Franklin Pierce, son of a Revolutionary War veteran, was born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. He graduated from Bowdoin College where he was a classmate of Longfellow and Hawthorne, the latter becoming a lifelong friend.
In 1827 Pierce was admitted to the bar in New Hampshire. He was elected to the state legislature in 1829 while his father was serving as governor. In 1832 the younger Pierce was elected a Democratic Congressman and became a firm supporter of Andrew Jackson in his fight against the Bank of the United States. It was during this time that Pierce met a man who would become his closest political ally, Jefferson Davis.
In 1836, Pierce spoke vehemently against the practice of allowing graduates of West Point, after serving only one year as an officer in the Army, to resign and return to private life. Two years later, the obligation for West Point graduates was increased from one to four years. From 1839 to 1842 Pierce was U.S. Senator from New Hampshire; his record was lackluster, but he developed strong ties with many leading Southern senators.
At the outbreak of the Mexican War Pierce volunteered for service. He acquitted himself well at Contreras and Churubusco; however, political opponents would later unfairly charge him with cowardice for an unfortunate incident in which he fell from his horse and injured himself while his soldiers broke and ran.
In the Election of 1852, Pierce won the Democratic nomination as a dark horse and narrowly defeated Winfield Scott in the fall campaign. Pierce's single term in office was unhappy. His son was killed before his eyes in a railroad accident shortly before the inauguration; neither Pierce nor his wife fully recovered from the incident.
Few foreign affairs triumphs were accomplished under Pierce. He was an active supporter of the Manifest Destiny concept, maneuvering unsuccessfully for expansion into Alaska, Hawaii and especially Spanish-held Cuba. In 1853 the Gadsden Purchase was negotiated, igniting sectional strife. The Ostend Manifesto fiasco was a particularly embarrassing event for Pierce.
As far as domestic matters were concerned, everything was overshadowed by the ill-fated Kansas-Nebraska Act, a measure that caused chaos within the political parties and resulted in the violence of “Bleeding Kansas.” Pierce left office in 1857 a bitter and lonely man. He sought, but was denied, the nomination in 1856. He became a critic of the abolitionists, Abraham Lincoln, the president’s conduct of the war and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Franklin Pierce was a New Englander who ignored the political preferences of his home state and became a supporter of Southern slave interests. In doing so he maintained that he was simply serving the dictates of the Constitution. He was also the first president to have a Christmas tree in the White House.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by Franklin Pierce.
Regarding Civil War
I speak of the war as fruitless; for it is clear that, prosecuted upon the basis of the proclamations of September 22d and September 24th, 1862, prosecuted, as I must understand these proclamations, to say nothing of the kindred blood which has followed, upon the theory of emancipation, devastation, subjugation, it cannot fail to be fruitless in every thing except the harvest of woe which it is ripening for what was once the peerless republic.
Address in Concord NH on July 4, 1863
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Franklin Pierce by Michael F. Holt.
The genial but troubled New Englander whose single-minded partisan loyalties inflamed the nation's simmering battle over slavery Charming and handsom...