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Unloved President Franklin Pierce Had Seacoast Connections

Franklin Pierce  medal smallHISTORY MATTERS

If he visited no other place, the departing President Franklin Pierce told a local crowd in 1856, he must come to Portsmouth. It was here that he spent some of the most agreeable years of his life, he said. Fresh out of BowdoinCollege, the athletic and strikingly handsome dark-haired Pierce had studied law in Portsmouth three decades earlier with the enormously popular Judge Levi Woodbury. (Click headline for full article) 

First of Two Parts 

Maybe Portsmouth would rather forget that Franklin Pierce had close personal ties to the seacoast region. The fourteenth president left office in disgrace, the only president in history whose party refused to nominate him for a second term. In the heady politics of the day, his opponents maligned him as a drunk, a military coward, a sympathizer of Southern slavery, and an intellectual lightweight. Historians sometimes brand Pierce as the man most responsible for the bloody Civil War.

By 1856, even many of Pierce's former allies had come to hate him. J.P Hale of Dover, the nation's first openly abolitionist senator, called him "reprehensible" from the Senate floor.  New Hampshire chief justice George Kittredge once remarked of Pierce: "In hell they'll roast him like a herring." Poet Walt Whitman declared that the president "eats dirt and excrement for his daily meals, likes it, and tries to force it on the states."

As the Pierce administration ended months later the New York Herald announced "Hallelujah! At twelve o'clock this day, the worst of the United States presidents will retire into private life. He has satisfied no one and disappointed all."

 FranklinPierce Closeup

Early Pierce days

Born  on a Hillsborough farm and tavern in 1804, one of eight children, New Hampshire's native son was very much a product of his environment. His mother Anna was charming, outgoing, maybe even a little tipsy and risqué. His father Benjamin Pierce had fought in the American Revolution and was twice elected governor of New Hampshire.

By age 16 Franklin was a reluctant student at the exclusive Bowdoin College in Maine where, for the first two years, he partied hard and ranked dead last academically. In a sudden conversion, Franklin hit the books and rose toward the top of his class. He also proved to be a strong leader of his school military company, a group that included future writers Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Hawthorne would remain his loyal friend for life.

Hawthorne later described the young Pierce as "vivacious, mirthful, slender, of  fair complexion." His cheerful nature "made a kind of sunshine, both as regarded its radiance and its warmth."

There is little left of the Portsmouth law office where Pierce worked under Levi Woodbury who, like Benjamin Pierce, also served as state governor. Built after the fire of 1802 the large U-shaped bank building stood at the heart of Market Square. The right half of the building was gutted and refaced in 1903, but the South wall is still standing. The left hand side was razed and replaced in 1903 with the building that is today the Ri Ra Irish Pub. By 1827 Franklin Pierce had established his own law office in Concord, NH. 

Levi Woodbury would go on to become a U.S. Senator, Secretary of the Treasury and the Navy under Andrew Jackson, and a justice of the Supreme Court. Woodbury is one of the only men in American history to serve in all three branches of the government, and he was nearly nominated for president just prior to his death in 1851.


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Tuesday, February 20, 2018 
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