Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Franklin Pierce (president 1853-1857)

By Richard E. Noble

Franklin Pierce seemed to come out of nowhere. He was such a dark horse candidate that Stephen Douglas commented dryly; "Hereafter no private citizen is safe." Franklin bounded into the office of president bright, young, challenged and optimistic. He left disillusioned and aged.
His story seems to me as that of a favored child seeking something dynamic to do with his life. He goes to school, becomes a lawyer, and gets into politics. He runs through his state legislature in New Hampshire, and then gets elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He does well there and then is elected to the U.S. Senate.
Then he marries Jane Means Appleton. She is described as withdrawn, deeply religious, neurotic and frequently an invalid. She doesn't like Washington, nor does she care for politics. (Well, that doesn't make her necessarily neurotic to me. Maybe she had some other "real" problems.)
He resigns from his second term as a Senator and returns home to practice law. He gets offered other political jobs but refuses. The war with Mexico comes along and he decides to become a hero. He volunteers (as a Brigadier General, of course) and rushes down to bail out General Winfield Scott. In his first confrontation with the enemy, his horse balks at an explosion. He gets his "privates" jammed into the pommel, falls off his horse and passes out on the battlefield. The troops were not impressed. The notion spread among the "guys" that Frank, was no Old Hickory. So he resigned as Brigadier General. He went home to New Hampshire and tried something less challenging. Something that was not so involved with courage, reputation and valor.
He ran for president of the United States in 1852. No sooner does he get elected than his little boy gets killed in a train wreck while he and his wife survive. Mom takes it as a warning from God, rather than a positive act of Divine Providence.
The country was about to explode into Civil War. Pierce supported the Compromise of 1850, and then the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Kansas-Nebraska Act demolished the Missouri Compromise and left slavery up to the popular vote of each new in-coming state. Revolution broke out in Kansas and then the infamous John Brown slaughter in Lawrence.
Slavery was an issue that neither the executive nor the legislature could solve. So they tried to pass the buck to the Judicial. The Judicial bounced the ball back via the infamous Dred Scott decision.
Judge Taney, speaking for the majority, supported the notion that it was not the Supreme Court's position to make laws. The creation of new laws was the responsibility of the legislature. Slavery was and had been the law of the land and recognized as legitimate by governments throughout the world. Our forefathers and our Declaration of Independence supported slavery. The position of slaves as property was referenced in the Constitution, and all decisions up until that time supported slavery. If Slavery was to be abolished it must be done by amendment or the legislature and not the Supreme Court. Taney sounds more like a Republican than a Democrat, doesn't he?
Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was nearly beaten to death on the Senate floor by Preston Brooks, a federal representative and nephew of Senator Andrew P. Butler, a pro-slaver from South Carolina. Times were, to say the least, "HOT."