Franklin pierce how did he die

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franklin pierce how did he die

Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union by Peter A. Wallner

This one sits closer to 3.5 stars than to four, I think, mostly because it is unabashedly pro-Pierce. It largely avoids talking about Pierces drinking and puts the strongest and most noble face on Pierces presidency, although not quite to the point of deification, since Wallners conclusion is that Pierce was the best the nation could have hoped for at the time.

I think I agree with Wallner that while the presidents leading up to the civil war are seen as a series of blunders, its very possible there was no possible course that could have avoided the war. Wallner gives Pierce much credit in trying to, but I am a little more critical. While I think that Pierces belief in the constitution (and its protection of slavery) as well as his idea of union were sincerely held, I dont know that his attempts to steer a middle course in domestic matters were successful or even all that well advised. His belief that internal matters were the responsibility of the states kept Kansas at the forefront of the nation and kept the coals of chaos burning there. His possibly laudable goal of evenly distributing patronage appointments among the various democratic factions was always a bad idea, and was absolutely doomed to weaken his party and his own support.

That said, Pierce was not a president without successes, and Wallner might be correct in claiming that besides slavery, Pierce would be considered a good president. He stuck to Democratic principles in lowering the tariffs, fighting for American neutrality, and lowering the public debt. He managed some diplomatic successes including gaining fishing rights in Canada and eventually a solution to troubles in Nicaragua, even if the treaty was never passed. Those accomplishments were not done without tribulations, though, and Pierces choices for many of his foreign appointments were poorly made. Pierre Soule was a dismal ambassador, and between offending the Spanish and the Ostend Manifesto caused nothing but problems for Pierce. Pierces choices of messengers to Gadsden also would embarrass his administration when the treaty included government endorsement for one of the trans-isthmian companies vying for recognition from Mexico.

By far Pierces greatest weakness, though, is displayed in the Kansas fiasco. How much of the blame lies on his shoulders, and how much of it should be explained as unavoidable, is unclear, but Pierces choices of governors proved only to exacerbate the situation and his indecision in course only inflamed it more. He and the democrats were also outspoken critics mostly of abolitionist attempts to take over Kansas, while they took for granted that pro-slavery forces were just defending their rights. Neither side was without guilt, but it was the free-state forces that were most harmed by Pierces administration, and when he did try to steer a more middle course it only succeeded in being unfair to pretty much everyone. Even the brief peace attained in 1856 was illusory.

Most disturbing about this read, though, is how difficult it is to form a permanent opinion of Pierce. He was certainly an unapologetic racist, and some of his quotes are wildly offensive to modern sensibility. He certainly would stand for slave-state rights no matter what, and not uncommonly for northern men, was rabidly white-supremacist. But at least with other Northern presidents during the war you could give them some credit for sounding like above-average moralists on the issue. Fillmore, even though he had similar constitutional defenses for slavery, was never as offensive, and even Van Buren eventually campaigned with abolitionists. Pierce never did, and even after the war wished to curtail freedmen rights.

Despite all of that, though, for a man of his time Pierce was a man of surprisingly strong convictions and loyalty, a generous friend to the like of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his children, an often empathetic soul, and a defender of religious liberty and immigrant rights. He did try to push a middle ground, and his constitutional beliefs were sincerely held, even when it pushed him to veto Democratic legislation on things like internal improvements. His cabinet was solid (according to Wallner, the only cabinet in history that had no changes in a full four-year term) and largely unselfish, pushing to reform and modernize departments and stomp out fraud. He also was a singularly tragic figure, who lost all three of his children (the oldest and last, at 11, to a train accident he had to witness) and who endured the hatred and accusations of his country during the civil war. In the end, he would die without family by his side, a victim of his own drinking. Still, he had made lifelong friends and had loyal, doting supporters, though they may have been few, that knew him personally. So was Pierce a bad man? It is difficult to say. Was he a bad president? That also is difficult to say - for his course, though ineffective, may truly have been the best we could have hoped for at the time.
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Published 15.03.2019

President Franklin Pierce Biography

Biography Newsletter

After resigning in , Pierce joined the temperance movement and worked as an attorney, before going off to fight under General Winfield Scott in the Mexican-American War. In , Pierce was elected president for one term. As president, he signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, prompting a bloody conflict over Kansas' slavery status. He died on October 8, , in Concord, Massachusetts. Franklin Pierce, the 14th U.

Quick Facts

Father: Gov. As president, Pierce simultaneously attempted to enforce neutral standards for civil service while also satisfying the diverse elements of the Democratic Party with patronage, an effort which largely failed and turned many in his party against him. He signed trade treaties with Britain and Japan, while his Cabinet reformed their departments and improved accountability, but these successes were overshadowed by political strife during his presidency. All of their children died young, their last son being gruesomely killed in a train accident while the family was traveling shortly before Pierce's inauguration. Pierce was the fifth of eight children born to Benjamin and his second wife Anna Kendrick; his first wife Elizabeth Andrews died in childbirth, leaving a daughter.


  1. Ricardo L. says:

    He was a heavy drinker for much of his life, and he died of cirrhosis of the liver in Historians and scholars generally rank Pierce as one of the worst and.

  2. Georgeta says:

    Franklin Pierce (), the son of a onetime governor of New Hampshire, He did earn the respect of many in his party for keeping New Hampshire He was the third of their sons to die before reaching adulthood, and.

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