Top 10 Facts About Franklin Pierce

The 14th president completed the boundaries of the continental US

Franklin Pierce was the fourteenth president of the United States, serving from March 4, 1853-March 3, 1857. He served as president during a period of growing sectionalism with the Kansas-Nebraska Act and popular sovereignty. Following are ten key and interesting facts about him and his time as president.

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Son of a Politician

Painting of Franklin Pierce, fourteenth president of the United States
Franklin Pierce.

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Franklin Pierce was born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire on November 23, 1804. His father, Benjamin Pierce, had fought in the American Revolution. He was later elected as governor of the state. Pierce inherited bouts of depression and alcoholism from his mother, Anna Kendrick Pierce.

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State and Federal Legislator

Illustration of the home of President Franklin Pierce
Home of President Franklin Pierce.

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Pierce only practiced law for two years before he became a New Hampshire legislator. He became a US representative at the age of twenty-seven before becoming a Senator for New Hampshire. Pierce was strongly against the North American 19-century Black activist movement during his time as a legislator.

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Fought in the Mexican-American War

President James K. Polk. President during the Mexican American War and era of Manifest Destiny.
James K. Polk. President during the Mexican American War and era of Manifest Destiny.

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Pierce appealed to President James K. Polk to allow him to be an officer during the Mexican-American War. He was given the rank of Brigadier General even though he had never served in the military before. He led a group of volunteers at the Battle of Contreras and was injured when he fell from his horse. He later helped capture Mexico City.

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Was an Alcoholic President

Portrait of Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce.

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Pierce married Jane Means Appleton in 1834. She had to suffer through his bouts of alcoholism. In fact, he was criticized during the campaign and his presidency for his alcoholism. During the used election of 1852, the Whigs mocked Pierce as the "Hero of Many a Well-Fought Bottle."

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Defeated His Old Commander During the Election of 1852

General Winfield Scott
General Winfield Scott.

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Pierce was nominated by the Democratic party to run for president in 1852. Despite being from the North, he was pro-enslavement, which appealed to southerners. He was opposed by Whig candidate and war hero General Winfield Scott, for whom he had served in the Mexican-American War. In the end, Pierce won the election based on his personality.

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Criticized for the Ostend Manifesto

Political cartoon about the Ostend Manifesto
Political cartoon about the Ostend Manifesto.

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In 1854, the Ostend Manifesto, an internal presidential memo, was leaked and printed in the New York Herald. It argued that the US should take aggressive action against Spain if it was unwilling to sell Cuba. The North felt that this was a partial attempt to extend the system of enslavement and Pierce was criticized for the memo.

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Supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Was Pro-Enslavement

Print of Bleeding Kansas after the Kansas Nebraska Act
19th May 1858: A group of freesoiler settlers being executed by a pro-enslavement group from Missouri at Marais Des Cygnes in Kansas. Five freesoilers were killed in the single most bloody incident during the border struggles between Kansas and Missouri which were led to the epithet 'Bleeding Kansas'.

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Pierce favored enslavement and supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which provided for popular sovereignty to determine the fate of the practice in the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. This was significant because it effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Kansas territory became a hotbed of violence and became known as "Bleeding Kansas."

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Completed Gadsden Purchase

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. National Archives and Records Administration; General Records of the United States; Record Group 11

In 1853, the US purchased land from Mexico in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. This occurred in part to settle land disputes between the two countries that had arisen from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo along with America's desire to have the land for the transcontinental railroad. This body of land was known as the Gadsden Purchase and completed the boundaries of the continental US. It was contentious because of fighting between pro and anti-enslavement forces over its future status.

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Retired to Take Care of His Grieving Wife

Photograph of Jane Means Appleton Pierce, wife of President Franklin Pierce
Jane Means Appleton Pierce, wife of President Franklin Pierce.

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Pierce had married Jane Means Appleton in 1834. They had three sons, all of whom died by the age of twelve. Their youngest died soon after he was elected and his wife never recovered from the grief. In 1856, Pierce had become quite unpopular and was not nominated to run for reelection. Instead, he traveled to Europe and the Bahamas and helped take care of his grieving wife.

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Opposed to the Civil War

Photographic portrait of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy
Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy.

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Pierce had always been pro-enslavement. Even though he opposed secession, he sympathized with the Confederacy and supported his previous Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. Many in the north saw him as a traitor during the American Civil War.