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FRANKLIN PIERCE
14th President of the United States, 1853-1857
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AMERICAN PRESIDENTS

Franklin Pierce Homestead
New Hampshire
 

Franklin Pierce Homestead
Franklin Pierce Homestead
State Architectural Historian James L. Garvin
New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources

“…I shall never cease to remember my birthplace with pride as well as affection, and with still more pride shall I recollect the steady, unqualified and generous confidence which has been reposed in me by its inhabitants.” Franklin Pierce 


This substantial two-story frame and clapboard house was the home of Franklin Pierce, 14th president of the United States, from his infancy until his marriage in 1834.  Pierce held office during one of the most tumultuous periods of the antebellum generation.  During his tenure, the apparent calm of the Compromise of 1850 shattered.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and the resulting violence in "Bleeding Kansas" sharply accelerated the nation’s slide toward the Civil War.


Pierce’s father Benjamin moved to New Hampshire from Massachusetts in 1785 and began assembling property that eventually totaled several hundred acres.  In 1804, about the time of his son Franklin’s birth, he built the present house.  Benjamin Pierce was a farmer, local militia leader, and politician who later served two terms as governor.  He also operated a tavern in the house that became the social center of Hillsborough.

The Pierce Homestead is a fine example of New Hampshire village architecture.  It is a two-story frame building with a hipped roof.  Paneled doorways set within handsome Classical frontispieces highlight the front and side elevations. The interior originally consisted of two rooms on either side of a wide center stair hall on the first floor; there was a large formal ballroom on the second floor, in addition to the usual bedchambers. Much of the stenciling that decorated most of the principal rooms survives restored, and original French wallpaper depicting scenes of Naples Bay still embellishes the parlor. The interior features paint in the vivid colors of the time and period furniture.   The second floor ballroom, where Benjamin Pierce trained county militia, now holds a curved table that the State legislature used when Franklin Pierce was the speaker.

Between 1820 and 1827, Pierce was often away attending Bowdoin College and studying law. In 1827, he returned home and established a law practice in a remodeled shed across the road from the homestead.  At the age of 24, he entered the New Hampshire legislature and later became its speaker.  During the 1830s, he went to Washington, first as a member of the United States House of Representatives, then as a senator. In 1834, he married Jane Means and purchased his own home in Hillsboro. They had three sons, none of whom lived to adulthood.  In 1838, the family moved permanently to Concord, New Hampshire.


Franklin Pierce Homestead interior
Franklin Pierce Homestead interior
State Architectural Historian James L. Garvin
New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources

After serving in the Mexican War, Pierce continued to be active in State politics, opposing the abolition movement, which he thought was dividing the country, and supporting the Compromise of 1850.  When the Democrats met to select their nominee for the 1852 presidential election, the party agreed easily enough upon a platform pledging undeviating support of the Compromise of 1850 and hostility to any efforts to agitate the slavery question.  However, they balloted 48 times and eliminated all the well-known candidates before nominating Pierce, a true “darkhorse” candidate.  He won the election by a wide margin, but tragedy marred the triumph. Not long before assuming office, Pierce and his family were in a train wreck; the parents survived but their last living child, an 11-year-old son, died in the accident.  Pierce entered the presidency in a state of grief and nervous exhaustion, and his wife was unable to attend the inauguration.



Northerners heavily criticized Pierce for what they saw as pro-southern policies.  They also denounced his expansionism in foreign affairs as an attempt to extend slavery by means of territorial acquisition.  His attempts to purchase Cuba from Spain failed.  In 1854, the contents of a document known as the Ostend Manifesto became public.  In it, American diplomats in Europe advocated the use of force if necessary to take over Cuba, stressing its importance as a base to revive slavery.  Although the administration renounced the document, the leak was a political embarrassment.  Pierce’s sponsorship of the Gadsden Purchase, which bought a small strip of land on the Mexican border to build a southern transcontinental railway, further enraged northerners.


Franklin Pierce Homestead interior
Franklin Pierce Homestead interior
State Architectural Historian James L. Garvin
New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources

It was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which President Pierce vigorously promoted, that ended the temporary truce of the Compromise of 1850 and raised sectional passions to a new pitch.  The measure divided the relatively unsettled central portion of the Louisiana Purchase into Kansas and Nebraska Territories.  It provided that the settlers in the new territories should decide their position on slavery by popular vote.  A storm of protest greeted the Compromise in the North, because it effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise by permitting slavery in areas prohibited from having slaves since 1820.  Pierce hoped for the admittance of Kansas to the Union as a slave State and Nebraska as a free State, thus mollifying both sides.  No one doubted that Nebraska would be a free state, but pro and anti-slavery settlers poured into Kansas hoping to influence the outcome.  Sporadic guerrilla warfare soon broke out along with often fraudulently decided and violently disputed elections.  The confrontation culminated in John Brown’s brutal massacre of five pro-slavery men near Pottawatomie Creek.  The nation moved another step closer to the Civil War. 

Pierce created a temporary peace when he sent Federal troops into Kansas Territory and appointed a new governor late in 1856, but too much damage had already been done. Many antislavery men deserted the Democratic Party, creating a new northern party, the Republicans, specifically to oppose the extension of slavery.  The Democratic convention repudiated Pierce and nominated the less controversial James Buchanan.

Pierce returned to New Hampshire a bitter man, still convinced that his policies were the right ones.  During the Civil War, his denunciation of the Emancipation Proclamation and outspoken criticism of Lincoln's policies brought him condemnation in his own state and community.  This, combined with ill health, the death of his wife in 1863, and that of his lifelong friend, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, in 1864, brought on a deep depression.  Franklin Pierce died in 1869 at the age of 64 in Concord.  He was buried there in the Old North Cemetery.

The homestead remained in the Pierce family until 1925 when the State of New Hampshire obtained it. Between 1945 and 1950, the New Hampshire Federation of Women’s Clubs assisted in its restoration, and the State later carried out additional work on the property. Today, the Hillsborough Historical Society manages the house as a museum.

Plan your visit

The Franklin Pierce Homestead, located on Rte. 31 about 100 yards north of its intersection with Rte. 9 near Hillsborough, NH, is a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.

The Franklin Pierce Homestead is open 10:00am to 4:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day through June 30; 10:00am to 4:00pm Friday through Tuesday from July 1 to August 31; and 10:00am to 4:00pm Saturdays and Sundays from Labor Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend. The homestead then closes after Columbus Day weekend for the winter months. The last tour each day begins at 3:15pm. An admission fee is charged for the tour of the house. For more information, visit the New Hampshire State Park Franklin Pierce Homestead website or call 603-271-3556. Visit the Hillsborough Historical Society Franklin Pierce Homestead website or call 603-464-3637 for additional information or call.

The Franklin Pierce Homestead has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.

 
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