14th President of the United States
Born: November 23, 1804 in Hillsboro, New Hampshire
Served: March 4, 1853 - March 3, 1857
Died: October 8, 1869 in Concord, New Hampshire
Buried: in The Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire
Pierce was the last DPOTUS I picked up on a Columbus Day weekend trip through upstate New York and New England back in 1999 in what I dubbed "The DPOTUS Tour '99". Debbie and I had spent the first day driving up the Hudson River valley in New York State where we picked up F.D.R., Van Buren and Chet Arthur. After spending the night in Charlemont, Massachusetts, we drove up into Vermont on a beautiful sunny Sunday where we picked up "Silent Cal". After spending the night in White River Junction, Vermont, we set out to Concord on Monday. Finding Concord was easy, finding Pierce was not. It was an overcast day as we drove around Concord looking for Old North Cemetery. We found his former home, The Pierce Manse, which was not open at the time. Driving toward the capitol building, Debbie spotted the cemetery on a side street. From there we drove in and found Pierce's monument.
Pierce was the son of a Revolutionary War soldier and Jacksonian governor of New Hampshire. After graduating from Bowdoin College, Pierce became a lawyer and then entered politics. In 1829, at the age of 25, he was elected to the state legislature. Four years later, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He married Jane Means Appleton, the daughter of the president of Bowdoin College on November 10, 1834. In 1837, New Hampshire sent Pierce to the U.S. Senate. In the Senate, Pierce rarely spoke, but worked hard to further President Jackson's policies. He believed in the Constitution and the Southern right to own slaves. He opposed abolitionist and believed in compromise.
While in Washington, Pierce took up drinking, which his wife, Jane, abhorred. She hated Washington D.C. also and convinced her husband to resign from the Senate in 1842 and come back to Concord, New Hampshire. In 1846, he turned down a cabinet position offered by President Polk to serve in the army during the Mexican War. He enlisted as a private, but soon rose to the rank of colonel and then brigadier general. Pierce served with General Winfield Scott's during his drive to Mexico City in 1847. However, he was severely wounded at the Battle of Churubusco in August.
After the war, Pierce returned to his law practice in New Hampshire. In the Democratic National Convention of 1852, the delegates could not choose between Stephen Douglas, James Buchannan, Lewis Cass or William Marcy. Pierce came out of no where and was nominated on the 49th ballot. In the Election of 1852, Pierce ran against his former commanding general, Winfield Scott, the Whig Party's candidate. Supporting the Compromise of 1850 and the rights of states, he carried all but four states (254 to 42 electoral votes). At age 48, Pierce was the youngest man ever to be elected president (until John F. Kennedy in 1960).
Before being inaugurated, the Pierce's were involved in a train wreck. While both Franklin and Jane were fine, their 11-year old son Benjamin (their only surviving child of three children) was crushed to death before their eyes. Pierce's wife Jane, who opposed his candidacy and who already didn't want to return to Washington D.C., blamed Pierce for the death and now refused to go with him to the Capitol. Pierce, overcome with grief, had to endure four very turbulent years in the White House alone. As much as Pierce wanted to do a good job as president, he was way out of his depth.
With the sectionalism continuing to dominate national politics, Pierce picked a very diverse cabinet. Although it's members represented many different views, Pierce's cabinet proved to be the only one in United States history to endure without a change throughout an administration. His choice of James Campbell of Pennsylvania for postmaster general, the first catholic to hold a cabinet position, sparked a rise of Anti-Catholicism and brought the American (or Know-Nothing) Party to prominence.
Toward the end of his presidency, in January of 1854, Stephen Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Act, which proposed Popular Sovereignty in the two territories, was a highly charged issue. It brought slavery back to the front of national debate. The Act, reversed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, split the Democratic Party, literally destroyed the Whig party and created a new party, the Republicans. In addition, it brought pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces into Kansas, where bloody fighting broke out. A secret plan to "buy" Cuba from Spain leaked out in the press and Pierce was branded an expansionist pro-slavery president. The Democratic Party, knowing that Pierce had little support in the North, decided not to re-nominate him for the Election of 1856. After James Buchannan's inauguration, the Pierce's set out on a European tour and than settled in Concord, New Hampshire.
He was highly critical of President Abraham Lincoln, blaming him for the Civil War. His pro-southern sympathies where highly unpopular during the Civil War. He was called a traitor and ended up living in virtual seclusion for the rest of his life. His wife died in 1863, causing Pierce to start drinking again. By 1869, suffering from dropsy, his health deteriorated. He died at the age 64. Pierce's body rested in state for three days in the state capitol in Concord. After his death, the people of New Hampshire chose to ignore their former favorite son. In 1914, the State of New Hampshire erected a bronze statue of Pierce on the Capitol grounds. In 1946, 77 years after his death, they finally put a monument on his grave.
Here are some webpages of interest:
The Pierce Manse
White House Biography of Franklin Pierce
The Internet Public Library Biography
The American President Biography