Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Pierce, Franklin
PIERCE, Franklin (1804-1869), fourteenth president of the United States, was descended from an old yeoman family of New England, and was born at Hillsborough, New Hampshire, 23d November 1804. His father, Benjamin Pierce, served through the revolutionary war, afterwards attaining the rank of major-general, and became governor of his State. The son entered Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, in 1820. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was in the class below him, and was his intimate friend, mentions as his most notable characteristic at this time his “fascination of manner, which has proved so magical in winning him an unbounded popularity.” The same characteristic remained with him through life, and was the chief cause of his success. His abilities did not greatly impress his classmates, and, although he took at length a good position, he was not distinguished for scholarship. After leaving college in 1824 he studied law with Judge Woodbury at Portsmouth, and afterwards in the law school at Northampton, Mass., and with Judge Parker at Amherst, and came to the bar in 1827. His first appearance as a pleader was a failure, but this only incited him to redoubled perseverance and determination. From the first he was a zealous supporter of the Democratic party, and he took an active part in promoting the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency. In 1829 he was elected by his native town to the State legislature, of which he was speaker in 1832-33. In the latter year he was chosen a member of Congress, and in 1837 he was elected to the senate of the United States. He displayed no striking oratorical gifts, but as a member of the judiciary and other committees gained general respect. In 1842 he resigned his seat in the senate, and returned to the practice of the law. His reputation at the bar was very high, his success being largely due to his power of identifying himself with his client's cause, and his strong personal influence over a jury. In 1846 he was offered the position of attorney-general of the United States, but declined it. On the outbreak of the Mexican War he joined as a volunteer one of the companies raised in Concord. He was soon after appointed colonel of the 9th regiment, and in March 1847 brigadier-general. At the battle of Contreras on the 19th of August he was severely injured by the fall of his horse. At the close of the war in December 1847 he resigned his commission. In 1850 he was president of the convention for revising the constitution of New Hampshire. In 1852, as candidate of the Democratic party, he was elected president of the United States by 254 electoral votes against 42 given to General Scott. The special feature of his inaugural address was the support of slavery in the United States, and the announcement of his determination that the Fugitive Slave Act should be strictly enforced. This was the keynote of his administration, and pregnant with vital consequences to the country. From it came during his term the Ostend conference and “manifesto,” the repeal of the Missouri compromise, and the troubles in Kansas and Nebraska, which crystallized the opposing forces into the Republican party, and led later to the great rebellion. President Pierce, surrounded by an able cabinet, among them Jefferson Davis as Secretary of War, firmly adhered throughout his administration to the pro-slavery party. He failed, notwithstanding, to obtain re-nomination, but was succeeded by James Buchanan, March 4, 1857, and retired to his home in Concord, N. H., after spending some years in Europe. During the war of 1861-65 his sympathies were wholly with the South, but, with the exception of delivering a strong speech at Concord in 1863, he took no very active part in politics. He died 8th October 1869.
Among several lives of General Pierce, published during his candidature for the presidency, special mention may be made of that by his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne.