Knowing the Presidents: Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce  

Fourteenth President, 1853-1857


Franklin Pierce was the lackluster choice of the Democratic Party in 1852, nominated after 48 ballots.

In a campaign devoid of issues—for example, both parties endorsed the Compromise of 1850—Pierce defeated the Whig Party nominee, war hero Winfield Scott.


Franklin Pierce had to deal with the violent consequences—“Bleeding Kansas”—of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which some historians categorize as a low-intensity civil war.

Pierce ineffectively dealt with a dominant Congress, typical in an era in which the executive was weak and Congress was powerful.

Major Acts:

The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 allowed people in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery within their borders, nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (which allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state), and permitted slavery in the territory north of 36° 30´ latitude.

The Kansas–Nebraska Act effectively re-opened the question of slavery in the territories and proposed states, and is often seen as the single most significant event leading to the Civil War.

Franklin Pierce’s attempts at foreign policy, including an initiative to acquire Cuba by force if necessary, all failed, and the Cuban initiative caused an international uproar.


A largely failed president, even in the limited sense of maintaining the status quo, Franklin Pierce has come to typify the “Bungling Generation” of incompetent presidents and politicians who allowed the country to steadily break apart.