Franklin Pierce

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Franklin Pierce
Signature of Frankling Pierce

Franklin Pierce (born November 23, 1804 in Hillsborough , Hillsborough County , New Hampshire , †  October 8, 1869 in Concord , New Hampshire) was an American politician and from 1853 to 1857 the 14th  President of the United States .

Pierce, who came from a middle-class family, entered politics immediately after completing his legal training. He was a member of the Democratic Party in both the House of Representatives of New Hampshire and the US House of Representatives and the US Senate on. He then served in the armed forces , where he was involved in the Mexican-American War . In 1852 his party nominated him as a compromise candidate for the upcoming presidential election , which he then clearly won against the Whig candidate Winfield Scott . Pierce's tenure, which began in March 1853, was marked by strong domestic political conflicts between the parts of the country over slavery , which continued to worsen. Part of the responsibility for this escalation was also the attitude of the president himself. The Kansas-Nebraska Act , signed by Pierce, sparked a storm of indignation in the northern states, which oppose slavery . Failing to overcome the increasing political turmoil, Pierce's own party turned its back on the president. For the presidential election of 1856 , the Democrats no longer put Pierce, but the former Secretary of State James Buchanan , who then also won the election. Pierce's tenure ended in March 1857. Disillusioned, he withdrew completely into private life. During the Civil War from 1861 to 1865, he maintained his sympathy for the southern states and rejected the policies of Abraham Lincoln . Pierce, who suffered from alcoholism especially after the end of his time in the White House , died in 1869. After his death, he was largely forgotten in the public consciousness, which has changed little to this day. Today Pierce is considered by historians to be one of the least successful presidents of the United States.

Life to the presidency

Early years and political advancement

Franklin Pierce was the son of Benjamin Pierce , who was governor of New Hampshire twice between 1827 and 1830 . The young Pierce studied law and initially worked as a lawyer in Hillsborough from 1827. From 1829 to 1833 he was a member of the House of Representatives of New Hampshire and 1832/33 its chairman . He was then from 1833 to 1837 for the Democrats member of the US House of Representatives and from 1837 to 1842 US Senator for New Hampshire. Among other things, he was chairman of the pension committee.

After leaving the Senate, he resumed his practice as a lawyer in Concord. He was United States Attorney for the District of New Hampshire and turned down an offer by President James K. Polk , Minister of Justice to be from. In the Mexican-American War of 1846/48 he served as Colonel and Brigadier General , in 1850 he was President of the New Hampshire Constitutional Convention.

Presidential candidacy 1852

1852 Democratic election poster featuring Pierce and his vice-presidential candidate, William R. King

After no candidate was able to secure enough votes at the Democratic nomination party convention in June 1852 to be chosen as a candidate for the presidential election in November of that year, Pierce was put up as a compromise candidate. In the political conflict between northern and southern states , it seemed that they had found a balance with Pierce. He came from the north, but openly sympathized with the plantation owners in the south. He also advocated the expansion of slavery , which was sought by the southern states, especially after the territories gained as a result of the Mexican-American War .

The Whigs were perceived as very divided in the election campaign, as their candidate Winfield Scott opposed slavery, while the party program and the past government record appeared to be the opposite. This was facilitated not least by the compromise of 1850 , which in the northern states, which were predominantly opposed to slavery, was perceived as too slavery-friendly, which cost the party a lot of support in the north, where it traditionally won many votes. In their attempt to build on earlier electoral successes by again setting up a prominent general with Scott, the Whigs were unsuccessful, as Pierce also served in the armed forces.

Nathaniel Hawthorne supported Pierce, with whom he was friends since their school days together, in the election campaign by writing a biography about him. Pierce won the presidential election on November 2, 1852 with 50.8 percent of the vote, well ahead of Scott, who won 43.9 percent of the electorate. After Pierce was able to win a majority in almost all states, his triumph in the decisive Electoral College was even clearer: 254 against 42. The clear electoral defeat and the split on the slavery question then caused the Whig Party to break up within a few years: Former Whig politicians and Opponents of slavery like Abraham Lincoln formed in the Republican Party from 1854 , while supporters converted to the Democrats. Others, like outgoing President Millard Fillmore , joined the short-lived Know-Nothing Party . The main electoral battle from then on was between Democrats and Republicans. Shortly after his election victory, Pierce suffered a serious personal loss on January 6, 1853. On his way to Washington, there was a serious train wreck near Andover, Massachusetts , in which he saw his eleven-year-old son die. He and his wife were unharmed. After he had previously lost two sons, the newly elected president was hard hit psychologically by the death of this son. Pierce suffered from depression and was known as an alcoholic. His wife Jane is said to have lost her mind because of this misfortune.

Presidency (1853–1857)

Official portrait in the White House

Pierce's inauguration as President took place on March 4, 1853. He replaced the Whig politician Millard Fillmore , who was not re-established by his party. In his inaugural address, he proclaimed an era of domestic peace and prosperity and strength in relations with other nations. Furthermore, it could be that the United States would have to acquire additional territorial property for its own security, with which he committed himself to the doctrine of the Manifest Destiny , which was mainly persecuted under the last Democratic President James K. Polk (1845-1849). He pointed to a "shy premonition of evil" and that he would not be deterred by it. He was the first president who did not swear the presidential oath, but instead affirmed it.

Its vice president was William R. King , who died after only 45 days in office. The office of vice-president remained vacant until the end of Pierce's term of office in March 1857, since before the 25th amendment to the constitution of 1967 this office could only be filled by popular elections every four years.

Pierce's cabinet was never reshaped during his tenure . To date, he is the only president who has ruled for at least a full four-year term without replacing a minister.

Kansas-Nebraska Act

But the greatest opposition was the Kansas-Nebraska Act , which repealed the Missouri Compromise and reopened the question of slavery in the West. This measure, the work of Senator Stephen A. Douglas , grew in part from Pierce's desire to have a railroad from Chicago to California through Nebraska to promote. The Secretary of War Jefferson Davis , proponent of a southern transcontinental route, had persuaded Pierce to send James Gadsden to Mexico to buy land for a southern railroad. He bought the area that today southern Arizona and part of southern New Mexico includes 10 million dollars , also known as Gadsden Purchase .

Douglas' proposal to procure areas in the west for the proposed railroad created great difficulties. Douglas stipulated in his draft laws that the new territories should decide the slave question for themselves. The result was a rush into Kansas as southerners and northerners vied for control of the area. Shootings broke out and Bleeding Kansas became a harbinger of civil war .

Foreign policy

Portrait of Franklin Pierce in his time as President

Pierce had only to hint at expansion to arouse the ire of northern politicians. They accused him of being a southern henchman who was eager to expand slavery to other areas. So he aroused fears when he - in vain - urged the United Kingdom to give up its interest in part of the Central American coast (now Belize ) and even more so when he tried to persuade Spain to sell Cuba (for $ 20 million) .

Relations with Britain deteriorated significantly during Pierce's tenure. The initial cause was an incident in the British colony of San Juan de Nicaragua in Nicaragua . With a US trading post on the other side of the river, the British colony had long been a thorn in the side of the US government. After a British man injured an American with a bottle there and the British government refused to pay $ 24,000 in compensation, Pierce launched a warship and razed the city to the ground . Although the military approach was sharply criticized both in the American public and internationally, the President defended the action before Congress .

In addition to the plan to annex Cuba , Pierce also sympathized with the idea of expanding American influence in Central America . When in 1856 the American adventurer William Walker carried out a coup d'état with a small private army in Nicaragua and established a puppet government, this was recognized by the Pierce administration, which led to further diplomatic upheavals with the United Kingdom. Walker strove for the submission of all of Central America, proclaimed himself President of Nicaragua, and reintroduced slavery, which was abolished in 1824. When Walker's regime was overthrown by a coalition of Central American states by military means in 1856/57, Pierce had no choice but to rescue Walker at the last minute as part of an evacuation mission. A military intervention by the USA would in all probability not only have led to further diplomatic resentment, but would also have been almost impossible to enforce domestically.

Election from 1856 and end of term

Pierce wanted to run for a second term in the presidential election in 1856 , but given his polarizing effect in the conflict over slavery, his own party turned its back on him and not he, but ex-Secretary of State James Buchanan was nominated as a candidate. Through his advocacy for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Pierce had created numerous political opponents, especially among delegates from the northern states, who categorically refused to run the president again. In the first ballot at the Democratic Party Congress, he received fewer votes than Buchanan. But even this failed initially because of the necessary two-thirds majority of the delegates. With each subsequent run, his result worsened. After 14 ballots, Pierce finally declared his resignation. He then supported Stephen A. Douglas's candidacy in order to prevent James Buchanan from running. But shortly afterwards Douglas also withdrew. He apparently hoped to be able to run in the next election, after this time he let the much older Buchanan go first.

James Buchanan won the presidential election in November 1856 against Republican John C. Frémont and ex-President Millard Fillmore, who had run for the Know-Nothing Party. Pierce's tenure ended on March 4, 1857 with Buchanan's swearing in. To date, Franklin Pierce is the only elected president who has been denied candidacy for a second term by his own party (the other four presidents who were not put up for election had left the office of vice-president in the previous term due to the death of President without election to the highest office).

Appeals to the Supreme Court

Franklin Pierce appointed a judge to the Supreme Court during his tenure :

Further appeals were made to lower federal courts.

Late years and death

Pierce retired into private life at the end of his presidency. After losing the presidential nomination for a second term, Pierce quipped, as it is said, "there is nothing more to do but drink" - which he obviously did more often. He is said to have knocked over an elderly pedestrian in his carriage while drunk. The case was dropped for lack of evidence. Especially after the death of his wife in 1863, his alcohol problems increased. During the Civil War from 1861 to 1865, he strongly opposed the policies of President Abraham Lincoln , which is why he was even branded a traitor in the northern parts of the country. After the fatal assassination attempt on Lincoln in 1865, Pierce's house was polluted by an angry mob , supporters of the murdered president. His predecessor Millard Fillmore also faced attacks on his house because of his criticism of President Lincoln.

Franklin Pierce died on October 8, 1869, at the age of 64, of cirrhosis of the liver , which was probably caused by years of excessive alcohol consumption. In his will he also considered the children of the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne . The future first wife Barbara Pierce Bush (1925-2018) was a descendant of Franklin Pierce.


Franklin Pierce on a presidential dollar

There is now consensus among historians that Franklin Pierce's presidency is a failure. In addition to his foreign policy, which led to strong upheavals with Great Britain, his inability to resolve the conflict between northern and southern states is mentioned above all. He had not succeeded in resolutely countering the growing political tensions that arose between the parts of the country. On the contrary, his policies, like those of his predecessor Fillmore and his successor Buchanan, tended to fuel the conflict, which ultimately led to the civil war. Or as the historian Christof Mauch Pierce summarized: "Instead of reacting to the problems of his time, he had committed himself to a backward-looking policy based on the principles of his predecessors, which intensified tensions between North and South even more." A few weeks before Pierce's term of office was over, MP Charles Francis Adams , son of John Quincy Adams and grandson of John Adams , wrote to Senator Charles Sumner that one should be happy to have had a president like Pierce, since his mistakes all followed President would be a lesson. Historians today agree that Adams was mistaken in this assessment in view of the government record of Pierce's successor James Buchanan, which led to the Civil War . Pierce was largely forgotten after the Civil War, something that has hardly changed since then. In the 21st century he is hardly known even in the USA.

See also


Web links

Commons : Franklin Pierce  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Paul F. Boller, Jr .: Presidential Anecdotes . Revised edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1996, ISBN 0-19-510715-2 , p. 113 .
  2. Michael F. Holt: Prologue to Conflict: The Crisis and Compromise of 1850 Univ. Prof. Kentucky 2005 ISBN 978-0-8131-9136-2 p. 186 ff.
  3. ^ Nancy Hendricks: America's First Ladies: A Historical Encyclopedia and Primary Document Collection of the Remarkable Women of the White House . ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara 2015, ISBN 978-1-61069-882-5 , p. 110 f.
  4. ^ Jean H. Baker: Franklin Pierce: Campaigns and Elections. In:, University of Virginia , accessed April 10, 2018.
  5. ^ Christof Mauch: Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). The backward-looking president. In: Christof Mauch (Ed.): The American Presidents. 5th, continued and updated edition. Munich 2009, pp. 163–169, here: p. 165
  6. Based on the consumer price index , USD 20 million in 1854 corresponds to almost USD 600 million in 2014: [1]
  7. ^ Christof Mauch: Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). The backward-looking president. In: Christof Mauch (Ed.): The American Presidents. 5th, continued and updated edition. Munich 2009, p. 163–169, here: p. 167
    Jean H. Baker: Franklin Pierce: Foreign Affairs. In:, University of Virginia , accessed April 10, 2018.
  8. ^ Christof Mauch: Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). The backward-looking president. In: Christof Mauch (Ed.): The American Presidents. 5th, continued and updated edition. Munich 2009, pp. 163–169, here: pp. 167–168
  9. ^ Jean H. Baker: Franklin Pierce: Domestic Affairs. In:, University of Virginia , accessed April 10, 2018.
  10. ^ Jean H. Baker: Franklin Pierce: Life After the Presidency. In:, University of Virginia , accessed April 10, 2018.
  11. Wills of the US Presidents, ed. By Herbert R. Collins and David B. Weaver, New York: Communications Channels, Inc, 1976, pp. 108-113. ISBN 0-916164-01-2
  12. ^ Christof Mauch: Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). The backward-looking president. In: Christof Mauch (Ed.): The American Presidents. 5th, continued and updated edition. Munich 2009, pp. 163–169, here: p. 169
  13. ^ Christof Mauch: Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). The backward-looking president. In: Christof Mauch (Ed.): The American Presidents. 5th, continued and updated edition. Munich 2009, pp. 163–169, here: p. 169
    Jean H. Baker: Franklin Pierce: Impact and Legacy. In:, University of Virginia , accessed April 10, 2018.