Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the United States

Franklin Pierce
Stock Montage / Getty Images

Pierce was born on November 23, 1804 in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. His father was politically active having first fought in the Revolutionary War and then served in various offices in New Hampshire including as Governor of the State. Pierce went to a local school and two academies before attending Bowdoin College in Maine. He studied with both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He graduated fifth in his class and then studied law. He was admitted to the bar in 1827.

Family Ties

Pierce was the son of Benjamin Pierce, a public official, and Anna Kendrick. His mother was prone to depression. He had four brothers, two sisters, and one half-sister. On November 19, 1834, he married Jane Means Appleton. the daughter of a Congregationalist Minister. Together, they had three sons all of whom died by the age of twelve. The youngest, Benjamin, died in a train accident soon after Pierce was elected president.

Career Before the Presidency

Franklin Pierce began practicing law before being elected as a member of the New Hampshire legislature 1829-33. He then became a U.S. Representative from 1833-37 and then Senator from 1837-42. He resigned from the Senate to practice law. He joined the military in 1846-48 to fight in the Mexican War.

Becoming the President

He was nominated as the candidate for the Democratic Party in 1852. He ran against war hero Winfield Scott. The main issue was how to deal with enslavement, appease or oppose the South. The Whigs were divided in support of Scott. Pierce won with 254 out of 296 electoral votes.

Events and Accomplishments of His Presidency

In 1853, the U.S. bought a stretch of land now part of Arizona and New Mexico as part of the Gadsden Purchase. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed allowing settlers in Kansas and Nebraska territories to decide for themselves whether enslavement would be allowed. This is known as popular sovereignty. Pierce supported this bill which caused great dissension and much fighting in the territories.

One issue that caused a lot of criticism against Pierce was the Ostend Manifesto. This was a document published in the New York Herald which stated that if Spain was not willing to sell Cuba to the U.S., the United States would consider taking aggressive action to get it.

Pierce's presidency was met with much criticism and dissension, and he was not renominated to run in 1856.

Post Presidential Period

Pierce retired to New Hampshire and then traveled to Europe and the Bahamas. He opposed secession while at the same time speaking in favor of the South. Overall, though, he was antiwar and many called him a traitor. He died on October 8, 1869 in Concord, New Hampshire.

Historical Significance

Pierce was president at a critical time in American History. The country was becoming more polarized into Northern and Southern interests. The issue of enslavement became once again front and center with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Obviously, the nation was headed towards a confrontation, and Pierce's actions did little to stop that downward slide.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Kelly, Martin. "Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the United States." ThoughtCo, Jul. 29, 2021, Kelly, Martin. (2021, July 29). Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the United States. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the United States." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).