Franklin Pierce came into this world in a cabin in New Hampshire. Father Benjamin Pierce was twice the governor of New Hampshire. Anna Kendrick was his mother. Pierce was the seventh amongst eight siblings. His schooling was in Hillsborough Centre and from there he went to Hancock Academy. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and later joined Bowdoin College, Maine.
Pierce was a good debater and formed friendships with Nathaniel Hawthorne as well as H.W. Longfellow. He graduated in 1824, enrolled in a law school and later joined the bar. Pierce was good looking and amiable. This made him too soft and he came to be dubbed as one of the worst presidents of US. In his personal life he struggled with a broken marriage with Jane Means Appleton and alcoholism.
He was a good man who did not understand his own failures. He was polite, thoughtful, and attractive and could play the political game well but he could not understand the nature of changing America. His wife came from an aristocratic Whig family and she was deeply religious. They lost all their children – the last one in a tragic accident.
Pierce was a Democrat with a ‘doughface’ because he was a Northerner with sympathies for Southern causes. He served in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Pierce played an active role in the Mexican war. Pierce practiced law in his home state of New Hampshire and success made him turn down many rewarding offers.
Pierce joined local politics after graduation. He served in the State House and was for sometime the Speaker. In 1832 he was elected to the Congress as a Democrat when only 27 years old. He was also chairman of US Committee on Pension.
Pierce was a compromise Presidential candidate because a dead lock had reached and a tie breaker was required. Till then he was a political nonentity with no major credentials to sing about. As a party activist he had a long career and he never fully came out with his views on the sensitive slave issue.
Pierce’s participation in the Mexican war projected him as a war hero. He was nominated unanimously. He also got support of the Irish Catholics. His opponent was a Whig – the last time the party would contend for the post. At that time he was the youngest president being 48 years of age.
At the time of his inauguration there was peace and the storm around slavery seemed to have died down. But when it resurfaced Pierce could not tackle it firmly. He followed the footsteps of the Presidents who had preceded him. However he entered the presidency a shaken man having seen for himself the tragic death of his son in a train accident in which both he and his wife were also involved. Shaken he took oath on a law book rather than the Bible.
His cabinet consisted of a diverse group. It remained unbroken throughout his tenure. In matters of foreign policy he remained a traditional Democrat in aggressiveness. At that time Spain was weak, Japan retiring and England meddling in Central America. In the Ostend Manifesto he openly suggested seizure of Cuba by force. It shocked many although it was this policy of expansion that had brought success to the Democrats. The most controversial event was the Kansas-Nebraska Act that opened up again the question of slavery.
Pierce hoped but was denied re-nomination. He left White House to go on a European tour with his wife. He settled in Concord and spent his last years in seclusion until his death in 1869.