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Franklin Pierce: Presidency, Accomplishments & Facts

Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States, serving from 1853-1857. He presided over escalating sectional tensions and is generally viewed as an ineffective president when it came to preventing the nation's slide toward Civil War.

Introduction

In the years before the American Civil War, between 1840 and 1860, there were seven presidents. Many of these leaders are long forgotten today. One of them was Franklin Pierce. Let's learn more about this all but forgotten president.

Franklin Pierce was the only president to be born in New Hampshire. His early years were spent in several premier schools in New Hampshire and New England. When he was 16, he attended Bowdoin College in Maine, graduating near the top of his class in 1824. He then studied law and began practicing in New Hampshire. Pierce's father had served in the Revolutionary War and was a governor of New Hampshire at the same time his son Franklin was beginning his career in politics.

Several years after his graduation, and soon after starting his law practice, Pierce entered the political fray. In 1828, he was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives and his father became the governor of the state. Franklin Pierce did not stay in the state legislature for long. After becoming the Speaker of the House, Pierce was elected to the U.S. Congress as a Democrat.

Several years later, he was elected to the Senate where he served for nearly five years before returning to practice law in New Hampshire. While back in New Hampshire, Pierce turned down several lucrative appointments, such as the nomination for the governor of the state and a chance to be the Attorney General for James Polk. It was during his political rise that Pierce married Jane Appleton. The two experienced lots of heartbreak in their marriage because all of their children died before becoming adults.

In the 1840s, with the country expanding, the nation went to war with Mexico over territorial disputes regarding the borders of newly acquired Texas. The Mexican War was a major event in American history, and many of the nation's future leaders were involved in the fight. Pierce volunteered to serve in the army at this time and gained even more notoriety by doing so. He became a colonel, led an infantry regiment, and rose to the rank of a brigadier general in 1847. Pierce saw action in numerous battles and acquitted himself well in the army.

Franklin Pierce
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1852 Election

With his military service and political background, Pierce was destined to run for national office once again after the war with Mexico. In 1852, after the death of President Taylor and the service of President Fillmore, the nation was looking to elect a new leader. Pierce was nominated to run for president by the Democratic Party that year. He was originally not a leading candidate, but deadlock among the front runners led to an opening for his name to be put forward. Pierce was a long serving Democrat, and no one questioned his positions. This, combined with his military service, meant he was an ideal candidate.

Pierce's opponent was the famed Mexican War General Winfield Scott, who was the candidate of the Whig Party. Scott was arguably one of the greatest generals in all of American history, providing what would seem to be a tough challenge for Pierce. Pierce ended up winning the day. Despite being from the north, he was favorable to the South and to slavery, garnering enough support in the slave states to win the election by a comfortable margin. Pierce's status as a Northerner friendly to Southern interests led him to be called a doughboy, a common term for such individuals.

Presidency

Franklin Pierce only served one term in office. The issues he faced dealt primarily with slavery and the country's westward expansion. During the 1850s, sectional tensions continued to rise over numerous issues. Pierce tried to keep the nation together by striking a moderate path, but his policies were largely unsuccessful at avoiding further tensions and escalations.

In 1854, the Kansas Nebraska Act threatened to open up new territories to the institution of slavery. By getting rid of the Missouri Compromise, which had governed slavery's westward expansion for years, this act ignited a new firestorm. Pierce supported it, coming under considerable criticism for doing so.

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