Franklin Pierce (November 23, 1804 – October 8, 1869) was the 14th President of the United States (1853–1857) and is the only President from New Hampshire. Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" (a Northerner with Southern sympathies) who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
Pierce was born on November 23, 1804, in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. He attended school at Hillsborough Center but then moved to Hancock Academy in Hancock at the age of 12. After attending school there for five years, he was transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy in the spring of 1820. After he entered, he felt homesick and returned home. Consequently, his father then put him in a wagon, drove him half way back to school, and left him on the roadside without saying a word. Franklin walked the seven remaining miles back to school. Later that year, he was transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy to prepare for college. That fall, he was sent to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. While he was there, Franklin Pierce participated in literary, political, and debating clubs. During his second year there, his grades were the lowest in his class, but he was able to improve them and graduated with the rank of fifth in his class.
Once finished with college, he went to law school in Northampton, Massachusetts. Pierce was admitted to the bar and began law practice in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1827. Franklin Pierce rose to a central position in the Democratic party of New Hampshire and was elected to the lower house in New Hampshire’s General Court in 1828. Pierce served in the State House from 1829 to 1833 and also served as Speaker from 1832 to 1833. Then in 1832, Franklin was elected Democrat to the 23rd and 24th of Congress from March 4, 1833, to March 4, 1837. At 27 years of age, Pierce was the youngest U.S. Representative at that time. In 1836, he was elected by the New Hampshire General Court as a Democrat to the U.S Senate, serving from March 4, 1837, to February 28, 1842. After serving in the Senate, Pierce went back to Concord to resume law practice. He then was U.S. Attorney from 1845 to 1847 for the district of New Hampshire, though he declined Democratic nomination for Governor of New Hampshire and refused the appointment as General of the United States.
On November 19, 1834, Franklin Pierce married Jane Means Appleton. They had three children, all of which died in childhood. Franklin Pierce Jr. died only three days after birth; and Frank Robert Pierce died at four years of age from epidemic typhus; just two months before his inauguration, Franklin Pierce and his family boarded a train bound for Boston. Shortly after, their derailed car started to roll down an embankment. Franklin and Jane survived, merely shaken up, but saw their 11-year-old son Benjamin get crushed to death. Jane Pierce thought the train accident was a divine punishment for Franklin’s pursuit and acceptance of high office.
Franklin Pierce served as President from March 4, 1853, to March 4, 1857. He was the first President to “affirm” his oath of office instead of swearing it (the only other president to do this has been Herbert Hoover). So rather than placing his hands on the Bible, Franklin Pierce placed his hands on a law book. He was also the first President to recite his inaugural address from memory. Surprisingly, Franklin Pierce selected men of different opinions for his Cabinet. Many people expected a diverse group to break up quickly, but the Cabinet stayed together for Pierce’s four-year term.
Franklin Pierce’s toughest challenge as President was the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. This act repealed the Missouri Compromise and, in the west, reopened the question of slavery. These and more triggered a series of events known as "Bleeding Kansas". Pro-slavery Border Ruffians, mostly from Missouri, illegally voted in a government. Pierce recognized this and called the Topeka Constitution, set up by Free-Staters, as an act of “rebellion.” Overall, Franklin Pierce is ranked among the least effective Presidents of the United States, as he was unable to steer a steady, prudent course.
After losing the Democratic reelection in 1856, Pierce retired with his wife. Franklin Pierce died in Concord, New Hampshire of cirrhosis on October 8, 1869 at the age of 64. He was buried in Old North Cemetery in Concord.