President Franklin Pierce, Antebellum Politics, and the Romanticism era Poet Nathaniel Hawthorne - American Minute with Bill Federer

Franklin Pierce was born November 23, 1804. His father served in the Revolutionary War and was Governor of New Hampshire.
Two of his brothers fought in the War of 1812.
In 1820, Pierce began attending Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.
Maine had previously been northern Massachusetts but split off into a separate "free" state in 1820 to counter the entrance into the Union of Missouri, which was a "slave" state.
Bowdoin College was named after James Bowdoin, a wealthy Massachusetts merchant who was a patriot leader during the Revolutionary War, then, as Governor of Massachusetts heavy-handed in putting down Shays Rebellion.
Pierce had one of the lowest grades in his class at Bowdoin College, but this changed when he met other students, specifically the future best-selling authors, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Pierce ended up graduating third in his class.
At age 24, Pierce was elected to the New Hampshire Legislature where he supported the agenda of 7th U.S. President Andrew Jackson, the first Democrat President.
Pierce was chosen as State Speaker of the House.
In 1834, he married Jane Means Appleton, whose family opposed Democrats, being devoutly religious, pro-temperance, anti-slavery Whigs.
She was the daughter of a Congregational minister who had served as president of Bowdoin College.
At age 29, Pierce was elected as a Democrat U.S. Congressman, and at age 33, as a Democrat U.S. Senator.
Like Jackson, Pierce opposed the Second Bank of the United States -- a precursor to the Federal Reserve Bank, as it had a reputation of buying politicians.
Jackson described it: "The Bank is ... a vast electioneering engine, with means to embroil the country in deadly feuds."
Pierce supported Democrat Martin Van Buren, the 8th President.
Van Buren lost reelection to the Whig candidate war hero William Henry Harrison, the 9th President.
Harrison died 30 days in office and was succeeded by his Vice-President, John Tyler, the 10th U.S. President, and last President of the Whig Party.
Pierce, being in the minority party in the Senate, resigned in 1842 to practice law.
Pierce campaigned strongly for Democrat James K. Polk, whose prominent issue was the annexation of Texas.
Upon election as the 11th President in 1844, Polk appointed Pierce as United States Attorney for New Hampshire.
Pierce served in the state militia, and when the Mexican-American War started, he enlisted in the Army, eventually being promoted to brigadier general.
He served with distinction under General Winfield Scott, till his leg was crushed at the Battle of Churubusco, 1847.
Another war hero of the Mexican-American War was Zachary Taylor, the Whig candidate who was elected the 12th President.
When Taylor died in office, he was succeeded by 13th President Millard Fillmore.
Fillmore had gone from being a member of the Anti-Masonic Party (1828–1832), to the Whig Party (1832–1855), to the Know Nothing Party (1855–1856), to the Democrat Party (1857–1874).
Franklin Pierce ran for President in 1852 as a Democrat against his former Army commander, General Winfield Scott, who was the Whig Party candidate.
Tragically, just weeks after winning the election, Franklin and his wife, Jane, saw their only surviving child, 11-year-old son Bennie, killed when their train rolled off its tracks.
On March 4, 1853, as the 14th U.S. President, Franklin Pierce stated in his Inaugural Address:
"It must be felt that there is no national security but in the nation's humble, acknowledged dependence upon God and His overruling Providence."
He signed the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, in which Mexico's debt-strapped leader Santa Anna sold 29,670 square miles to the United States for $10 million. It became part of southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.
President Pierce installed the first central heating system in the White House, as well as the first bathroom with hot and cold water.
He also placed the first Christmas Tree in the White House in 1856.
First Lady Jane Pierce convinced her husband to release an abolitionist from prison.
Like many politicians today who claim to personally be against abortion yet find a way to vote for it anyway, Pierce was personally against slavery, stating: "I consider slavery a social and political evil ... and most sincerely wish that it had no existence upon the face of the earth," yet nevertheless he opposed the abolitionist movement, considering it divisive.
He tried to reconcile regional differences by enforcing the Democrat's Fugitive Slave Act, forcing escaped slaves to be caught and returned to their owners.
Pierce made his worst decision by caving in to the pressure of Democrat Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who convinced him to allow slavery to expand into the new territories by supporting the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act.
This put an end to President James Monroe's 1820 Missouri Compromise.
Unfortunately, similar to the modern-day Roe v. Wade case, instead of bringing a resolution to the slavery issue, the Kansas-Nebraska Act only increased tensions, till it erupted in "Bleeding Kansas" battles and eventually the Civil War.
Opposition to the Democrat's Kansas-Nebraska Act gave birth to a new anti-slavery party -- the Republican Party, and launched the career of a young Illinois politician, Abraham Lincoln.
In 1856, the Democrat Party did not renominate Pierce.
Instead, Democrats nominated James Buchanan, who was elected the 15th President in 1857.
In 1861, Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President.
Pierce opposed Lincoln's heavy-handed policies which suspended the writ of habeas corpus, stating that even in time of war citizens should not have their rights taken away or be imprisoned without a public trial by a jury of their peers.
When Lincoln instituted the draft and arrested critics, Pierce told New Hampshire Democrats in July 1863, the government should not "dictate to any one of us ... when we may speak, or be silent upon any subject."
After the war, Pierce expressed optimism for the 18th U.S. President, Republican Ulysses S. Grant.
Years later, Ulysses S. Grant described in his memoirs the courage and character of Pierce during the Mexican-American War:
"Whatever General Pierce's qualifications may have been for the Presidency, he was a gentleman and a man of courage. I was not a supporter of him politically, but I knew him more intimately than I did any other of the volunteer generals."
Franklin Pierce's wife, Jane, died in 1863.
The next year, Pierce, accompanied his old college friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne, went on a trip to the New Hampshire mountains in hopes it would benefit Hawthorne's health.
Tragically, on the trip, Nathaniel Hawthorne died, May 19, 1864.
Franklin Pierce gave financial help to Hawthorne's son, Julian.
On the second anniversary of his wife's death, Franklin Pierce was baptized into the church she had been a member of, St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Concord, New Hampshire.
Back in 1852, when Pierce was running for President, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a campaign biography of Pierce, in which he stated:
"Whether in sorrow or success he has learned ... that religious faith is the most valuable ... of human possessions ... With this sense, there has come ... a wide sympathy for the modes of Christian worship and a reverence for religious belief as a matter between the Deity and man's soul."
Nathaniel Hawthorne's life is one that also is worth remembrance.
He was born July 4, 1804.
As an American author and poet, he is most famous for his novel, The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850.
Hawthorne's most notable literary contemporaries included:
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
  • Walt Whitman,
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson,
  • Henry David Thoreau,
  • Louisa May Alcott,
  • Edgar Alan Poe, and
  • Herman Melville.
Melville read Hawthorne's short story collection Mosses from an Old Manse, and praised it in a famous review, "Hawthorne and His Mosses."
Melville dedicated his book, Moby-Dick, to Hawthorne "in appreciation for his genius."
Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia had three children: Una, Julian and Rose.
Rose, after her husband's death, became a nun, and founded the religious order, Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, to care for victims of incurable cancer.
Hawthorne's short tales were published as collections in Twice-Told Tales (1837), and Mosses from an Old Manse (1850), with some of the more popular ones being:
"My Kinsman, Major Molineux" (1832);
"The Maypole of Merrymount" (1832);
"Young Goodman Brown" (1835);
"The Minister's Black Veil" (1836);
"The Birth-Mark" (1843);
"Rappaccini's Daughter" (1844);
"Ethan Brand" (1850);
"Tanglewood Tales" (1853).
Hawthorne's major romance works were:
- The Scarlet Letter (1950);
- The House of Seven Gables (1851);
- Blithedale Romance (1852); and
- The Marble Faun (1860).
The pallbearers at Hawthorne's funeral were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Swiss-American biologist Louis Agassiz, and Louisa May Alcott.
Louisa May Alcott wrote "A Song for a Christmas Tree" (Morning-Glories And Other Stories, NY: G.W. Carleton & Co., 1871, pp. 5-6):
"... Come and gather as they fall,
Shining gifts for great and small;
Santa Claus remembers all
When he comes with goodies piled.
Corn and candy, apples red,
Sugar horses, gingerbread,
Babies who are never fed,
Are handing here for every child ...

Gathered in a smiling ring,
Lightly dance and gayly sing,
Still at heart remembering
The sweet story all should know,
Of the little Child whose birth
Has made this day throughout the earth
A festival for childish mirth,
Since the first Christmas long ago."
In Ethan Brand, written in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote:
"'What is the Unpardonable Sin?' asked the lime-burner ... 'It is a sin that grew within my own breast," replied Ethan Brand ... 'The sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God.'"
In his poem, "The Star of Calvary," Hawthorne wrote:
"It is the same infrequent star,
The all mysterious light,
That, like a watcher gazing on
The changes of the night,
Toward the hill of Bethlehem, took
Its solitary flight.
It is the same infrequent star;
Its sameness startleth me;
Although the disk is red a-blood
And downward silently
It looketh on another hill,
The hill of Calvary.
Behold, O Israel! behold!
It is no human One
That ye have dared to crucify.
What evil hath he done?
It is your King, O Israel,
The God-begotten Son!"
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