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Franklin Pierce (November 23, 1804 October 8, 1869) was the 14th President of the United States, serving from 1853 to 1857, an American politician and lawyer from New Hampshire.

Franklin Pierce
14th President of the United States
 under the US Constitution of 1787
24th President under the Perpetual Union of the United States

Franklin Pierce Engraving

Message of President Franklin Pierce nominating William L. Marcy, of New York, to be Secretary of State. - Courtesy of: National Archives and Records Administration

Franklin Pierce assumed the presidency at a time of tranquility. By virtue of the Compromise of 1850, the United States seemed to have weathered the storm surrounding the slavery issue. When the problem suddenly reappeared during his administration he had little success in dealing with it and policies he established hastened the disruption of the Union. With roots and home in the northern, anti-slavery state of New Hampshire, Pierce sided with the South on the issue of slavery. Devoted to the Union of the States, his aim was to uphold the Constitution of the United States and to avoid civil war at all cost. His views made him unpopular in the North and he failed to win a second term.

Born on a frontier farm on November 23, 1804 in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, Franklin Pierce was the second son of Benjamin and Ann Kendrick Pierce. He had four brothers and three sisters. His father, a militia general served in the American Revolution and was a passionate Jeffersonian Democrat. He exerted great influence on his son teaching him his own devotion to public service and his sense of patriotism. As a youth, young Franklin attended private schools, attending the local Hillsborough School until the age of 12. He entered Bowdoin College at the age of 15. He graduated in 1824. In 1826 he entered law school in Northampton, Massachusetts and proved to have a keen aptitude for the law. After studying law for three years he was admitted to the bar in Hillsborough County. In 1829 Pierce, at age of 24, was elected to the New Hampshire State legislature. He served four-years in this office and was named Speaker of the House. At the age of 29 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. Pierce's record in Congress was undistinguished. An opponent of the abolitionists, he was one of the sponsors of the gag rule against antislavery petitions in Congress. He gave unflinching partisan support to all Democratic measures except internal improvements.

On November 10, 1834, Pierce married Jean Means Appleton, daughter of a former president of Bowdoin College. They had three sons, two who died in childhood and the third son was killed in a railroad accident at the age of 11. Although Pierce was popular with his colleagues, his life in Washington was not happy. His wife detested the capital's lively social life and the occasionally excessive drinking in which her husband indulged. She rarely accompanied him to Washington.

A supporter of Andrew Jackson's policies, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1837, the youngest senator at that time. Overshadowed by such orators as Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun, he seldom took part in debate. At the urging of his wife, Pierce resigned from the Senate in 1842 to practice law in Concord, New Hampshire. He became one of the leading members of the Concord Regency, a group of Democratic political leaders who dominated the party in New Hampshire. President James Polk appointed him United States District Attorney in 1845. At the outbreak of the Mexican War, he enlisted in the Army as a private. Serving under General Winfield Scott in the campaign against Mexico City, he was commissioned as a Brigadier General. A painful injury resulting from a fall off his horse prevented Pierce from taking part at Contreras, and illness kept him out of action at Chapultepec. At the end of the war, Pierce resigned from the Army.


Although he had refused all offers of public office after his resignation from the Senate, Pierce maintained an active interest in politics. As the Democratic Convention met in 1852, the delegates agreed upon a platform pledging undeviating support of the Compromise of 1850 and hostility to any efforts to agitate the slavery question. There were so many strong candidates for the presidential nomination it was impossible for one to win the required two-thirds vote. To break the deadlock the convention finally nominated Pierce on the 49th ballot and eliminated all the well-known candidates. Pierce was a true "dark horse" candidate. Opposing Pierce was Whig nominee, General Winfield Scott. Because the Democrats stood more firmly for the Compromise than the Whigs and General Scott was suspect in the South, Pierce carried all but four of the 31 states, receiving an electoral vote of 254 to Scott's 42. Out of more than 3 million popular votes, Pierce led his combined opponents by only 60,000.

His presidential term began under a severe emotional strain. Two months before the inauguration, he, his wife and son were involved in a train accident resulting in the horrible death of their only remaining child, Benjamin. Jane Pierce blamed Franklin's political ambitions for their son's death. Grief stricken and nervously exhausted, Pierce assumed the Presidency. His tenure in office was not considered a success. His distraught wife withdrew from society and he was denied the supportive home life that might have eased the burdens of his presidency.

In his Inaugural he proclaimed an era of peace and prosperity at home, and vigor in relations with other nations. During his administration Pierce faced a series of troubles. He created a sectionally balanced cabinet and planned an aggressive foreign policy in hope of quieting the slavery controversy. Nonetheless, he only had to make gestures toward expansion to excite the wrath of northerners that felt that he was sympathetic with Southerners eager to extend slavery into other areas. The most violent anger stemmed from the fact that a group of influential senators convinced him to support the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealing the Missouri Compromise and reopening the question of slavery in the West. The decision as to whether slavery should be permitted was left to the settlers themselves. With his failure to distribute patronage to his friends and his resulting lack of strength in Congress, Pierce was forced to support the Kansas-Nebraska bill in order to please its sponsor, Senator Stephen A. Douglas. This ill-considered measure split both major parties and greatly aggravated the conflict between the free and the slave states. The result was a rush into Kansas, as southerners and northerners vied for control of the territory. Shooting broke out, and "Bleeding Kansas" gave American's a foretaste of the Civil War.

This administration's record on foreign affairs was also disappointing with only a few successes to its credit. With the exception of the Gadsden Purchase in 1853 through which the United States acquired land from Mexico, his expansionary projects miscarried. The administration failed in its efforts to acquire Cuba. The Ostend Manifesto that declared that if Spain would not sell Cuba, the United States should take the island by force embarrassed the president and aroused further controversy over the extension of slavery. The administration was forced to renounce the document.

Pierce sought his party's re-nomination for President in 1856. Few favored this action and the Democrats refused to re-nominate him and instead nominated James Buchanan. In 1857 Pierce retired from public life and returned to New Hampshire to practice law leaving his successor to face the rising controversies. His opposition to President Abraham Lincoln's actions during the Civil War made him extremely unpopular in the North. Pierce died on October 8, 1869 in Concord, Massachusetts.

Pierce is ranked among the least effective Presidents as well as an indecisive politician who was easily influenced. He was unable to command as President and provide the needed National leadership.

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Edited 1887 Appleton's' Encyclopedia,
Copyright 2002 Virtualology

PIERCE, Franklin, fourteenth president of the United States under the US Constitution, born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, 23 November, 1804; died in Concord, New Hampshire, 8 October, 1869. His father, Benjamin Pierce (b. in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, 25 December, 1757; died in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, 1 April, 1839), on the day of the battle of Lexington enlisted in the patriot army and served until its disbandment in 1784, attaining the rank of captain and brevet major, tie had intense political convictions, was a Republican of the school of Jefferson, an ardent admirer of Jackson, and the leader of his party in New Hampshire, of which he was elected governor in 1827 and 1829. He was a farmer, and trained his children in his own simple and laborious habits.

Discerning signs of future distinction in his son Franklin, he gave him an academical education in well-known institutions at Hancock, Francestown, and Exeter, and in 1820 sent him to Bowdoin college, Brunswick, Maine Among the son's class-mates were John P. Hale, his future political rival, Professor Calvin E. Stowe, Sargent S. Prentiss. the distinguished orator, Henry W. Longfellow, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, his future biographer and life-long personal friend. His ambition was then of a martial cast, and as an officer in a company of college students he enthusiastically devoted himself to the study of military tactics. This was one reason why he found himself at the foot of his class at the end of two years in college. Stung by a sense of disgrace, he devoted the two remaining years to hard study, and when he was graduated in 1824 he was third in his class. While in college, like many other eminent Americans, he taught in winter. After taking his degree he began the study of law at Portsmouth, in the office of Levi Woodbury, where he remained about a year. He afterward spent two years in the law-school at Northampton, Massachusetts, and in the office of Judge Edmund Parker at Amherst, New Hampshire.

In 1827 he was admitted to the bar and began practice in his native town. Soon afterward he argued his first jury cause in the court-house at Amherst. This effort (as is often the case with eminent orators) was a failure. But he was not despondent. He replied to the sympathetic expressions of a friend: "I will try nine hundred and ninety-nine cases, if clients continue to trust me, and if I fail just as I have to-day, I will try the thousandth. I shall live to argue cases in this court-house in a manner that will mortify neither myself nor my friends."

With his popular qualities it was inevitable that he should take a prominent part in the sharp political contests of his native state. He espoused the cause of General Jackson with ardor, and in 1829 was elected to represent his native town in the legislature, where, by three subsequent elections, he served four years, the last two as speaker, for which office he received three fourths of all the votes of the house. In 1833 he was elected to represent his native district in the lower house of congress, where he remained four years. He served on the judiciary and other important committees, but did not participate largely in the debates. That could not be expected of so young a man in a body containing so many veteran politicians and statesmen who had already acquired a national reputation. But in February, 1834, he made a vigorous and sensible speech against the Revolutionary claims bill, condemning it as opening the door to fraud.

In December, 1835, he spoke and voted against receiving petitions for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. In June, 1836, he spoke against a bill making appropriations for the military academy at West Point. He contended that that institution was aristocratic in its tendencies, that a professional soldiery and standing armies are always dangerous to the liberties of the people, and that in war the republic must rely upon her citizen militia. His experience in the Mexican war afterward convinced him that such an institution is necessary, and he frankly acknowledged his error. It is hardly necessary to add that while in congress Mr. Pierce sustained President Jackson in opposing the so-called internal improvement policy. In 1833 he was elected to the United States senate. He was the youngest member of that body, and had barely arrived at the legal age for that office when he took his seat. In January, 1840, he spoke upon the Indian war in Florida, defending the secretary of war from the attacks of his political opponents. In December of the same year he advocated and carried through the senate a bill granting a pension to an aged woman whose husband, Isaac Davis, had been among the first to fall at Concord bridge on 19 April, 1775. In July, 1841, he spoke against the fiscal bank bill, and in favor of an amendment prohibiting members of congress from borrowing money of the bank. At the same session he made a strong speech against the removal of government officials for their political opinions, in violation of the pledges to the contrary which the Whig leaders had given to the country in the canvass of 1840.

During the five years that he remained in the senate it numbered among its members Benton, Buchanan, Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Woodbury, and Silas Wright, an array of veteran statesmen and intellectual giants who had long been party leaders, and who occupied the whole field of debate. Among such men the young, modest, and comparatively obscure member from New Hampshire could not, with what his biographer calls " his exquisite sense of propriety," force himself into a conspicuous position. There is abundant proof, however, that he won the friendship of his eminent associates. In 1842 he resigned his seat in the senate, with the intention of permanently withdrawing from public life. He again returned to tile practice of law, settling in Concord, New Hampshire, whither he had removed his family in 1838, and where he ever afterward resided. In 1845 he was tendered by the governor of New Hampshire, but declined, an appointment to the United States senate to fill the vacancy occasioned by the appointment of Levi Woodbury to the United States supreme bench. He also declined the nomination for governor tendered to him by the Democratic state convention.

He declined, too, an appointment to the office of United States attorney-general, offered to him in 1845 by President Polk, by a letter in which he said that when he left the senate he did so " with the fixed purpose never again to be voluntarily separated from his family for any considerable time, except at the call of his country in time of war." But while thus evincing his determination to remain in private life, he did not lose his interest in political affairs. In the councils of his party in New Hampshire he exercised a very great influence. He zealously advocated the annexation of Texas, declaring that, while he preferred it free, he would take it with slavery rather than not have it at all. When John P. Hale, in 1845, accepted a Democratic re-nomination to congress, in a letter denouncing annexation, the Democratic leaders called another convention, which repudiated him and nominated another candidate. Through the long struggle that followed, Pierce led the Democrats of his state with great skill and unfaltering courage, though not always to success. He found in Hale a rival worthy of his steel. A debate between the two champions, in the old North church at Concord, aroused the keenest interest throughout the state. Each party was satisfied with its own advocate; but to contend against the rising anti-slavery sentiment of the north was a hopeless struggle. The stars in their courses fought against slavery. Hale was elected to the United States senate in 1846 by a coalition of Whigs and Free-soilers, and several advocates of free-soil principles were elected to congress from New Hampshire before 1850.

In 1846 the war with Mexico began, and New Hampshire was called on for a battalion of troops. Pierce's military ardor was rekindled. He immediately enrolled himself as a private in a volunteer company that was organized at Concord, enthusiastically began studying tactics and drilling in the ranks, and was soon appointed colonel of the 9th regiment of infantry. On 3 March, 1847, he received from President Polk the commission of brigadier-general in the regular army. On 27 March, 1847, he embarked at Newport, Rhode Island, in the bark "Kepler," with Colonel Ransom, three companies of the 9th regiment of infantry, and the officers of that detachment, arriving at Vera Cruz on 28 June. Much difficulty was experienced in procuring mules for transportation, and the brigade was detained in that unhealthful locality, exposed to the ravages of yellow fever, until 14 July, when it began its march to join the main army under General Winfield Scott at Puebla. The junction was effected (after a toilsome march and several encounters with guerillas) on 6 August, and the next day G en. Scott began his advance on the city of Mexico.


Franklin Pierce Sketch - copyright Stan Klos


On 19 August the battle of Contreras was fought. The Mexican General Valencia, with 7,000 troops, occupied a strongly entrenched camp. General Scott's plan was to divert the attention of the enemy by a feigned attack on his front, while his flank could be turned and his retreat cut off. But the flanking movement being much delayed, the attack in front (in which General Pierce led his brigade) became a desperate struggle, in which 4,000 raw recruits, who could not use their artillery, fought 7,000 disciplined soldiers, strongly entrenched and raining round shot and shells upon their assailants. To reach the enemy, the Americans who attacked in front were obliged to cross the pedregal, or lava-bed, the crater of an extinct volcano, bristling with sharp, jagged, splintered rocks, which afforded shelter to the Mexican skirmishers. General Pierce's horse stepped into a cleft between two rocks and fell, breaking his own leg and throwing his rider, whose knee was seriously injured. Though suffering severely, and urged by the surgeon to withdraw, General Pierce refused to leave his troops. Mounting the horse of an officer who had just been mortally wounded, he rode forward and remained in the saddle until eleven o'clock at night.

The next morning General Pierce was in the saddle at daylight, but the enemy's camp was stormed in the rear by the flanking party, and those of its defenders who escaped death or capture fled in confusion toward Churubusco, where Santa-Anna had concentrated his forces. Though General Pierce's injuries were intensely painful, and though General Scott advised him to leave the field, he insisted on remaining. His brigade and that of General James Shields, in obeying an order to make a detour and attack the enemy in the rear, struck the Mexican reserves, by whom they were largely outnumbered, and a bloody and obstinate struggle followed. By this diversion Generals Worth and Pillow were enabled to carry the head of the bridge at the front, and relieve Pierce and Shields from the pressure of overwhelming numbers. In the advance of Pierce's brigade his horse was unable to cross a ditch or ravine, and he was compelled to dismount and pro-teed on foot. Overcome by the pain of his injured knee, he sank to the ground, unable to proceed, but refused to be taken from the field, and remained under fire until the enemy were routed. After these defeats, Santa-Anna, to gain time, opened negotiations for peace, and General Scott appointed General Pierce one of the commissioners to agree upon terms of armistice. The truce lasted a fortnight, when General Scott, discovering Santa-Anna's insincerity, again began hostilities. The sanguinary battles of Molino del Rey and Chapultepec soon followed, on 14 September, 1847, the city of Mexico capitulated, and the war was virtually over.

Though General Pierce had little opportunity to distinguish himself as a general in this brief war, he displayed a personal bravery and a regard for the welfare of his men that won him the highest credit. He also gained the ardent friendship of those with whom he came in contact, and that friendship did much for his future elevation. On the return of peace in December, 1847, General Pierce returned to his home and to the practice of his profession. Soon after this the New Hampshire legislature presented him, in behalf 9f the state, with a fine sword. In 1850 General Pierce was elected to represent the city of Concord in a constitutional convention, and when that body met he was chosen its president by a nearly unanimous vote. During its session he made strenuous and successful efforts to procure the adoption of an amendment abolishing the religious test that made none but Protestants eligible to office. But that amendment failed of adoption by the people, though practically and by common consent the restriction was disregarded.

From 1847 till 1852 General Pierce was arduously engaged in his profession. As an advocate he was never surpassed, if ever equaled, at the New Hampshire bar. He had the external advantages of an orator, a handsome, expressive face, an elegant figure, graceful and impressive gesticulation, and a clear, musical voice, which kindled the blood of his hearers like the notes of a trumpet, or melted them to tears by its pathos. His manner had a courtesy that sprang from the kindness of his heart and contributed much to his political and professional success. His perceptions were keen, and his mind seized at once the vital points of a case, while his ready command of language enabled him to present them to an audience so clearly that they could not be misunderstood. He had an intuitive knowledge of human nature, and the numerous illustrations that he drew from the daily lives of his strong-minded auditors made his speeches doubly effective. He was not a diligent student, nor a reader of many books, yet the keenness of his intellect and his natural capacity for reasoning often enabled him, with but little preparation, to argue successfully intricate questions of law The masses of the Democratic party in the free states so strongly favored the exclusion of slavery from the territory ceded by Mexico that their leaders were compelled to yield, and from 1847 till 1850 their resolutions and platforms advocated free-soil principles.

This was especially the case in New Hampshire, and even General Pierce's great popularity could not stem the tide. But in 1850 the passage of the so-called " compromise measures " by congress, the chief of which were the fugitive-slave law and the admission of California as a free state, raised a new issue. Adherence to those measures became to a great extent a test of party fidelity in both the Whig and Democratic parties. General Pierce zealously championed them in New Hampshire, and at a dinner given to him and other personal friends by Daniel Webster at his farm-house in Franklin, New Hampshire, Pierce, in an eloquent speech, assured the great Whig statesman that if his own party rejected him for his 7th of March speech, the Democracy would " lift him so high that his feet would not touch the stars."

Finally the masses of both the great parties gave to the compromise measures a sullen acquiescence, on the ground that they were a final settlement of the slavery question. The Democratic national convention met at Baltimore, 12 June, 1852. After thirty-five ballotings for a candidate for president, in which General Pierce's name did not appear, the Virginia delegation brought it forward, and on the 49th ballot he was nominated by 282 votes to 11 for all others. James Buchanan, Stephen A. Douglas, Lewis Cass, and William L. Marcy were his chief rivals. General Winfield Scott, the Whig candidate, was unsatisfactory both to the north and to the south. Webster and his friends leaned toward Pierce, and in the election in November, Scott carried only Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee, with 42 votes, while Pierce carried all the other states with 254 votes. The Whig party had received its death-stroke, and dissolved.

In his inaugural address. 4 March, 1853, President Pierce maintained the constitutionality of slavery and the fugitive-slave law, denounced slavery agitation, and hoped that "no sectional or ambitious or fanatical excitement might again threaten the durability of our institutions, or obscure the light of our prosperity." On 7 March he announced as his cabinet William L. Marcy, of New York, secretary of state ; James Guthrie, of Kentucky, secretary of the treasury; Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, secretary of war; James C. Dobbin, of North Carolina, secretary of the navy; Robert McClelland, of Michigan, secretary of the interior; James Campbell, of Pennsylvania, postmaster-general; and Caleb Cushing, of Massachusetts, attorney-general. This cabinet was one of eminent ability, and is the only one in our history that remained unchanged for four years. In 1853 a boundary dispute arose between the United States and Mexico, which was settled by negotiation and resulted in the acquisition of a part of the territory, which was organized under the name of Arizona in 1863. Proposed routes for a railroad to the Pacific were explored, and voluminous reports thereon published under the direction of the war department. A controversy with Great Britain respecting the fisheries was adjusted by mutual concessions. The affair of Martin Koszta, a Hungarian refugee, who was seized at Smyrna by an Austrian vessel and given up on the demand of the captain of an American ship-of-war, excited great interest in Europe and redounded to the credit of our government. (See DUNCAN NATHANIEL INGRAHAM)

In 1854 a treaty was negotiated at Washington between the United States and Great Britain providing for commercial reciprocity for ten years between the former country and the Canadian provinces. That treaty and one negotiated by Commander Perry with Japan, which opened the ports of that hitherto unknown country to commerce, were ratified at the same session of the senate. In the spring of 1854, Greytown in Nicaragua was bombarded and mostly burned by the United States frigate "Cyane," in retaliation for the refusal of the authorities to make reparation for the property of American citizens residing there, which had been stolen. In the following year William Walker, with a party of filibusters, invaded Nicaragua, and in the autumn of 1856 won an ephemeral success, which induced President Pierce to recognize the minister sent by him to Washington. In the winter of 1854-'5, and in the spring of the latter year, by the sanction of Mr. Crampton, the British minister at Washington, recruits for the British army in the Crimea were secretly enlisted in this country. President Pierce demanded Mr. Crampton's recall, which being refused, the president dismissed not only the minister, but also the British consuls at New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati, for their complicity in such enlistments. The difficulty was finally adjusted by negotiation, and a new British legation was sent to Washington. In 1855 President Pierce signed bills to reorganize the diplomatic and consular system of the United States, to organize the court of claims, to provide a retired list for the navy, and to confer the title of lieutenant-general on Winfield Scott.

President Pierce adhered to that strict construction of the constitution which Jefferson and Jackson had insisted on. In 1854 he vetoed a bill making appropriations for public works, and another granting 10,000,000 acres of public lands to the states for relief of indigent insane. In February, 1855, he vetoed a bill for payment of the French spoliation claims, and in the following month another increasing the appropriation for the Collins line of steamers. The policy of Pierce's administration upon the question of slavery evoked an extraordinary amount of popular excitement, and led to tremendous and lasting results. That policy was based on the theory that the institution of slavery was imbedded in and guaranteed by the constitution of the United States, and that therefore it was the duty of the National government to protect it. The two chief measures in support of such a policy, which originated with and were supported by Pierce's administration, were the conference of American diplomatists that promulgated the " Ostend manifesto," and the opening of the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to slavery. Filibustering expeditions from the United States to Cuba under Lopez, in 1850 and 1851, aroused anxiety in Europe as to the attitude of our government toward such enterprises. In 1852 Great Britain and France proposed to the United States a tripartite treaty by which the three powers should disclaim all intention of acquiring Cuba, and discountenance such an attempt by any power.

On 1 December, 1852, Edward Everett. who was then secretary of state, declined to act, declaring, however, that our government would never question Spain's title to the island. On 16 August, 1854, President Pierce directed James Buchanan, John Y. Mason, and Pierre Soule, the American ministers to Great Britain, France, and Spain, to meet and discuss the Cuban question. They met at Ostend, 9 October, and afterward at Aix la Chapelle, and sent to their government that famous despatch known as the "Ostend manifesto." It declared that if Spain should obstinately refuse to sell Cuba, self-preservation would make it incumbent on the United States to wrest it from her and prevent it from being Africanized into a second Santo Domingo. But the hostile attitude of the great European powers, and the Kansas and Nebraska excitement, shelved the Cuban question till 1858, when a feeble and abortive attempt was made in congress to authorize its purchase for $30,000,000 President Pierce, in his first message to congress, December, 1853, spoke of the repose that had followed the compromises of 1850, and said: "That this repose is to suffer no shock during my official term if I have power to prevent it, those who placed me here may be assured." Doubtless such was then his hope and belief. I

n the following January, Mr. Douglas, chairman of the senate committee on the territories, introduced a bill to organize the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, which permitted slavery north of the parallel of 36. 30' in a region from which it had been forever excluded by the Missouri compromise of 1820. That bill was Mr. Douglas's bid for the presidency. Southern politicians could not reject it and retain their influence at home. Northern politicians who opposed it gave up all hope of national preferment, which then seemed to depend on southern support. The defeat of the bill seemed likely to sever and destroy the Democratic organization, a result which many believed would lead to civil war and the dissolution of the Union. Borne onward by the aggressive spirit of slavery, by political ambition, by the force of party discipline, and the dread of sectional discord, the bill was passed by congress, and on 31 May received the signature of the president. Slavery had won, but there never was a more costly victory.

The remainder of Pierce's term was embittered by civil war in Kansas and the disasters of his party in the free states. In 1854, with a Democratic majority in both houses of the New Hampshire legislature, the influence of the national administration could not secure the election of a Democratic United States senator, and at the next election in 1855 the Democracy lost control of the state. The repeal of the Missouri compromise was soon followed by organized efforts in the free states to fill Kansas with anti-slavery settlers To such movements the south responded by armed invasions. On 30 March, 1855, a territorial legislature was elected in Kansas by armed bands from Missouri, who crossed the border to vote and then returned to their homes. That initiative gave to the pro-slavery men a technical advantage, which the Democratic leaders were swift to recognize. The proslavery legislature thus elected met at Pawnee on 2 July, 1855, and enacted an intolerant and oppressive slave-code, which was mainly a transcript of the laws of Missouri. The free-state settlers thereupon called a constitutional convention, which met on 23 October., 1855, and framed a state constitution, which was adopted by the people by a vote of 1,731 to 46.

A general assembly was then elected under such constitution, which, after passing some preliminary acts, appointed a committee to frame a code of laws, and took measures to apply to congress for the admission of Kansas into the Union as a state. Andrew H. Reeder was elected by the free-state men their delegate to congress. A majority of the actual settlers of Kansas were in favor of her admission into the Union as a free state ; but all their efforts to that end were treated by their opponents in the territory, and by the Democratic national administration, as rebellion against lawful authority. This conflict kept the territory in a state of confusion and bloodshed, and excited party feeling throughout the country to fever heat. It remained unsettled, to vex Buchanan's administration and further develop the germs of disunion and civil war On 2 June, 1856, the National Democratic convention met at Cincinnati to nominate a candidate for president. On the first ballot James Buchanan had 135 votes, Pierce 122, Douglas 33, Cass 6, Pierce's vote gradually diminished, and on the 17th ballot Buchanan was nominated unanimously.


Franklin Pierce engraving - Copyright Stan Klos


In August the house of representatives attached to the army appropriation bill a proviso that no part of the army should be employed to enforce the laws of the Kansas territorial legislature until congress should have declared its validity. The senate refused to concur, and congress adjourned without passing the bill. It was immediately convened by proclamation, and passed the bill without the proviso. The president's message in December following was mainly devoted to Kansas affairs, and was intensely hostile to the free-state party. His term ended on 4 March, 1857, and he returned to his home in Concord. Soon afterward he visited Madeira, and extended his travels to Great Britain and the continent of Europe. He remained abroad nearly three years, returning to Concord early in 1860. In the presidential election of that year he took no active part, but his influence was cast against Douglas and in favor of Breckinridge In a letter addressed to Jefferson Davis, under date of 6 January, 1860, he wrote; "Without discussing the question of right, of abstract power to secede, I have never believed that actual disruption of the Union can occur without bloodshed; and if, through the madness of northern Abolitionists, that dire calamity must come, the fighting will not be along Mason and Dixon's line merely. It will be within our own borders, in our own streets, between the two classes of citizens to whom I have referred. Those who defy law and scout constitutional obligations will, if we ever reach the arbitliament of arms, find occupation enough at home ....I have tried to impress upon our own people, especially in New Hampshire and Connecticut, where the only elections are to take place during the coining spring, that, while our Union meetings are all in the right direction and well enough for the present, they will not be worth the paper upon which their resolutions are written unless we can overthrow abolitionism at the polls and repeal the unconstitutional and obnoxious laws which in the cause of 'personal liberty' have been placed upon our statute-books."

On 21 April, 1861, nine days after the dis-unionists had begun civil war by firing on Fort Sumter, he addressed a Union mass-meeting at Concord, and urged the people to sustain the government against the southern Confederacy. From that time until his death he lived in retirement at Concord. To the last he retained his hold upon the hearts of his personal friends, and the exquisite urbanity of his earlier days. His wife and his three children had preceded him to the tomb Some years after Pierce's death the legislature of New Hampshire, in behalf of the state, placed his portrait beside the speaker's desk in the hall of the house of representatives at Concord.

Time has softened the harsh judgment that his political foes passed upon him in the heat of party strife and civil war. His generosity and kindness of heart are gratefully remembered by those who knew him, and particularly by the younger members of his profession, whom he was always ready to aid and advise. It is remembered that in his professional career he was ever willing, at whatever risk to his fortune or popularity, to shield the poor and obscure from oppression and injustice. It is remembered, too, that he sought in public life no opportunities for personal gain. His integrity was above suspicion. After nine years' service in congress and in the senate of the United States, after a brilliant and successful professional career and four years in the presidency, his estate hardly amounted to $72,000. In his whole political career he always stood for a strict construction of the constitution, for economy and frugality in public affairs, and for a strict accountability of public officials to their constituents. No political or personal influence could induce him to shield those whom he believed to have defrauded the government.

Pierce had ambition, but greed for public office was foreign to his nature. Few, if any, instances can be found in our history where a man of thirty-eight, in the full vigor of health, voluntarily gave up a seat in the United States senate, which he was apparently sure to retain as long as he wished. His refusal at the age of forty-one to leave his law-practice for the place of attorney-general in Polk's cabinet is almost without a parallel. Franklin Pierce, too, was a true patriot and a sincere lover of his country. The Revolutionary services of a father whom he revered were constantly in his thoughts. Twoof his brothers, with that father's consent, took an honorable part in the war of 1812. His only sister was the wife of General John H. McNeil, as gallant an officer as ever fought for his country. To decline a cabinet appointment and enlist as a private soldier in the army of his country were acts which one who knew his early training and his chivalrous character might reasonably expect of him. But for slavery and the questions growing out of it, his administration would have passed into history as one of the most successful in our national life. To judge him justly, his political training and the circumstances that environed him must be taken into account. Like his honored father, he believed that the statesmen of the Revolution had agreed to maintain the legal rights of the slave-holders, and that without such agreement we should have had no Federal constitution or Union. He believed that good faith required that agreement to be performed.

In that belief all or nearly all the leaders of both the great parties concurred. However divided on other questions, on that the south was a unit. The price of its political support was compliance with its demands, and both the old parties (however reluctantly) paid the price. Political leaders believed that, unless it was paid, civil war and disunion would result, and their patriotism re-enforced their party spirit and personal ambition. Among them all there were probably few whose conduct would have been essentially different from that of Pierce had they been in the same situation. He gave his support to the repeal of the Missouri compromise with great reluctance, and in the belief that the measure would satisfy the south and thus avert from the country the doom of civil war and disunion. See the lives by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Boston, 1852) and D. W. Bartlett (Auburn, 1852), and "Review of Pierce's Administration," by A. E. Carroll (Boston, 1856). The steel plate is from a portrait by George P. A. Healey. The vignette on page 8 is a view of President Pierce's birthplace, and that on page 10 represents his grave, which is in the cemetery at Concord, New Hampshire

--His wife, Jane Means Appleton Pierce, born in Hampton, New Hampshire, 12 March, 1806; died in Andover, Massachusetts, 2 December, 1863, was a daughter of the Reverend Jesse Appleton, D. D. (q. v.), president of Bowdoin college. She was brought up in an atmosphere 0f cultivated and refined Christian influences, was thoroughly educated, and grew to womanhood surrounded by most congenial circumstances. She was married in 1834. Public observation was extremely painful to her, anal she always preferred the quiet of her New England home to the glare and glitter of fashionable life in Washington. A friend said of her : " How well she filled her station as wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend, those only can tell who knew her in these private relations. In this quiet sphere she found her joy, and here her gentle but powerful influence was deeply and constantly felt, through wise counsels and delicate suggestions, the purest, finest tastes, and a devoted life."

She was the mother of three children, all boys, but none survived her. Two died in early youth, and the youngest, Benjamin, was killed in an accident on the Boston and Maine railroad while traveling from Andover to Lawrence, Massachusetts, on 6 January, 1853, only two months before his father's inauguration as president. Mr, and Mrs. Pierce were with him at the time, and the boy, a bright lad of thirteen years, had been amusing them with his conversation just before the accident. The car was thrown from the track and dashed against the rocks, and the lad met his death instantly. Both parents were long deeply affected by the shock of the accident, and Mrs. Pierce never recovered from it. The sudden bereavement shattered the small remnant of her remaining health, yet she performed her task at the White House nobly, and sustained the dignity of her husband's office. Mrs. Robert E. Lee wrote in a private letter: "I have known many of the ladies of the White House, none more truly excellent than the afflicted wife of President Pierce. Her health was a bar to any great effort on her part, to meet the expectations of the public in her high position, but she was a refined, extremely religious, and well-educated lady." She was buried by the side of her children, in the cemetery at Concord, New Hampshire, where also the remains of General Pierce now rest.


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