Franklin Pierce 14th President, 1853-1857

Birthplace, Pierce Homestead, Hillsborough, New Hampshire
Though not born to great wealth on November 23, 1804, Franklin Pierce had more advantages than most people in rural New Hampshire. His father, Benjamin Pierce, had led the local militia to victories in the American Revolution, and as a result, he enjoyed a status in the area of Hillsborough that gave him influence in local politics. Both he and his wife Anna’s families had been in America since the early Puritan settlements of the 1620s. Like most people raised in turbulent times, Benjamin and Anna wanted their eight children to have better a education than their own.

The Pierce Homestead was built in 1804 by Benjamin Pierce the year his son, Franklin, was born. The large spacious rooms, the hand stenciled walls, and the imported wallpaper, symbolize the elegance of the age.

Benjamin Pierce came to Hillsborough in 1786, almost 50 years after the town was settled. He had served under Washington in the War for Independence, but after the war’s end found himself nearly impoverished. The beauty of the land surrounding Hillsborough, and the affordable prices of land attracted him to buy a log cabin with 50 acres of land. After the death of his first wife, Elizabeth Andrews, Benjamin Pierce married Anna Kendrick.

By the time the Homestead was built, Benjamin Pierce was a prosperous and prominent man. His career in public service continued for 57 years, during which he was twice Governor of New Hampshire. The Homestead was a gathering place of great individuals. Here Daniel Webster was entertained, and in the ballroom on the second floor Benjamin Pierce drilled local militia groups, for everyone was a friend of Benjamin Pierce.

The gardens surrounding the Homestead, with their artificial pond, and lattice summer house, were of unusual beauty for their day. The Homestead is a historic reminder of the family that built it, and of an age in which a young America began to grow into the country we know today.

Upon leaving Hillsborough, Pierce said “I leave Hillsborough with no ordinary regret. There are a thousand reasons why it cannot be otherwise – I have hitherto known no other home. Here have passed many of the happiest days and months of my life. With these streams and mountains are associated most of the delightful recollections of buoyant and happy boyhood, and in my early intercourse with the generous, independent, and intelligent yeomanry of Hillsborough. I became attached to, and learned how to highly appreciate this class of community, which constitutes the true nobility of this country. I need hardly say that I shall never cease to remember my birthplace with pride as well as affection, and with still more pride shall I recollect the steady, unqualified and generous confidence which has been reposed in me by its inhabitants.”

Home, Pierce Manse, Concord, New Hampshire
Family home from 1842 to 1848 of Franklin Pierce, the Concord Lawyer who was to become the 14th President of the United States and the only one from the Granite State. Located at 14 Penacook Street, at the very end of North Main Street in Concord, N.H. Threatened with demolition by an Urban Renewal project back in 1966, the only Concord house ever owned and occupied by Franklin Pierce was saved by The Pierce Brigade, which, in 1971, moved it to its present site in Concord’s Historic District. The log cabin of the first Congregational minister once stood here. The Brigade owns the house and maintains it as a memorial to New Hampshire’s only President.

The word “manse” in its earliest usage designated “the house occupied by the householder.” We apply it to this house to differentiate it from other homes connected with Pierce. Of simple architectural design, the house has been restored insofar as possible to the home it must have been when the Pierces lived here with their two children. Many of the furnishings belonged to Pierce or other members of his family. Some items are known as “White House Pieces.”

When he moved into this house, he had just resigned his post as U.S. Senator to resume his law practice, and it was at this time that he was exerting every effort to land some sort of government position for his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne. He left the house in 1846 to go off to the Mexican War, while his wife and little Benny went to stay with relatives. It is probable that they did not return to 18 Montgomery Street after the war because the rooms would have been haunted by the memory of little Franky’s death. A unique portrait of this child is one of the treasures of The Manse. A replica of the original barn and shed was added in 1993 to the exact measurements of Pierce’s property.

Gravesite, Old North Cemetery, Concord, New Hampshire
Franklin Pierce’s life following the presidency proved no happier than his life during it. He spent most of the pre-Civil War years in Europe, mulling his political misfortunes. When the Civil War erupted, Pierce voiced support for the Northern cause, which was ironic in light of his earlier proslavery stance. But Pierce, a loyal Democrat, did not support the new president, Abraham Lincoln. In fact, Pierce publicly tried to blame Lincoln for the war. This outspoken criticism cost the former president a number of longtime friendships.

Franklin’s wife, Jane Pierce, was slowly dying from tuberculosis by the time her husband left office in 1857. The former president took her to the West Indies and Southern Europe in search of a more comfortable climate. She trudged about the Caribbean and Mediterranean, clutching her son’s Bible and a box with locks of hair from all three of her lost children. She returned to Massachusetts about the time the Civil War began, and died there in late 1863.

Pierce returned to the United States and settled in New Hampshire. By the end of the war he had been all but forgotten, as reclusive as his wife had been in the White House. Always fond of liquor, he had returned to it as his only comfort. When Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, an angry mob surrounded Pierce’s home. Only a final display of the old lawyer’s once-famed oratorical skills kept his house in one piece: he gave a speech urging the crowd to disperse peacefully, and they did. When Franklin Pierce died in the fall of 1869, little was written about him.

Franklin Pierce, his wife, and their three children are buried at Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire.