The Life of Franklin Pierce

The 14th President of the United States

Franklin Pierce became President at a time of apparent calm. Thanks to the Compromise of 1850, the United States seemed to have weathered a possible crisis.

Born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire in 1804, Franklin Pierce went to Bowdoin College. Following his graduation, Pierce studied law and entered politics. When he was 24 he was elected to the New Hampshire Legislature. By the age of 26, Franklin Pierce was the Speaker of the New Hampshire Legislature. During the 1830s, Pierce was also elected to the House of Representatives and later to the Senate.

President Franklin Pierce

Following his return from the Mexican-American War, Pierce’s name was put forward for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination. At the 1852 Democratic convention, all of the delegates agreed that the party platform should include a promise to fully support the Compromise of 1850. However, it took 48 ballots before Pierce was selected as the Democratic candidate for the Presidency.

Because the Democrats stood solidly behind the Compromise of 1850 and because the Whig candidate, General Winfield Scott was regarded as suspect in the South, Pierce won by a narrow margin. Franklin Pierce became the 14th President of the United States.

Two months before he was to take office, however, Pierce’s wife and 11 year old son were killed in a train wreck. Consequently, Pierce entered the White House in a state of nervous exhaustion.

In his inaugural address, Pierce promised peace and prosperity at home and strength abroad. He believed that it was necessary for the United States to make further territorial acquisitions in order to ensure its national security.

Pierce’s Administration

However, Pierce only had to make the slightest gesture towards expansion to arouse the anger of Northern voters, who saw him as a puppet of Southerners pushing for the expansion of slavery. Pierce caused further apprehension when he tried to pressure Great Britain into giving up its special interests along the coast of Central America and when he tried to convince Spain to sell Cuba to the United States.

Franklin Pierce and the Kansas-Nebraska Act

Pierce also faced a crisis in the form the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise and reopened the American West to slavery. The crisis came about as a result of legislation introduced by Senator Stephen A Douglas and his attempts to promote the construction of a railroad between Chicago and California, which was to run through Nebraska. Jefferson Davis, the Secretary of War and the future President of the Southern Confederacy, was successful in convincing Pierce to send James Gadsden to Mexico with the purpose of purchasing land for the building of a railroad through the American Southwest. Gadsden eventually bought what is now southern Arizona and southern New Mexico for $10 million.

Douglas proposed to organize the territories through which the railroad would run, by allowing the residents of the new territories to settle the slavery question on their own. As a result there was a land rush in Kansas, as Northerners and Southerners fought for control of Kansas. Shots were fired and “bleeding Kansas” became an ominous foreshadow of the American Civil War.

By the end of Pierce’s administration, the situation in Kansas had calmed down. Despite this, Pierce did not receive his party’s nomination at the next Democratic Convention. The presidential nominee for the next election was the less controversial James Buchanan. After leaving the White House, Franklin Pierce returned to New Hampshire, where he died in 1869.

Works Cited

Franklin Pierce. The White House. US Government. May 7/09


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