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Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce
Order: 14th President
Term of Office: March 4, 1853 - March 3, 1857
Followed: Millard Fillmore
Succeeded by: James Buchanan
Date of Birth Friday, November 23, 1804
Place of Birth: Hillsborough, New Hampshire
Date of Death: October 8, 1869
Place of Death: Concord, New Hampshire
First Lady: Jane Pierce
Occupation: lawyer
Political Party: Democrat
Vice President: William Rufus DeVane King
Nickname: Handsome Frank

Franklin Pierce (November 23, 1804October 8, 1869) was the 14th (1853-1857) President of the United States, and the first president to be born in the 19th century.



Franklin Pierce was a Representative and a Senator from New Hampshire prior to his election as President. He was born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire on November 23, 1804 to Benjamin Pierce and Anna Kendrick. Pierce spent a happy childhood with six older and two younger siblings. He attended the academy of Hancock at the age of 11. Schoolmates recall that one day Franklin was homesick, and returned to his home by foot, and his father took a wagon and drove him half way back to the academy leaving Franklin to trudge the seven miles back to the academy. He was transferred to an academy in Francestown a year after Hancock. He was transfered to the Phillips Exeter Academy where he prepared for college. In 1820 he entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he participated in literary, political, and debating clubs. In the 2nd year of college his grades were the lowest in his class. He then studied and graduated third in his class in 1824. He studied law under Governor Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire, and Judges Samuel Howe and Edmund Parker. He then was admitted to the bar and commenced a law practice in Concord, New Hampshire in 1827. He was a member of the State general court from 1829 to 1833, and served as Speaker from 1832 to 1833. He was elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Congresses (March 4, 1833 - March 3, 1837). He was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1837, to February 28, 1842, when he resigned. He was chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Pensions (Twenty-sixth Congress). He is a distant relative of Barbara Bush, who is mother of US President George W. Bush and wife of US President George H. W. Bush. His nickname was Handsome Frank.

After his service in the Senate, Pierce resumed the practice of law in Concord. He was district attorney for New Hampshire, and declined the appointment as Attorney General of the United States tendered by President James Polk. He served in the Mexican War as a colonel and brigadier general. He was a member of the New Hampshire State constitutional convention in 1850 and served as its president.


Pierce was nominated by the Democratic Party as a dark horse candidate after the 1852 Democratic convention deadlocked between supporters of Stephen A. Douglas, Lewis Cass, and James Buchanan. Pierce faced Whig candidate General Winfield Scott, whom Pierce served under during the Mexican War, in the Presidential contest. Pierce easily prevailed, as Scott, nicknamed "Old Fuss and Feathers," ran a blundering campaign in the last Presidential contest in which the Whigs would field a candidate. Pierce served as President from March 4, 1853, to March 3, 1857.

Two months before he took office, he and his wife saw their eleven-year-old son killed when their train was wrecked. Grief-stricken, Pierce entered the Presidency nervously exhausted.

In his Inaugural he proclaimed an era of peace and prosperity at home, and vigor in relations with other nations. The United States might have to acquire additional possessions for the sake of its own security, he pointed out, and would not be deterred by "any timid forebodings of evil." He chose to affirm, rather then swear, the "Presidential Oath," being the first president to do so.

Pierce aroused sectional apprehension when he pressured Britain to relinquish its special interests along part of the Central American coast, and even more when he tried to persuade Spain to sell Cuba. The release of the Ostend Manifesto, signed by several of Pierce's cabinet members, caused outrage with its suggestion that the U.S. seize Cuba by force, and permanently discredited the Democratic Party's expansionist policies, which it had so famously rode to victory in 1844.

Franklin Pierce postage stamp
Franklin Pierce postage stamp

But the most controversial event of Pierce's presidency was the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and reopened the question of slavery in the West. This measure, the handiwork of Senator Stephen A. Douglas, allegedly grew out of his desire to promote a railroad from Chicago to California through Nebraska. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, advocate of a southern transcontinental route, had persuaded Pierce to send James Gadsden to Mexico to buy land for a southern railroad. He purchased the area now comprising southern Arizona and part of southern New Mexico for $10,000,000 commonly known as the Gadsden Purchase.

Douglas, to win Southern support for the organization of Nebraska, placed in his bill a provision declaring the Missouri Compromise null and void. Douglas provided in his bills that the residents of the new territories could decide the slavery question for themselves. Pierce, who had acquired a reputation as untrustworthy and easily manipulable, was persuaded to support Douglas' plan in a closed meeting between Pierce, Douglas, and several southern Senators, with Pierce consulting only Jefferson Davis of his cabinet. The passage of Kansas-Nebraska caused widespread outrage in the North and spurred the creation of the Republican Party, a sectional, Northern party which was organized as a direct response to the bill. The election of Republican Abraham Lincoln would provoke secession in 1861.

Meanwhile, Pierce lost all credibility he may have had in the North and was not renominated. After losing the Democratic nomination, Pierce reportedly quipped "there's nothing left to do but get drunk", which he apparently did frequently, once running down a pedestrian while drunk-driving a carriage. During the Civil War, Pierce further damaged his reputation by declaring support for the Confederacy, headed by his old cabinet member Davis. One the few friends to stick by Pierce was his college friend and biographer, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Franklin Pierce died in Concord on October 8, 1869, from cirrhosis of the liver, and was interred in Minat Inclosure in the Old North Cemetery.


President Franklin Pierce 1853–1857
Vice President William R. King 1853
Secretary of State William L. Marcy 1853–1857
Secretary of the Treasury James Guthrie 1853–1857
Secretary of War Jefferson Davis 1853–1857
Attorney General Caleb Cushing 1853–1857
Postmaster General James Campbell 1853–1857
Secretary of the Navy James C. Dobbin 1853–1857
Secretary of the Interior Robert McClelland 1853–1857

Supreme Court appointments

Pierce appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Major presidential acts

Related articles

External links

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
John Page | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |U.S. Senator from New Hampshire
1837-1842 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
Leonard Wilcox

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Lewis Cass | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Democratic Party Presidential candidate
1852 (won) | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
James Buchanan

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Millard Fillmore | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |President of the United States
March 4, 1853March 3, 1857 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
James Buchanan

Last updated: 08-07-2005 21:58:35
Last updated: 08-19-2005 08:22:26