Franklin Pierce assumed his presidency despite mourning over the tragic loss of his son, Bennie few months before his inauguration. He delivered a twenty-minute memorized inaugural speech without any notes on March 4, 1853. His wife became estranged towards him, and because of the personal tragedies he dealt with, he was distracted from executing his responsibility as the head of the nation.
As a loyal Democrat, he sought to appoint them to unite the party, even those who do not support the Compromise of 1850. He meticulously sorted and filled hundreds of federal positions. His action was poorly taken by both Northerners and Southerners. He was accused of taking sides of being a proslavery secessionist and an abolitionist.
Like any leader, Franklin Pierce wanted to welcome change; unfortunately, his lack of strong stance against the influence of his party and lack of leadership hindered his effectiveness.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was authored by Stephen A. Douglas, a Democratic Senator. He introduced the bill to open up the development and construction of the transcontinental railroad; however, it stoked national tensions over slavery, and it also contributed to a succession of armed battle called the “Bleeding Kansas.”
Stephen Douglas was determined to get his proposal signed by the president; that is why he arranged a meeting with him and insisted the president support him.
The president urged all the loyal democrats to support the Kansas-Nebraska Act; however, the policy infuriated both supporters and opponents of the compromise.
On May 30, 1854, President Franklin Pierce signed the bill into law.
The law divided the nation and led it towards the Civil War. Because of his drastic and unpopular approval of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Franklin Pierce lost his re-election bid after his political reputation was damaged beyond repair.
The newly acquired territory of Kansas became the nation’s battlefield over slavery. In May 1856, the town of Lawrence was looted and burned by proslavery advocates from Missouri. The core of the conflict was the choice of allowing or prohibiting slavery in the territory. Eventually, Kansas was admitted as a free state on January 29, 1861.
Infrastructure and Economic Policies
Franklin Pierce often vetoed many federal government-funded infrastructures such as canals and railroads. He first rejected the funding for a mental asylum.
Despite his disapproval of federal funding most construction projects, Franklin Pierce strongly favored providing federal aid in constructing the transcontinental railroad. Northerners believed that he approve projects which greatly benefited the South.
He was also able to lower the tariff rates, which was considered the historically lowest tariff level.
As he sought integrity and efficiency in his administration, his cabinet secretaries implemented a civil service examination system, which became the foundation of the Pendleton Act during the presidency of Chester Arthur.
Robert McClelland reformed the Interior Department by systematizing the operations, using paper reports, and tracked fraud.
The development of the Justice Department was through the administration’s effort to expand the attorney general’s role in appointing federal judges and attorneys.
Lastly, he commissioned the secretary of the treasury to manage the unsettled accounts. He intensified the supervision over Treasury employees and collectors. The administration reclaimed the funds from the deposits found in private banks owned by Whig politicians and prosecute for corruption.
The Gadsden Purchase was signed on December 30, 1853, and became a significant historical footnote. It aimed to establish the United States and Mexico border, which was a long unresolved dispute. President Franklin Pierce commissioned Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, and James Gadsden to represent the interests of establishing the transcontinental railroad.
The Gadsden Purchase proposed a whopping $10 million for the 29,000 acres, about Scotland’s size, and raise another controversy about slavery. The Civil War delayed the construction project; however, Collis Huntington drove the railroad from Los Angeles to El Paso, San Antonio, and New Orleans.
The administration of Franklin Pierce’s relationship with the United Kingdom was edgy because of the disputes over the United States’ fishing rights in Canada and the nations’ ambitions over Central America.
The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty failed to keep the avert crash between the United States and the United Kingdom. George Dallas was able to conclude a treaty with the British. They agreed to withdraw from Greytown and most of their Central American territories; however, the Senate did not ratify the agreement.
Pierre Soule failed to secure Cuba’s purchase because he anatomized the Spanish due to his political intrigues and hostile threats as he issued an ultimatum to the Spanish government regarding the Black Warrior affair. President Franklin Pierce invited his three diplomats in Europe and gave birth to a manifesto, which indicates the United States was urged to take Cuba by force if Spain refused to sell it to them. Many slavery sympathizers feared that Cuba might become an independent black republic; however, abolitionists were denounced to prevent their plot of extending slavery.