Franklin Pierce was the first president to have a
Christmas tree in the White House.
Pierce attended Bowdoin College. After graduation he studied law, then
entered politics. At 24 he was elected to the New Hampshire
legislature; two years later he became its Speaker. During
the 1830's he went to Washington, first as a Representative,
then as a Senator.
Pierce, after serving in the Mexican War, was proposed by
New Hampshire friends for the Presidential nomination in
1852 At the Democratic Convention, after 48 ballots, Pierce
was nominated a true "dark horse."
Two months before he took office, he and his wife saw their
eleven-year-old son killed when their train was wrecked.
Grief-stricken, Pierce entered the Presidency nervously
As President, Pierce had only to make gestures toward
expansion to excite the wrath of northerners, who accused
him of acting as a cat's-paw of Southerners eager to extend
slavery into other areas. Therefore he aroused apprehension
when he pressured Great Britain to relinquish its special
interests along part of the Central American coast, and even
more when he tried to persuade Spain to sell Cuba.
But the most violent renewal of the storm stemmed from the
Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise
and reopened the question of slavery in the West. This
measure, the handiwork of Senator Stephen A. Douglas, grew
in part out of his desire to promote a railroad from Chicago
to California through Nebraska. Already Secretary of War
Jefferson Davis, advocate of a southern transcontinental
route, had persuaded Pierce to send James Gadsden to Mexico
to buy land for a southern railroad. He purchased the area
now comprising southern Arizona and part of southern New
Mexico for $10,000,000.
Douglas's proposal, to organize western territories through
which a railroad might run, caused extreme trouble. Douglas
provided in his bills that the residents of the new
territories could decide the slavery question for
themselves. The result was a rush into Kansas, as
southerners and northerners vied for control of the
territory. Shooting broke out, and "bleeding Kansas" became
a prelude to the Civil War.
By the end of his administration, Pierce could claim "a
peaceful condition of things in Kansas." But, to his
disappointment, the Democrats refused to renominate him,
turning to the less controversial Buchanan.
Pierce returned to New Hampshire, leaving his successor to
the rising fury of the sectional whirlwind. He died in 1869.