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In His Own Words: Franklin Pierce on slavery, big government and the tax man

  • An undated portrait of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States (1853-1857).  (AP Photo/NYPL Picture Collection)

    An undated portrait of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States (1853-1857). (AP Photo/NYPL Picture Collection)

  • A portrait-daguerreotype of Franklin Pierce, circa 1846-1848, as a volunteer in the Mexican War.  Pierce was elected 14th president of the United States (1853-1857).  (AP Photo/Library of Congress)

    A portrait-daguerreotype of Franklin Pierce, circa 1846-1848, as a volunteer in the Mexican War. Pierce was elected 14th president of the United States (1853-1857). (AP Photo/Library of Congress)

  • A statue of the nation's 14th president, Franklin Pierce, sits on the  corner of the Statehouse green in Concord, N.H.,Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004. New Hampshire's only president, a Democrat, was the only president not to be re nominated by his party and his statue was not raised until 45 years after his death in 1869. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    A statue of the nation's 14th president, Franklin Pierce, sits on the corner of the Statehouse green in Concord, N.H.,Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004. New Hampshire's only president, a Democrat, was the only president not to be re nominated by his party and his statue was not raised until 45 years after his death in 1869. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • This copy of an engraving showing U.S. President Franklin Pierce in about 1855 was provided by the New Hampshire Historical Society. Pierce is remembered as one of the country's worst presidents, but he did have some memorable _ if tousled looking _ presidential hair. Now, just in time for Presidents Day, the New Hampshire Historical Society says a letter written by his wife suggests that Franklin Pierce's somewhat unkempt-looking hair was that way on purpose. (AP Photo/New Hampshire Historical Society) ** NO SALES **

    This copy of an engraving showing U.S. President Franklin Pierce in about 1855 was provided by the New Hampshire Historical Society. Pierce is remembered as one of the country's worst presidents, but he did have some memorable _ if tousled looking _ presidential hair. Now, just in time for Presidents Day, the New Hampshire Historical Society says a letter written by his wife suggests that Franklin Pierce's somewhat unkempt-looking hair was that way on purpose. (AP Photo/New Hampshire Historical Society) ** NO SALES **

  • An undated portrait of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States (1853-1857). (AP Photo/NYPL Picture Collection)

    An undated portrait of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States (1853-1857). (AP Photo/NYPL Picture Collection)

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

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

  • A plaster cast of a statue of Franklin Pierce stands in the barn-turned visitors center at the Franklin Pierce birthplace in Hillsboro; Friday, August 31, 2012.  The state of New Hampshire has assumed the upkeep of the Franklin Pierce homestead as the town of Hillsboro's lease on the property is coming to an end.<br/><br/>( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

    A plaster cast of a statue of Franklin Pierce stands in the barn-turned visitors center at the Franklin Pierce birthplace in Hillsboro; Friday, August 31, 2012. The state of New Hampshire has assumed the upkeep of the Franklin Pierce homestead as the town of Hillsboro's lease on the property is coming to an end.

    ( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

  • An undated portrait of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States (1853-1857).  (AP Photo/NYPL Picture Collection)
  • A portrait-daguerreotype of Franklin Pierce, circa 1846-1848, as a volunteer in the Mexican War.  Pierce was elected 14th president of the United States (1853-1857).  (AP Photo/Library of Congress)
  • A statue of the nation's 14th president, Franklin Pierce, sits on the  corner of the Statehouse green in Concord, N.H.,Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004. New Hampshire's only president, a Democrat, was the only president not to be re nominated by his party and his statue was not raised until 45 years after his death in 1869. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
  • This copy of an engraving showing U.S. President Franklin Pierce in about 1855 was provided by the New Hampshire Historical Society. Pierce is remembered as one of the country's worst presidents, but he did have some memorable _ if tousled looking _ presidential hair. Now, just in time for Presidents Day, the New Hampshire Historical Society says a letter written by his wife suggests that Franklin Pierce's somewhat unkempt-looking hair was that way on purpose. (AP Photo/New Hampshire Historical Society) ** NO SALES **
  • An undated portrait of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States (1853-1857). (AP Photo/NYPL Picture Collection)
  • A Franklin Pierce statue in the Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsboro.
  • A plaster cast of a statue of Franklin Pierce stands in the barn-turned visitors center at the Franklin Pierce birthplace in Hillsboro; Friday, August 31, 2012.  The state of New Hampshire has assumed the upkeep of the Franklin Pierce homestead as the town of Hillsboro's lease on the property is coming to an end.<br/><br/>( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

Perhaps there’s no need to point this out, but tomorrow is the 209th birthday of Franklin Pierce, the nation’s 14th president. That might go unnoted elsewhere, but here in Pierce’s home state? No way. Pierce remains, all these years later, a strange source of controversy, at least locally. Generally known as one of our weakest presidents, he has in Concord a strong band of enthusiasts. If you’re looking for some Pierce trivia to drop into your conversation tomorrow, we’ve got you covered. Here’s what Pierce had to say about . . .

Slavery: “I believe that involuntary servitude, as it exists in different states of this confederacy, is recognized by the Constitution.” (March 1853)

Relations with Native Americans: “The settlers on the frontier have suffered much from the incursions of predatory bands, and large parties of emigrants to our Pacific possessions have been massacred with impunity. The recurrence of such scenes can only be prevented by teaching these wild tribes the power of and their responsibility to the United States.” (December 1854)

Big government: “The dangers of a concentration of all power in the general government of a confederacy so vast as ours are too obvious to be disregarded. You have a right, therefore, to expect your agents in every department to regard strictly the limits imposed upon them by the Constitution of the United States.” (March 1853)

Abolitionists: “I know that the Union is stronger a thousand times than all the wild and chimerical schemes of social change which are generated one after another in the unstable minds of visionary sophists and interested agitators.” (December 1855)

The rights of the South, including slavery: “I fervently hope that the question is at rest, and that no sectional or ambitious or fanatical excitement may again threaten the durability of our institutions or obscure the light of our prosperity.” (March 1853)

The grim state of the country in 1854: “While we have been happily preserved from the calamities of war, our domestic prosperity has not been entirely uninterrupted. The crops in portions of the country have been nearly cut off. Disease has prevailed to a greater extent than usual, and the sacrifice of human life through casualties by sea and land is without parallel.” (December 1854)

Lessons from the founding fathers: “As for the subject races, whether Indian or African, the wise and brave statesmen of that day, being engaged in no extravagant scheme of social change, left them as they were, and thus preserved themselves and their posterity from the anarchy and the ever-recurring civil wars which have prevailed in other revolutionized European colonies of America.” (December 1855)

Canada and Mexico: “With the neighboring nations upon our continent we should cultivate kindly and fraternal relations. We can desire nothing in regard to them so much as to see them consolidate their strength and pursue the paths of prosperity and happiness. If in the course of their growth we should open new channels of trade and create additional facilities for friendly intercourse, the benefits realized will be equal and mutual.” (March 1853)

His mood upon taking office: “It is a relief to feel that no heart but my own can know the personal regret and bitter sorrow over which I have been borne to a position so suitable for others rather than desirable for myself. . . . You have summoned me in my weakness; you must sustain me by your strength.” (March 1853)

Patent law: “I commend to your favorable consideration the men of genius of our country who by their inventions and discoveries in science and arts have contributed largely to the improvements of the age without, in many instances, securing for themselves anything like an adequate reward.” (December 1853)

The tax man: “I am fully persuaded that it would be difficult to devise a system superior to that by which the fiscal business of the government is now conducted.” (December 1855)

The U.S. versus Asia and Europe: “Unlike the great States of Europe and Asia and many of those of America, these United States are wasting their strength neither in foreign war nor domestic strife.” (December 1855)

Government ethics: “With increased vigilance does it require us to cultivate the cardinal virtues of public frugality and official integrity and purity. Public affairs ought to be so conducted that a settled conviction shall pervade the entire Union that nothing short of the highest tone and standard of public morality marks every part of the administration and legislation of the general government. Thus will the federal system, whatever expansion time and progress may give it, continue more and more deeply rooted in the love and confidence of the people. (December 1853)

African-Americans versus whites: “If the passionate rage of fanaticism and partisan spirit did not force the fact upon our attention, it would be difficult to believe that any considerable portion of the people of this enlightened country could have so surrendered themselves to a fanatical devotion to the supposed interests of the relatively few Africans in the United States as totally to abandon and disregard the interests of the 25,000,000 Americans; to trample under foot the injunctions of moral and constitutional obligation, and to engage in plans of vindictive hostility against those who are associated with them in the enjoyment of the common heritage of our national institutions. (December 1855)

Holding the country together: “With the Union my best and dearest earthly hopes are entwined. Without it what are we individually or collectively? What becomes of the noblest field ever opened for the advancement of our race in religion, in government, in the arts, and in all that dignifies and adorns mankind? (March 1853)

On westward expansion: “Some European powers have regarded with disquieting concern the territorial expansion of the United States. This rapid growth has resulted from the legitimate exercise of sovereign rights belonging alike to all nations, and by many liberally exercised. Under such circumstances it could hardly have been expected that those among them which have within a comparatively recent period subdued and absorbed ancient kingdoms, planted their standards on every continent, and now possess or claim the control of the islands of every ocean as their appropriate domain would look with unfriendly sentiments upon the acquisitions of this country. . .” (December 1854)

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