Franklin Pierce, one of eight children of Benjamin and Anna Kendrick Pierce, was born in Hillsborough, N. H., on Nov. 23, 1804. His father had served in the American Revolution and later became governor of New Hampshire. Pierce was educated at Hillsborough Center, Hancock Academy, and Bowdoin College, from which he graduated in 1824 after advancing from last place to fifth from the top of his class.
In 1829, he was elected to the state legislature, two years after his father won election to the governorship. Pierce was then chosen Speaker of the House in 1831. Franklin Pierce was elected to the United States House of Representatives, where he voted the Democratic party line on nearly all issues. Life in Washington took its toll on Pierce. The city in the 1830s was an unpleasant place. Politicians serving there mostly lived in shabby boardinghouses. Bored and homesick, many found comfort in alcohol. Drinking quickly became a problem for Pierce. In 1834, the congressman married Jane Means Appleton, the daughter of Jesse Appleton, who had been President of Bowdoin College. Franklin and Jane Pierce seemingly had little in common. Socially, Jane Pierce was reserved and shy, the opposite of her husband. She disliked Washington and usually refused to live there, even after Pierce became an U.S. Senator in 1837. By 1841, Pierce and his wife had had enough of Washington, and he resigned from the Senate, moving his family back to New Hampshire. Returning to Concord early in 1848, Pierce continued his law practice and gave strong support to the Compromise of 1850. In June 1852 the Democratic national nominating convention, unable to choose among Stephen A. Douglas, James Buchanan, Lewis Cass, and William Marcy, named Pierce on the 49th ballot. The presidential election of 1852 brought Pierce into contention with his former military commander, Gen. Winfield Scott. Scott divided his party by hinting that he might approve the modifications of the Fugitive Slave Act. He...
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