Franklin Pierce (1804–1869), a graduate of Bowdoin College, studied law before entering politics. After serving in the New Hampshire legislature (1829–1833), he was elected to the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Congresses (1833–1837) and then to the US Senate (1837–1842). Pierce resigned in 1842 and resumed the practice of law, serving as New Hampshire’s district attorney. Pierce subsequently entered the military during the Mexican-American War, attaining the rank of brigadier general. In 1852, Pierce became the Democratic nominee for president. Pierce was a true dark horse candidate—the delegates balloted forty-eight times, eliminating all the well-known candidates, before deciding on the New Hampshire politician. He narrowly won election as the fourteenth president of the United States. Pierce entered office in the midst of great personal tragedy: his eleven-year-old son, Benjamin, died in a train wreck, before his parents’ eyes, while the family was on their way to Washington. The first lady was too distraught to attend her husband’s inauguration two months later. Despite Pierce’s desire to avoid further contention over the slavery question during his administration, the issue continued to ignite sectional strife, eventually leading to virtual civil war in “Bleeding Kansas.” Though he succeeded in opening up the Southwest for further settlement through the Gadsden Purchase, Pierce’s expansionist policies were primarily unsuccessful. Increasingly unpopular on both the foreign and domestic fronts, Pierce did not receive his party’s nomination in the next election.

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