Franklin Pierce: Presidential Election & Campaign

Instructor: Evan Thompson

Evan has taught high school History and has a bachelor's degree in history with a master's degree in teaching.

Franklin Pierce attended the Democratic Convention in 1852 and left as the surprise nominee for President of the United States. He campaigned without making a single public statement ... and won in a landslide that left the opposing party so splintered that it never ran someone for president again. Read on to find out more.

Campaign and Election of President Franklin Pierce

It is a presidential election year. A compromise law passed by the Congress two years prior has polarized not only the country as a whole, but also an entire political party. The candidates have opposite personalities. One says little; the other one verbally blasts his opponent on a regular basis. The quiet one wins in a landslide. Sound fun? That was the presidential election of 1852, and the quiet one was Democrat Franklin Pierce, who became the 14th President of the United States. Let's look into his campaign.

Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce

Nomination

The 1852 Democratic Convention was in Baltimore. The four leading candidates at the outset were Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan, who lost in the 1848 Presidential Election; James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, Secretary of State during the James K. Polk Administration (1845-1849); former New York Governor William Marcy, who also served as Secretary of War under Polk; and Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois. A two-thirds majority vote from the delegates was needed for a candidate to gain the official nomination.

After 34 ballots, no candidate had won a two-thirds majority, and it looked like another unknown — or dark-horse — candidate would be necessary to gain a nomination. On the 35th ballot, the Virginia delegation gave all 15 of its votes to former Congressman Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire, who was mostly unknown outside of his home state. He spoke well in public, had few enemies, was a brigadier general in the Mexican War — giving him the ''war hero'' bonus — and, most importantly to his party, was a pro-slavery Northerner. After 48 ballots, Pierce had won the nomination. Senator William Rufus King of Alabama was nominated as vice president.

Pierce-King campaign poster
Pierce-King Campaign Poster

Campaign

Pierce's main opponent, Winfield Scott of the Whig Party, whom the Whigs chose as their candidate instead of incumbent president Millard Fillmore, was also a general during the Mexican War. The Whigs had run a Mexican War general, Zachary Taylor, as their candidate in 1848, and he won. Scott, however, did not command the respect that Taylor did. While Taylor's nickname was ''Old Rough and Ready,'' Scott's was ''Old Fuss and Feathers.''

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