Notes Concerning the Author:
Roy Franklin Nichols (1896-1973) was born in Newark, New Jersey, graduated from Rutgers University in 1918 and obtained his Masters degree the following year. He then moved to Columbia University in 1920 and combined teaching with work toward his Ph. D, which he received in 1923. He continued at Columbia to 1925. He then moved to the University Pennsylvania as an assistant professor. At the time of the completion of his Franklin Pierce biography, Nichols had become a full professor and, in 1931, the University of Pennsylvania Press published his book.
Folks viewing our website might be puzzled over finding a biography of President Franklin Pierce among the recommend readings of political leaders of the northern States who had a large impact on the political sectionalism that led to State Secession and the War Between the States. Since Pierce was elected President in 1852 as a Democrat, not a sectional Republican, and served from 1853 to 1857, a full 4 years before the arrival of Abe Lincoln in Washington, why does Pierce matter much?
Pierce matters because he was a Democrat who strove mightily to moderate the antagonistic political passions that were driving a huge wedge between the people of the northern States and the people of the southern States — made so dangerous because of the effectiveness of political demagogues in the northern States. Pierce was President when Stephen Douglas’ Kansas Nebraska Act became law in 1854, initiating the terrorism of “Bleeding Kansas.” His reactions to the problems of “Bleeding Kansas” is something all historians need to understand.
By the time that Democrat James Buchanan was elected President in November 1856, the Republican Party had seized considerable power in the northern States and in the Federal House, making it far more difficult for the peace makers to arrest the passions of political sectionalism. From early 1853 to early 1857, Democrat Franklin Pierce had reasonable opportunities to promote political peace. After Democrat Buchanan took office in early 1857 his opportunities to effect political peace were dismal because Republicans were so powerful in the governments of the northern States and in Congress.
Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) was the son of Benjamin Pierce and wife Anna. The family lived on the family farm in New Hampshire. The father had been a soldier in the Revolutionary War and twice elected Governor of New Hampshire. Franklin received a good education and was well prepared when he entered Bowdoin College in Maine in 1820 as he approached his sixteenth birthday. He graduated in 1824 and in 1826 entered Northampton Law School in Massachusetts. He was admitted to the bar and began practicing law in Concord, New Hampshire in 1827.
Pierce was a Democrat Representative in the Federal House (1833-1837) and a Democrat Federal Senator (1837-1842). When the United States declared war against Mexico, Pierce served as a Brigadier General under the overall command of Winfield Scott (1846-1848). After the defeat of the Mexicans, Pierce returned to normal life in New Hampshire.
When the Democratic Party turned to Pierce to be its nominee for Federal President in 1852, it can be said that America had never known a “darker dark horse.”
Space only allows one further comment in this abstract. When President Pierce formed his Cabinet, he selected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi to take the job of Secretary of War. Both men worked well together in Washington during the full 4-year term of the Pierce Administration and became very good friends. Their wives were the best of friends as well.
Availability of this Book
The 1931 edition of the Franklin Pierce biography, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, was updated and “Completely Revised” in a 1958 second edition. Of his “Second Edition,” Roy F. Nichols wrote, “The occasion of a new printing of this biography allows a second look and a fresh judgment.” Caution suggests that the Society of Independent Southern Historians ought to recommend the first edition over the second. However, this reviewer had read a “Second Edition” and did not find fault in it, but has not compared the two editions. The main thrust of our recommendation is to avoid all other biographies of President Pierce and insist on finding your copy of the work by Nichols. There is also a 1969 edition. The first edition (1931) can be found at Amazon and similar outlets, but the books are uncommon and expensive. We hope an e-book will become available.
An Alternate Biography.
Peter A. Wallner recently completed an exhaustive biography of Pierce, in two volumes. Considering the limited importance to the history of the Southern people and the Southern culture, this work would seem to be more than one ought to undertake. But if interested, Volume 1 is titled, Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire’s Favorite Son. Consisting of 321 pages, it was published in 2004. Volume 2 is titled, Franklin Pierce, Martyr for the Union. Consisting of 498 pages, it was published in 2007.