Background/Early Life
• Franklin Pierce grew up in New Hampshire, where his father was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and governor.
• Pierce attended Bowdoin College in Maine at the same time as Nathaniel Hawthorne.
• Pierce served in the House of Representatives and the Senate before serving in the Mexican-American War. After the war he became a well-known lawyer in New Hampshire.
• Pierce was always very outgoing, and after becoming a politician he struggled with drinking. For a time after he was married he gave up alcohol, but turned to it again after tragedies in his life.
• The Pierces had three children; two died in early childhood and the third was killed in a train accident shortly before Pierce’s inauguration.
How he defined the office
• Pierce was elected to the presidency in part because of his anonymity. The country — as well as his political party — were divided, and Pierce became a candidate most could agree on.
• Pierce was a pro-slavery Northerner, opposed to the abolitionist movement, and this shaped the decisions he made as president.
• Pierce’s original appeal as a candidate faded quickly with some of his Cabinet appointments, including Jefferson Davis as secretary of war.
Successes and failures
• While in office Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was not just the most notable legislation of his presidency, but one of the most notable in American history. The act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which banned slavery north of the 36 degrees, 30 minutes latitude line. Since the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed for popular sovereignty to decide the issue of slavery in the territory, both sides of the issue moved into the area, leading to violence and the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.” Intended to help settle the debate over slavery, the act accelerated tensions between the North and South.
• Pierce sent Sen. James Gadsden to negotiate with Mexico what came to be known as the Gadsden Purchase. The United States paid Mexico $15 million for land that is now the southern part of New Mexico and Arizona, settling border disputes left over from the Mexican-American War. The Gadsden Purchase set the final boundaries of the continental United States.
• Though Pierce wanted a second term, he was not nominated by his party. He was a very unpopular former president until his death in 1869.
notable quote
• “You have summoned me in my weakness; you must sustain me by your strength.” — from his inaugural address March 4, 1853, two months after the death of his 12-year-old son.