Not even bobbleheads can ignore Franklin Pierce’s support of slavery

  • Franklin Pierce bobblehead National Bobblehead Museum—Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 2/19/2021 2:19:36 PM

The legacy of Franklin Pierce, the only president with roots in New Hampshire, has been so tainted by his support of slavery that even the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has to acknowledge it.

The Wisconsin museum announced Friday that it is selling a new figurine of Pierce. The $30 bobblehead is one of what the museum calls its “neglected presidents” series, putting Pierce alongside office-holders like Millard Fillmore and Chester Arthur.

The press release from the museum announcing the new item, however, deviates from the light-hearted tone that usually accompanies bobbleheads.

The announcement points out that Pierce “alienated anti-slavery groups by signing the Kansas-Nebraska Act and enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act … setting the stage for Southern secession and the Civil War.” The release also discusses a major scandal during his presidency called the Ostend Manifesto involving efforts to annex Cuba, as well as Pierce’s strident criticism of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Finally, it notes that Pierce was “an alcoholic for much of his life” who died of cirrhosis of the liver.

Pierce’s history with slavery has cut into his legacy in recent years, notably the effort by some students and faculty to call for removing his name from the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law. The school’s Task Force on Racial Justice, Diversity and Inclusion is studying the issue, after a group of students and then some faculty supported the removal of “Franklin Pierce” from the law school’s name.

Any change of the school’s name must be approved by the board of trustees.

Pierce, a Democrat, was born in Hillsboro in 1803 and served as a state legislator, U.S. representative and U.S. senator before serving one term as President from 1853 to 1857. He was so unpopular that he was not even nominated by his part to run for a second term.

The vice president under Pierce, William King, was a member of the largest slaveholding family in Alabama.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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