|1853-1857||Democrat||November 23, 1804, in Hillsboro, New Hampshire||October 8, 1869, in Concord, New Hampshire|
|Vice President||First Lady||Previous Occupations||States in Union|
|William Rufus King||Jane Means Appleton Pierce (Wife)||Lawyer, Public Official||31|
Pierce’s parents were Benjamin and Anna Kendrick Pierce. Pierce married Jane Means Appleton in 1834. They had two sons: Frank Robert and Benjamin. Their first son, Franklin, died as an infant.
Pierce was a dark horse candidate for the Democratic Party, only winning the nomination on the forty-ninth ballot. Yet, he won the presidency by a landslide. He was viewed as a potential bridge to unite the country in the ongoing divide over slavery because he represented a northern state, but also supported southern slave owners. Once in office, however, Pierce was not able to fulfill such an elusive goal. Pierce believed that the Constitution safeguarded slavery and was in favor of expanding it. He even desired the acquisition of Cuba as a new slave state. Pierce strongly supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was passed in 1854, and repealed the Missouri Compromise, thereby permitting state residents to decide about slavery for themselves. Bloody encounters between slavery factions ensued in Kansas, as well as in Boston.
Pierce is credited with expanding U.S. territory by negotiating the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico in 1853. This deal added the lands that we know today as New Mexico and Arizona for a cost of $10 million.
At the end of Pierce’s term, the Democratic Party refused to re-nominate him. When asked what a president should do after leaving office, he noted, “There’s nothing left . . . but to get drunk.” Later in 1860 some friends encouraged him to run for president again, but he refused.
Pierce commented on slavery during his Inaugural Address: “I believe that involuntary servitude, as it exists in different States of this Confederacy, is recognized by the Constitution.” (March 4, 1853)
Following his term and recognizing that war seemed imminent, Pierce wrote to his friend Jefferson Davis, who was leading the Southern secession, “If I were in the Southerners’ places, after so many years of aggression, I should probably be doing what they are doing. If our fathers were mistaken when they formed the Constitution, then the sooner we are apart the better.”
At This Time
1853: The U.S. Senate ratifies the Gadsden Purchase to acquire parts of southern New Mexico and Arizona • Samuel Colt revolutionizes the manufacture of small arms • Levi Strauss sells heavyweight cotton pants (the first blue jeans) to California miners • 1854: Democrats and Whigs who opposed slavery establish the Republican Party in reaction to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act • 1856: A Neanderthal skull is found in a cave near Dusseldorf, Germany
Did You Know?
Soon after Pierce was elected, he and his wife and son were riding in a train from Boston when it suddenly derailed and crashed into a field below the tracks. Bennie was killed in the accident, and the Pierces never recovered.
Franklin Pierce is the only president who affirmed (rather than “swore”) the presidential oath of office.
Pierce was the first president to employ a full-time bodyguard to protect him, a duty which was later assumed by what we now know as the Secret Service.
Information about Pierce, his family, and the Pierce family home in Concord, New Hampshire.
In-depth essays created by the University of Virginia on Pierce’s life and administration.
Field Trips for Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce Homestead
Hillsborough, New Hampshire
Built by the president’s father, Governor Benjamin Pierce, this home was lived in by Franklin Pierce for thirty years. Elegant in its day, the house features imported wallpapers, hand-stenciled walls, furniture contemporary to its era, and even a ballroom!
The Pierce Manse, Historic Home of Franklin Pierce
Concord, New Hampshire
Home of New Hampshire’s only president, this Greek Revival house was the home of Franklin Pierce for six years in the mid-nineteenth century. It has been faithfully restored with many furnishings belonging to the family.