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Franklin Pierce

By

John T. Marck

 



 

 

Franklin Pierce, His Life and the Manse

By John T. Marck

 

Franklin Pierce, his Family and the Homestead

          Franklin Pierce was born on November 23, 1804 in Hillsborough, New Hampshire.  He was one of eight children born to Benjamin and Anna Kendrick Pierce.  Although not born into great wealth, Franklin did have advantages because of his father.  Benjamin was a hero in the American Revolution, having led the local militia to various victories. As a result, Franklin enjoyed a status that most people in rural New Hampshire did not enjoy, which gave him influence in local politics. 

Both Benjamin and his wife Anna had family in America since the early Puritan settlements of the 1620s.  Growing up in rough, sometimes violent times, they wanted their children to have a better life and education than their own. The year Franklin was born, Benjamin built the Franklin Homestead.  The home had large spacious rooms, hand stenciled walls, imported wallpaper that symbolized the elegance of the time.  

Benjamin had arrived in Hillsborough in 1756, about 50 years after the town was settled. He served under General George Washington in the Revolution, but at war=s end, found himself destitute.

The surrounding land at Hillsborough had affordable prices for land, so Benjamin purchased a log cabin with 50 acres of land. Following the death of his first wife, Elizabeth Andrews, Benjamin married Anna. 

When the Homestead was completed, Benjamin had become a distinguished and prosperous man. He had served the public for more than 57 years to include two terms as the Governor of New Hampshire.  The Pierce Homestead became a gathering place of many individuals, including Daniel Webster. Benjamin also used the large ballroom on the second floor as a training area for drilling the local militia groups.  

The grounds of the Homestead also consist of an artificial pond and a lattice summerhouse, which were quite beautiful for their day. Franklin Pierce said of the Homestead: 

"I leave Hillsborough with no ordinary regret. There are a thousand reasons why it cannot be otherwise - I have hitherto known no other home. Here have passed many of the happiest days and months of my life. With these streams and mountains are associated most of the delightful recollections of buoyant and happy boyhood, and in my early intercourse with the generous, independent, and intelligent yeomanry of Hillsborough. I became attached to, and learned how to highly appreciate this class of community, which constitutes the true nobility of this country. I need hardly say that I shall never cease to remember my birthplace with pride as well as affection, and with still more pride shall I recollect the steady, unqualified and generous confidence which has been reposed in me by its inhabitants."

The Life of Franklin Pierce

         As Franklin grew up at the Homestead, he was exposed to many who used the house as a gathering place, to include great philosophers, politicians and writers of the time. Pierce went on to study at Bowdoin College in Maine and it was here that he met and established a life-long friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne.  In 1824 he graduated 3rd in his class and then followed his father into public service. 

Four years later, in 1828, Franklin was elected to the State Legislature, and in 1830, he was sent to the United States House of Representatives, where he served five terms before being elected to the U.S. Senate, at the age of 37. At the age of 41, Franklin retired to Concord, New Hampshire, where he practiced law. Pierce was an outstanding lawyer, who gained much fame for his practice.  It was said that it would have been fair to have 12 lawyers opposing him at the same time.  

In 1834, Franklin married Jane Means Appleton of Amherst, New Hampshire. They would have three children together, which led to much heartache.  Their first child, Franklin, Jr., was born in 1836, but lived only three days. Their second child, Frank Robert, called Franky, was born three years later in 1839, died at the age of 4 in 1843 of typhus.  Their last child, Benjamin, called Bennie, was born in 1841, and died in 1853 before their eyes in a train accident. 

While still working as a lawyer in private practice, in 1846, Franklin turned down a nomination for Governor as well as a cabinet position under President Polk.  What did bring Pierce to leave his private life and practice was the Mexican War, whereby he enlisted as a private and rose to colonel, then finally general. 

In 1852 Pierce once again was called upon to serve his country, during a Democratic Convention deadlock held in Baltimore. It seemed that none of the four candidates, that included James Buchanan and Stephen A. Douglas, were able to win the votes necessary to gain the presidential nomination. After voting 48 times, the delegates from Virginia introduced Franklin Pierce=s name in the hope that it would break the deadlock. The Convention accepted the nomination, which Pierce finally agreed to after some convincing. The election of 1852 focused on few issues, as it was thought that the Compromise of 1850 settled the issue of slavery. Pierce favored the Compromise and supported the Fugitive Slave Law that won him votes in the South, resulting in an impressive electoral victory.  Thus, Franklin Pierce was elected President of the United States at the age of 48, the youngest up to this time. 

It would be on his trip to Washington D.C. that he and his wife witnessed the dead of their son in the train accident.  Franklin's wife Jane, the new First lady, was so grief stricken that she was not seen in public for the two years that followed. She became known as the Shadow of the White House. Franklin too was grieving, all the while, dealt with the various problems that faced the nation.  The two issues that Pierce had to tackle were in the South, many feared that the Kansas-Nebraska Territory acquired in the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 would enter the Union as Free States, which would give the North a political advantage.  In the North, many had an extreme hatred against immigrants from Europe, whereas Pierce defended their rights under the Constitution.  

What transpired next was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed people settling in the western territories to decide whether or not to allow slavery? Pierce, believing the bill upheld the spirit of the Constitution, supported it. This resulted in a rush on both sides to Kansas, where the conflict became armed; resulting in a bloodbath, and Pierce was blamed.

As his term was ending, Pierce refused to run for a second time, and spent several years in Europe after leaving the Presidency. During his term in office Pierce did see economic growth and expansion, as well as the ratification of the first commercial treaty with Japan. However, Pierce, like others, was unable to stop the conflicts that led to the Civil War.  

Franklin Pierce left New Hampshire a hero, and sadly, returned in silence. 

The Franklin Pierce "Manse" Concord Home

         While Pierce was in private practice as a lawyer in Concord, He and his family lived at 14 Penacook Street between the years 1842-1848. Located at the end of North Main Street at Penacook, the house was about to be demolished in 1966 by an Urban Renewal project. This famous house, the only one owned by Pierce in Concord was fortunately saved by The Pierce Brigade, in 1971, which moved the house to its present site in Concord's Historic District. Today the house is maintained by the Brigade as a memorial to New Hampshire's only President. 

The word "manse," means "the house occupied by the householder." It is used for this house to differentiate it from other homes connected with Franklin Pierce. The house is a simple architectural design, and has been restored as close as possible to the way it was when it was occupied by Pierce, his wife and their two children. Many of the furnishings seen there today belonged to Pierce or other members of his family as well as included are some articles from the White House. 

 

When Franklin moved into this house, he had just resigned his post as a U.S. Senator, to resume his private law practice.  He left there to go serve in the Mexican War, while his wife and son, Benjamin, went to stay with relatives.  

After the war, it is very probable they did not return here because of the death of Franklin, Jr., believing it to be haunted by his memory. In the house is a unique portrait of Franklin, Jr., that is one of the treasures of the Manse. In 1993, a replica barn and shed was added to the property that is exact down to the measurements of the originals.  

Gravesite

Franklin Pierce did not have what would be considered a happy Presidency, and unfortunately, his post presidency life was not much better. After leaving the White House, he spent most of the pre-Civil War years in Europe, reflecting on his many political misfortunes while President. When the Civil War began in 1860, he voiced his support toward the North, which was strange considering his earlier pro-slavery position. Then, Pierce, being a loyal Democrat, did not support President Lincoln, a Republican. To make matters worse for him, Pierce tried to blame the war on Lincoln. This criticism of the President cost him many of his life-long friendships. 

 

When Pierce left office in 1857, his wife Jane was slowly dying from tuberculosis.  To help ease her pain, he took her to the West Indies and Southern Europe searching for a more comfortable climate.  All the while they moved around these areas, Jane clutched her son=s Bible and locks of hair from her three lost children.  About the time the Civil War began, they returned to the U.S. in Andover, Massachusetts, and she died here on December 2, 1863.

After his wife died Pierce settled back in New Hampshire, and by war=s end, he was all but forgotten, remaining as reclusive as his wife had been while in the White House. Being fond of liquor, he returned to it as his only comfort. In 1865, when Lincoln was assassinated, an angry mob formed outside his house. But, the once great lawyer, with famed-oratorical skills managed to calm the crowd, and is doping so saved his home, dispersing them peacefully. Franklin Pierce died at his home on October 8, 1869. He, his wife and their three children are buried at the Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire.   

Quick Biographical Facts:

 FRANKLIN PIERCE

14th President

Term- March 4, 1853 to March 4, 1857

Democratic Party

Birth: Hillsborough, New Hampshire, November 23, 1804.

Ancestry: English

Marriage: Amherst, New Hampshire, November 19, 1834 to Jane Means Appleton, who was born in Hampton, New Hampshire, March 12, 1806. Jane died in Andover, Massachusetts, December 2, 1863, and is buried in Old North Cemetery, Concord, New Hampshire.

Children: Franklin (1836-1836); Frank Robert (1839-1843); Benjamin (1841-1853).

Home: Pierce Homestead, Hillsboro Upper Village, New Hampshire.

Education: Attended public school and Hancock Academy; Graduated from Bowdoin College (1824).

Religion: Episcopalian

Occupation before Presidency: Lawyer, politician, and soldier.

Military Service: Brigadier General in U.S. Army (1847-1848).

Pre-Presidential Offices: Member and Speaker of New Hampshire Legislature; Member of U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate; President of New Hampshire Constitutional Convention.

Age at Inauguration: 48

Pierce Administration: Vice President: William R. King of Alabama (died April 18, 1853), Inauguration March 4, 1853, The Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Occupation after Presidency: Retired

Death: Concord, New Hampshire, October 8, 1869

Cause of Death: Stomach inflammation at the age of 64.

Place of Burial: Old North Cemetery, Concord, New Hampshire.

Interesting Facts:

Pierce tried to please those for slavery and those against it, and as a result was rejected by his party in 1856.

         In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry anchored four U.S. ships in Tokyo Bay, which was forbidden to foreigners. His visit and actions opened Japan to trade with the west.

         In his inaugural oath Pierce became the only President to refuse to say, "I solemnly swear," substituting the words, "I solemnly affirm."

         In the election of 1852, the Democratic convention balloted forty-eight times, eliminating all of the famous candidates, before handing the nomination to the unknown Pierce on the forty-ninth. Pierce enforced the Fugitive Slave Act to appease the South.

  Pierce backed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which permitted new western territories, even those slave-free, to decide for themselves if slavery should be spread there.

Copyright by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. Informational assistance provided by The White House and Presidential Avenue.

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