President Franklin Pierce: 8 Major Accomplishments

Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the United States

When America was at its most crucial point (perhaps a tipping point), a 48-year-old Democratic Party politician by name Franklin Pierce was elected as president. Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, had to contend with a myriad of issues – most notably slavery – that ultimately tore the country apart less than a decade after his inauguration in March 1853. Many historians believe that the New Hampshire politician was relatively inept at dealing with sectional rife between the South and the North.

Franklin Pierce facts

However, Pierce did chalk some important feats during his presidency. The following presentation enumerates some of the major accomplishments of President Franklin Pierce:

Served in the New Hampshire State Legislature

A devout northern Democrat, Franklin Pierce began his political career at a very early age. By the age of 23, he was already making waves in his home state New Hampshire. His meteoric rise in the state was also facilitated by the fact that he came from a family of rich political and military background. For example, Pierce’s father, Benjamin Pierce, was on two occasions elected as the governor of New Hampshire.

Starting 1828, Pierce served as the Hillsborough Town moderator for six years. In 1829, the people of Hillsborough then elected him to the New Hampshire House of Representatives. In his first year, he was appointed chairman of the House of Education Committee in the New Hampshire Legislature. By 1931, the young and very energetic politician climbed to become the Speaker of the New Hampshire House.

Pierce was always a big fan of Andrew Jackson. This fact was seen in the entirety of his illustrious political career. For example, while in the New Hampshire House, Pierce did not support banks’ expansion; he called for state legislation to protect the state militia; and he whole-heartedly supported Andrew Jackson’s re-election bid during the 1822 U.S. presidential election.

He was a tireless member of the Democratic Party

Starting from the days that he was in the New Hampshire parliament, Franklin Pierce always gave his all to the development of the Democratic Party. He played active roles in virtually every aspect of his state’s party politics. Owing to this, he became very successful, both in his political and professional career. Pierce was also a very renowned New Hampshire lawyer. Having gained admission into the New Hampshire bar in 1827, Pierce would go on to represent some of the poorest people in the state. And in most cases he even offered his legal services for free. As a result of all these, his reputation in his state grew very fast.

In the political arena, Pierce was part of the few Democratic Party members that helped make New Hampshire (NH) a very stronghold for the Democratic Party. His party’s dominance in the state lasted for close to three decades. He made sure that NH became the most reliable Democratic Party stronghold in the North.


Got elected to Congress

In addition to serving extensively in the New Hampshire militia (from age 18 to 45), Pierce’s political career saw him elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for four years, from 1833- 1837. While in the House, Pierce fiercely fought against issuance of a charter to the Second Bank of the United State. He, like many other Jacksonians, were against having a situation where the federal government left huge sums of funds in the hands of the bank. In his mind, the disastrous financial meltdown of 1837 (the Panic of 1837) was the result of fast-paced growth of the banks in America, over trading, and speculation

He was also not in favor of the federal government carrying out internal improvements using federal resources. Pierce believed that such moves were absolutely unconstitutional. If anything at all, he believed that the states themselves should be responsible for their infrastructural development not the federal government.

After two spells of two years each in the House, Pierce resigned in order to move into the U.S. Senate. After getting elected to the Senate in 1837, he would go on to incur the angst of northern abolitionist because he voiced his support for the perpetuating of slavery in the South. Although, he did not personally like slavery, Pierce was a massive supporter of Southern states deciding whether to keep slavery.

While in the Senate, Pierce supported initiatives that enhanced the livelihoods of the military men. He served as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Pensions from 1839-1841. During his chairmanship, he helped improve the conditions and battle capabilities of the states’ militias. He favored this over physical fortifications and defenses.

United States Attorney for New Hampshire during Polk’s presidency

Franklin Pierce’s renowned legal experience and expertise helped win him an appointment from President James K. Polk. During Polk’s presidency, Pierce served as the U.S. Attorney for his home state, New Hampshire. He proved himself as a very good lawyer – an eloquent legal mind with a very affable personality. He also put his good memory into good use, often wining the admiration of his peers in the state.

Served bravely during the Mexican-American War (1846- 1848)

When the Mexican-American War broke out in May 1846, Franklin Pierce, hoping to emulate the military feats of accomplishment of his father and siblings, quickly signed up as volunteer militiaman. Pierce had always yearned to be an active member of the military. And even in his youthful years, Pierce often featured prominently in bolstering the recruitment and training of his state’s (New Hampshire) local militia.

Such was Pierce’s desire to serve his country during the Mexican-American War that he turned down President Polk’s appointment to the position of Attorney General.

By February, 1847, Pierce’s hard work in the war had earned him appointment to the position of commander and colonel of the 9th Infantry Regiment. About a month later, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. Pierce served directly under the command of General Winfield Scott.

He was even led his regiment of about two and half thousand men in accompany army supplies. Regardless of how difficult the three-week journey was, Pierce was determined to get those supplies to General Scott and his men.

Pierce would go on to be actively involved in the battles such as: the Battle of Contreras, Battle of Churubusco, Battle of Mexico City, the Battle of Chapultepec, and a few others.

In the dying stages of the war, Pierce helped capture Mexico City. He was also part of the team that negotiated the armistice with the Mexicans.

There is no doubt that his exploits during the Mexican-American War helped enhance his reputation among the American public.

READ MORE: Reasons why America did not annex all of Mexico after the Mexican-American War

18th U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant’s take on the courage of Franklin Pierce

Devoted to keeping the Union

In December 1850, Pierce uttered these words: “The Union! Eternal Union!” This was Pierce’s response to the passage of the Compromise of 1850. The compromise, which was brokered Senator Henry Clay (the Great Compromiser), was intended to keep peace between the North and South. Turmoil between the two sides was at an all-time high after America gained new territories from the Mexican-American War. What the Compromise of 1850 did was allow California and Nebraska come into the Union as free state while the Kansas joined as a slave state.

In effect the Compromise of 1850 annulled the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Pierce was instrumental in getting the Compromise of 1850 come to fruition. Even though the Compromise was seen as peace deal at time, the Compromise did very little to prevent the country from slipping into a full-blown civil war in the 1860s.


Won the 1852 Presidential election

With the Whig Party in shambles after the below average presidency of Millard Fillmore, the American people wanted a change. And so, the Democratic Party was well ahead in the polls to retake the White House.

Initially, Pierce was not even in the race to pick up the Democratic Party nomination. There were far more prominent and leading Democrats such as Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, William Marcy of New York, Sam Houston of Texas, and James Buchanan of Pennsylvania.

After the several tries, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) struggled to find an overall leading candidate. The party went ahead to look for a compromise candidate- a candidate that could unify a party which was divided over the issue of slavery. Franklin Pierce name popped up. And after a total of 49 ballots at the Baltimore June 1852 convention, the DNC nominated Franklin Pierce as their candidate for the 1852 U.S. presidential election. For his running mate, the Alabama Senator William R. King was selected.

Pierce and King went on to win the election resoundingly. They defeated Whig Party candidates General Scott Winfield (commander during the Mexican-American War) and his running mate, William A. Graham.

Pierce won the 1852 presidential election by garnering about 50.9% of the popular vote, as against General Scott’s 44.1%. In the electoral votes, the Democratic Party won 254 votes, compared to the Whig’s 44.

The general public hoped that Pierce would be the one to bring the two conflicting sides – North and South– together.

Franklin Pierce’s Accomplishments as President

Nicknamed, Young Hickory of the Granite Hills, Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States. His presidency was marred by his divisive stance on slavery, contributing to the sectional discord that eventually led to the Civil War. His inability to curb the escalating tensions between the North and South resulted in a lack of support for his re-nomination, and he retired to New Hampshire after his term, passing away on October 8, 1869.

  • Held on to his full cabinet for the entirety of his presidency

The presidency of Franklin Pierce was characterized by multi-factional and multi-party appointments. Many people believed that Pierce did this to keep both the North and South pleased. However, Pierce’s true goal was to unite his party, i.e. bring together Northern Democrats and Southern Democrats.

Therefore, Pierce appointed people based on merits. By keeping his public and federal appointments neutral, Pierce was able to fill the positions with the right calibre of people capable of moving the nation forward.

However, members of his Democratic Party were not so pleased with him giving federal appointments to persons outside the party. The Southern politicians started tagged him as being in bed with abolitionists. The North was also critical of him, stating that he was very a pro-slavery president.

  • Instituted several reforms in the public sector

Regardless of the sticks he received from both factions, the hallmark of Pierce’s presidency was one of efficient and effective civil service owing to the fact that appointments were made on merit. Pierce tasked his Secretary of Interior Robert McClelland to roll out reforms that made the federal government more effective.

President Pierce also gave the function of appointing federal judges and attorney to the U.S. Attorney General. Due to this arrangement, the foundations of the U.S. Justice Department were in part laid.

In the Treasury Department, Secretary James Guthrie during Pierce’s presidency made sure that there was effective supervision of employees and tariff collectors. Pierce also issued a directive that called on all locked-up government funds to be taken from private banks. In the nutshell, he was stern on corruption.

  • Infrastructural achievements

Pierce’s presidency saw massive development in the transcontinental railroad. There were also a host of developmental projects in the District of Columbia. For example, the U.S. Capitol building was expanded. Then, there was the continuation of the construction of Washington Monument.

  • Purchased the territories in the Southwest

Primarily due to his expansionist ideology, Pierce signed the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. The deal, which was negotiated by James Gadsden – a railway enthusiast and industrialist, saw the United States acquire Southwestern territories that include present day New Mexico and Arizona. The Americans paid $10 million to Mexico in exchange for those territories.

  • Trade treaties

The expedition of Commodore Matthew Perry was originally started by U.S. President Millard Fillmore.  However, it was during Pierce’s presidency that the major headway was made. The expedition was arguably first of its kind in the sense that America was able to secure trade deals with the very reclusive shogunate government of Japan. As a result of Perry’s expedition, other Western countries went on to benefit from similar trade deals with Japan. Pierce also signed a number of trade treaties with major European powers. For example, there was a trade deal with Britain over fishing rights on Canadian waters. The agreement eased tensions between the two countries.

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