Part 1 - The Man Behind the Presidency
By Mark B. Oliver | January 25, 2011
Franklin Pierce is best remembered as the controversial 14th president of the United States, but what of the New Hampshire man himself? What was his story?
Franklin Pierce was elected president of the United States in 1853 and to date is the only native of New Hampshire to become this nation’s President. His administration is often sited as being a failure, but is this a fair assessment of the man himself? In this first part of a three part series ONE looks at the early life of the 14th President.
Born on a frontier farm in Hillsborough, New Hampshire on November 23, 1804, Pierce had an uneventful childhood. His father, Benjamin, was a farmer who fought in the Revolutionary War and would eventually become a two-time Democratic-Republican governor of New Hampshire. His mother Anna was fully occupied looking after their eight children. Benjamin Pierce instilled in his son a sense of public service and patriotism and sensing something in him, Pierce was afforded a private education.
Despite initially struggling when he went to law school, Pierce studied hard and graduated third in his class. He began his own law practice in Concord, New Hampshire in 1827.
Like his father before him, Pierce entered politics and just a year later was elected, as a Democrat, to the New Hampshire House of Representatives. In 1832, at the age of 27 he entered Congress and in so doing became the youngest U.S. Representative.
Just four days before his 30th birthday, Pierce married Jane Appleton. Her views differed sharply from his own; she was a shy, religious woman, who was pro-temperance and strongly disapproved of her husband’s involvement in politics. She disliked the lively Washington social scene and rarely accompanied Pierce to the capital. Their son, Franklin, was born on February 2, 1836 and died just three days later. Despite this tragedy and opposition from his wife, Pierce stood and was elected to the US Senate in 1836. In 1839, they had another son, Frank Robert and their final child, Benjamin, was born in April 1841. As a result of his wife’s influence he resigned his senate seat in 1842 with the intention of permanently withdrawing from public life, to resume his legal career.
Tragedy was to strike the couple again a year later when both of their children were stricken with epidemic typhus and Franklin died from the illness. Between 1845 and 1847 Pierce served as United States Attorney for the District of New Hampshire, but turned down several invitations to return to public service, including President James K. Polk’s offer to appoint him Attorney General. In his letter to Polk, Pierce stated that when he left the senate he did so “with the purpose never again to be voluntarily separated from my family for any considerable time, except at the call of my country in time of war.” Pierce seemed to have resolved to abide by his wife’s wishes and to spend the majority of his time with her and Benjamin, although this was to change with the outbreak of war with Mexico.
In the second installment, Pierce serves in the army during the bloody conflict, and more of the man himself is revealed.