|14th President of the United States|
March 4, 1853 – March 4, 1857
|Vice President||William R. King (1853)
|Preceded by||Millard Fillmore|
|Succeeded by||James Buchanan|
|United States Senator
from New Hampshire
March 4, 1837 – February 28, 1842
|Preceded by||John Page|
|Succeeded by||Leonard Wilcox|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Hampshire's At-large district
March 4, 1833 – March 4, 1837
|Preceded by||Joseph Hammons|
|Succeeded by||Jared Williams|
November 23, 1804|
Hillsborough, New Hampshire
|Died||October 8, 1869
Concord, New Hampshire
|Resting place||Old North Cemetery
Concord, New Hampshire
(1834–1863; her death)
|Alma mater||Bowdoin College|
|Years of service||1847 – 1848|
• Battle of Contreras
• Battle of Churubusco
• Battle of Molino del Rey
• Battle of Chapultepec
• Battle for Mexico City
Franklin Pierce (November 23, 1804 – October 8, 1869) was the 14th President of the United States (1853–1857), whose inability to calm national tensions over slavery hastened the eventual outbreak of the Civil War. Genial and well-spoken, Pierce was a northern, pro-slavery Democrat who saw the abolitionist movement as a fundamental threat to the nation. While he desired to preserve the Union peacefully, his polarizing actions worsened the Bleeding Kansas confrontations and set the stage for Southern secession, leaving him widely regarded as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history.
Born and educated in New Hampshire, Pierce served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate until his family obligations led him to leave Washington in 1841. His private law practice in his home state was a success; he was appointed a U.S. Attorney in 1845. Pierce took part in the Mexican–American War and became a brigadier general in the Army. Seen by Democrats as a compromise candidate uniting Northern and Southern interests, he was nominated as the party's candidate for president on the 49th ballot at the 1852 Democratic National Convention. In the presidential election, Pierce and his running mate William R. King defeated the Whig Party ticket of Winfield Scott and William A. Graham.
While Pierce was popular and outgoing, his family life was a grim affair, with his wife Jane suffering from illness and depression for much of her life. All of their children died young, their last son gruesomely killed in a train accident in front of them shortly before Pierce's inauguration. As President, Pierce tried to keep an ethical administration and avoid rewarding friends with federal positions, which turned many Democrats against him. Pierce was a Young America expansionist who signed the Gadsden Purchase of land from Mexico and led a failed motion to acquire Cuba from Spain. He signed trade treaties with Great Britain and Japan, while his Cabinet reformed their federal offices and improved accountability, but these successes were overshadowed by political strife.
His popularity in the Northern states declined sharply after he supported the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which replaced the Missouri Compromise and renewed debate over the expansion of slavery in the American West, leading to an outbreak of violence throughout the region. Pierce's credibility was further damaged when several of his diplomats issued the Ostend Manifesto, which was roundly criticized. Abandoned by his party, Pierce was not renominated to run in the 1856 presidential election. His reputation in the North suffered further during the Civil War as he became a vocal critic of President Abraham Lincoln. Pierce, who had been a heavy drinker for much of his life, died of severe cirrhosis of the liver in the aftermath of the war.
- 1 Early life and family
- 2 Congressional career
- 3 Life after Congress
- 4 Election of 1852
- 5 Presidency
- 6 Later life
- 7 Legacy
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Early life and family
Childhood and education
Franklin Pierce was born in a log cabin in Hillsborough, in the northeastern state of New Hampshire, on November 23, 1804. He was a sixth-generation descendant of Thomas Pierce, who had moved to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from Shropshire, England, in the 1630s. Pierce's father Benjamin, a Revolutionary War lieutenant, moved from Chelmsford, Massachusetts to Hillsborough after the war, purchasing fifty acres of land. Pierce was the fifth of eight children born to Benjamin and his second wife, Anna Kendrick (his first wife Elizabeth Andrews died in childbirth, leaving a daughter). Benjamin was by then a prominent Democratic-Republican[note 2] state legislator, farmer, and tavern-keeper. During Pierce's childhood his father served as a governor's council member and county sheriff, while two of his older brothers fought in the War of 1812; politics and republicanism were thus a major influence in his early life.
Pierce's father, who sought to ensure that his sons were educated, placed Pierce in a brick schoolhouse at Hillsborough Center in childhood and sent him to Hancock Academy at the age of 12. The boy was not fond of schooling and grew homesick at Hancock. According to a popular anecdote he walked twelve miles back to his home one Sunday; his father fed him dinner and drove him part of the distance back to school before kicking him out of the carriage and ordering him to walk the rest of the way in a thunderstorm. Pierce later cited this moment as "the turning-point in my life". Later that year he transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy to prepare for college. By this time he had built a reputation as a charming but rambunctious student.
In fall 1820, Pierce entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, one of nineteen freshmen. He joined the Athenian Society, a progressive literary society, alongside Jonathan Cilley (later elected to Congress) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (now a literary icon), with whom he formed lasting friendships. In his second year of college, Pierce had the second-lowest grades in his class, but he worked to improve them; he ranked third among his classmates when he graduated in 1824. After briefly studying with former New Hampshire Governor Levi Woodbury, a family friend, he spent a semester at Northampton Law School in Northampton, Massachusetts, followed by a period of study under Judge Edmund Parker in Amherst, New Hampshire. He was admitted to the bar in the fall of 1827 and began work on a practice in Hillsborough.
By 1824 the state was a hotbed of partisanship, with figures such as Woodbury and Isaac Hill laying the groundwork for a party of "democrats" in support of General Andrew Jackson. They opposed the established Federalists (and their successors, the National Republicans), who were led by sitting President John Quincy Adams. The work of the New Hampshire Democratic Party came to fruition in March 1827 when their pro-Jackson nominee, Benjamin Pierce, won the support of the pro-Adams faction and was elected governor of New Hampshire essentially unopposed. While the younger Pierce had set out to build a career as an attorney, he was fully drawn into the realm of politics as the 1828 presidential election between Adams and Jackson approached. In the state elections held in March 1828, the Adams crowd withdrew their support of Benjamin Pierce, voting him out of office,[note 3] but Franklin Pierce won his first election: Hillsborough town moderator, a position to which he would be elected for six consecutive years.
That year Pierce actively campaigned in his district on behalf of Jackson, who carried both the district and the nation by a large margin in the November election. The election further strengthened the Democratic Party, and Pierce won his first legislative seat the following year, representing Hillsborough in the New Hampshire House of Representatives (Pierce's father, meanwhile, won a second term as governor, his last before retiring.) He was made chairman of the House Education Committee and re-elected the following year. By 1831 the Democrats held a legislative majority and Pierce was elected speaker of the House. The young speaker used his platform to oppose the expansion of banking, protect the state militia, and to offer support to the national Democrats and Jackson's re-election effort. At the age of 27 he was a star of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, although his personal life was nowhere near as successful—in his personal letters he continued to lament his bachelorhood and yearned to find a life beyond Hillsborough.
Pierce was appointed aide de camp to Governor Samuel Dinsmoor in 1831. He remained in the state militia until 1847 and attained the rank of Colonel before becoming a Brigadier General in the Army during the Mexican–American War.
In late 1832, the Democratic Party convention nominated Pierce for one of New Hampshire's five seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. This was tantamount to election for the young Democrat, as the Federalist Party had become nearly powerless in the state, further dampened by Jackson's re-election that year. Pierce won the March 1833 election to Congress unopposed, but he would not take office until the end of the year, and his attention was elsewhere. He had recently become engaged and bought his first house in Hillsborough. He maintained some distance from the state legislature throughout the year, while finishing his final term as speaker.
Marriage and children
On November 19, 1834, Pierce married Jane Means Appleton (March 12, 1806 – December 2, 1863), the daughter of Jesse Appleton, a Congregational minister and former president of Bowdoin College. Born into an elite Whig family in contrast with the Pierces' Democratic affiliation, Jane was shy, devoutly religious, and pro-temperance, encouraging Pierce to abstain from alcohol. She was slight and constantly ill from tuberculosis and psychological ailments. She abhorred politics and especially Washington, D.C., a tension that would continue throughout Pierce's political ascent.
Jane and Franklin Pierce lived permanently in Concord, New Hampshire. Jane avoided Washington as much as possible during Pierce's Congressional tenure, which often left them separated.They had three children, all of whom died in childhood. Franklin, Jr. (February 2, 1836 – February 5, 1836) died in infancy, while Frank Robert (August 27, 1839 – November 14, 1843) died at the age of four from epidemic typhus. Benjamin (April 13, 1841 – January 6, 1853), known as "Benny", died at the age of 11 in a train accident (see below).
U.S. House of Representatives
Pierce departed in November 1833 for Washington, D.C., where the Twenty-third United States Congress convened on December 2. With Jackson's second term underway, Congress had a strong Democratic majority, whose primary focus was to prevent the Second Bank of the United States from being rechartered. The Democrats, including Pierce, shot down challenges from the newly formed Whig Party, and the bank was dissolved. Pierce broke from his party on occasion, opposing Democratic bills to fund internal improvements with federal money. He saw both the bank and infrastructure spending as unconstitutional. The Pierces married in November 1834; this period was fairly uneventful from a legislative standpoint, and Pierce was easily re-elected the following March. He returned to Hillsborough with Jane, remodeled his home, and attended to his law practice until the Twenty-fourth Congress convened in December.
As northern abolitionism grew more vocal in the mid-1830s, Congress was inundated with petitions from anti-slavery groups seeking legislative action to restrict slavery in the United States. From the beginning, Pierce found the abolitionists' "agitation" to be an annoyance, and saw federal action against slavery as an infringement on southern states' rights, even though he was morally opposed to slavery itself. "I consider slavery a social and political evil," Pierce said, "and most sincerely wish that it had no existence upon the face of the earth." Still, he wrote in December 1835, "One thing must be perfectly apparent to every intelligent man. This abolition movement must be crushed or there is an end to the Union." He was also frustrated with the "religious bigotry" of abolitionists, who cast their political opponents as sinners.
When Rep. James Henry Hammond of South Carolina looked to prevent anti-slavery petitions from reaching the House floor, however, Pierce sided with the abolitionists' right to petition. In his House speeches he portrayed the abolitionist petitioners as a minority in his state; he said that most of the signatories were women and children—i.e., nonvoters, whose opinions were irrelevant to congressional business. He was attacked by the New Hampshire anti-slavery Herald of Freedom as a "doughface", which had the dual meaning of "craven spirited man" and "northerner with southern sympathies"; he took to the House floor to express his indignation at the insult.
The departure in May 1836 of then-Senator Isaac Hill, who had been elected governor of New Hampshire, left a brief interim opening to be filled by the state legislature. Pierce's candidacy for the Senate was championed by Representative John P. Hale, a fellow Athenian from his college days. After a vigorous debate, the legislature chose John Page to fill the rest of Hill's term. In 1837 Pierce was elected to a full six-year term beginning in March 1837, and succeeded Page, becoming the youngest member of the Senate at that time. The election came at a difficult time for Pierce, as his father, sister, and brother were all seriously ill, while Jane continued to suffer from chronic health issues.
Pierce was a reliable party-line vote on most issues in the Senate. He was an able politician, but never an eminent one; he was overshadowed by the Great Triumvirate of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun who then dominated the Senate. Pierce entered the Senate at a time of worldwide economic crisis, as the Panic of 1837 was underway. He considered the depression a result of the banking system's rapid growth, amidst "the extravagance of overtrading and the wilderness of speculation". He supported newly elected Democratic president Martin Van Buren and his plan to create an independent treasury, a proposal which split the Democratic Party. Debate over slavery continued to roil Congress, and Pierce supported a resolution by John C. Calhoun to preserve slavery in Washington, D.C. In his view, the abolitionists' attempt to ban slavery in the capital was a dangerous stepping stone to nationwide emancipation. Meanwhile, the Whigs were growing in strength against the Democrats, which would leave Pierce's party with only a slight majority by the end of the decade.
One topic of particular importance to Pierce was the military. He challenged a bill which would expand the ranks of the Army's staff officers in Washington without any apparent benefit to line officers at posts in the rest of the country. He took interest in military pensions, seeing abundant fraud within the system, and was named chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Pensions in the Twenty-sixth Congress (1839–1841). As a member of the Committee on Military Affairs, he urged a modernization and expansion of the Army, with a focus on militias and mobility rather than coastal fortifications which he considered outdated.
He campaigned vigorously throughout his home state for Van Buren's re-election in the 1840 presidential election. The incumbent carried New Hampshire but lost the national vote to William Henry Harrison, the Whig military hero, and the Whigs took a majority of seats in the Twenty-seventh Congress. Pierce and the Democrats were quick to challenge the new administration, questioning Harrison's use of the spoils system and protesting the renewed Whig plan for a national bank. While the Democrats were outnumbered, circumstances changed when Harrison died one month into his term, leaving John Tyler as his successor; Tyler's opposition to a national bank crippled the Whigs' efforts. In December 1841 Pierce decided to resign from Congress, something he had been planning for some time. His last acts in the Senate were to oppose a bill distributing federal funds to the states, believing that the money should go to the military instead; and to challenge the Whigs to reveal the results of their investigation of the New York Customs House, where the Whigs had probed for Democratic corruption for nearly a year but issued no findings.
Life after Congress
Pierce had plenty of incentive to leave Washington. Several years earlier he and Jane had moved from Hillsborough to the capital city of Concord, where he would benefit from the abundant legal opportunities in Concord and Jane would enjoy a more robust community life. Jane remained in Concord with her young son Frank and her newborn Benjamin for the latter part of Pierce's Senate term, and this separation was taking a toll on the family. Pierce, meanwhile, had begun a law partnership with Asa Fowler where he practiced during congressional recesses; the practice was an increasingly demanding but lucrative opportunity. All this gave him much to attend to when he returned to Concord. Pierce returned to Concord in early 1842, and his reputation as a lawyer continued to flourish. Known for his gracious personality, eloquence, and excellent memory, Pierce would attract large audiences to hear him deliver an argument in court. He would often represent poor clients for little to no compensation.
Despite Pierce's growing career and family obligations, he was immediately drawn into the political turmoil growing within the state Democratic Party. Governor Hill, who represented the commercial, urban wing of the party, supported the use of government charters to confer special privileges on corporations, such as limited liability and eminent domain for building rail. The radical "locofoco" wing of his party represented farmers and other rural voters, who sought an expansion of social programs and labor regulations and a restriction on corporate privileges. The state's political culture grew less tolerant of banks and corporations in the wake of the Panic of 1837, and Hill was voted out of office. Pierce was closer to the radicals philosophically, and reluctantly served as attorney in a publisher's dispute against Hill, which made tensions worse.
In June 1842 Pierce was named chairman of the State Democratic Committee. In the following year's state election he helped the radical wing take over the state legislature despite Hill's efforts to retain control. The party was split on several issues, including railroad development and the temperance movement, and Pierce took a leading role in helping the state legislature settle their differences. His priorities were "order, moderation, compromise, and party unity", which he tried to place ahead of his personal views on political issues.
The surprise victory of dark horse Democratic candidate James K. Polk in the 1844 presidential election was welcome news to Pierce, who had befriended the former Speaker of the House during his time in Congress. Pierce had campaigned heavily for Polk during the election, and in turn Polk appointed him U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire shortly after taking office. Polk's most prominent cause was the annexation of Texas, an issue which caused a dramatic split between Pierce and his former ally Hale, now a U.S. Representative. Hale was so impassioned against adding a new slave state that he wrote a letter to 1,400 Democrats in New Hampshire outlining his opposition to the measure. Pierce "immediately sprang into action", assembling the state Democratic leadership to oust Hale from the party. What followed was a political firestorm which led to Pierce cutting off ties with his longtime friend, and with his law partner Fowler, who was a Hale supporter.
Active military service was a long-held dream for Pierce, who had admired his father's and brothers' service in his youth. As a legislator, he was a passionate advocate for volunteer militias. As a militia officer himself, he had experience mustering and drilling bodies of troops. When President Polk declared war against Mexico in May 1846, Pierce immediately volunteered to join, although no New England regiment yet existed. His hope to fight in the war was one reason he refused an offer to become U.S. Attorney General. As the efforts of Generals Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor grew more intense, Congress passed a bill authorizing creation of ten regiments, and Pierce was appointed Colonel and commander of the 9th Infantry Regiment in February 1847.
On March 3 he was promoted to Brigadier General. He took command of a brigade of reinforcements for General Scott's army, which at the time was planning to invade Mexico City via the port of Vera Cruz. Needing time to assemble his brigade, Pierce reached the already-seized port of Vera Cruz in late June, where he prepared a march of 2,500 men along with supplies to catch up with Scott. The three-week journey inland was perilous, and the men fought off several attacks before joining with Scott's army in early August, in time for the Battle of Contreras. The battle was disastrous for Pierce: his horse was suddenly startled during a charge, knocking Pierce groin-first against his saddle. The horse then tripped into a crevice and fell, pinning Pierce underneath and leaving him with a debilitating knee injury.
He returned to his command the following day, but was in grievous pain and spent much of the time resting in back of a wagon. As the Battle of Churubusco approached, he was ordered by Scott to the rear. He responded, "For God's sake, General, this is the last great battle, and I must lead my brigade." Scott yielded, and Pierce entered the fight tied to his saddle, but the pain in his leg became so great that he passed out on the field. The Americans won the battle and Pierce helped negotiate an armistice. He then returned to command and led his brigade throughout the rest of the campaign, eventually taking part in the capture of Mexico City in mid-September, although his brigade was held in reserve for much of the battle. He remained in command during the three-month occupation of the city, while frustrated with the stalling of peace negotiations, and tried to distance himself from the constant conflict between Scott and the other generals.
Pierce was finally allowed to return to Concord in late December 1847. He was given a positive reception in his home state and issued his resignation from the Army, which was approved on March 20, 1848. His military exploits elevated his popularity in New Hampshire, but his injuries and subsequent troubles in battle led to accusations of cowardice from his opponents for the rest of his political career. He had demonstrated competence as a general, especially in his initial march from Vera Cruz, but his short tenure and his injury left little for historians to judge his ability as a military commander.
Ulysses S. Grant, who had the opportunity to observe Pierce firsthand during the war, countered the allegations of cowardice in his memoirs, even though by the time Grant wrote Pierce had been dead for several years. Though not an admirer of Pierce's politics, Grant described him this way: "Whatever General Pierce's qualifications may have been for the Presidency, he was a gentleman and a man of courage. I was not a supporter of him politically, but I knew him more intimately than I did any other of the volunteer generals."
Returning to Concord, Pierce resumed his law work; in one notable case he defended the religious liberty of the Shakers, the insular sect who were being threatened with legal action over accusations of abuse. His role as a party leader, however, continued to take up most of his attention. He continued to wrangle with Hale, now a U.S. Senator who was frustrating the party leadership with his vocal left-wing stances, opposing the Mexican war and pushing anti-slavery resolutions that were regarded as needless agitation.
As the 1848 presidential election approached, the party was divided between the abolitionist Van Buren faction (the "Barnburners") and the pro-compromise Polk faction (the "Hunkers"). The abolitionists' Wilmot Proviso, which would ban slavery in any new territorial acquisitions from Mexico, was a particular point of contention. As Whig leader Henry Clay introduced his Compromise of 1850, the Democrats loosely supported it, and Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas led an effort to split the omnibus bill into separate bills so that each legislator could vote against the parts his state opposed without endangering the overall package.
Pierce strongly supported the compromise; in a speech he reiterated how he detested slavery as much as any abolitionist, but regarded dissolution of the "Eternal Union" as an even greater evil. This led him to ally himself with the northern Whig Daniel Webster even as many New Englanders regarded Webster as a sellout to southern interests. When Pierce learned that his brother Henry, a state legislator, was planning to vote for resolutions condemning the compromise, Pierce fled to a Manchester train station and demanded a train be run off-schedule so he could reach him. He threatened Henry at his hotel: "If you vote for those resolutions ... you are no brother of mine: I will never speak to you again." Henry replied that Pierce was mistaken, as he entirely supported the compromise.
He served as president of the New Hampshire state constitutional convention in November 1850. The convention looked to liberalize the outdated New Hampshire state constitution of 1792, which differed from most other states in several respects. Pierce railed against the constitution's infringements on religious liberty, a principle he held dear. The convention struck the excessive property and religious qualifications for holding office, which the legislature had long stopped enforcing. The number of legislators was slashed and the elections were made less frequent. The convention also sent a resolution favoring the Compromise.
To appease the Free Soilers, the Democrats had nominated the abolitionist Rev. Atwood for governor, which created an awkward rift when Atwood stated his opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act. Pierce pressured him to issue a partial retraction, to endorse the act as part of a compromise if it would protect the Union. Atwood quickly regretted his retraction, which he said was written under duress from Pierce. Pierce denied coercing Atwood into a retraction, and called for a convention to cancel Atwood's nomination: his conflicting opinions had become a confusing liability to the party. The fiasco would compromise the election for the Democrats, who lost several races, and not a single constitutional change was approved by the voters. Still, Pierce's party retained its control over the state, and was well positioned for the upcoming presidential election.
Election of 1852
The Democrats were eager to find their standard-bearer for the 1852 presidential election as early as mid-1851. Yet the party was split by age and geography—most of the "Barnburners" who had left the party with Martin Van Buren to form the Free Soil Party had returned—and it was widely expected that the 1852 Democratic National Convention would result in deadlock, with no candidate winning the necessary two-thirds majority. New Hampshire Democrats attempted with little success to rally for Woodbury as a compromise candidate, but Woodbury's death in September 1851 opened up an opportunity for Pierce's allies to present him as a potential dark horse in the mold of Polk.
Pierce was under the radar, as he had not held elective office in nearly a decade, and lacked the front-runners' national presence. He publicly declared such that a nomination would be "utterly repugnant to my tastes and wishes", but he understood that his position as state party leader was in jeopardy if he flatly refused his allies' ambitions. He quietly allowed his supporters for lobby for him, with the understanding that his name would not be brought up at the convention until it was clear none of the front-runners could break the deadlock. To broaden his potential base of southern voters as the convention approached, he wrote letters clarifying his support for the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act.
The convention assembled on June 1 in Baltimore, Maryland, and the deadlock went as predicted. Among the major contenders were 1848 Democratic candidate Lewis Cass, James Buchanan, William L. Marcy, and Stephen A. Douglas. The first ballot was taken on the third day of the convention. Of 288 delegates Cass claimed 116, Buchanan 93, and the rest were split, without a single vote for Pierce. 34 ballots passed with little progress. The Buchanan team decided to have their delegates experiment with combinations of minor candidates in order to attract these minor candidates' supporters and demonstrate Buchanan as a clear second choice. This novel tactic backfired after several ballots as Virginia, New Hampshire, and Maine switched to Pierce, the remaining Buchanan forces began to break for Marcy, and before long Pierce was in third place. After the 48th ballot, North Carolina congressman James C. Dobbin delivered an unexpected and passionate endorsement of Pierce, sparking a wave of support for the dark horse candidate. In the 49th ballot, Pierce received all but 6 of the votes. Delegates selected Alabama Senator William R. King as his running mate, and adopted a party platform that rejected further "agitation" over the slavery issue and supported the Compromise of 1850.
The Whig candidate was General Winfield Scott of Virginia, under whom Pierce had served in the Mexican–American War; his running mate was Secretary of the Navy William A. Graham. The Whigs could not unify their factions as the Democrats had, and the convention adopted a platform almost indistinguishable from that of the Democrats, including support of the Compromise of 1850. This incited the Free Soilers to field their own candidate, at the expense of the Whigs. The lack of political differences reduced the campaign to a bitter personality contest and helped to drive voter turnout in the election to its lowest level since 1836; it was "one of the least exciting campaigns in presidential history".
Pierce kept quiet during the campaign so as not to upset his party's delicate unity, and allowed his allies to run the campaign. Pierce's opponents caricatured him as a fainting, cowardly war leader, an alcoholic ("the hero of many a well-fought bottle"), and an anti-Catholic. Scott, meanwhile, drew weak support from the Whigs, who were torn by his pro-Compromise platform and found him to be an abysmal, gaffe-prone public speaker. The Democrats were confident: a popular slogan was that the Democrats "will pierce their enemies in 1852 as they poked them in 1844," a reference to the victory of James K. Polk in the 1844 election. This proved to be true, as Scott won only the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Vermont, finishing with 42 electoral votes to Pierce's 254. With 3.2 million votes cast, Pierce won the popular vote with 50.9 to 44.1 percent. A sizable block of Free Soilers broke for John P. Hale, who won 4.9 percent of the popular vote.
Tragedy and transition
Pierce began his presidency in mourning. Weeks after his election, on January 6, 1853, the President-elect's family had been trapped in a train from Boston when their car derailed and rolled down an embankment near Andover, Massachusetts. Pierce and Jane survived, but in the wreckage found their last son, 11-year-old Benjamin, crushed to death, his body nearly decapitated. Pierce was not able to hide the gruesome sight from Jane. They both suffered severe depression afterward, which affected Pierce's performance throughout his presidency. Jane questioned if the train accident was a divine punishment for her husband's pursuit and acceptance of high office. She wrote a lengthy letter of apology to "Benny" for her failings as a mother.
Jane was silent as Pierce departed for his inauguration in Washington, which she would not attend. Pierce, then the youngest elected president to date, chose to affirm his oath of office on a law book rather than swear it on a Bible, as his predecessors had all done. He was the first president to deliver his inaugural address from memory. In the address he hailed an era of peace and prosperity at home and urged a vigorous assertion of US interests in its foreign relations, including the "eminently important" acquisition of new territories. "The policy of my Administration", said the new president, "will not be deterred by any timid forebodings of evil from expansion." Avoiding the word slavery, he emphasized his desire to put the "important subject" to rest and maintain a peaceful union. He alluded to his own personal tragedy, telling the crowd, "You have summoned me in my weakness, you must sustain me by your strength."
Administration and political strife
|The Pierce Cabinet|
|Vice President||William R. King||1853|
|Secretary of State||William L. Marcy||1853–1857|
|Secretary of Treasury||James Guthrie||1853–1857|
|Secretary of War||Jefferson Davis||1853–1857|
|Attorney General||Caleb Cushing||1853–1857|
|Postmaster General||James Campbell||1853–1857|
|Secretary of the Navy||James C. Dobbin||1853–1857|
|Secretary of the Interior||Robert McClelland||1853–1857|
All of Pierce's cabinet nominations were confirmed unanimously and immediately by the Senate. His Cabinet was a diverse coalition, both ideologically and geographically. Pierce then spent the first few weeks of his term sorting through hundreds of federal positions needing to be filled. This was a chore, as he sought to represent all factions of the party, and could satisfy none of them. Partisans found themselves unable to secure positions for their friends, which put the Democratic Party on edge and fueled bitterness between factions. Before long, northern newspapers accused Pierce of filling his government with pro-slavery secessionists, while southern newspapers accused him of turning abolitionist.
Despite Pierce's optimism, it quickly became clear that having a Democratic-controlled House and Senate would not ensure him a successful presidency. Factionalism between the pro- and anti-administration Democrats ramped up quickly, especially within the New York Democratic Party. The more conservative Hardshell Democrats or "Hards" of New York were deeply skeptical of the Pierce administration, which was associated with William L. Marcy's more moderate New York faction, the Softshell Democrats or "Softs".
Despite his big-tent philosophy, Pierce cut off King entirely from his administration. After the convention, the two never spoke or communicated again. King grew severely ill with tuberculosis prior to his inauguration. Knowing death was imminent, he reluctantly gave his oath of office as vice president from the American consulate in Cuba. He returned to Alabama on April 17 and died the next day. The office of vice president remained vacant for the remainder of Pierce's term, as the Constitution had no provision for filling its vacancy.
Pierce sought to run a more efficient and accountable government than his predecessors. His Cabinet members coordinated on an early system of civil service examinations which was a forerunner to the Pendleton Act passed three decades later. The Interior Department was reformed by Secretary Robert McClelland, who systematized its operations, expanded the use of paper records, and pursued fraud. Another of Pierce's reforms was to expand the role of U.S. attorney general in appointing federal judges and attorneys, which was an important step in the eventual development of the Justice Department. He filled an open Supreme Court seat left over from the Fillmore administration, naming the states'-rights advocate John Archibald Campbell; this would be his only Supreme Court appointment.
Economic policy and internal improvements
Pierce charged Treasury Secretary James Guthrie with reforming the Treasury, which he found to be inefficiently managed and overwrought with unsettled accounts. Guthrie increased oversight of Treasury employees and tariff collectors, many of whom were withholding money from the government. He also sought to pay down the national debt and coin new bullion using the Treasury's surplus.
Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, at Pierce's request, led surveys with the Corps of Topographical Engineers of possible transcontinental railroad routes throughout the country. The Democratic Party had long rejected federal appropriations for internal improvements, but Davis felt that such a project could be justified as a Constitutional national security objective. Davis also deployed the Army Corps of Engineers to supervise construction projects in Washington.
Foreign and military affairs
The Pierce administration fell in line with the expansionist Young America movement, with William L. Marcy leading the charge as Secretary of State. Marcy sought to reform foreign operations in a uniquely American, republican image. He issued a circular recommending that U.S. diplomats wear "the simple dress of an American citizen" instead of the ostentatious diplomatic uniforms worn in the courts of Europe, and to only hire American citizens to work in consulates. Marcy received international praise for his 73-page letter defending Austrian refugee Martin Koszta, who had been captured abroad in mid-1853 by the Austrian government despite his intention to become a U.S. citizen.
Davis, advocate of a southern transcontinental route, persuaded Pierce to send rail magnate James Gadsden to Mexico to buy land for a potential railroad. Gadsden was also charged with re-negotiating the cumbersome Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which had left the U.S. liable for Native American incursions along its southern border. Gadsden negotiated a treaty with Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna in December 1853, purchasing a large swath of land to America's southwest. Negotiations were nearly derailed by William Walker's filibuster into Mexico, and so a clause was included charging the U.S. with combating future filibuster attempts. Congress reduced the Gadsden Purchase to the region comprising southern Arizona and part of southern New Mexico; the price was cut from $15 million to $10 million (USD). Congress also included a protection clause for a private citizen, Albert G. Sloo, whose interests were threatened by the purchase. Pierce opposed the federal government trying to prop up private industry and did not endorse the final version of the treaty, which passed nonetheless.
Relations with Great Britain were tense, as American fishermen felt menaced by the British navy's growing enforcement of the Canadian coastline. Marcy completed a trade reciprocity agreement with British minister to Washington John F. Crampton, which would reduce the need for aggressive coastline enforcement. Buchanan was sent as a minister to London to pressure the British government, which was slow to support a new treaty. A favorable reciprocity treaty was ratified in August 1854, which Pierce saw as a first step toward annexation of Canada. While the administration negotiated with Britain over the Canadian border, U.S. interests were also threatened in Central America, where the unpopular Clayton–Bulwer Treaty of 1850 had failed to keep Great Britain from expanding its influence. Gaining the advantage over Britain in the region was a key part of Pierce's expansionist goals.
Pierce's administration aroused sectional apprehensions when three U.S. diplomats in Europe drafted a proposal to the president to purchase Cuba from Spain for $120 million (USD), and justify the "wresting" of it from Spain if the offer were refused. The publication of the Ostend Manifesto, which had been drawn up on the insistence of Pierce's Secretary of State, provoked the scorn of Northerners who viewed it as an attempt to annex a slave-holding possession to bolster Southern interests. It helped discredit the expansionist policies the Democratic Party had supported in the 1844 election.
Under Navy Secretary James C. Dobbin, Commodore Matthew C. Perry took an expedition to Japan, originally planned by President Fillmore, in an effort to expand trade to the East. Perry wanted to encroach on Asia by force, but Pierce and Dobbin pushed him to remain diplomatic. He signed a modest trade treaty with the Japanese shogunate which was successfully ratified.
Pierce favored expansion and a substantial reorganization of the military. Davis and Dobbin found the Army and Navy in poor condition, with insufficient forces, slow embrace of new technology, and inefficient management, which they looked to rectify upon taking office. The 1856 launch of the USS Merrimac, one of six newly commissioned steam frigates, was one of Pierce's "most personally satisfying" days in office.
The slavery question
The greatest challenge to the country's equilibrium during the Pierce administration was the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. Organizing the largely unsettled Nebraska Territory, which stretched from Missouri to the Rocky Mountains, was a crucial part of Douglas's plans for western expansion. He dreamed of a transcontinental railroad with a link from Chicago, Illinois, to California through the vast western territory. Douglas and his allies planned to organize the territory and let local settlers decide whether to allow slavery. This would require repealing the Missouri Compromise, as the entire area was north of the 36°30′ N line the compromise deemed "free". To maintain a semblance of compromise, the territory was split into a northern part, Nebraska, and a southern part, Kansas, implying that one would allow slavery and one would not.
Pierce, among others, was skeptical of the bill, knowing it would result in a political firestorm. Douglas and Davis convinced him to support the bill regardless. The Kansas–Nebraska Act was passed in May 1854 and would come to define the Pierce presidency. Passage of the act coincided with the seizure of escaped slave Anthony Burns in Boston. Northerners rallied in support of Burns, but Pierce was determined to follow the Fugitive Slave Act to the letter, and dispatched federal troops to enforce the return to his owner against the furious crowd.
As the act was being debated, settlers on both sides of the slavery issue rushed into the region to be present for the voting. Northerners, who already viewed Pierce as kowtowing to slave-holding interests, were outraged. The passage of the act resulted in so much violence between groups that the territory became known as Bleeding Kansas. Pro-slavery Border Ruffians, mostly from Missouri, illegally voted in the elections to set up the government, but Pierce recognized it anyway. When Free-Staters set up a shadow government, called the Topeka Constitution, Pierce termed their work an act of "rebellion". The president continued to recognize the pro-slavery legislature, which was dominated by Democrats, even after a Congressional investigative committee found its election to have been illegitimate. He dispatched federal troops to break up a meeting of the shadow government in Topeka.
The off-year elections of 1854 and 1855 were devastating to the Democrats (as well as the Whig Party, which was on its last legs). Anti-immigrant fervor brought the Know-Nothings their highest numbers yet, while Northern resentment over Kansas–Nebraska contributed to the creation of the antislavery Republican Party.
Pierce fully expected to be renominated by the Democrats. In reality his chances were slim, to say nothing of his chances of winning the general election if he were renominated. Recent nationwide elections saw the Democrats losing votes to the Free Soilers and to the nativist, anti-Catholic Know-Nothings, all of whom were set against the Pierce administration. Pierce's supporters began to plan for an alliance with Stephen A. Douglas against James Buchanan, who was well positioned for the nomination. Buchanan had solid political connections and had been safely overseas throughout Pierce's term, leaving him untainted by the Kansas debacle.
When balloting began on June 5 at the convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, Pierce expected a plurality, if not a supermajority. On the first ballot, he received only 122 to Buchanan's 135, with Douglas and Lewis Cass receiving the rest of the votes. By the following morning fourteen ballots had been drawn, but none of the three candidates could clinch two-thirds of the vote. Pierce directed his supporters to break for Douglas, withdrawing his name in a last-ditch effort to defeat Buchanan. After two more deadlocked ballots, however, Douglas withdrew his name in a gesture of goodwill to his party, leaving Buchanan as the clear winner. To soften the blow to Pierce, the convention issued a resolution of "unqualified approbation" in praise of his administration and selected his ally John C. Breckinridge as the vice-presidential nominee.
Pierce endorsed Buchanan, the eventual winner, though the two remained distant. He hoped to resolve the Kansas situation by November to improve the Democrats' chances in the general election. He installed John W. Geary as territorial governor, who drew the ire of pro-slavery legislators. He tried again to push the Toombs bill through Congress, but it was dead in the House. He could not do much else with an obstinate Congress, who overturned several of his vetoes before going on recess. In his last months he signed appropriations bills for the army and navy and a tariff reduction bill he had long sought. Pierce did not temper his rhetoric after losing the nomination. In his final message to Congress, delivered in December 1856, he vigorously attacked Republicans and abolitionists. He took the opportunity to defend his record on fiscal and foreign policy, and on achieving what he considered an honorable peace.
President Buchanan broke hard from the Pierce administration, replacing all of his appointees. Pierce and Jane eventually moved into a new home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where Pierce had begun to speculate in property. Seeking warmer weather, he and Jane spent the next three years travelling, beginning with a stay in Madeira and followed by tours of Europe and the Bahamas. Pierce never lost sight of politics during his travels, commenting regularly on the nation's growing sectarian conflict. He insisted that northern abolitionists stand down to avoid a southern secession, writing that the bloodshed of a civil war would "not be along Mason and Dixon's line merely", but "within our own borders in our own streets". He also criticized New England Protestant ministers, who largely supported abolition and Republican candidates, for their "cant heresy and treason".
As the Democratic Convention of 1860 approached, some asked Pierce to run as a compromise candidate that could unite the fractured party, but Pierce refused. As the northern Senator Stephen A. Douglas struggled to attract southern support, Pierce backed Cushing and then Breckinridge as potential alternatives, but his priority was a united Democratic Party. The split Democrats were soundly defeated for the presidency by Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln, and secession became inevitable. Once the election passed, many Northern Democrats, including Douglas, endorsed Lincoln's plan to bring the Southern states back into the fold by force. Pierce wanted to avoid war at all costs, and wrote to Martin Van Buren proposing an assembly of former U.S. presidents to resolve the issue, but this went nowhere. "I will never justify, sustain or in any way or to any extent uphold this cruel, heartless, aimless, unnecessary war," Pierce wrote to his wife.
As the Civil War broke out, Pierce publicly opposed President Lincoln's order suspending the writ of habeas corpus. He argued that even in a time of war, the country should not abandon its protection of civil liberties. This stand won him admirers with the emerging Northern Peace Democrats, but others saw Pierce's southern bias and opposition to Lincoln as treason, with the Detroit Tribune calling him "a prowling traitor spy". Pierce tried to maintain positive relations with the administration, offering Lincoln a letter of sympathy and understanding when Lincoln's son died in February 1862, but Lincoln did not respond.
In early 1862 a Pierce supporter, Guy S. Hopkins, tried to seize on the hostile political climate by playing a practical joke on several Republican newspapers. He sent out an anonymous letter with cryptic symbols implicating Pierce as part of a Confederate secret society, the Knights of the Golden Circle. He hoped the "treason-seeking presses" would eagerly present the hoax as evidence against Pierce, but the newspapers instead forwarded the letter to federal authorities. Lincoln's Secretary of State, William H. Seward, arrested Hopkins and wrote to Pierce demanding to know if the letter was real. Hopkins quickly confessed to the prank, and Pierce publicized his outrage over the accusation and Seward's inquisition, to the administration's embarrassment.
The institution of the draft and the arrest of outspoken anti-administration Democrat Clement Vallandigham further incensed Pierce, who gave an address to New Hampshire Democrats in July 1863 vilifying Lincoln. "Who, I ask, has clothed the President with power to dictate to any one of us when we must or when we may speak, or be silent upon any subject, and especially in relation to the conduct of any public servant?", he demanded. Pierce's reputation in the North was further damaged when the Mississippi plantation of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was seized by Union soldiers in August 1863. Pierce's correspondence with Davis, revealing his deep friendship with Davis and ambivalence about the goals of the war, was sent to the press. Pierce's words hardened abolitionist sentiment against him.
Jane Pierce died in Andover, Massachusetts, in December 1863; she was buried at Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire. Pierce was further grieved by his close friend Nathaniel Hawthorne's death in May 1864. Hawthorne had dedicated his final book to Pierce. Some Democrats tried again to put Pierce's name up for consideration as the 1864 election unfolded, but he kept his distance; Lincoln easily won a second term. When news spread of Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, an angry mob gathered outside Pierce's home in Concord, demanding to know why he had not raised a flag to show his grief. Pierce grew angry, expressing sadness over Lincoln's death but denying any need for a public gesture. He told the group that his history of military and public service was all the proof he needed of his pro-Union sympathies, which was enough to quiet the crowd.
Final years and death
Pierce's drinking took a growing toll on his health in his last years, while he grew increasingly spiritual. He began a new relationship with an unknown woman in mid-1865, but it was short-lived. During this time he used his influence to improve the treatment of Davis, now a prisoner at Fortress Monroe in Virginia. He also offered financial help to Hawthorne's son Julian, as well as his own nephews. On the second anniversary of Jane's death, Pierce was baptized into his wife's Episcopal faith at St. Paul's church in Concord. He found this church to be less political than his own Congregational denomination, which had alienated Democrats with anti-slavery rhetoric. He took up the life of an "old farmer", as he called himself, buying up new property and farming the land himself, while entertaining visiting relatives. He spent most of his time in Concord and his cottage at Little Boar's Head, sometimes visiting Jane's relatives in Massachusetts. Still interested in politics, he expressed support for Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policy and supported acquittal in his impeachment; he later expressed optimism for Johnson's successor Ulysses S. Grant.
His health declined further through mid-1869, although he continued to drink. He returned to Concord that September, suffering from severe cirrhosis of the liver, knowing he would not recover. A caretaker was hired for him; none of his family members were present in his final days. He died at 4:35am on October 8. President Grant, who later defended Pierce's service in the Mexican War, declared a day of national mourning. Newspapers across the country carried lengthy front-page stories examining Pierce's colorful and controversial career. Pierce was interred next to his wife and two of his sons, all of whom had predeceased him, in the Minot enclosure at Concord's Old North Cemetery.
In his last will, which he signed January 22, 1868, Pierce left a large number of specific bequests such as paintings, swords, horses, and other items to friends, family, and neighbors. Much of his $72,000 estate went to his brother Henry's family, along with Hawthorne's children and Pierce's landlady. Henry's son Frank Pierce received the largest share.
Pierce's presidency is widely regarded as a failure; he is often described as one of the worst presidents in American history. The general public placed him third-to-last among his predecessors in C-SPAN surveys (2000 and 2009). He was unable to steer a steady, prudent course that might have sustained a broad measure of support. Having publicly committed himself to an ill-considered position, he maintained it steadfastly, at a disastrous cost to his reputation.
Despite a reputation as an able politician and a likable man, during Pierce's presidency he served only as a moderator among the increasingly bitter factions that were driving the nation towards civil war. The historian David Potter concludes that the Ostend Manifesto and the Kansas–Nebraska Act were "the two great calamities of the Franklin Pierce administration.... Both brought down an avalanche of public criticism." More importantly, says Potter, they permanently discredited Manifest Destiny and "popular sovereignty" as political doctrines. Philip B. Kunhardt and Peter W. Kunhardt reflected the views of many historians when they wrote in The American President that Pierce was
"a good man who didn't understand his own shortcomings. He was genuinely religious, he loved his wife, and he reshaped himself so that he could adapt to her ways and show her true affection. He was one of the most popular men in New Hampshire, polite and thoughtful, easy, and good at the political game, charming and fine and handsome. However, he has been criticized as timid and unable to cope with a changing America."
Two places in New Hampshire have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places specifically because of their association with Pierce. The Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough is a state park and a National Historic Landmark open to the public. The Franklin Pierce House in Concord, where Pierce died, was destroyed by fire in 1981. The Pierce Manse, his Concord home from 1842 to 1848, is open seasonally and maintained by a volunteer group, "The Pierce Brigade".
Several institutions and places have been named after Pierce, especially in his home state. The most notable of these is Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire, chartered in 1962. The University of New Hampshire School of Law was founded in 1973 as the Franklin Pierce Law Center. When the school was renamed in 2010, a Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property was established. There is a Mt. Pierce in the Presidential Range of New Hampshire's White Mountains, renamed from Mt. Clinton in 1913. The small town of Pierceton, Indiana, was founded in the 1850s and named for President Pierce.
- Some local accounts suggest he was born in the Homestead. The National Register of Historic Places cites the log cabin as the more likely birthplace, while historian Peter A. Wallner asserts without reservation he was born in the log cabin.
- At the time this was called the Republican or Jeffersonian Republican Party; it soon became known as the Democratic-Republican Party. Modern writers prefer this term to distinguish it from the modern-day Republican Party.
- The governor of New Hampshire was then elected annually; see also List of Governors of New Hampshire.
- "Pierce, Franklin, Homestead". National Park Service. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
- "Nomination Form: Franklin Pierce". National Register of Historic Places. 1976. p. 8. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
- Wallner (2004), p. 3.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 1–8.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 10–15.
- Gara (1991), pp. 35–36.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 16–19.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 28–32.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 28–33.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 33–43.
- John Farmer, G. Parker Lyon, editors, The New-Hampshire Annual Register, and United States Calendar, 1832, page 53
- Brian Matthew Jordan, Triumphant Mourner: The Tragic Dimension of Franklin Pierce, 2003, page 31
- Wallner (2004), pp. 44–47.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 31–32, 77–78; Gara (1991), pp. 31–32; see also Jean H. Baker. "Franklin Pierce: Life Before the Presidency". American President: An Online Reference Resource. University of Virginia. Retrieved December 10, 2010.
- "Franklin Pierce", Internet Public Library
- Wallner (2004), pp. 47–57.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 57–59.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 71–72.
- Wallner (2004), p. 67.
- Wallner (2004), p. 92.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 59–61.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 64–69.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 68, 91–92.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 69–72.
- Wallner (2004), p. 80.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 78–84.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 84–90.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 91–92.
- "The Pierce Manse". Retrieved June 29, 2014.
- Wallner (2004), p. 79.
- Wallner (2004), p. 86.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 98–101.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 93–95.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 103–110.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 131–132.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 111–122.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 131–135.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 154–157.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 135–144.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 144–147.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 147–154.
- Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Volume 1, 1892, pages 146-147
- Wallner (2004), pp. 157–161.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 161–171.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 171–172.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 173–180.
- Wallner (2004), p. 206; Gara (1991), p. 38.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 181–184; Gara (1991), pp, 23–29.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 184–197; Gara (1991), pp. 32–33.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 197–202; Gara (1991), pp. 33–34.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 210–213; Gara (1991), pp. 36–38. Quote from Gara, 38.
- Wallner (2004), p. 231; Gara (1991), p. 38.
- Gara (1991), p. 38.
- Wallner (2004), p. 203.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 229–230; Gara (1991), p. 39.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 241–249; Gara (1991), p 43–44.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 241–249.
- Wallner (2004), pp. 249–255.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 5–24.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 15–18, and throughout.
- Wallner (2007), pp. p. 21–22.
- Wallner (2007), p. 20.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 35–36.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 36–39.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 32–36.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 40–41, 52.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 25–32; Gara (1991), p. 128.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 61–63; Gara (1991), pp. 128–129.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 75–81; Gara (1991), pp. 129–33.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 106–08; Gara (1991), pp. 129–33.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 27–30, 63–66, 125–26; Gara (1991), p. 133.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 26–27; Gara (1991), pp. 139–40.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 131–57; Gara (1991), pp. 149–55.
- Wallner (2007), p. 172; Gara (1991), pp. 134–35.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 40–43.
- Wallner (2007), p. 256.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 158–67; Gara (1991), pp. 99–100.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 90–102, 119–22; Gara (1991), pp. 88–100.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 122–25; Gara (1991), pp. 107–09.
- Gara (1991), pp. 120–21.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 195–209; Gara (1991), pp. 111–20.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 266–70; Gara (1991), pp. 157–67.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 272–80.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 303–04.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 292–96; Gara (1991), pp. 177–79.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 309–327.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 327–338.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 337–343.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 341–343.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 343–357.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 357–362.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 363–371.
- Wallner (2007), pp. 369–373.
- Wallner (2007), p. 374.
- Wallner (2004), pp. xi–xii:
- It is doubtful if any former president was as reviled in later life as Franklin Pierce was, and his reputation has hardly improved in the century and a half since his death. If anything, he has been forgotten and relegated to a footnote in history books—as an amiable nonentity who had no business being president and who reached that lofty position purely by the accident of circumstance.
- History has accorded to the Pierce administration a share of the blame for policies that incited the slavery issue, hastened the collapse of the second party system, and brouht on the Civil War. [...] It is both an inaccurate and unfair judgment. Pierce was always a nationalist attempting to find a middle ground to keep the Union together. [...] The alternative to attempting to steer a moderate course was the breakup of the Union, the Civil War and the deaths of more than six hundred thousand Americans. Pierce should not be blamed for attempting throughout his political career to avoid this fate.
- Those who play the presidential ratings game have always assigned to Franklin Pierce a below-average score. [...] In light of subsequent events, the Pierce administration can be seen only as a disaster for the nation. Its failure was as much a failure of the system as a failure of Pierce himself, whom Roy Franklin Nichols has skillfully portrayed as a complex and tragic figure.
- His fervor for expanding the borders helped set the stage for the Civil War.
- "C-SPAN Survey". C-SPAN. 2009. Retrieved June 30, 2014.
- Robert Muccigrosso, ed., Research Guide to American Historical Biography (1988) 3:1237
- Potter, David Morris; Fehrenbacher, Don Edward (1976). The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861. HarperCollins. p. 192. ISBN 978-0061319297.
- Philip B. Kunhardt, Peter W. Kunhardt The American President, 1999, page 57
- "Franklin Pierce House". National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
Associated Press (September 18, 1981). "Franklin Pierce Home Burns". The New York Times.
- "History". Franklin Pierce University. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
- "Franklin Pierce Center for IP". University of New Hampshire. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
- "Mountains of the Presidential Range". Mount Washington Observatory. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
- "History". Pierceton, Indiana. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
- DiConsiglio, John (2004). Franklin Pierce. Vol. 14. New York: Children's Press-Scholastic. ISBN 0-516-24235-0.
- Gara, Larry (1991). The Presidency of Franklin Pierce. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-0494-4.
- Nichols, Roy Franklin (1931). Franklin Pierce, Young Hickory of the Granite Hills. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. OCLC 426247.
- Wallner, Peter A. (2004). Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire's Favorite Son. Concord, New Hampshire: Plaidswede. ISBN 0-9755216-1-6.
- Wallner, Peter A. (2007). Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union. Concord, New Hampshire: Plaidswede. ISBN 978-0-9790784-2-2.
- Allen, Felicity (1999). Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart. St. Louis, Missouri: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-1219-0.
- Brinkley, A; Dyer, D (2004). The American Presidency. Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-38273-9.
- Nichols, Roy Franklin (1923). The Democratic Machine, 1850–1854. Columbia University Press. OCLC 2512393.
- Taylor, Michael J.C. (2001). "Governing the Devil in Hell: 'Bleeding Kansas' and the Destruction of the Franklin Pierce Presidency (1854–1856)". White House Studies 1: 185–205.
- Potter, David M. (1976). The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861. New York, New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-013403-8.
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- Works by Franklin Pierce at Project Gutenberg
- Franklin Pierce: A Resource Guide from the Library of Congress
- White House biography
- Pierce 200 site
- Inaugural Address
- The Life of Franklin Pierce By Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Pierce Manse
- State of the Union: 1853, 1854, 1855, 1856
- Franklin Pierce and His Services in the Valley of Mexico
- The Health and Medical History of President: Franklin Pierce
- Essays on Pierce and each member of his cabinet and First Lady
- Franklin Pierce at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- The life of Gen. Frank. Pierce, of New Hampshire, the Democratic candidate for president of the United States by D.W. Barlett
- Franklin Pierce at C-SPAN's American Presidents: Life Portraits
- Booknotes interview with Peter Wallner on Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire's Favorite Son, November 28, 2004.