The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Pierce, Franklin

1183722The American Cyclopædia — Pierce, FranklinRobert Carter

PIERCE, Franklin, the fourteenth president of the United States, born in Hillsborough, N. H., Nov. 23, 1804, died in Concord, Oct. 8, 1869. His father, Gen. Benjamin Pierce, served throughout the revolutionary war, and in 1827 and 1829 was governor of New Hampshire. Franklin Pierce graduated at Bowdoin college in 1824, and studied law at Portsmouth, afterward in the law school at Northampton, Mass., and at Amherst, N. H. He was admitted to the bar in 1827, and began practice at Hillsborough. He was an ardent advocate of the election of Gen. Jackson to the presidency. From 1829 to 1833 he represented the town of Hillsborough in the state legislature, and in the last two years was speaker of the house. In 1833 he was elected to congress, where he served on the judiciary and other important committees. He opposed the policy of internal improvements, the bill authorizing an appropriation for the military academy at West Point, and all anti-slavery measures. He remained a member of the house of representatives till 1837, when he was elected to the United States senate, of which he was the youngest member, being barely of the legal age. In 1842 he resigned his seat and returned to the practice of his profession at Concord, to which place he had removed from Hillsborough in 1838. In 1846 President Polk offered him the post of United States attorney general, which he declined. He also declined the democratic nomination for governor. He supported the annexation of Texas, in opposition to a considerable portion of the democracy of New England, and in 1847 he enrolled himself a member of one of the first volunteer companies of Concord. On the passage by congress of the bill for the increase of the army he became colonel of the ninth regiment, and shortly after was commissioned brigadier general, and joined the army under Gen. Scott at Puebla, Aug. 7, after several sharp engagements with guerillas on the way. In the battle of Contreras he was severely hurt by the falling of his horse, but continued during the day at the head of his brigade. In the battle of Churubusco, while leading his men against the enemy, he fell fainting from the pain of his injuries, but refused to quit the field. After the battle Gen. Scott appointed him one of the commissioners to arrange the terms of an armistice. In December, the war being ended, he returned home, resigned his commission, and resumed the practice of the law. In 1850 he presided over the constitutional convention of New Hampshire. In 1852 the democratic national convention assembled at Baltimore, and after 35 ballotings for a candidate for president of the United States, the Virginia delegation brought forward the name of Gen. Pierce, and on the 49th ballot he was nominated by 282 votes to 11 for all other candidates. His principal competitors were James Buchanan, Lewis Cass, W. L. Marcy, and S. A. Douglas. At the ensuing election he received the votes of all the states except Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee, whose suffrages were given to Gen. Winfield Scott. Of the votes of the electoral colleges Pierce received 254 and Scott 42. In his inaugural address, March 4, 1853, President Pierce maintained that slavery was recognized by the constitution, and that the fugitive slave law was constitutional and should be strictly executed, and denounced in strong terms the agitation of the slavery question. His cabinet, which was not changed during his administration, was as follows: William L. Marcy of New York, secretary of state; James Guthrie of Kentucky, secretary of the treasury; Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, secretary of war; James C. Dobbin of North Carolina, secretary of the navy; Robert McClelland of Michigan, secretary of the interior; James Campbell of Pennsylvania, postmaster general; Caleb Cushing of Massachusetts, attorney general. Among the more important events of his administration were the dispute respecting the boundary between the United States and Mexico, resulting in the acquisition of Arizona; the exploration of the routes proposed for a railroad from the Mississippi to the Pacific; the amicable settlement of a serious dispute with Great Britain about the fisheries; the affair of Martin Koszta (see Ingraham, Duncan Nathaniel); the repeal of the Missouri compromise, and the organization of the territories of Kansas and Nebraska under the Kansas-Nebraska act; the Ostend conference (see Buchanan, James); the treaty negotiated at Washington in 1854 between the United States and Great Britain, providing for commercial reciprocity between this country and the Canadian provinces; the treaty with Japan negotiated in the same year by Commodore Perry; the filibustering invasion of Nicaragua by William Walker; the dismissal of the British minister at Washington, and the British consuls at New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati, because of their complicity in the illegal enlistment of recruits for the British army; and the troubles in Kansas. (See Kansas.) President Pierce signed bills to reorganize the consular and diplomatic system of the United States; to organize the court of claims; to provide a retired list for the navy; and to confer the title of lieutenant general on Winfield Scott. He vetoed bills for the completion and improvement of certain public works; appropriating public lands for the relief of the indigent insane; for the payment of the French spoliation claims; and increasing the subsidy of the Collins line of steamships. On Jan. 24, 1856, he sent a message to congress in which he represented the formation of a free-state government in Kansas as an act of rebellion, and justified the principles of the Kansas and Nebraska act. At the democratic national convention in June he was a candidate, but after several ballotings Mr. Buchanan was nominated. Before the adjournment of congress in August, 1856, the house of representatives made an amendment to the army appropriation bill, providing that no part of the army should be employed to enforce the laws made by the territorial legislature of Kansas, until congress should have decided that it was a valid legislative assembly. The senate refused to concur in this proviso, and congress adjourned without making any provision for the support of the army. The president immediately issued a proclamation calling an extra session to convene on Aug. 21, when the army bill was passed without any proviso, and immediately afterward congress adjourned. Pierce's message on the assembling of congress in December was chiefly devoted to the subject of Kansas, and in its citation of events and expressions of praise it took strong grounds against the free-state party of the country. Soon after the close of his administration, March 4, 1857, Mr. Pierce visited Madeira, and afterward made a protracted tour in Europe, returning home in 1860. During the civil war he made in Concord a speech, still known as the “mausoleum of hearts speech,” expressing sympathy with the confederates. — The life of Franklin Pierce, to the period of his nomination as candidate for the presidency, was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, his college classmate (Boston, 1852).