Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States of America.  He served one term, from 1853-1857.

Nickname: Handsome Frank

Quote: “I believe that involuntary servitude, as it exists in different States of this Confederacy, is recognized by the Constitution.  I believe that it stands like any other admitted right, and that the States where it exists are entitled to efficient remedies to enforce the constitutional provisions.”

I read the biography “Franklin Pierce” by Michael F Holt.

  • born on November 23rd, 1804 in Hillsborough, New Hampshire
  • sixth child of General Benjamin Pierce and Anna Kendrick Pierce
  • his father served as NH Governor for 2 terms
  • was said to be charming, suave, a people pleaser and incredibly handsome
  • attended Bowdoin college where he met one of his best friends, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • he loved wrestling and being outdoors
  • his favorite “pastime” was drinking, he was a lightweight when it came to alcohol and in all likelihood an alcoholic
  • his favorite foods were Fried clams, Daniel Webster’s chowder, apple pan dowdy, New Hampshire seed cookies, and New Hampshire fried pies.
  • was admitted to the bar (a lawyer) in 1827
  • possessed a deep, pleasing, rich voice
  • married Jane Means Appleton from Amherst, MA on November 19th, 1834 – they were said to be complete opposites
  • was elected to 4 consecutive years in the New Hampshire State House of Representatives
  • the last 2 years, he was Speaker of the House
  • was an anti-abolitionist because he believed they were “holier-than-thou” and threatened the Union
  • his first son died 3 days after being born in February 1836
  • was publicly humiliated and called a doughface in front of the Senate by John C. Calhoun (someone who could not form their own opinions and whose mind changed easily)
  • his room mate from college, Jonathan Cilley, was killed in a duel
  • his second son, Frank Robert, was born in September 1839 and died at age 4
  • was good friends with President Polk, after befriending him when he served as Speaker of the House
  • was offered the position of U.S. Attorney General in 1846, but declined citing family responsibilities
  • was appointed a colonel in the army by President Polk in 1847 for the Mexican-American War
  • was promoted to Brigadier General and tasked with re-supplying General Scott’s troops
  • was thrown from his horse and received an injury to his groin and knee causing him to pass out during his first serious battle, causing his troops to believe he fainted from fear
  • his wife hated Washington DC, so when his name was put forward for the Presidential nomination, he violently declined
  • he agreed to be a candidate later, only if the three other party frontrunners torpedoed each others’ chances
  • when he was told he had been nominated, he was speechless and his wife fainted
  • Southerners liked him because he supported upholding the Missouri Compromise, northerners liked him because he was young and from New Hampshire
  • that election (1836) had the lowest voter turnout rate until the 1920’s
  • went into the Presidency with the goal of preserving the unity of the Democratic Party as his highest goal
  • Jane Pierce’s uncle died  before the inauguration in 1852, and as they were returning by train from the funeral, the passenger car derailed and crashed; Pierce and Jane were merely bruised, but their only living son’s head was cut in half right in front of them, killing him instantly
  • Jane was so grief-stricken, she did not attend the funeral, head to Washington for Pierce’s inauguration, and could not function as the White House hostess until 1854
  • Pierce put together a cabinet of polar opposites, but which was highly effective and the only Presidential cabinet in the 19th century to remain completely intact throughout an entire four year Presidential term
  • his first veto was a bill that would have provided federal funds to build and operate asylums for the financially poor insane, stating he did not belive the government could be responsible for public charity
  • his Vice President, William R. King, died in April 1853 and was replaced by Missouri Democrat David R Atchison
  • sent James Gadsden to negotiate with Mexico for land that would allow  a transcontinental railroad southern route; Gadsden got much less land than they wanted, but ultimately bought enough for the railroad for $15 million
  • then turned around and said the government should not be the source of funding for a trans-continental railroad
  • repealed the Missouri Compromise, claiming the Compromise of 1850 made it unconstitutional
  • passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which opened up the west for slavery – Kansas was made a slave state and Nebraska a free state
  • the night the Kansas-Nebraska bill was passed, a fugitive slave was caught and imprisoned in Boston.  Anti-slavery supporters formed a mob and Pierce was forced to send federal troops to help escort the slave to a ship bound back to Virginia
  • because of the K-A act, Democrats lost 66 of their 91 held congressional seats in the elections of 1854
  • most northern Whigs, anti-Nebraska Democrats,  and Free Soiler party members joined together to form a new party in 1854 – the Republican Party
  • the Republican Party’s highest mission was to oppose southern slaveholders
  • when the government of Kansas was formed, there were hundreds of slavery supporting Missourians who cast hundreds of false votes for proslavery candidates and the governor allowed the results to stand
  • a rival government was set up in Topeka and they fought each other in battles so violent that Kansas was known as “Bleeding Kansas”
  • when he left office, he was worth $78,000 because of his investments (1.5 million in today’s dollars)
  • his wife was suffering from tuberculosis and all Pierce wanted to do after retiring was take care of her
  • one of his favorite past times was having drinking contests with one of his best friends, Clarence March – they drank brandy and champagne
  • the Pierces traveled to Madeira in December 1857 on a US Navy Vessel for Jane’s health
  • they traveled Europe, ending up in Rome in 1858 to visit Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • they returned to the US in September 1859
  • another trip to Nassau was taken in the winter of 1860
  • Jane died from tuberculosis on December 2nd, 1863 – their last vacation together had been in the summer at the beach
  • was asked to take care of Nathaniel Hawthorne as he was ailing – he was the one who discovered Hawthorne’s corpse
  • he paid full college tuition Hawthorne’s son, Julian, as well as his two nephews
  • he loved swimming naked in the ocean off of the coast of New Hampshire, even at the age of 60
  • tried to act as legal representation for Jefferson Davis after the end of the Civil War, but Davis refused him
  • he died from complications of alcoholism on October 8, 1869

title taken from Jonathan Coulton’s “The Presidents”

<— Millard Fillmore                   James Buchanan –>

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