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Franklin Pierce
by Michael F. Holt and Jr. Arthur Meier Schlesinger and Sean Wilentz


Overview -

The genial but troubled New Englander whose single-minded partisan loyalties inflamed the nation's simmering battle over slavery

Charming and handsome, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was drafted to break the deadlock of the 1852 Democratic convention.  Read more...


 
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More About Franklin Pierce by Michael F. Holt; Jr. Arthur Meier Schlesinger; Sean Wilentz
 
 
 
Overview

The genial but troubled New Englander whose single-minded partisan loyalties inflamed the nation's simmering battle over slavery

Charming and handsome, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was drafted to break the deadlock of the 1852 Democratic convention. Though he seized the White House in a landslide against the imploding Whig Party, he proved a dismal failure in office.

Michael F. Holt, a leading historian of nineteenth-century partisan politics, argues that in the wake of the Whig collapse, Pierce was consumed by an obsessive drive to unify his splintering party rather than the roiling country. He soon began to overreach. Word leaked that Pierce wanted Spain to sell the slave-owning island of Cuba to the United States, rousing sectional divisions. Then he supported repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which limited the expansion of slavery in the west. Violence broke out, and "Bleeding Kansas" spurred the formation of the Republican Party. By the end of his term, Pierce's beloved party had ruptured, and he lost the nomination to James Buchanan.

In this incisive account, Holt shows how a flawed leader, so dedicated to his party and ill-suited for the presidency, hastened the approach of the Civil War.

Michael F. Holt is the Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia. He is the author of six books, including the award-winning The "Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party" and "By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876." He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Charming and handsome, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was drafted to break the deadlock of the 1852 Democratic convention. Though he seized the White House in a landslide against the imploding Whig Party, he proved a dismal failure in office.

Michael F. Holt, a leading historian of nineteenth-century partisan politics, argues that in the wake of the Whig collapse, Pierce was consumed by an obsessive drive to unify his splintering party rather than the roiling country. He soon began to overreach. Word leaked that Pierce wanted Spain to sell the slave-owning island of Cuba to the United States, rousing sectional divisions. Then he supported repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which limited the expansion of slavery in the west. Violence broke out, and "Bleeding Kansas" spurred the formation of the Republican Party. By the end of his term, Pierce's beloved party had ruptured, and he lost the nomination to James Buchanan.

In this incisive account, Holt shows how a flawed leader, so dedicated to his party and ill-suited for the presidency, hastened the approach of the Civil War. "This is a valuable book . . . Holt gives Pierce his due as a politician serving in fractious times and as a man pulling against the swells of a difficult life."--Mike Pride, "The Telegraph" (Nashua) "Holt creates a solid portrait of both man and President. Pierce, a New Englander known for his charm and good looks, traditionally ranks as one of our nation's worst leaders. Holt does not dispel or challenge any previous assessments but rather tries to explain the pre-Civil War President's actions. Holt's thesis is that Pierce's obsession with the Democratic Party and priority of party over country in the tumultuous 1850s in fact damaged his party and pushed the country more quickly toward war . . . Recommended for high school and undergraduate readers and all libraries stocking this series."--Leslie A. Lewis, Duquesne University Library, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, "Library Journal """ "Handsome and athletic, Pierce]'d been a state representative at 24, a congressman at 29, a one-term U.S. senator at 34, and was New Hampshire's leading Democrat when he became the first dark-horse candidate to secure the presidency in 1852. With congressional, state-legislative, and governorship majorities, the Democrats were riding high, and Pierce aimed to keep it that way. He chose cabinet members to represent the party's factions and crafted his domestic policy to quash divisive squabbles. But his era's big issue was slavery. He backed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, arguing that it nullified all previous limitations on the extension of slavery, and stood by during subsequent terrorism in Kansas on the grounds that the Constitution barred the president from intervening. Despite foreign-policy successes and a squeaky-clean administration, he wasn't nominated for a second term because Kansas-Nebraska, foreboding all too well what lay ahead, fractured his beloved party. Another excellent American Presidents series volume."--Ray Olson, "Booklist"
"Holt writes well, delivering a lively, opinionated account of a president who served in turbulent times and did not improve matters. This is an admirable addition to the already admirable American Presidents series."--"Publishers Weekly"


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Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780805087192
  • ISBN-10: 0805087192
  • Publisher: Times Books
  • Publish Date: March 2010
  • Page Count: 154

Series: American Presidents (Times)

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Presidents & Heads of State
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Historical - General

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 40.
  • Review Date: 2010-02-08
  • Reviewer: Staff

Like many historians, Holt considers Franklin Pierce’s administration (1853-1857) to be so inept that perhaps the greatest praise is that the succeeding administration, James Buchanan’s, was worse. Son of a prominent New Hampshire governor, Pierce (1804-1869) served in the Houseand Senate, resigning in 1842 but remaining leader of the Democrats in New Hampshire, where he remained extremely popular. This stood him in good stead when he was chosen in 1852 as a dark-horse presidential candidate by a deadlocked Democratic convention. He drubbed Winfield Scott in the presidential election to become the country’s 14th president. However, Pierce saw abolitionism as a threat to the Union, and his sympathy with Southern views helped lead the nation to civil war. Holt (The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party) argues that Pierce’s support of 1854’s Kansas-Nebraska Act helped trigger the expansion of slavery into the territories. This bitterly divided the party in the North, which denied Pierce renomination in 1856. Holt writes well, delivering a lively, opinionated account of a president who served in turbulent times and did not improve matters. This is an admirable addition to the already admirable American Presidents series.(Apr.)

 
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