Letter: Pierce versus Lincoln
Recent comments about Franklin Pierce and the reasons some people do not want a day to honor him are exactly why we need a day to educate people and dispel myths.
Historians cite Pierce’s signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act as the catalyst that set into motion the bloody conflict between the North and South. However, his signing of the act did not mean that he supported the expansion of slavery. He believed that the people were the ultimate sovereigns and could determine for themselves whether to admit or prohibit slavery in the newly formed territories. As a matter of historical record both territorial legislatures of Kansas and Nebraska in 1854 sought to withhold equal rights from blacks. While the Free Soil Party advocated against the future expansion of slavery, many believed that African-Americans did not deserve equal rights, including the right to settle in the newly formed territories.
Pierce’s views during the Civil War are often seen as being unpatriotic; however, he believed that the war was both unjust and unconstitutional. Pierce had ominously warned us about the centralizing tendencies of government to expand the power of the executive and restrict the freedoms of the average citizen. He railed against the excuse of “state necessity” as a justification for expanding power. Unlike Lincoln, Pierce never imprisoned his political enemies, suspended habeas corpus, shut down opposition newspapers, curtailed the people’s civil liberties, fired upon his own people or started a war that killed more than 600,000 people.