Franklin Pierce: The 14th Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
As the compromise of 1850 barely held the nation together, Franklin Pierce ascended to the presidency was a Northern Democrat with strong ties to the South. Pierce was known to booze in a time that was known as the “alcoholic republic” as a lot of political maneuvering and posturing happened in taverns. While he was probably what would be known today as a functioning alcoholic, Pierce managed to stay sober during his presidency.
A train wreck killed Pierce’s son soon after his inauguration. Pierce and his wife lost two other children to disease previously. Pierce’s Vice President William Rufus King died within his first 6 months in office as well. Pierce left the presidency disgraced and returned to drinking heavily after his wife died.
Buoyed by Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, Pierce supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854,one of the most important moments in the history of our nation. It repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which banned slavery above the southern border of Missouri and would allow the new states of Kansas and Nebraska, both north of the boundary, to decide the slavery issue in their respective states for themselves. Most northern Democrats in the Senate and half of them in the House were enough to pass the legislation.
Anti-slavery groups in the north were incensed by the passage of this pro slavery legislation. A little known politician in Illinois named Abraham Lincoln would start the radical new Republican Party to oppose the expansion of slavery. As a somewhat failed Whig politician, he would become the leading spokesman against the expansion of slavery galvanizes political support for him and bringing him back into the scene politically.
In the Kansas Territory, fighting began over slavery. On May 21, 1856 pro-slavery forces burned down the abolitionist settlement of Lawrence, Kansas to the ground. The political situation quickly disintegrated into violence that Pierce could not or would not handle. Pierce didn’t see his role in the deterioration of the union and genuinely thought he had a chance for a second term, but was rejected by his own party for the election of 1856.
This is what happens when you “let the people decide” how moral issues will be legislated. They will turn on one another and demonize their opponents to the point of violence without strong federal authority and intervention. This means bucking the extreme within those that agree with you. The oversight of the federal government is the only thing that restricts the whims of individual citizens whether you agree or disagree with the moral issue. “My side is the side of God, good, right, holy, principled etc. Your side is the side of the devil, bad, wrong, evil, disingenuous” is how this narrative has always played out.
People bitching about a tyrannical federal government need to look no further than the antebellum south when the federal government was at it’s weakest. In fact, Lincoln started the Republican Party as a response to a feckless and weak federal government who refused to take a firm stand on a moral issue.
James Buchanan would follow Franklin Pierce
Millard Fillmore preceded Franklin Pierce
It all started with George Washington.