Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

A Life in Brief

Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, came to office during a period of growing tension between the North and South. A politician of limited ability, Pierce was behind one of the most crucial pieces of legislation in American history. Although he did not author the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he did encourage its passage by Congress. And that piece of legislation set the nation on its path to civil war.

Like many American politicians, Franklin Pierce's career was aided by his father, a two-term governor of New Hampshire. Before he was thirty, Franklin Pierce had served in the New Hampshire legislature and had been elected to the U.S. Congress where he served as both a congressman and senator. Bored and lonely in Washington, the young congressman developed a drinking problem and a reputation as a gossipy Washington insider. In an attempt to settle down, the handsome, socially gregarious Pierce married Jane Means Appleton. Jane Pierce was her husband's opposite; she was painfully shy, deeply religious, often in bad health, and a strong advocate of the temperance movement. She detested Washington and refused to live there, even after Pierce became a U.S. senator in 1837. Indeed, Jane's disgust with the political life in Washington must have been behind Pierce's decision to resign from the Senate in 1841. Subsequently, Franklin Pierce served in the Mexican-American War, and in something of a surprise was elected President in 1852. After his presidency he retired to Concord, New Hampshire, where he died in 1869.