14th President of the United States: Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)

Franklin Pierce (November 23, 1804 – October 8, 1869)

Pierce was the first President born in the 19th century. His pro-Southern views put him at odds with is own party which denied him renomination

Franklin Pierce was born in New Hampshire in 1804, the first President of the United States to be born in the new century. His father had been Governor of New Hampshire, a distinguish Revolutionary War hero who served as Governor in the late 1820s.

Early Life

With his father as an influential person in New Hampshire, Franklin Pierce’s life was far different from several of the United States Presidents such as his predecessor Millard Fillmore who came from more humble origins and had to struggle to receive an education.

Part of his academic work was at Phillips Exeter Academy and he entered Bowdoin College at the age of sixteen. Upon receiving his college degree in 1824, he studied law among influential lawyers including Governor Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire, who would later go on become a United States Senator and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Franklin Pierce was admitted to the bar in 1827.

Entry into Politics

In 1828, at the age of twenty-four he was elected to the General Court of New Hampshire in the lower house, the House of Representatives where he served from 1829 to 1833 and as Speaker of the House from 1832 to 1833.

In 1832 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives where at age twenty-seven was the youngest member of Congress.

In 1836, he was elected by the General Court, New Hampshire’s legislative body, to a United States Senate seat. He served in the Senate from 1837 until his resignation in 1842 to resume his law practice.

From 1845 through 1847 he served as the United States Attorney for the New Hampshire District. Although offered the Democratic nomination to run for Governor, he declined the opportunity as well as the position of United States Attorney General offered to him by President James Knox Polk.

Service in the Mexican American War

Pierce entered the volunteer services and rose to the rank of colonel. Later he was advanced in rank to the brigadier general. Although Pierce did not have any previous formal training in the military and had been a political appointee he did appear to have skill as a military commander.

Joining General Winfield Scott’s army and was severely wounded in a leg at the Battle of Contreras. Subsequently at the Battle of Churubusco, his wound which had not healed caused him to be carried off the battlefield. He was however able to return to his command and participated in the capture of Mexico City.

Presidential Campaign of 1852

Franklin Pierce had not been seriously considered for the Democratic Presidential nomination as he was not a well known national figure and would have been contending with front runners such as Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, former United States Secretary of State James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, United States Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan, and former United States Secretary of War William L. Marcy.The Convention became deadlocked.

Compromise between the four major contenders could not be reached. The Convention balloting continued without a candidate until the thirty-fifth ballot when Pierce’s name was introduced. It took fourteen more ballots for the Democrats to decide on Pierce who was generally well liked by the delegates. Pierce was nominated by acclamation on the forty-ninth ballot on the fifth day of the voting.

As a balance to the ticket, Senator William King of Alabama was chosen as his running mate.

The Whig Party chose General Winfield Scott who at the time was 66 years old. The election became an Electoral College rout with Pierce receiving 254 votes to Scott’s 42 votes.

Pierce as President

Franklin Pierce had been the youngest man to become President to date.

The undoing of Pierce’s political careen came in 1854 with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act which invalidated the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and reopened the question of the status of slavery in the Western territories. Range war erupted between “free state” supporters and the pro-slavery faction in Kansas. The events became known as “Bleeding Kansas”.

Pierce further inflamed the abolitionists by supporting the pro-slavery legislature even after a congressional committee declared the election illegitimate.

Pierce was referred to as a “doughboy”, a Northerner who sympathized with the pro-slavery South. His political career was at an end and he was the first sitting President to be denied his party’s nomination for reelection.

During the Civil War which later ensued his reputation was further damaged by the revelation of correspondence which had taken place between him and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.