By Ruth Browning
Born in 1804 near Hillsboro, New Hampshire, Franklin Pierce was the son of a farmer who later became two-time governor of New Hampshire. Franklin attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and, after graduation in 1926, entered law school. He was admitted to the bar in 1827 and began his law practice in Concord, New Hampshire.
Pierce entered politics soon after this and, at age 24, was elected to the New Hampshire legislature, becoming Speaker two years later. He served in the state legislature while his father was governor of the state. In 1832 he was elected as a Democrat to the U. S. House of Representatives and in 1836 was elected to the Senate.
Pierce married Jane Means Appleton in 1834 and they had three children, none who lived to adulthood. Because Jane hated life in Washington, D.C., Pierce resigned his Senate seat and returned to Concord to practice law.
Enlisting in the army during the Mexican-American War, he soon became a Brigadier General. He was proposed for the Presidential nomination in 1852. Delegates to the Democratic Convention balloted 48 times before choosing Pierce as their candidate. He won the presidency by a narrow margin of popular votes.
Pierce, his wife and 11-year old son were in a train wreck shortly before he was to take office. The son was killed and Pierce was grief-stricken. As a result, he chose to affirm his oath of office by placing his hand on a law book rather than the traditional Bible.
Because Pierce made gestures toward expanding the borders of the U.S., northerners accused him of working with the South to extend slavery into other areas. Pierce favored building a railroad from Chicago to California through Nebraska. Also, a southern railroad route needed to be found. James Gadsden was sent to Mexico to buy land, an area now comprising southern Arizona and part of southern New Mexico, for $10,000,000.
Because western territories needed to be organized, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed which reopened the question of slavery in the West. This bill provided that residents of the new territories could decide the slavery question for themselves. The resulting rush of slavery and non-slavery supporters into Kansas led to fighting there, an event called "bleeding Kansas."
The Democrats did not re-nominate Pierce, so he returned to New Hampshire. He had a heavy drinking problem and died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1869.