, was incredibly pious, and saw the incident as a sign that Pierce should not become President. During his Presidency, Jane spent two whole years confined to the living quarters of the White House. During this time, she wrote letters to the deceased son, and suffered deep depression. She rarely performed any social obligations.

-In 1847, a full 10 years after being elected to the House, and 5 years after leaving the Senate, Pierce enlisted in the army to serve in the Mexican-American War. He was quickly promoted to the rank of Colonel. He suffered a major wound to his leg when he fell off his horse in the Battle of Contreras. His pain became so great that he couldn’t fight in later battles.

-When the election of 1852 was started, Pierce was never mentioned seriously as a candidate. However, like James Polk before him, he was chosen as a compromise candidate after 35 ballots without a 2/3rd’s majority. He was chosen mainly because he was a solid Democratic supporter, he was quiet on his slavery views, and he was generally popular among everyone. The campaign slogan of that year was “We Polked you in 1844; we shall Pierce you in 1852!”.

-Pierce won the election handedly. He lost only 4 states. It wasn’t so much that Pierce ran a great campaign as it was that his Whig competitor, General Winfield Scott ran a bad one. He never really separated himself from Pierce, except that he was strongly against slavery. Of course, that killed any chance he might have had in the southern states.

-In his inauguration, he did not swear over the Bible. He affirmed his oath over a law book. He also gave his Inaugural speech from memory.

-While he tried to focus on foreign policy, he made many blunders. He upset Great Britain and Spain when he tried to get them to let go of their holding in Central America, the latter nation being involved in the infamous Ostend Manifesto. The O.M. was an attempt by Pierce to get Spain to sell Cuba to the US for 120 Million or go to war. They claimed that Cuba was rightfully America’s and that war was justified if they would not sell it. The document was eventually made public. The North was upsert because they saw it as a Southern attempt to continue slavery. Pierce let the matter of Cuba go after this. To his credit, he made the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico for 10 million. This small part of land that was bought from Mexico proved to be invaluable for railroad expansion.

-His biggest gaffe, however, was the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Slavery was still a major issue at the time, but this act repealed the Missouri Compromise, which at the time was a barrier to the expansion of slavery. With the Compromise out of the way, slavery expansion became a real possibilty. It led to Bleeding Kansas, an actual war between the state of Kansas and Missouri, and it was a major elevation in the conflict between the North and South.

-His failures during his presidency made the Democrats refuse to nominate him in 1856. He grew even more unpopular when he supported the South in the Civil War, and he placed the blame on Lincoln for the Civil War. He was even called the “archtraitor” by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Even his wife didn’t support him. She still blamed him for the death of their third son.


He claimed that after he left the Presidency that “there’s nothing left to do but get drunk”.

Pierce was hunted down after Lincoln’s death, because he didn’t publicly condemn the act. He would later say that it wasn’t necessary “to show my devotion for the Stars and Stripes by any special exhibition upon the demand of any man or body of men…” After this, the crowd left.


A Republic without parties is a complete anomaly. The histories of all popular governments show absurd is the idea of their attempting to exist without parties.

The dangers of a concentration of all power in the general government of a confederacy so vast as ours are too obvious to be disregarded.

Frequently the more trifling the subject, the more animated and protracted the discussion.