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Pierce, Franklin,1804–69, 14th President of the United States (1853–57), b. Hillsboro, N.H., grad. Bowdoin College, 1824. Admitted to the bar in 1827, he entered politics as a Jacksonian Democrat, like his father, Benjamin Pierce, who was twice elected governor of New Hampshire (1827, 1829). He served in the New Hampshire general court (1829–33), being speaker in 1831 and 1832, and had an undistinguished career in the U.S. House of Representatives (1833–37) and in the U.S. Senate (1837–42). On resigning from the Senate, he achieved success as a lawyer in Concord, N.H., and continued to be important in state politics. A strong nationalist, he vigorously supported and then served in the Mexican War, becoming a brigadier general of volunteers.
In 1852 the Democratic party was split into hostile factions led by William L. MarcyMarcy, William Learned,
1786–1857, American politician, b. Southbridge, Mass. He settled in Troy, N.Y., where he practiced law and, after serving in the War of 1812, held local offices.
..... Click the link for more information. , Stephen A. Douglas, James Buchanan, and Lewis Cass, none of whom could muster sufficient strength to secure the presidential nomination. Pierce, personally charming and politically unobjectionable to Southerners since he favored the Compromise of 1850Compromise of 1850.
The annexation of Texas to the United States and the gain of new territory by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the close of the Mexican War (1848) aggravated the hostility between North and South concerning the question of the extension of slavery into the
..... Click the link for more information. , was made the "dark horse" candidate by his friends. He won the nomination (on the 49th ballot) and went on to defeat the Whig candidate, Gen. Winfield ScottScott, Winfield,
1786–1866, American general, b. near Petersburg, Va. Military Career
He briefly attended the College of William and Mary, studied law at Petersburg, and joined the military.
..... Click the link for more information. , his commander in the Mexican War.
Pierce's desire to smooth over the slavery quarrel and unite all factions of the Democratic party was reflected in the composition of his cabinet, for which he chose such outstanding sectional representatives as Marcy, Jefferson DavisDavis, Jefferson,
1808–89, American statesman, President of the Southern Confederacy, b. Fairview, near Elkton, Ky. His birthday was June 3. Early Life
Davis's parents moved to Mississippi when he was a boy.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Caleb CushingCushing, Caleb,
1800–1879, American statesman, b. Salisbury, Mass. After practicing law he served in the Massachusetts state legislature and later in Congress (1835–43). A loyal Whig, he chose to stand by John Tyler, after the death of President William H.
..... Click the link for more information. . A vigorous expansionist foreign policy was adopted, but it failed in most of its objectives. After the Black WarriorBlack Warrior,
merchant steamer that plied between New York City and Mobile, usually stopping at Havana, Cuba. Her seizure on Feb. 28, 1854, by Spanish authorities at Havana and the imposition of a $6,000 fine on the grounds that she had violated customs regulations nearly
..... Click the link for more information. affair (1854), which brought the United States to the brink of war with Spain, Pierce authorized his European ministers, Pierre Soulé, John Y. Mason, and Buchanan, to confer on the means by which the United States might acquire Cuba. Their report, the so-called Ostend ManifestoOstend Manifesto,
document drawn up in Oct., 1854, at Ostend, Belgium, by James Buchanan, American minister to Great Britain, John Y. Mason, minister to France, and Pierre Soulé, minister to Spain. William L.
..... Click the link for more information. , was leaked to the press and caused such an uproar that the administration was forced to disavow it. Troubled relations with Great Britain were not improved by the U.S. naval bombardment (1854) of San Juan del NorteSan Juan del Norte
, small town, SE Nicaragua, on the Caribbean Sea. Small quantities of bananas and hardwoods are exported. Also called Greytown, it was occupied (1848) by the British to secure control of the Mosquito Coast and to check the U.S.
..... Click the link for more information. , British protectorate in Nicaragua; the filibustering activities of William WalkerWalker, William,
1824–60, American filibuster in Nicaragua, b. Nashville, Tenn. Walker, a qualified doctor, a lawyer, and a journalist by the time he was 24, sought a more adventurous career.
..... Click the link for more information. further aggravated Central American affairs. Moves to annex Hawaii, acquire a naval base in Santo Domingo, and purchase Alaska ended fruitlessly. One achievement, the successful Japanese expedition of Commodore Matthew C. PerryPerry, Matthew Calbraith,
1794–1858, American naval officer, b. South Kingstown, R.I.; brother of Oliver Hazard Perry. Appointed a midshipman in 1809, he first served under his brother on the Revenge and then was aide to Commodore John Rodgers on the
..... Click the link for more information. , had been initiated in Millard Fillmore's administration.
On the domestic scene Pierce stood for development of the West (the Gadsden PurchaseGadsden Purchase
, strip of land purchased (1853) by the United States from Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) had described the U.S.-Mexico boundary vaguely, and President Pierce wanted to insure U.S.
..... Click the link for more information. was made during his administration), but plans for a transcontinental railroad fell through. The Kansas-Nebraska ActKansas-Nebraska Act,
bill that became law on May 30, 1854, by which the U.S. Congress established the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. By 1854 the organization of the vast Platte and Kansas river countries W of Iowa and Missouri was overdue.
..... Click the link for more information. enraged many Northerners and precipitated virtual civil war between the pro- and antislavery forces in Kansas. Pierce, by that time very unpopular, was passed over by the Democrats for renomination, and Buchanan succeeded him. Pierce's opposition to the Civil War made him more than ever disliked in the North, where he died in obscurity.
See biographies by R. F. Nichols (rev. ed. 1958) and R. F. Holt (2010).