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My Turn: Franklin Pierce Day? No way!

A Franklin Pierce statue in the Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsboro.

A Franklin Pierce statue in the Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsboro.

Democratic state Reps. Linda Lauer of Haverhill and Dick Patten of Concord want to recognize Nov. 23 of every year as President Franklin Pierce Day. Pierce, born in Hillsboro, was elected president in 1852 and is the only president from New Hampshire. He first gained fame as a handsome and dashing officer during the U.S. war with Mexico. He retired as a brigadier general. Otherwise, there’s nothing about Pierce’s legacy that New Hampshire ought to feel proud about. Pierce’s presidency was a disaster.

Pierce was a Democrat and Southern sympathizer. He supported forcibly annexing Cuba to the union as a slave state. His hallmark act was to sign into law the 1854 Nebraska-Kansas Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and allowed slavery into the nation’s western territories. For this, Pierce was widely and justifiably denounced throughout the northern states. He was especially excoriated by New Hampshire’s abolitionists. For instance, in 1845, U.S. Sen. John Hale of New Hampshire had established himself as the first anti-slavery senator, and Pierce became Hale’s sworn enemy.

Pierce’s signing of the Nebraska-Kansas Act precipitated bloody civil war in Kansas and it set the entire nation on the path to civil war. New Hampshire’s returning Union soldiers, when considering their dead and wounded, expressed hatred for Pierce and for his Southern proclivities. New Hampshire regiments had, after all, suffered the highest number of casualties among those who fought and served, and the many Civil War regimental flags displayed in our State House Hall of Flags remind us of this.

Pierce’s presidency was and remains a New Hampshire embarrassment. Lauer’s and Patten’s desire to elevate Pierce’s legacy by establishing a state holiday in his memory is inexplicable.

The last line of the bill says that schools should “commemorate the day with appropriate educational activities.” Why would anyone, and especially a New Hampshire Democrat, want every classroom to elevate Pierce’s Southern Democrat, pro-slavery sentiments to the same status as New Hampshire’s revered anti-slavery, pro-liberty legacy? Hale, once a Democrat, abandoned his party because of its pro-slavery sentiments. Lauer’s and Patten’s Democratic colleagues ought to kill HB 576 for the same reason.

(Paul Mirski of Enfield is a former Republican state representative.)


Busting the myths of Franklin Pierce’s legacy

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I would like to raise up for appreciation and admiration our only president from New Hampshire. President Franklin Pierce had many vitriolic enemies who have left a seemingly indelible smear on his reputation that grieves me. I cannot thank the benevolent and persevering scholar Peter Wallner enough for providing a more balanced view. Wallner, the author of a two-volume biography …

Legacy Comments2

Dear Mr. Minski, Alas, you, too, are among the people who have not learned the full truth about the great man, Franklin Pierce. It is not your fault as so much negative press has been waved about for over a century. The war began as a constitutional argument over States' Rights. The slavery issue was an emotional tangent. Pierce knew the Constitution. He was raised to revere it by his father who fought at Valley Forge with George Washington. He was such a fine lawyer that he was said not to just convince juries, but to convert them. His confidence came from his belief and knowledge of the law. When the Shakers were in danger of being thrown out of NH, they went to Pierce for help. He secured their place here. When he was on the committee to modernize our state constitution, he removed the proviso that all candidates must be white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males. Please do yourself and us a favor and read the Wallner second volume: Franklin Pierce, Martyr for the Union. Then, we can talk about Franklin Pierce Day!

"The war began as a constitutional argument over States' Rights." This statement is true... AS FAR AS IT GOES. The real question isn't "states' rights"; it is states' rights to do what. The underlying argument was about nullification: whether a state or states had the right to have federal laws not apply within their borders. And, one might ask, were they worried about. Given 1) the Southern economy was dependent on the continued existence of slavery 2) Southern political power was dependent on the odious three-fifths rule and 3) the rising influence of the Abolition movement, it takes little imagination to understand what "States' Rights" as a cause was really all about. Back to Franklin Pierce: he wasn't an evil man. I believe his motivations were mostly pure. But he was a mediocrity thrust into history when events demanded much more.

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