Thursday, September 02, 2004

Franklin Pierce: Young Hickory of the Granite Hills

Franklin Pierce: Young Hickory of the Granite Hills. This is a nice biography which covers the life of President Pierce. I bought this book and enjoyed reading it. Too bad that Mr. Pierce was such an alcoholic.

From an Amazon Review by mrliteral:

I had always been somewhat intrigued by Franklin Pierce, perhaps our most obscure president. I would wonder why he was almost neglected by history while other presidents got much more press. As I eventually learned - and as this book reaffirms - there is a reason he is almost completely ignored. Pierce represented the nadir of the Presidency, a period that by historical circumstances and Pierce's own lack of ability made presidential power as weak as it ever would be.

Nichols's book describes the early life of Pierce. The son of a Revolutionary War veteran, Pierce used his family connections and his own gifts of intelligence and oratory to rise in the local political community, first on a state level and then eventually into both houses of Congress. While adept enough to get these positions, he never really sparkled at any of them; his period as a general in the Mexican War is similarly unimpressive.

The Democratic Party, desperate to find a nominee in 1852, eventually settled on Pierce, not because he was a great candidate, but - as a Northerner with distinctly pro-Southern views - he was the only candidate with wide geographical appeal. Attaining the Presidency, he did little to calm the growing North-South rift and, in fact, left things in a sadder state than when he left.
Nichols portrays Pierce sympathetically enough as a man beset by poor health, a hard-to-live-with wife and a series of family tragedies, culminating with seeing the death of his last child in an accident just prior to his inauguration. Pierce, however, was also a politician with little political awareness, oblivious to the growing conflict over slavery and with sympathies in complete contrast to that of his New Hampshire neighbors. Compared with most of his fellow Presidents, Pierce wound up dying in ignonimy.

This is a good book, very detailed and with a high level of objectivity, and can be considered probably the best book on Pierce. Originally written in the 1930s, Nichols occasionally uses language that may seem quaint to modern eyes, but this is still quite readable. If you want to learn about Franklin Pierce (and the era leading up to the Civil War), this is a good place to start.

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