Who is Franklin Pierce?

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  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2019
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Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, is the only President to hail from New Hampshire. He holds the unfortunate distinction of being among one of the worst American Presidents to date, much because his presidency was marked by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This act repealed the Missouri Compromise, allowing states to decide whether they would allow slavery. It reopened the wounds just barely healed in 1850 by the Missouri Compromise, and would again provoke enmity between North and South on the issue of slavery.

Though Franklin Pierce was from the North, he was unquestionably in support of slavery. Strong evidence suggests that Pierce was opposed to the abolitionists and letters detailing his disbelief in a proposed civil war were circulated after his presidency. Further, Franklin Pierce was thought by many to be poor at his job, easily influenced and an indecisive leader. He left behind a sad legacy of presidential mistakes that would cumulatively bear some responsibility for the Civil War.


President Franklin Pierce was born in 1804 and received a good education, though his grades were always poor. In 1827 he was admitted to the bar and began his practice as a lawyer. People liked Franklin Pierce, attracted by his good looks and easy personality. He was soon offered a number of political positions. He served in the state government of New Hampshire, as US House Representative from 1833-1837, and then as a Senator from 1837-1842. He resumed private practice as an attorney, and soon became District Attorney in New Hampshire.

The decision to retire from political life for some time was largely influenced by the wife of Franklin Pierce, Jane Means Appleton. Their family life together was unhappy and unfortunate. They lost their first child in 1836 at three days old, their second child died when he was just four, and their third and last child was killed in an accident in 1853. The deeply religious Appleton suffered from severe depression, and was diagnosed with melancholia. She believed the deaths of her children were due to Pierce’s engagement in political life, especially that of their youngest son, who died after Franklin Pierce had been elected as president.

Even though Franklin Pierce left the political national scene for a time, he was not inactive. He even volunteered to serve in the Mexican American War and served for three years, rising to the rank of Colonel, and Brigadier General. He severely injured his leg and returned to New Hampshire in time to become president of the 1850 New Hampshire State Constitutional Convention.

The nomination of Franklin Pierce to the presidency was not expected to succeed. He was a dark horse candidate, who was not well known. Yet his personality was winning, and he soon became the most likable candidate. He easily took the presidency in 1852, winning 254 electoral votes. Though, actually, his opponents had a great deal of the popular vote, roughly 1.3 million as compared to Pierce’s 1.6 million.

His actions in office from 1853-1857 made him the enemy of his own party, and he became disliked by both Southern and Northern Democrats, who refused to nominate him for a second term. He was criticized for flip-flopping on the slavery issue, and also for his expansionist policies as he tried to annex Cuba to the United States. He was additionally disliked for choosing a Cabinet made up of his friends rather than his political brethren.

The deaths of his children and the illness of his wife did not leave Franklin Pierce unaffected. He steadily declined into increased alcoholism, especially after completing his term as president and making numerous political enemies. Ultimately, he died at the age 64, from cirrhosis of the liver, a common problem associated with years of heavy alcoholism.


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