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Franklin Pierce

What Number President was He?


Assuming office during a period of seemingly tranquil circumstances (1853-1857), Franklin Pierce became the 14th President of the United States. In his efforts to mitigate the divisions that ultimately led to the Civil War, Pierce, hailing from New England, embraced the counsel of southern advisers.

Franklin Pierce's ascent to the presidency occurred against a backdrop of apparent serenity. The Compromise of 1850 appeared to have steered the United States through its sectional strife. Aiming to preempt yet another outbreak of tension, Pierce, a New Englander, embraced the suggestions of southern advisers. Unfortunately, rather than fostering calm, his policies hastened the fracturing of the Union.

Born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, in 1804, Pierce attended Bowdoin College before delving into law and subsequently immersing himself in politics. At the tender age of 24, he secured a seat in the New Hampshire legislature, rapidly rising to become its Speaker. During the 1830s, he embarked on a journey to Washington, initially as a Representative and later as a Senator.

After his service in the Mexican War, Pierce was put forth as a Presidential nominee by his associates in New Hampshire for the 1852 election. The Democratic Convention rallied around a platform that ardently supported the Compromise of 1850 and denounced any attempts to inflame the slavery issue. However, after an extensive 48 rounds of balloting, the convention ultimately nominated Pierce as a true "dark horse" candidate, as all prominent contenders were eliminated.

Pierce's victory was likely due to the Democrats' steadfast support of the Compromise and the prevailing skepticism toward Whig candidate Gen. Winfield Scott in the South. His triumph was marked by a narrow margin of popular votes.

Tragedy struck two months before Pierce's inauguration when he and his wife lost their eleven-year-old son in a train accident. Overwhelmed with grief, Pierce assumed the presidency in a state of nervous exhaustion.

In his Inaugural Address, Pierce heralded an era of domestic tranquility and economic prosperity, coupled with robust international relations. He indicated that the United States might acquire additional territories for security purposes, rejecting any trepidation of potential challenges.

Pierce's actions aimed at expansion evoked anxiety among Northerners who accused him of being a pawn in the South's efforts to spread slavery. This perception grew as he pushed Great Britain to relinquish its interests along a portion of the Central American coast and attempted to negotiate the purchase of Cuba from Spain.

Yet, the most explosive surge of discord stemmed from the Kansas-Nebraska Act, spearheaded by Senator Stephen A. Douglas. This act overturned the Missouri Compromise and reignited the slavery debate in the Western territories. Douglas's motivation partly arose from his ambition to establish a railroad from Chicago to California through Nebraska. Earlier, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis had persuaded Pierce to send James Gadsden to buy land from Mexico for a southern transcontinental railroad. The acquisition of the region now constituting southern Arizona and part of southern New Mexico was achieved for $10,000,000.

Douglas's proposal to organize the western territories and let their residents decide the slavery question triggered significant upheaval. This led to a contest in Kansas, where individuals from the North and South vied for control, culminating in violence and the infamous "Bleeding Kansas" episode that foreshadowed the Civil War.

By the conclusion of his presidency, Pierce could assert that Kansas was in a "peaceful condition." However, to his dismay, the Democrats opted not to re-nominate him, turning to the less contentious figure of Buchanan. Pierce returned to New Hampshire, leaving his successor to grapple with the mounting tempest of sectional conflict. He passed away in 1869.

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