He was the first President to be born in the 19th Century. Franklin Pierce was born in the town of Hillsborough on November 23, 1804. His father, Benjamin Pierce, was a two-term Governor in the state.
Franklin attended Bowdoin College studying law under Judges Samuel Howe and Edmund Parker, and graduating fifth in his class in 1824. While at Bowdoin, he befriended a young writer by the name of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who would later become his biographer. Pierce entered politics at the age of 24 when he was elected to the New Hampshire legislature. Two years later, in 1831, Pierce became the Speaker of the House.
He was only 28 when he went to Washington, first as a Congressman and then as a Senator in 1837. He voted the Democratic party line on nearly every issue during his time there and became known as something of a Washington Insider. He also earned a reputation as a heavy drinker.
On November 19, 1834, Pierce married Jane Means Appleton, the daughter of a former President of Bowdoin College, in a house on the town green in Amherst. His wife was deeply religious, and a strong supporter of the temperance movement. She also abhorred the Washington establishment, refusing to live there when her husband was a Senator. They had three children together, Franklin, Frank Robert, and Benjamin, but all of them died during childhood.
After serving his time in the Senate, Franklin moved back to New Hampshire, settling in Concord, where he became a supporter of the temperance movement. He was successful in outlawing liquor in Concord and he opened a law practice in town, serving as an eminent trial lawyer.
Pierce served in the Mexican-American War, at first as a private, then moving up in rank until he was promoted to Brigadier General. He returned home again and was nominated by the Democratic party to run for President in 1852. He ran on a platform of support for the Compromise of 1850, a series of bills that addressed territorial and slavery controversies that arose from the Mexican-American War. The issue of slavery was starting to divide the country at the time, and, being a northerner who was pro-slavery helped him win the election. Still, he only won with a narrow margin of popular votes.
Two months before he was to take office, his 11-year old son was killed in a train accident. This event set the tone for his Presidency, and left Pierce bitter and depressed. His wife Jane never recovered, and she lived as a recluse in the White House.
He became the first President to "affirm" the oath of office rather than swear it, placing his hand on a law book rather than the bible when he was Inaugurated. He also became the first President to recite his inaugural address from memory.
Pierce passed one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which created the territories of Nebraska and Kansas. The Act repealed the Missouri Compromise and allowed settlers in those states to vote on whether they would allow slavery. It was seen as a concession to slave-holding interests in the south and ultimately planted the seeds for the Civil War. It also gave rise to the new Republican Party, which was created in opposition of the act.
Pierce only served one term.
He died in Concord on October 8, 1869 of cirrhosis of the liver after a prolonged battle with alcoholism. He is buried in the Old North Cemetery in the city.
The Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough (his childhood home) was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and and was automatically listed on the National Register in 1966 when the Register was started. The Pierce Manse, located in Concord is the only house owned by Franklin Pierce from 1842-1848. It also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.