Franklin Pierce

— 14th President of the United States —

View full portraits at:
National Portrait Gallery or the White House Presidential Portrait Gallery


ELECTED FROM: New Hampshire
March 4, 1853 to March 3, 1857

BORN: November 23, 1804
Hillsborough, N.H. (now spelled Hillsboro)
October 8, 1869, Concord, N.H.
Jane Appleton, 1834

When Franklin Pierce was born, Thomas Jefferson was just starting his second term as president. Franklin Pierce was the son of Benjamin Pierce, a recognized hero of the Revolutionary War. Benjamin Pierce served as a general under George Washington. Since Franklin Pierce grew up the son of a war hero, it was no wonder that Franklin's childhood fantasy was to be a war hero himself someday. He would get his chance in the war with Mexico. However, before he could go to war, his mother insisted that he go to school. First he studied at the Hillsborough Center. He then went to Francestown Academy to take the final courses he needed before college. He went to Bowdoin College in 1820. In college, he studied Greek, Latin, and arithmetic. He graduated fifth in his class in the summer of 1824.

In 1832, after working as a lawyer, he was elected to Congress. He first served in the House of Representatives, then in the Senate. The Democratic convention of 1852 was deadlocked, so Franklin Pierce's friends put his name on the ballot. Franklin Pierce did not give one speech or campaign for a single minute, yet he was elected president in 1852. The reason he was elected was that he was "soft" on the slavery issue, and the southerners liked that about him. Then things started to go bad for President Pierce. On the way to Washington to take office, he was involved in a train accident that killed his 11-year-old son. This tragedy was an omen of things to come during his term in office.

As president, Pierce struggled with the slavery issue. He defined slavery as a state issue, not a federal issue. President Pierce, as a Jefferson Democrat, believed that states' rights were more important than the rights of the federal government. He felt that the slavery issue should be decided by each state on its own. So he agreed to let the people in the Kansas and Nebraska territories determine whether these territories would be slave or free. This decision led to bloody conflicts between the settlers who were for and those who were against slavery. The slavery issue continued to fester long after Franklin Pierce left the presidency. One of the few positive things that happened during his presidency was that the United States acquired more territory by purchasing the Gadsden Strip from Mexico. This is now the southern part of Arizona and the southwestern part of New Mexico.

At the Democratic convention in 1856, James Buchanan was chosen over Pierce. Pierce returned to his New Hampshire. He died there on October 8, 1869.

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