Andy Miller's Reviews > Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce by Michael F. Holt
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Nov 28, 2011

really liked it
Read in November, 2011

A good biography of a not so good President. The author, Michael Holt, does a good job of portraying Franklin Pierce the man, a handsome, successful, very popular and genial person, and shows how these traits worked against a successful Presidency. Holt argues that Pierce wanted to be liked by everyone and wanted to keep the Democratic party at all costs. He assumed the Presidency shortly after the Compromise of 1850, which Pierce supported and was passed mainly by Democrats. However, after becoming President he did not reward the Compromise's supporters--unionist Democrats in the south who prioritized the American Union more than expansion of slavery and Democrats in the north who prized national unity more than stopping the spread of slavery. Instead, Pierce rewarded the Democrat "Dixiecrats" in the south who opposed the compromise of 1850 because it placed some limits on the expansion of slavery and reduced the size of Texas which was to be admitted as a slave state. In the North, Pierce rewarded Democrats who opposed the compromise of 1850 because it included the Fugitive Slave Act and removed the restrictions of slavery expansion that were contained in the Missouri Compromise 30 years earlier. Of course, Pierce in his attempts to make everyone happy made nobody happy with the result of bloodshed in Kansas and Nebraska during his Presidency and causing him to not even be renominated by his own party.

Pierce's lack of moral center in the slavery debate is also shown, in an attitude all too common for the time, he blamed the abolitionists for the slavery debate, not the slaveholders themselves

One unique story I read from this biography dealt with the earlier debates between Democrats and Whigs over the federal government's role in "internal improvements" such as building roads, bridges and canals. Holt noted that Pierce's opposition to federal intervention was not just a philosphical view of constitutional limitations on federal government but that the charters allowed private companies great room for profit if the projects succeeded but protected them, with the risk being assumed by the taxpayer, if the projects failed. Earlier discussions I have read have focused on just the general debate about the power of federal government

All in all, an interesting, well written biography that I recommend
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