POTUS Fact 14: First President born in the 19th Century

Franklin Pierce (November 23, 1804 – October 8, 1869) was the 14th President of the United States (1853–1857) who was addicted to and suffered from alcoholism throughout his life.

Pierce, a New-Englander was born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. He attended Bowdoin College. After graduation he studied law, then entered politics. At 24 he was elected to the New Hampshire legislature; two years later he became its Speaker. During the 1830’s he went to Washington, first as a Representative, then as a Senator.

Image of Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce (1804 – 1869), 14th President of the United States (1853-1857)/Britannica.

After serving in the Mexican War, his New Hampshire friends urged him for the Presidential nomination in 1852. At the Democratic Convention, the delegates balloted 48 times and eliminated all the well-known candidates before nominating Pierce, a true “dark horse.”

Franklin Pierce ran for President in the 1852 election and was elected the 14th President of the United States. Following this election, the Whig party, which lost in a landslide, became fractured, and eventually gave rise to the Republican Party.

His Vice-President, William R. King was the first and only man to be sworn in on a foreign soil (Havana, Cuba) due to ill health. He died six weeks after he was sworn in.

On November 19, 1834, Pierce married Jane Means Appleton (March 12, 1806 – December 2, 1863). They had three sons, all of whom died in childhood. Franklin, Jr. (February 2–5, 1836) died in infancy, while Frank Robert (August 27, 1839 – November 14, 1843) died at the age of four from epidemic typhus. Benjamin (April 13, 1841 – January 6, 1853) died at the age of 11 in a train accident. The child was apparently decapitated right in front of his mother and father who survived the accident, and the tragedy haunted Pierce’s presidency. They had no other children.

Pierce’s wife had not been particularly keen about his political ambitions, reportedly fainting at the news that he had been nominated for president in 1852 (she was a pious and shy woman who hated public life) and came to view their last child’s death – just two months before he took office – as God’s punishment. For nearly two years, she remained in the upstairs living quarters of the White House, spending her days writing letters to her dead son.

He was a Brigadier-General during the Mexican War (1846-1548) where he sustained a serious leg injury.  Still serving in battle following the injury, he collapsed and was forced to be carried off the field.  This was later used against him, in the 1852 presidential election, by his political foes who mocked him that he had left the field of battle because of cowardice and not because of any real injury.

His campaign slogan was, “We Polked you in 1844, we shall Pierce you in 1852.”

Pierce, the youngest man to be elected president to that point, until Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, chose to affirm his oath of office on a law book rather than swear it on a Bible, as all his predecessors (except John Quincy Adams) had done.

He was the first President to deliver his inaugural address from memory. He crammed 3,270 words of his address. He also had good memory for names and events and was a good orator.

Pierce’s wife had not been particularly keen about his political ambitions, reportedly fainting at the news that he had been nominated for president in 1852 (she was a pious and shy woman who hated public life) and came to view their last child’s death – just two months before he took office – as God’s punishment. For nearly two years, she remained in the upstairs living quarters of the White House, spending her days writing letters to her dead son.

In his Inaugural Address, he alluded to his own personal tragedy, telling the crowd, “You have summoned me in my weakness; you must sustain me by your strength.

All of Pierce’s cabinet nominations were confirmed unanimously and immediately by the Senate and they left office with Pierce on March 4, 1857, the only time in U.S. history that the original cabinet members all remained for a full four-year term.

Pierce’s time in office was tumultuous.  His love affair with the American people soured very quickly because of perceived poor leadership.  He was also viewed as easily manipulated by powerful advisers.  After supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which opened the door for the spread of slavery into new western states, Pierce lost favor with many anti-slavery advocates in the north.

“You have summoned me in my weakness; you must sustain me by your strength.” – Franklin Pierce (1804 – 1869), 14th President of the United States (1853-1857).

In 1856, Pierce failed to win re-nomination by the Democratic Party, the only elected President to be denied so in U.S. history and the nomination went instead to James Buchanan, who ultimately won the White House. Pierce was effectively forced into retirement. By the end of his term, he had become so unpopular that he became the first U.S. president to hire a full-time bodyguard.

Image of Jane Means Appleton Pierce
Jane Means Appleton Pierce (1806 – 1863), First Lady of the United States (1853 – 1857)/Lest We Forget.

During the Civil War, ex-president Pierce came out as a supporter of the Confederacy, and was known to be close friends with Confederate president Jefferson Davis.  Letters Pierce sent to Davis, criticizing President Abraham Lincoln, the war, and abolitionism in general, came to light in 1863 – after Davis’s home was captured – and Pierce’s reputation suffered even more.

President Pierce had some of the finest hair (combed on a deep slant over his wide forehead) of any U.S. president.

Franklin Pierce was the first President to have a Christmas tree in the White House. He also installed the first central-heating system and the first bathroom with hot and cold water in the White House.

On October 8, 1869, he died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 64, due to heavy drinking. None of his family members were present.

President Ulysses S. Grant declared a day of national mourning and was buried next to his wife and two of his sons.

His presidency is regarded by historians as one of the worst in American history and he was one of the most hated President even years after his death.

Sources

History

Serene Musings

potus.com

whitehouse.gov

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Ayomide Akinbode

Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.

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