Franklin Pierce: 14th President: Pro-Slavery
President Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce was elected as the 14th President of the United States of America and served from 1853-1857 when slavery was still strong. He was thought to be soft towards the South, despite having been a Northerner. He became known as a "doughface," because people felt his opinion was easily molded like a piece of bread dough by those who supported slavery.
Franklin was born on November 23, 1804, in Hillsborough, New Hampshire to his parents Benjamin Pierce and Anna Kendrick Pierce. His father fought in the American Revolution and became the state's senator. His mother suffered from both alcoholism and depression. These were vices that he would struggle with as well, due to many heartbreaks he experienced.
November 23, 1804 - New Hampshire
United States Army
Mexican–American War • Battle of Contreras • Battle of Churubusco • Battle of Molino del Rey • Battle of Chapultepec • Battle for Mexico City
Age at Beginning of Presidency
49 years old
Term of Office
March 4, 1853 - March 3, 1857
How Long President
William R. King (1853) None (1853–1857)
Age and Year of Death
October 8, 1869 (aged 64)
Cause of Death
cirrhosis of the liver
Franklin Pierce's Political Career
Pierce was very well-educated. After attending private schools, he entered college at only fifteen years old. He attended Bowdoin College with Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. After graduation he studied law for two years, then held many state offices including New Hampshire legislature and later its Speaker. It became clear that he was strongly against the abolition of slavery.
He then went to Washington where he worked as a Representative. In 1836, at the age of 32, he became the youngest Senator in Washington to be elected to Congress.
During the Mexican American War, Pierce had a strong desire to fight, despite never having served before. He appealed to President James K. Polk, and became Brigadier General where he led a group of volunteers at the Battle of Contreras. During that battle, he was injured after he fell from his horse. Many respected him for his assistance in the capture of Mexico City.
Unlike most that held this office, he never sought to become president. Instead he was nominated by friends due to his likable personality after the Democratic convention became deadlocked. They balloted 48 times without agreement before finally nominating him. Despite never having given any speeches, he won against General Winfield Scott, a Whig candidate, whom he fought with in the Mexican American war. The Whigs were very against him becoming president due to his bout with alcoholism, and they even had a slogan that stated, "Hero of Many a Well-Fought Bottle." Due to the dying interest in the Whig party, their candidate did not win.
He remained fun-loving, despite having experienced great tragedy in adulthood. He had three sons. Two died shortly after birth. His third son died at 11, shortly after his inauguration when a train they were on derailed and turned over.
One of the most controversial acts passed while he was in office was the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Kansas-Nebraska Act stated that they the new settlers could decide whether they wanted to become a slave or free state. This angered many, because it repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and further inflamed the argument of pro and anti-slavery believers. Much fighting occurred as a result, which was just a mere foreshadow that a Civil War was on its way. Due to the severity of the fighting, the Kansas territory became known as "Bleeding Kansas."
Later the Gasden Purchase was completed, which allowed the final border between Mexico and the United States to be formed, costing the United States ten million dollars. Unfortunately it added more fuel to the fire towards those who argued on opposing sides of slavery, since more land would need to determine whether they were free or slave states.
There had been a longtime dispute between the countries due to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the United State's wanting to use the land for a transcontinental railroad that would run through Chicago to California. This land would later become New Mexico and Arizona.
In 1854, his popularity continued to dwindle, when an internal presidential memo leaked that would become known as the Ostend Manifesto. It stated that the United States should take aggressive action towards Spain if they did not agree to sell Cuba. Many anti-slavery supporters felt his strong stance was due to Pierce's attempt to extend slavery even further.
Due to lots of conflict during his presidency, the Democratic party rejected him during the National Convention in 1856. Instead they chose James Buchanan, because he was much more neutral on the slavery issue.
In his personal life, this was a good move, as his wife Jane Means Appleton suffered greatly due to the loss of their three sons. He was able to take time to travel to Europe and the Bahamas, as he took care of his wife while she coped with her losses.
He did speak out during the Civil War, maintaining his pro-slavery stance, although he did not agree with secession. Many accused him of becoming a traitor to the north. He died in 1869.
Do you believe that Franklin Pierce's decisions during his presidency contributed to the Civil War?
General Franklin Pierce
- He is one of our youngest presidents. He was elected at the age of 48.
- He became the youngest Senator in Washington, having become Senator at the age of 32.
- He never chose to run for President, nor did he give any campaign speeches. His friends put his name on the nomination ballot, and he won despite, due to the poor choices at the time.
- Suffered from both alcoholism and depression, much like his mother Anna Kendrick Pierce.
- Despite being from the North, he was pro-slavery.
- He had three sons, all who died by the age of twelve. Two died during infancy, the third died while riding on a train shortly after he became president. His wife never recovered from the loss, which caused him to retire after his presidency and help support her.
Excerpt from the History Channel
List of American Presidents
1. George Washington
16. Abraham Lincoln
31. Herbert Hoover
2. John Adams
17. Andrew Johnson
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt
3. Thomas Jefferson
18. Ulysses S. Grant
33. Harry S. Truman
4. James Madison
19. Rutherford B. Hayes
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower
5. James Monroe
20. James Garfield
35. John F. Kennedy
6. John Quincy Adams
21. Chester A. Arthur
36. Lyndon B. Johnson
7. Andrew Jackson
22. Grover Cleveland
37. Richard M. Nixon
8. Martin Van Buren
23. Benjamin Harrison
38. Gerald R. Ford
9. William Henry Harrison
24. Grover Cleveland
39. James Carter
10. John Tyler
25. William McKinley
40. Ronald Reagan
11. James K. Polk
26. Theodore Roosevelt
41. George H. W. Bush
12. Zachary Taylor
27. William Howard Taft
42. William J. Clinton
13. Millard Fillmore
28. Woodrow Wilson
43. George W. Bush
14. Franklin Pierce
29. Warren G. Harding
44. Barack Obama
15. James Buchanan
30. Calvin Coolidge
45. Donald Trump
- Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). Franklin Pierce. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
- Kelley, M. (2015, September 01). Top 10 Things to Know About Franklin Pierce. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://americanhistory.about.com/od/franklinpierce/tp/10-Things-To-Know-About-Franklin-Pierce.htm
- Sullivan, George. Mr. President: A Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Print.
Questions & Answers
When did Franklin Pierce retire?
Franklin Pierce retired when he left office on March 3rd, 1857. He spent the remaining years with his wife who was severely depressed since their three sons had all passed away. They traveled together. He sometimes spoke out afterward, but he did not actively work in politics.
© 2017 Angela Michelle Schultz