Franklin Pierce

The 14th President of the United States, Franklin Pierce came to office during a period of growing tension between the North and South.

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Franklin Pierce was the 14th president of the United States of AmericaFranklin Pierce was born in a log cabin in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, on November 23, 1804, as the first President of the United States born in the 19th century. The site of his birth is now under Franklin Pierce Lake. Pierce's father was Benjamin Pierce, a frontier farmer who became a Revolutionary War soldier, a state militia general, and a two-time Democratic-Republican governor of New Hampshire.  Franklin Pierce's mother was Anna B. Kendrick. The fifth of eight children, he had four brothers and three sisters. Former First Lady of the United States Barbara Pierce Bush is a distant cousin.

Pierce attended school at Hillsborough Center and moved to the Hancock Academy in Hancock at the age of 11; he transferred to Francestown Academy in the spring of 1820. Friends recalled that just after he entered the school, he became homesick and returned home barefoot. Later that year he transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy to prepare for college. In fall 1820, Franklin Pierce entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he joined literary, political, and debating clubs. There he met writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, with whom he formed a lasting friendship, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

He also met Calvin E. Stowe, Seargent S. Prentiss, and his future political rival, John P. Hale, when he joined the Athenian Society, a group of students with progressive political leanings. In his second year of college his grades were the lowest of his class, but he worked to improve them and ranked third among his classmates when he graduated in 1824. In 1826 Franklin Pierce entered a law school in Northampton, Massachusetts, studying under Governor Levi Woodbury, and later Judges Samuel Howe and Edmund Parker, in Amherst, New Hampshire. He was admitted to the bar and began a law practice in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1827

At 24 Franklin Pierce was elected to the New Hampshire legislature; two years later he became its Speaker. During the 1830's he went to Washington, first as a Representative, then as a Senator.

Pierce, after serving in the Mexican War, was proposed by New Hampshire friends for the Presidential nomination in 1852. At the Democratic Convention, the delegates agreed easily enough upon a platform pledging undeviating support of the Compromise of 1850 and hostility to any efforts to agitate the slavery question. But they balloted 48 times and eliminated all the well-known candidates before nominating Pierce, a true "dark horse." Probably because the Democrats stood more firmly for the Compromise than the Whigs, and because Whig candidate Gen. Winfield Scott was suspect in the South, Pierce won with a narrow margin of popular votes. 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." Pierce had only to make gestures toward expansion to excite the wrath of northerners, who accused him of acting as a cat's-paw of Southerners eager to extend slavery into other areas. Therefore he aroused apprehension when he pressured Great 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.

But the most violent renewal of the storm stemmed from 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, grew in part out of his desire to promote a railroad from Chicago to California through Nebraska. Already 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.

Douglas's proposal, to organize western territories through which a railroad might run, caused extreme trouble. Douglas provided in his bills that the residents of the new territories could decide the slavery question for themselves. The result was a rush into Kansas, as southerners and northerners vied for control of the territory. Shooting broke out, and "bleeding Kansas" became a prelude to the Civil War.

By the end of his administration, Pierce could claim "a peaceful condition of things in Kansas." But, to his disappointment, the Democrats refused to re-nominate him, turning to the less controversial Buchanan. Pierce returned to New Hampshire, leaving his successor to face the rising fury of the sectional whirlwind. He died in 1869.

American Presidents
President of the United States
The 14th President of the United States, Franklin Pierce came to office during a period of growing tension between the North and South.
DOB: November 23, 1804 00:00:00.000