Friday, November 23, 2007

November 23, 1804:

Franklin Pierce's Birthday

Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the United States, is generally considered a failure as president, but at least he had one of the best quotes -- even if it's apocryphal -- in the face of his final political defeat, when his own party refused to renominate him in 1856: "There's nothing left to do but get drunk."

But Pierce's birthday is a time to remember the man at his political apex, after his nomination for president in 1852. He did, after all, win the election over Winfield Scott by a healthy margin, both popularly and electorially. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a campaign biograph of Pierce that naturally put the best face on the candidate: "The old people of his neighborhood give a very delightful picture of Franklin at this early age," Hawthorne wrote in an early chapter. "They describe him as a beautiful boy, with blue eyes, light curling hair, and a sweet expression of face. The traits presented of him indicate moral symmetry, kindliness, and a delicate texture of sentiment, rather than marked prominences of character. His instructors testify to his propriety of conduct, his fellow-pupils to his sweetness of disposition and cordial sympathy.

"One of the latter, being older than most of his companions, and less advanced in his studies, found it difficult to keep up with his class; and he remembers how perseveringly, while the other boys were at play, Franklin spent the noon recess, for many weeks together, in aiding him in his lessons. These attributes, proper to a generous and affectionate nature, have remained with him through life. Lending their color to his deportment, and softening his manners, they are, perhaps, even now, the characteristics by which most of those who casually meet him would be inclined to identify the man.

"But there are other qualities, not then developed, but which have subsequently attained a firm and manly growth, and are recognized as his leading traits among those who really know him. Franklin Pierce's development, indeed, has always been the reverse of premature; the boy did not show the germ of all that was in the man, nor, perhaps, did the young man adequately foreshow the mature one."

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