Thursday, December 08, 2011

10 Fun Facts About Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States

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1)  Born November 23, 1804, in a New Hampshire log cabin, Franklin Pierce was one of eight children, and would later become the first U.S. president born in the 19th century.  His father, Benjamin Pierce, would later become a two-term governor of New Hampshire.

2)  Barbara Bush, former First Lady, and the wife and mother of two U.S. presidents, is distantly related to him (her maiden name is Pierce).  She and Franklin Pierce are 4th cousins, 4 times removed.

3)  Pierce studied law at Bowdoin College, in Massachusetts, where he was classmates with Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, both of whom would go on to be great 19th century American writers.  Pierce had a particularly good friendship with Hawthorne, and Hawthorne wrote a brief biography about him in 1852, during his presidential election campaign.

4)  Entering politics after leaving college, Pierce served first in the state legislature of New Hampshire, before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1832 as a Democrat.  At 27 years of age, he was the youngest congressman in Washington.  He would later become a U.S. Senator.

5)  Pierce met and married a woman named Jane Appleton.  Their first two children, both boys, died in childhood of illnesses.  Their third child, also a boy, was killed in a horrific train accident shortly after Pierce was elected president.  The child was apparently decapitated right in front of his mother and father, and the tragedy haunted Pierce's presidency.  They had no other children.  Pierce's wife had not been particularly keen about his political ambitions, reportedly fainting at the news that he had been nominated for president in 1852, and came to view their last child's death - just two months before he took office - as God's punishment.  She lived as a virtual hermit during his time in the White House, not making her first official appearance as first lady until halfway through his term.

6)  Pierce served in the military during the Mexican-American war, where he sustained a serious leg injury.  Still serving in battle following the injury, he collapsed and was forced to be carried off the field.  This was later used against him, in the 1852 presidential election, with his political foes suggesting he had left the field of battle because of cowardice and not because of any real injury.

7)  Pierce won all but four states during the 1852 presidential election, and became, at age 48, the youngest president in U.S. history.  He was widely regarded as handsome and dashing, and rode a strong wave of popularity into the White House.  Following this election, the Whig party, which lost in a landslide, became splintered, and eventually gave rise to the Republican party.  The Democrats had last won the White House in 1844, under James K. Polk, and for that reason, their slogan in the 1852 campaign was: "We Polked you in 1844; we shall Pierce you in 1852!"

8)  During his inauguration, Pierce chose not to swear his oath of office on a bible, choosing instead to "affirm" his oath on a law book.

9)  Pierce's time in office was tumultuous.  His love affair with the American people soured very quickly because of perceived poor leadership.  He was also viewed as easily manipulated by powerful advisers.  After supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which opened the door for the spread of slavery into new western states, Pierce lost favor with many anti-slavery advocates in the north.  In 1856, Pierce failed to win re-nomination by the Democratic party, and the nomination went instead to James Buchanan, who ultimately won the White House.  Pierce was effectively forced into retirement.  By the end of his term, he had become so unpopular that he became the first U.S. president to hire a full-time bodyguard.

10)  During the Civil War, ex-president Pierce came out as a supporter of the Confederacy, and was known to be close friends with Confederate president Jefferson Davis.  Letters Pierce sent to Davis, criticizing President Lincoln, the war, and abolitionism in general, came to light in 1863 - after Davis's home was captured - and Pierce's reputation suffered even more.  A lifelong alcoholic, Pierce died of liver failure in 1869, and was buried in New Hampshire, beside his wife (who had died in 1863) and two of his three sons.


Trent N. said...

Can you even begin to imagine the shit storm that would have ensued if Obama had eschewed a Bible in favor of a law book for his inauguration?

That fact really surprised me and makes me wonder if we as a nation are less tolerant and more "fundamental" today than we were 170 years ago in regards to religion.

Scott said...

Yeah, I'm curious to know what the public's reaction was to that choice on the part of Pierce. Of course, in 1852, probably none of them even knew it happened, unless they happened to read it in a newspaper. Who knows.

The thing I love about doing these posts is that you come to find out that not a whole lot has changed in politics. Pierce's rivals suggested he had faked an injury to get off the field of battle during the Mexican-American war - in other words, they tried to discredit his military service. Essentially, he got swift-boated.

littleleafpearl said...

My husband and I just visited his grave in Concord. We were wondering about the early deaths of his sons and if it perhaps impacted his ability to be a good president. I've never read much about Pierce so we googled it and found your post. The story of his son who passed in a train accident is one of the most tragic things I've read in a while. It's no wonder he was a lame president, the poor man was broken.

Scott said...

Thanks for the comment! Yes, I agree that the story of the train wreck is horrific. What was most surprising was his support of the Confederacy, despite being a New England man.

kittybambam777 said...

Hey my name is katie how did he become and alcholic?

Scott said...

Hi Katie. He probably became an alcoholic by drinking too much :)

Honestly, I don't know how or why he became an alcoholic, other than he simply drank too much and too often.

Jimmy W. said...

As a father of 4 boys and a husband of a non supportive ex-wife, I couldn't even begin to imagine his loneliness,emptiness and the degree of stress he carried as the President of the United States. Let alone a father that lost all 3 of his children & his last right in front of his face, for which, his wife blamed their son's death on him running for President as God's punishment. I'm sure that played a huge role in his alcoholic escapes.

Other notable facts about Pierce I like:
- He was the first President to bring a Christmas tree into the White House.
- He was responsible for Nebraska & Kansas territories as well as acquiring the land that is Arizona & New Mexico & started talks with Russia to acquire Alaska.
- He served the majority of his term without a Vice President as William R. King died only 6 weeks into the term. King was also the only executive U.S. official to swear into office on foreign soil. He was sworn in as Vice President in Havana, Cuba.

Scott said...

Thanks for the comment and additional facts, Jimmy.

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