1. Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) was the 14th president of USA. He was a Democrat and served as president from 1853 to 1857. He became president when he was 48, the youngest to assume office till that time.
2. He was born in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. His father Benjamin had served in the Revolutionary War, went on to attain the rank of brigadier-general, and served two terms as governor of New Hampshire. Young Franklin was admitted in an academy in Hancock, when he was 11. It has been recounted that he grew homesick, and walked back home. His father drove him half the way back, and set him on the road to the academy, expressing his disapproval by remaining speechless throughout.
3. Franklin Pierce joined Bowdoin College in 1820, and was active in the clubs and debating groups. Nathaniel Hawthorne was his classmate and good friend. After he graduated in 1824, he went on to study law, and opened his own office in 1827.
4. He supported Andrew Jackson for president, and in 1829, he was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives. He was re-elected and became Speaker of the House. In 1833, he won a seat in the US House of Representatives, and later served for two terms as senator. At 33, he was the youngest senator until then.
5. In 1834, he married Jane Appleton. His wife had TB, and did not accompany him to Washington. Two of her three children had died when they were young, and she was suffering from depression. Pierce eventually resigned from the Senate in 1842, soon before his term ended.
6. During the Mexican War in 1846, he joined the US Army, and was promoted to brigadier-general. He was injured, and after discharge, resumed his law practice. By now, he was a leading Democrat in New Hampshire. During the Democratic national convention, there was no consensus regarding the nomination of a presidential candidate, and he was nominated by delegates from Virginia. Many of the representatives from the southern states trusted him, because he had supported the Compromise of 1850 and strict enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law. He won the nomination with Senator William King running as his Vice-President.
7. Franklin Pierce went on to win the election in 1852. Shortly before he was due to assume office, his only surviving son died in a train accident. His wife was so distressed that she did not attend his inauguration. She could not carry out the duties of the First Lady as White House hostess for the next two years. Her aunt, Mrs. Abby Means performed these in her stead.
8. Thus, the presidency of Pierce started on a tragic note. He did not want to disturb the uneasy truce between the Northern and Southern states which had been brought about by the Compromise of 1850. With this in mind, he chose his Cabinet from all factions of the Democratic Party. This did not avert the deep rifts that would soon follow. Senator Douglas proposed the Kansas- Nebraska Act, which intended to carve out two new territories from Indian land. Furthermore, the Bill proposed that the settlers would decide whether or not to support slavery. Pierce was apprehensive, and wanted the Supreme Court to settle this thorny issue. Against his better judgement, however, he gave in, and supported the bill. The consequences were disastrous. There were armed clashes in Kansas between the supporters of slavery and the Abolitionists, and Pierce did not immediately send in troops. He was severely criticised by the public and his fellow politicians. His own party did not accept his candidature for re-election, and the slavery issue started to burn. The Whig Party disintegrated, giving rise to the Republican Party, which was against slavery, and the anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party.
9. Pierce’s foreign policy was also viewed with suspicion by many. The Ostend Manifesto, which justified taking Cuba by force from Spain if necessary, was met with outrage when made public. As a part of his expansionist plans, he sent James Gadsden to purchase land from Mexico.
10. Franklin Pierce’s Administration marked a prosperous and culturally rich period in the history of USA. The railways were expanding and the California Gold Rush was still on. American authors and composers such as Thoreau, Whitman and Foster were becoming famous. Unfortunately, the shadow of the Civil War, bred by the ‘Bleeding Kansas’ incident, marred his legacy.