Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2010 Pierce Dollar Coin

Franklin Pierce Dollar
Designer: Susan Gamble
Engraver: Charles Vickers

The US Mint has released the 2010 Presidential Dollar Coin designs. Three of the biggest losers in Presidential history--Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan--will be featured, along with perennial favorite, Abraham Lincoln.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ain't Nothin' Funny 'Bout the Death of Franklin Pierce

In a stunning turn of events, yet another song about Franklin Pierce has been unleashed on an unsuspecting public, complete with the lamest--and possibly the only--tenor guitar guitar solo ever performed. As evidence, ladies and gentlemen, I submit this video of The Two Man Gentlemen Band at the Brass Heart Inn in Chocorua, NH on November 21, 2009.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pierce Biography

Bob Timmermann has posted a good summary of the life of Franklin Pierce at his blog.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Another Ostend-tatious Musical Interlude

Incredible as it may seem, 2009 may be remembered as the year when not one, but two songs concerning the Ostend Manifesto were written.

Although the document is not explicitly mentioned in "Why Franklin Pierce Sucked: The Song," by Eric Olson, the lyrics obviously refer to the notorious Ostend Manifesto, the scheme cooked up by Franklin Pierce's minions to take Cuba from Spain, by purchase or force.

For information on the other song, see my previous post "Franklin Pierce's Miserable Legacy Celebrated in Song."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pierce on TV

Franklin Pierce will be the subject of a television program, or at least a segment of a television program, and this time he will not appear as the question to a Jeopardy answer.

From the Campus News section of the Bowdoin College web site:
Prof. Patrick Rael, Scott Ogden '10 to Discuss Franklin Pierce on WCSH Saturday, Oct 17

Story posted October 09, 2009

Franklin Pierce, fourteenth President of the United States (1853-1857) and a member of the Class of 1824, is to be the focus of a segment on the WCSH program Bill Green's Maine Saturday, October 17, 2009.

Host Bill Green interviewed Associate Professor of History Patrick Rael and Scott Ogden '10, who is working on an honors project about Pierce's life.

The crew also photographed some of the Pierce-related materials held in the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives.

Bill Green's Maine airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on WCSH (Channel 6).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Franklin Pierce's Miserable Legacy Celebrated in Song

Fellow Franklin Pierce aficionado David Holzel has shared with the editorial staff of this blog (me, myself, and I) the breaking news that Handsome Frank is prominently featured in a song slated for release in November of 2009. That's right, Handsome Frank fans--singer-songwriter Christine Lavin has penned a paean to the current White House occupants titled "Attractive Stupid People." Lest stunned supporters of the 44th President start running their Priuses (or is that Prii?) into bridge abutments when they hear this news, let me hasten to add that the song mentions the Obamas only briefly as pretty people with brains, as opposed to the likes of the 14th President, who skated into office on good looks and charm. The song, not surprisingly, was composed after the writer heard Sarah Palin speak.

I never thought I would hear the phrase "Ostend Manifesto" in a contemporary song, or a song of any kind, for that matter. Yet there it is in Ms. Lavin's catchy little ditty, which is available for preview at her web site. She is to be congratulated for historical accuracy. Not only did she avoid the pitfall of believing that Franklin Pierce ran over a woman during his presidency, she went so far as to go beyond the internet for fact-checking. Writing in the Sunday Washington Post, Gene Weingarten explains how Ms. Lavin asked him whether Pierce had actually signed the Ostend Manifesto (a scheme cooked up for taking over Cuba put together by Pierce's subordinates), and how Mr. Weingarten earned credit for co-writing "Attractive Stupid People" when he suggested the final verse to Ms. Lavin. The complete article, "Lyrical Miracle," is quite entertaining and is available online.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pierce on Jeopardy Yet Again

God bless you, Alex Trebek, for keeping alive the memory of the star-crossed 14th President of the U.S. Unfortunately, I was out walking the dog when the $1600 answer in the Double Jeopardy round appeared last night, so I wasn't able to get a picture of the TV screen to post here. I had to learn from my wife after the fact that the answer, under the category "All About Authors," was:
Nathaniel Hawthorne died while traveling with this N.H.-born U.S. president, his close friend.
There could be little doubt of the correct question, even if you didn't know that this particular U.S. president struck up what was to become a lifelong friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne when both were students at Bowdoin College. After all, there has been only one New Hampshire-born president--Franklin Pierce.

Contestant Larissa Kelly, who went on to win the game, proferred the correct question. By the way, in case you haven't found enough ways to fritter away your time on the internet, an extensive archive of Jeopardy answers and questions, dating back to Alex Trebek's pilot episodes in 1983 and 1984, is available online.

Related posts:

Franklin Pierce on Jeopardy!

Pierce on Jeopardy Again

Franklin Pierce on ESPN

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Dick Kemp Auction

The trucks, tractors, and other machines collected by Dick Kemp over the decades have been dispersed. His collection, which occupied the land along the Contoocook River once used for the Great Pierce Barbecue of 1852, was auctioned off on Saturday, July 25, 2009. The vehicle fetching the highest price was the 1947 Mack single axle dump truck above, which went for $29,000. When questioned by a reporter from the Concord Monitor, Kelly D'Errico, whose mother was Kemp's life partner, said of Kemp, "He's probably looking around and saying, what a bunch of idiots, paying this much."

While it's sad to see the Kemp Truck Museum go away, it is comforting to know the old stone oven used for the 1852 Pierce Barbecue remains, and a park will grow up around it, if the plans of the Hillsborough city fathers come to fruition.


A Collection Disperses: Vintage Trucks Auctioned Off by Maddie Hanna
The Great Pierce Barbecue of 1852
RIP Dick Kemp

Monday, July 20, 2009

The W. Threat

Jack Colwell, a local columnist and an astute observer of the political scene, wrote a piece titled "Say What You Will, But Bush Was Prudent" in the South Bend Tribune of July 19, 2009. He expresses a sympathetic view of former President George Herbert Walker Bush, and states, "Bush 41, though not winning a second term, won't go down in history as our worst president. Not when Bush 43 is on the list." Mr. Colwell goes on to say:
Bush 41 won't be ranked as a great president, but he won't end up in the bottom tier either. Not with James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Millard Fillmore, James Polk and Franklin Pierce. George W., though winning re-election over a hapless opposition, could end up in a close contest with ... well, maybe Millard. Possibly in a tie with Andrew Johnson in terms of impact on the nation.
Could Franklin Pierce's position in the bottom five be at risk?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

William Rufus DeVane King

Franklin Pierce is widely recognized--well, he's not widely recognized for anything, but among those who care about such things, he is recognized as one of the most obscure, if not the most obscure President of the United States. It should come as no surprise that his vice-president has been called "the least remembered man in American history" by historian Sol Barzman.

William Rufus DeVane King

King was ill with tuberculosis when he was nominated as Pierce's running mate in 1852, and had gone to Cuba for his health at the time of the inauguration in March of 1853. King had served several terms in the Senate and was the President pro tempore when his illness forced him to resign on December 20, 1852. King was allowed to take the oath of the office of vice-president in Cuba on March 24, 1853 by an act of Congress, giving him the distinction of being the only nationally-elected official to take the oath of office on foreign soil. He never made it to Washington, dying within two days of his return to his native Alabama, on April 18, 1853.

Much has been made of the fact that King lived with James Buchanan for 15 years in Washington, D.C. There is no clear documentary evidence that they had a homosexual relationship, but the nieces of the two men destroyed all correspondence between the two, fueling speculation. Andrew Jackson is said to have called King "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy." Aaron Venable Brown, who served as Governor of Tennessee from 1845-1847 and was a delegate to the Democratic Convention of 1852, is said to have referred to the housemates as "Buchanan and his wife." Apparently, Buchanan never heard Brown's characterization or was the forgiving type, because Brown was appointed Postmaster General during Buchanan's presidency.

A peculiar spinoff of the ambigous relationship of Buchanan and King can be found in a collection of oil paintings called All the Presidents' Girls by British artist Annie Kevans, wherein William King is the only male among the thirty portraits of Presidential mistresses.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Grant on Pierce

His successors to the office of President of the U.S. tended to be hard on the hapless Franklin Pierce. Teddy Roosevelt called him a "servile tool of men worse than himself." Harry Truman called him a nincompoop. Ulysses S. Grant was kinder in his assessment of Pierce. Grant wrote in his memoirs:
General Franklin Pierce had joined the army in Mexico, at Puebla, a short time before the advance upon the capital commenced. He had consequently not been in any of the engagements of the war up to the battle of Contreras. By an unfortunate fall of his horse on the afternoon of the 19th he was painfully injured. The next day, when his brigade, with the other troops engaged on the same field, was ordered against the flank and rear of the enemy guarding the different points of the road from San Augustin Tlalpam to the city, General Pierce attempted to accompany them. He was not sufficiently recovered to do so, and fainted. This circumstance gave rise to exceedingly unfair and unjust criticisms of him when he became a candidate for the Presidency. Whatever General Pierce’s qualifications may have been for the Presidency, he was a gentleman and a man of courage. I was not a supporter of him politically, but I knew him more intimately than I did any other of the volunteer generals.
Maybe Grant was more sympathetic because he shared Pierce's weakness for alcohol.

Fainting Frank and Loco Focos

Franklin Pierce acquired a few nicknames during his career, such as Young Hickory of the Granite Hills and Handsome Frank. Another one, not heretofore discussed in this blog or in its parent blog Lugubrious Drollery, is based on an episode from Pierce's time in the military during the Mexican War.

Pierce entered the army in 1846 as a private and quickly rose to the rank of colonel, and then brigadier general. At the Battle of Contreras on August 19, 1847, his horse reared, causing Pierce to sustain a groin injury on the pommel of the saddle. He passed out and fell from his horse, sustaining a serious knee injury in the process. His horse also fell. Pierce came to, mounted another horse, and returned to battle. The next day, while leading his troops into the Battle of Churubusco, Pierce reinjured his knee and passed out again. Although both episodes of Pierce's loss of consciousness were associated with painful injuries, his political opponents made much of these events in later years, implying that he fainted out of cowardice, and dubbing him "Fainting Frank."

Pierce was a dark horse candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1852, finally winning on the 49th ballot. The political cartoon below makes light of his relative obscurity, and brings up the fainting accusations, with Pierce stating from his perch in the tree, "Gentlemen don't fire! if you please I can't stand the smell of Powder! it makes me feel faint even to think of it!!"

Note the title of the cartoon: "Loco Foco Hunters Treeing a Candidate." What the heck is a Loco Foco?

From the Encyclopedia Brittanica article, Loco Foco:
In U.S. history, radical wing of the Democratic Party, organized in New York City in 1835. Made up primarily of workingmen and reformers, the Locofocos were opposed to state banks, monopolies, paper money, tariffs, and generally any financial policies that seemed to them antidemocratic and conducive to special privilege. The Locofocos received their name (which was later derisively applied by political opponents to all Democrats) when party regulars in New York turned off the gas lights to oust the radicals from a Tammany Hall nominating meeting. The radicals responded by lighting candles with the new self-igniting friction matches known as locofocos, and proceeded to nominate their own slate.
From Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett, 2nd ed. (1859):
In 1834, John Marck opened a store in Park Row, New York, and drew public attention to two novelties. One was champagne-wine drawn like soda water from a "fountain"; the other was a self-lighting cigar, with a match composition on the end. These he called "Loco-foco" cigars. The mode of getting at the name is obvious. The word "loco-motive" was then rather new as applied to an engine on a railroad, and the common notion was that it meant "self-moving;" hence, as these cigars were self-firing, this queer name was coined. His patent for "self-igniting cigars" bears the date of April 16, 1834. The term "loco-foco" does not occur in the notice of his patent in the "Journal of the Franklin Institute," but was used in his advertisements; the term was also applied to matches of that day.
But why foco? The Online Etymology Dictionary has this to say about loco foco:
"self-igniting cigar or match," 1839 (but presumably older), Amer.Eng., of unknown origin, perhaps from a misapprehension of the meaning of the first element of locomotive as "self-" + Sp. fuego "fire." During one heated political meeting in N.Y., the lights went out and the delegates used such matches to relight them, thence the name loco-foco entered U.S. political jargon (1837), usually applied to a radical faction of the Democratic Party, but by the Whigs applied to all Democrats.
Use of the term loco foco wasn't limited to detractors of the Democratic Party. One song written to promote the candidacy of Pierce and his running mate Rufus King included the refrain:

Hi, locos!
Ho, locos!
Listen while I sing
A song to you
Both good and true
About our Pierce and King.

The song also contains a couple instances of a racial slur, the quoting of which here would only serve to further sully the already tarnished reputation of Franklin Pierce. I'm sure there was no requirement in 1852 for the candidate to state his approval of campaign advertising, so we can only speculate as to whether Pierce consented to the use of this song. I will refer the interested reader to the album Presidential Songs: 1789-1996 by Oscar Brand, available on CD or at the iTunes Store.

While we're on the topic of music, I have just learned of a band called The Fainting Generals in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They bill themselves as the World's Best Franklin Pierce Tribute Band.

Are there any challengers out there?


"The Politics of Martial Manhood," by Amy S. Greenberg

The Fainting Generals' Myspace page

Monday, June 1, 2009

Another Pierce Biographer

Brian Matthew Jordan

In response to my post of December 28, 2008, Who Is Shannon Berry and How Does She Know So Much About Franklin Pierce?, fellow Franklin Pierce enthusiast David Holzel made the observation, "Someday, everyone will have written a biography of Franklin Pierce." It seems we are one step closer to fulfilling David's chilling prophecy. Today, I discovered a Pierce biography hitherto unknown to me, and doubtless unknown to most of America. The author, Brian Matthew Jordan, wrote his book, Triumphant Mourner: The Tragic Dimension of Franklin Pierce while in high school. I have learned via the internet that he is in the class of '09 at Gettysburg College, majoring in Civil War era studies, and is now off to Yale for graduate work.

In the preface of his book, the precocious Mr. Jordan stated,
Ask Americans today the question "Who was Franklin Pierce?" and they are most likely to respond to your question with a puzzled expression or a shrug. If any president in our history, in particular, has suffered from oblivion in American memory, it is Franklin Pierce. . . Franklin Pierce was our most obscure president.
As Scrooge said in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, "An intelligent boy! A remarkable boy!"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

American Presidents Blog

I have just discovered another blog devoting significant space to none other than our 14th President, Franklin Pierce--the American Presidents Blog. The article about the false story of Pierce becoming a baker back in New Hampshire after his single term in the White House is especially interesting.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

RIP Dick Kemp

I'm a little late in eulogizing Dick Kemp, who died Sept. 7, 2007. I never met the man, and in fact had never heard of him until I started to research the history of a political rally for presidential candidate Franklin Pierce in 1852. I mean the rally was held in 1852, not that I started researching in 1852. Why, I wasn't even born until several years later.

Mr. Kemp began collecting trucks in the early 1950s. He bought a 1930 Mack Bulldog for $50. He continued for decades to buy old trucks, restore them to working order, and make them look presentable, without trying to hammer out all the dents. In the 1970s, he began to display them on his property in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, and thus was born Kemp's Truck Museum. When he died at age 76, his collection included over a hundred vehicles. He didn't charge admission, didn't attempt flawless museum-quality restorations, and encouraged visitors to touch and sit in his vehicles.

I learned of Kemp's Truck Museum because it is located on the Contoocook River next to the old stone oven built to cook an ox for the Great Pierce Barbecue of 1852. See link at the end of this post for further details of that event and my efforts to locate the oven with the help of Hillsboro resident, Steve Davidson.

Old Oven with Kemp Vehicles in the Background
Photo by Steve Davidson

Dick Kemp was interviewed for a special Thanksgiving edition of CNN Newsnight with Aaron Brown which aired November 25, 2004. He concluded the interview by saying,

But everybody asks me, you know, What's going to happen to this collection when you go? I don't know. That's somebody else's problem.
Now we know what will happen. Most of the collection will be auctioned off this year. Some of the proceeds will go toward the care and support of Kemp’s 101-year-old mother, but most will provide financial aid for students at nearby Hillsborough-Deering High School to attend vocational and trade schools on full scholarships.

As a further tribute, the City of Hillsborough will keep two trucks on the property, which will be called Kemp Park. A side benefit may be that the old Pierce stone oven may receive more attention than it has in recent years.


The Great Pierce Barbecue of 1852

"Tears for a bulldog: Kemp’s Truck Museum faces an uncertain future after the passing of its owner" by Chuck Miller

Friday, March 27, 2009

Franklin Pierce on ESPN

These days, it seems the only place to hear about Franklin Pierce on TV is on "Jeopardy." A notable exception occurred during the 2009 NCAA Division II women's basketball championship game on ESPN2. Does anyone really care that Barbara Bush is a distant cousin? Oh well, at least they didn't bring up the urban legend about him running over a woman.

Alas, the Ravens of Franklin Pierce were run over by the Mavericks of Minnesota State-Mankato, 103-94 in the highest scoring championship game in the history of NCAA DII women's basketball.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Franklin Pierce, Statespersons, Fighting Okra, and Mavericks

You gotta love a school that is named after one of the most obscure U.S. Presidents, who is mostly remembered for being an alcoholic, southern sympathizer in the years leading up to the Civil War. The school eschewed such obvious nicknames as the Doughfaces or the Lushes, and its athletic teams are known as the Ravens. Despite dragging the anchor of its namesake's reputation, Franklin Pierce University can bask in the glory of its women's basketball team, which is on its way to the NCAA Division II championship game, after trouncing Delta State 58-39 in the semifinals. The Delta State athletic teams are officially known as the Statesmen, a politically correct, if somewhat boring nickname. Are the women's teams then the Lady Statesmen? Stateswomen? Statespersons? Perhaps life would be easier if they just went by the unofficial nickname, The Fighting Okra. Consider the following from The St. Petersburg Times Online:
In nickname realm, Fighting Okra snappiest
Published May 23, 2004

College sports nicknames become powerful identities. Passions are massive around Florida for Seminoles, Hurricanes, Gators and Bulls.

Nationally, dozens are familiar, each with marketing magic, including Fighting Irish, Tar Heels, Wolverines, Ducks, Horned Frogs and scads of Bulldogs, Tigers and Wildcats.

Some universities double dip, like Georgia Tech with its Engineers and Yellow Jackets, also at Virginia Tech where Gobblers were replaced in a screaming landslide by Hokies.

Here's my favorite ...

Delta State, a Division II school with consistently strong athletics, has forever been Statesmen. But, in an inventive generation, the identity now sold on T-shirts, hats, mugs, key chains, banners and even a Beanie Baby is ... Fighting Okra.

Sixteen years ago, Delta State baseball players rooted in a rowdy group at basketball games on the Cleveland, Miss., campus. Creative youngsters found Statesmen a bit boring. They wanted change.

Uniforms are predominantly green, so the hardball suggestion was to become Fighting Algae. "Somebody with common sense suggested that, to rivals, our players would be more grossly labeled Pond Scum," said Delta State sports information director Paul Smith.

Baseball boys kept searching for something "green, Southern and ugly." Soon, the gang began to chant, "Fighting Okra!" Baseballers were so enthused they crashed the locker room at halftime, where stunned basketball chaps were serenaded with bellows of "Okra! Okra!"

Smith says the coach thought intruders were yelling, "Oprah! Oprah!" Being more into X's and O's than promos for a TV host, he ejected the cheerers. It didn't subside. Other patrons soon picked up the arena cry. Local newspaper writers began calling the hoops facility "Okradome."

Even as Delta State traditionalists lobbied to diminish the Fighting Okra movement, demand kept escalating for a veggie known more scientifically as Abelmoschus esculentus. Okra has become a cash cow.

Today's symbol is a sneering, grubby piece of okra that wears boxing gloves and perches proudly on paraphernalia sold at the campus bookstore. What a tasty matchup if the Fighting Okra meets Rice.

You can find Hardrockers at the South Dakota School of Mines, Vixens at Sweet Briar (Va.) and, just for baseball, the Cal State Long Beach Dirtbags. Nothing more yummy than Fighting Okra.

The FP Ravens will be going up against Minnesota State-Mankato in the final game on Friday, March 27, 2009.

Go Ravens! Beat Mavericks!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pierce and Pumpkins

It's not too early to plan for Halloween. You too can have a Franklin Pierce Jack-o-lantern.

By the way, the Pumpkin Island Lighthouse off the coast of Maine was constructed in 1855, during the Pierce administration.

Pumpkin Island, Penobscot Bay, photo by Peter Stackpole, 1954. From the Life Magazine archives.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Another Presidential Ranking

It's Presidents day and time for another spurious ranking of U.S. Presidents by C-SPAN. Has it only been 9 years since the last one? The C-SPAN 2009 Historians Presidential Leadership Survey, which asked 64 "historians or professional observers of the Presidency" to evaluate the Presidents, came up with the usual suspects at the top: Lincoln, Washington, FDR, etc., etc.

The bottom five:

38. Warren G. Harding
39. William Henry Harrison
40. Franklin D. Pierce
41. Andrew Johnson
42. James Buchanan

Serving as President before (Pierce, Buchanan) or after (Johnson) Lincoln seems to destine one to be ranked near the bottom. It also seems that dying after a short term in office is a risk factor for being perceived as a poor President. William Henry Harrison died after 31 days in office, and Warren G. Harding after two years.

As expected, Franklin Pierce maintains his position among the bottom-dwellers.

Link to the 2009 C-SPAN survey

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Handsome Frank and Honest Abe

Today is the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. As the nation honors a President famous for his honesty and wisdom, let us reflect on the life of an earlier President renowned for having good hair.

From the web site, American President: An Online Reference Resource:
Pierce settled in New Hampshire after his presidency. When the Civil War erupted, Pierce voiced support for the northern cause, as did many doughfaces—that is, northern men with southern principles. A loyal Democrat, Pierce did not support the new president, Abraham Lincoln. In fact, Pierce publicly blamed Lincoln for the war. This outspoken criticism cost the former President a number of longtime friendships.

By the end of the war, Franklin Pierce was all but forgotten, as reclusive as his wife had been in the White House. Always fond of liquor, he had returned to it. 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.
At least the hapless Pierce was able to talk his way out of the tight spot he had gotten himself into.

While I'm on the topic of people who didn't like Abraham Lincoln, here's a photo of me at the tombstone of Edgar Lee Masters in Petersburg, Illinois in 2005, and a closeup of the plaque on the tombstone.

The curmudgeonly Masters, author of Spoon River River Anthology, was a one-time friend and later a rival of Carl Sandburg, who had placed Lincoln on a pedestal in his biography, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. Masters tried his best to knock Abe off that pedestal in his own 1931 Lincoln biography, Lincoln The Man. I have a copy of the book but I haven't read it yet.

According to John Aloysius Farrell, writing in his U.S. News and World Report blog, Masters depicted Abe Lincoln as "... cold, and cunning, and devious, and a sexual misfit, and a blundering politician who helped bring on the Civil War, trampled on civil liberties, and was ever-beholden to Eastern financial and manufacturing interests."

Link to American Presidents: An Online Reference Resource

Link to Farrell's article, "Abraham Lincoln Myth Had Its Doubters, Like Edgar Lee Masters"

Link to more information about Franklin Pierce's hair

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pierce On Jeopardy Again

The excitement was palpable on the set of Jeopardy tonight as the Double Jeopardy categories were revealed.

Not really, but I got interested when one of the categories was "The Gadsden Purchase."

Sure enough, the $800 answer was:

Deepak rang in, and gamely offered the question, "Who was Buchanan?"

Close, Deepak, but no cigar. You were one administration late. Neither of the other contestants tried.

The answer, of course, is none other than our obscure 14th POTUS, Franklin Pierce!

The Gadsden Purchase

The story of the Gadsden Purchase is pretty interesting. It was driven by the desire for a transcontinental railroad via a southern route. The story involves war, diplomacy, Indian raids, the slavery debate, the gold rush, etc. I'd love to recount it here, but it would be too much work, so I'll just refer the reader to a thorough Wikipedia article about the Gadsden Purchase.

Monday, February 2, 2009

An Early Example of the Dissing of Franklin Pierce

From the January 16, 2009 Chicago Tribune article, "10 Things You Might Not Know About Inaugurations:"

The outgoing president often gets little attention, but rarely has it been as obvious as in 1857, when James Buchanan succeeded Franklin Pierce. The swearing-in ceremony had to be delayed for 20 minutes because officials forgot to pick up Pierce at his hotel and had to go fetch him.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pierce and Guano in the LA Times

The Sunday LA Times included a feature with a little different twist on usual top or bottom Presidential lists. Historians who have written about great Presidents were asked about the failings of those Presidents, and historians who have written about "failed" Presidents were asked about good things those Presidents did:

Franklin Pierce


Pierce enabled the expansion of slavery in the West. He also secretly plotted to acquire Cuba from Spain. A drinker of some renown, he was referred to derisively as "hero of many a well-fought bottle."

The best thing Pierce did as president had to do with excrement. Specifically, guano, or bird droppings, which were so essential to U.S. agriculture in the mid-1800s that the era is sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of Guano. In 1856, Pierce signed the Guano Island Act, which allowed U.S. citizens to mine guano on any unclaimed island in the world. It was a time of expansion, and what the guano law did was enable the U.S. to claim rights to whatever land it wanted, as long as somebody else didn't already own it. It was a very smart move -- if you like empires.

-- Larry Gara

Author, "The Presidency of Franklin Pierce"

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Franklin Pierce on Jeopardy!

Tonight, one of the categories on the TV game show Jeopardy was Jefferson Davis. The last and most valuable answer in the category was:

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! I know, Alex! I know!

Unfortunately, I was not on the set. My hat is off to Shawn, who knew the correct question: "Who is Pierce?" Shawn, you are the man!

Too bad Shawn lost out in final Jeopardy to Samantha. C'est la vie.

TR on Pierce

Another assessment of Franklin Pierce from one of his successors:

Theodore Roosevelt later wrote of Pierce that he was "a servile tool of men worse than himself ... ever ready to do any work the slavery leaders set him."
from a post by Jay Tolson at US News and World Report, 2/16/07.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Handsome Frank Elevated by Dubya?

Thanks to The Commander Guy's Lair for pointing out Daniel Barrick's article, "The future of Pierce's legacy looks bright: Some historians say Bush will trump him as worst president," in the December 30, 2008 Concord Monitor. Barrick writes:
Michael Holt, a history professor at the University of Virginia who's writing a new Pierce biography, warned Pierce fans against hopes of historical redemption. Bush's slide in the presidential rankings "may move Pierce up a notch, but I'm not sure it will move him out of the bottom five," he said.
Holy cow! Maybe David H. was right when he commented on a previous post, "Someday, everyone will have written a biography of Franklin Pierce."