Franklin Pierce (November 23, 1804 – October 8, 1869) was the 14th President of the United States (1853–1857) and is the only President from New Hampshire. Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" (a Northerner with Southern sympathies) who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
Franklin Pierce tried hard to keep the peace between the North and South, but his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 brought the country one step closer to civil war. The act called for settlers to decide among themselves whether or not to allow slavery in their territories, but the result of the act was a bloody border war between pro and antislavery factions as each side tried to bring in enough supporters to win the vote.
Franklin Pierce was born on Nov. 23, 1804, in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Senate. He was elected as the 14th president of the U.S. and served from 1853 to 1857. He promoted territorial expansion, created the U.S. Court of Claims and encouraged a transcontinental railroad. He was not elected for a second term and retired from politics.
Like many American politicians, Franklin Pierce's career was aided by his father, a two-term governor of New Hampshire. Before he was thirty, Franklin Pierce had served in the New Hampshire legislature and had been elected to the U.S. Congress where he served as both a congressman and senator. Bored and lonely in Washington, the young congressman developed a drinking problem and a reputation as a gossipy Washington insider. In an attempt to settle down, the handsome, socially gregarious Pierce married Jane Means Appleton. Jane Pierce was her husband's opposite; she was painfully shy, deeply religious, often in bad health, and a strong advocate of the temperance movement. She detested Washington and refused to live there, even after Pierce became a U.S. senator in 1837. Indeed, Jane's disgust with the political life in Washington must have been behind Pierce's decision to resign from the Senate in 1841.
By the election year of 1852, the issue of slavery in the territories divided the nation, with southerners insisting that they should be allowed to take their slaves into any new territories, and a growing group of northerners commited to free soil without the competition of slaves. Both Democrats and Whigs found it more and more difficult to appeal across the sectional divide. In order to protect the South, the Democratic Nominating Convention required a two-thirds majority of votes for President. But a proslavery northerner might attract both sides.
Franklin Pierce was that man. Nominated in 1852, after the convention deadlocked for 48 ballots, Pierce ran againt the Whig general Winfield Scott, his commander in the Mexican War. Historians agree that "Fainting Frank" did not so much win the election; rather, "Old Fuss and Feathers" bungled the campaign with long, uninspiring speeches. More importantly, the Whig party was losing popularity, and Scott was its last presidential candidate.
Because of his popularity, personal charm, and family lineage, he enjoyed a meteoric political career in New Hampshire. Still in his twenties, he was elected four consecutive years to the state house of representatives, and in the final two of those terms his admiring colleagues chose him as Speaker.
Historians usually rank Pierce among the six or eight worst presidents the country has ever had. Two things primarily account for that negative judgement. A passionately committed Democratic Party loyalist, Pierce during his presidency managed to divide his party into fiercely warring factional camps. More important, he helped propel the nation down the road to Civil war. As a result, Democrats suffered monumental defeats in the off-year congressional elections of 1854-1855 and were reduced to a minority of the national electorate, a status they would suffer until the mod-1870s.
Various explanations have been offered for this sorry record. Some attribute it to personal mistakes in Judgement and a lack of farsighted statesmanship on Pierce's part. Others portray Pierce, for all his amiability, as a fundamentally weak man who craved the approval of his peers and who deferred to stronger personalities in his cabinet and party. Still others site external forces over which he had no control and which overwhelmed his presidency.
His father was a former governor of New Hampshire. The future president graduated from Bowdoin College, studied law, and began his practice in 1827. He became involved in Democratic politics, served in the state legislature and the U.S. House and Senate. He left the Senate in 1842 and returned to his law practice. He served as a brigadier general in the Mexican War, in which his service was marred by injuries and mishaps.
At age 48, Franklin Pierce was the youngest President yet elected, and he would leave the nation divided. In the South fears were high that the western territories would enter the Union as "free" states, giving the North a political advantage. In the North, hatred against European immigrants flared as Pierce defended their rights under the Constitution. But, it was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed settlers to choose whether to allow slavery that would shatter the nation's stability. Pierce stood by his party's extreme pro-slavery line and supported the bill. Armed conflict quickly erupted. He was denied his party's nomination for a second term. The Pierces left for Europe shortly after his term ended.
During Franklin Pierce's formative years the Pierce Homestead served as a gathering place for statesmen and politicians of the era. Pierce studied at Bowdoin College in Maine, where he established a lifelong friendship with writer Nathaniel Hawthorne.