The New International Encyclopædia/Pierce, Franklin

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The New International Encyclopædia
Pierce, Franklin
Edition of 1905. See also Franklin Pierce on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PIERCE, pērs, Franklin (1804-69), The fourteenth President of the United States. He was the son of Gen. Benjamin Pierce, a soldier of the Revolution and twice Governor of New Hampshire, and was born at Hillsborough, N. H., on November 23, 1804. He graduated at Bowdoin College in 1824, having among his college mates Nathaniel Hawthorne, John P. Hale, S. S. Prentiss, and Longfellow. After leaving college he studied law in the law office of United States Senator Levi Woodbury, and also in offices at Northampton, Mass., and at Amherst, N. H., and was admitted to the bar in 1827. Two years later he was elected to a seat in the State Legislature as a Democrat. He was thrice reëlected and for two terms served as Speaker of the House of Representatives. In 1832 he was elected to a seat in the Lower House of Congress, and was reëlected in 1834. In 1837 he was elected to the United States Senate, and when he took his seat enjoyed the distinction of being the youngest member of that body. As a member of Congress he supported by his speeches and votes the policy of President Jackson. He opposed appropriations for the Military Academy at West Point, the renewal of the United States Bank charter, and the policy of internal improvements, and was averse to the spoils system. Among his colleagues in the Senate were Benton, Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Woodbury, and Wright, in comparison with whom Pierce was not a distinguished figure, although his service was marked by industry and faithfulness to duty. In 1842, before the expiration of his term as Senator, he resigned and resumed his law practice, settling in Concord, N. H. He successively declined an appointment to fill a vacancy in the Senate, refused the nomination for Governor of New Hampshire, and would not accept the office of Attorney-General of the United States tendered by President Polk, and announced it as his fixed purpose never again to accept public office. He did not, however, cease to take interest in public affairs, and during his retirement took an active part in the councils of his party, openly advocated the annexation of Texas, and took the stump against his former college mate, John P. Hale (q.v.), the successful anti-slavery candidate for the United States Senate. Upon the outbreak of the Mexican War, Pierce promptly volunteered as a private soldier. He was soon appointed colonel, and in March, 1847, received a commission from the President as brigadier-general of volunteers. He at once sailed for Vera Cruz and joined General Scott in time to participate in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. In the former engagement he was thrown from his horse, but, although painfully injured, refused to leave the field. Upon the conclusion of peace he resumed his law practice, which was again interrupted in 1850 by his election as a delegate to the New Hampshire Constitutional Convention, over whose deliberations he was chosen to preside by an almost unanimous vote. At the Democratic National Convention, held at Baltimore in June, 1852, he was brought forward, after thirty-flve ballotings, as a compromise candidate for the Presidency, and was nominated on the forty-ninth ballot, defeating Buchanan, Douglas, Cass, and Marcy. On account of his personal popularity, and his conservative position with regard to the slavery question. General Pierce was able to draw to his support a large number of voters in the North, among them many Whigs, and consequently defeated General Scott, the Whig candidate, by a vote of 254 to 42, He carried every State except Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and received a larger electoral vote than had ever before been cast for a Presidential candidate. He chose a Cabinet of able and distinguished men to aid him. This Cabinet was the only one in the history of the country that did not suffer a break during the Presidential term. The chief events of Pierce's administration were the Gadsden Purchase (q.v.), the Koszta affair (q.v.), the conclusion of commercial treaties with Great Britain and Japan, the bombardment of Greytown, Nicaragua, the reorganization of the diplomatic and consular service, and the creation of a United States court of claims. As regards the slavery question, the policy of President Pierce caused much discontent in the North. The chief events under this head were the promulgation of the Ostend Manifesto (q.v.) and the enactment of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill (q.v.), which brought on strife between the pro-slavery and free-State settlers in Kansas. From 1855 to the end of Pierce's term the sole problem of importance was that of governing Kansas and maintaining peacs therein — a problem in the management of which the President did not add to his distinction. Upon the expiration of his term Pierce traveled for several years in Europe, taking no further part in politics. As an advocate at the bar, Pierce was excelled by few. Two ‘campaign’ biographies of Pierce were published in 1852, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Boston) and D. W. Bartlett (Auburn). Consult, also, Carroll, Review of Pierce's Administration (Boston, 1856); and Rhodes, A History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 (New York, 1901). See United States.