Kurt's Historic Sites


Franklin Pierce

Interment Location Visited Sequence in Graves I Have Visited
Concord, NH February 19, 2005 18th President visited

Photographed February 19, 2005.

Just as Democrats attached the moniker “Young Hickory” to James K. Polk in order to connect him to Andrew Jackson, the nickname “Young Hickory of the Granite Hills” was bestowed upon Franklin Pierce. Unlike either of those preceding presidents, Pierce departed the White House roundly disliked by members of both major political parties of the era. The end to his withering administration was signified early, when he was defeated for re-nomination at the Democratic Party’s 1856 convention. A historical marker near the entrance to the cemetery where Pierce is buried touts him as a “courageous advocate of States’ Rights,” a doctrine inextricably tied to the perpetuation of slavery. Whoever crafted the wording of the marker was sympathetic to Pierce on this matter, as evidenced by the inclusion of the superlative “courageous.”

Pierce is interred alongside his wife, former First Lady Jane Pierce, who spent most of her time in the White House secluded in private quarters upstairs. She and the president were bedeviled by the deaths of all three of their children — particularly eleven-year-old Benny, who was killed in front of his parents in a train accident in January 1853, less than two months before they took residence in the Executive Mansion. Benny and his older brother Frank, who died at age four in 1843, are buried in the Pierce plot as well. The monument that currently tops their graves was dedicated in 1946, its predecessor having fallen into disrepair.

Photographed February 19, 2005.
Photographed February 19, 2005.

One of the most significant issues of the Pierce presidency was the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The legislation, which Pierce signed into law, repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and led to deadly conflicts over whether or not slavery would be legalized in Kansas Territory. Pierce was described as a “doughface” — a person from the North who sympathized with the South. In the 2021 C-SPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership, Pierce received the fourth-lowest score, tied with Donald Trump at 312 criteria points. Only Andrew Johnson (230) and James Buchanan (227) were ranked lower. Of the ten categories the 142 participating scholars were asked to weigh, Pierce’s lowest marks were in the division “Pursued Equal Justice for All.”

Fast Facts

Born: November 23, 1804 in Hillsborough, New Hampshire

Spouse: Jane Means Appleton Pierce (m. 1834-1863)

Highest Military Rank: Brigadier General — U.S. Army

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

Presidential Term: 1853-1857

Vice President: William Rufus DeVane King (1853)

Died: October 8, 1869 in Concord, New Hampshire

Cause of Death: Cirrhosis of the Liver

Age: 64

Interment: Old North Cemetery, Concord, New Hampshire

"It a relief to feel that no heart but my own can know the personal regret and bitter sorrow over which I have been borne to a position so suitable for others rather than desirable for myself.

"The circumstances under which I have been called for a limited period to preside over the destinies of the Republic fill me with a profound sense of responsibility, but with nothing like shrinking apprehension. I repair to the post assigned me not as to one sought, but in obedience to the unsolicited expression of your will, answerable only for a fearless, faithful, and diligent exercise of my best powers. I ought to be, and am, truly grateful for the rare manifestation of the nation's confidence; but this, so far from lightening my obligations, only adds to their weight. You have summoned me in my weakness; you must sustain me by your strength."
- Franklin Pierce

March 4, 1853 in his inaugural address

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Lamb, Brian and the staff of C-SPAN. Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb? A Tour of Presidential Gravesites. Rev. ed. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003.

Picone, Louis L. The President is Dead! The Extraordinary Stories of the Presidential Deaths, Final Days, Burials, and Beyond. Rev. ed. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2020.

Pierce, Franklin. “Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1853. Transcript. From University of Virginia, Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/march-4-1853-inaugural-address.

“Survey of Presidential Leadership: Franklin Pierce.” C-SPAN. 2021. Accessed January 6, 2022. https://www.c-span.org/presidentsurvey2021/?personid=39798.

“Survey of Presidential Leadership: Total Scores/Overall Rankings.” C-SPAN. 2021. Accessed January 6, 2022. https://www.c-span.org/presidentsurvey2021/?page=overall.

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