October 30, 2003
My Doughface Cousin
by John Morton Jones J.D.
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
Jones is a native of Illinois, a Navy veteran of World War II, and a
graduate of the Law School of the University of Michigan.
He is an Administrative Law Judge for the State of California.
In Redlands he is a board member of the Redlands Foundation, a past
president of the Forum Club, a member of the Torch Club and the Redlands Country Club.
A few years back he taught a basic boating course sponsored by the
Arrowhead Power Squadron and he has been an avid sailor, active in the Newport Sailing
His wife, Betty Jones, is active in a number of service organizations
in Redlands. Betty is a former speech
therapist. They have four grown children.
At a family reunion the narrator learns that Democrat Franklin
Pierce, perhaps the least effective and most obscure President of the United States,
"hangs on the family tree." This paper, published on the eve of the bicentennial
of Pierce's birth, may not paint the handsome Granite Stater with distinction, but it
recognizes him as a modest and accomplished public servant whose one term in office was
fatally marred by the passions and excesses of a country headed toward civil war. Pierce,
a classic 'doughface", allowed his strong-willed Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis,
who would, within eight years, become the President of the Confederacy, to stamp the
Pierce administration with a pro-slavery hire
MY DOUGHFACE COUSIN
My wife and I just returned from Maine. The Great Blue Heron in the pond below our
island cottage is gone. Frightened away, I
suppose, by building activities in the forest above.
I am told a grand estate is in the making there. The project includes a large house of Tudor design
just for guests. The main house will sprawl
over a 15-acre hilltop and will clearly be the largest structure on the island, commanding
an extraordinary view of Penobscot Bay.
Betty and I remained hidden by the pines and happy.
The massive project just mentioned, with its promise of sumptuous
living, contrasts as night and day with the life our family experienced on Louds Island,
our former get-away, where Betty and I read at night by gas lamp and drew our water by
bucket from a deep well. On that little Louds
Island we stepped back in time to the early 1800s and in those beginning years of
America, just a generation removed from the Boston Tea Party, the story of my New England
In 1852 he was dubbed Young Hickory of the Granite Hills
and next year, A.D. 2004, will be the bicentennial of his birth. There likely will be no fireworks in celebration,
however, for he has been ranked by most historians as the most obscure, if not the most
ineffective, of all the Presidents of the United States.
His name was Franklin Pierce.
I learned of my relationship to Pierce at a reunion in Indiana near
the old family farm. The reunion honored a
common ancestor, one Solomon Fouts, who hailed from the Pennsylvania Dutch country, a
days buggy ride west of Philadelphia. So
far as I could tell, every adult I met at that reunion was a rock-ribbed Republican. I wondered: can genes be political? For old Solomon Fouts had, in 1854, given up on
the Whigs and jumped on the new party wagon painted Republican.
So it was that in Indiana the Fouts cousins met in reunion, and there
was much discussion of the family background; the trek west, the farm land cleared, the
houses built and who had married whom and when. I
heard about the California Branch of the family, which produced
footballs Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, the great San Diego Chargers quarterback. And, then I learned that Franklin Pierce, the poor
man once known as Young Hickory and a Democrat of all things, hung on the family tree. That news was actually whispered to me as if
Pierce had been a horse thief. But what
reaction could you expect otherwise to such disconcerting news imparted during a
confluence of Corn Belt conservatives?
Ever since that reunion the ghost of Franklin Pierce has haunted me. So, in memory of him, Democrat or not, with his
bicentennial upon us, my business today is to lift this distant brother of mine from
indistinction. Not, perhaps, to greatness
and glory, but to simple recognition by this august assembly. After all, the blood of his father runs through my
Pierce was a native of New Hampshire, a graduate of Bowdoin College,
and a lawyer in Concord. He was known as a
Jacksonian Democrat with Southern sympathies. He
rationalized his political views as a bridge across the chasm between the peculiar
institution upon which the Southern cotton economy stood and the Northern
industrialists who then, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, were bent on
That so called peculiar institution of the South was a
master euphemism for the word slavery. Protectionism
simply meant high tariffs (read: high taxes on trade).
Such taxes were an anathema to the South, which marketed its chief crop,
cotton, to the whole world.
Pierce was pro-union. He
believed in order to save the union, the sectional chasm had to be bridged with
compromise. And, compromise was only to be
reached by following a path of pliability with respect to southern interests. He did not see slavery as a moral issue. But with a bloody civil war impending, this
political stance was like a soapbox set on quicksand.
And so it came to pass that the Pierce administration sank after one term,
deserted by those who cheered the handsome Granite Stater in the beginning.
He was elected President in 1852 and wowed the nation with a highly
literate and heartfelt inaugural address delivered without even notes. Franklin Pierce was a brilliant orator. That inaugural speech was the first and would be
the only one to this day not read from a prepared manuscript.
Pierces father, Benjamin, had fought with the Patriots in the
Revolutionary War. He returned after the war
to be elected Governor of New Hampshire twice. Franklin
had a happy childhood, shared with his six older brothers and two younger sisters. He was well educated, graduating from the
prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy and then from Bowdoin in Maine. At Bowdoin he and Nathaniel Hawthorne became fast
friends, a close relationship which lasted all of his life.
For his friends campaign for the presidency, Hawthorne wrote
Pierces biography as a personal favor.
A footnote must be inserted on this point. Hawthorne, of course, was a gifted author, who
could weave entrancing tales out of airy nothings, but he failed, when he had his bosom
friend and future President for a subject, to make an interesting narrative. Here, the most graceful pen in America, inspired
by the closest friendship, labored painfully in a vain endeavor to show that his hero had
a title to greatness, and Hawthorne, conscious that his book was not valuable, never
consented to have The Life of Pierce, as the book was called, included in a
collected edition of his works.
Hawthornes Life of Pierce does, however, illustrate a deeply religious man with charming
manners, one of honesty, sincerity, and in love with his family, his state and his
Sensing victory in 1852, the Democrats convened in Baltimore to
nominate their candidate for president. It
was a rowdy gathering of 5000 partisans who could not agree on the nominee for nearly a
week. The delegates essentially deadlocked
with their votes split between three well-known Senators, Lewis Cass of Michigan, James
Buchanan of Pennsylvania and Stephen Douglas of Illinois.
On the 35th ballot, in an effort to shake the standoff, Virginia
introduced the name of Franklin Pierce. This
maneuver finally worked with a stampede for Pierce on the 49th ballot.
The news of this nomination of a dark horse surprised the country. Pierce was well known in New Hampshire, but not
With Hawthornes help, the country soon knew. At 48 years of age Pierce was the youngest man
ever at that time to be nominated for the Presidency.
He was good looking and articulate. He
had enlisted as a private when the war broke out with Mexico and had quickly been promoted
to the rank of colonel and then to brigadier general, serving at the side of the
commanding general, Winfield Scott. He had
represented New Hampshire as a congressman in the House of Representatives and as a
Senator. His reputation as a lawyer was
impeccable. Moreover, he had amassed no
fortune, which might be subjected to question in view of his political career. In short, Pierce was clean as a hounds
tooth, as they used to say in Western Virginia.
A campaign slogan called Pierce gallant. He was clearly a modest man, no seeker of glory,
having turned down an offer to be United States Attorney General under President Polk.
Meanwhile, the Whigs were fast approaching their last gasp. The party was impossibly split over the issue of
slavery. The old and revered Henry Clay was
to die during their Presidential Nominating Convention and the mighty Daniel Webster of
Massachusetts, the one-time head of the Conscience Whigs (that is, the anti-slavery
Northern faction) died during the Presidential campaign.
At the Whig nominating convention they bested the Democrats in the
number of ballots recorded -54-
chose the hero of the Mexican War as their nominee, none other than Winfield Scott,
Pierces old commander.
A footnote: A remarkable
story was printed of the passing of Daniel Webster (who had sought the Whig nomination). On the last afternoon he heard the Doctor say,
Give him a spoonful of brandy in 15 minutes, another in an hour and another in three
quarters of an hour, if he still lives. These
directions were followed until the time came for the third spoonful, when the attendants
could not decide whether Webster was still alive. While
they deliberated, the dying statesman suddenly raised his head and said feebly, I
still live. The brandy was forthwith
given to him and he sank into his final sleep.
With Winfield Scott, the Whigs were marching off with their third old
war horse. They had rung the bell at the
polls with Tippecanoe William Henry Harrison and Rough and Ready
Zachary Taylor, but Old Fuss and Feathers Scott was not the man to win at this
hour of history. The Mexican War was no
longer newsworthy and no one knew Scotts views on the slavery question, and he
didnt say. He was thought to be
anti-immigrant and that hurt the Whigs among the Germans and Irish who were then the major
group of newcomers to America.
Though Pierce conspicuously remained a quiet, almost inactive
candidate, staying home and well above and removed from the fray, the campaign became a
mud-slinging affair. Pierce was loudly
rumored to be a drunkard and, in secret, a Roman Catholic.
It was said he had a daughter who was a nun (Pierce was, in fact, an
Episcopalian). He was also accused of
cowardice. In the thick of the fighting in
Mexico at the critical battle of Churubusco it was said Pierce was useless, having fainted
Scott himself never suggested Pierce ever showed timidity in the
stress of battle. Pierce did collapse in a
faint at Churubusco, but it was likely from pain. He
had severely injured his knee the day before when his horse fell; he had spurned medical
attention so as to continue his duty on the battlefield the next day.
While the Democrats, both in the North and South, found that they
could unite behind Pierce, the Whigs had trouble with the vociferous abolitionists who
otherwise might have voted for Scott. Though
most of the high profile politicians and influential businessmen and bankers tried to
soft-step around the red-hot issue of slavery, the horror of that institution was on
everyones mind. It shaped all important
legislation; it shaped the very culture of the nation.
Just months before the Pierce campaign began the publication of Uncle
Toms Cabin hit the nation like a thunderbolt.
And a year before that, the Fugitive Slave Act had been adopted in Congress
as a trade-off for bringing California into the Union as a free state.
The Fugitive Slave Act
sounded like a good compromise, at least it so seemed to a great many Americans, and for a
short time it was thought to be a solution to the sectional agitation between the North
and South. But its enforcement rubbed the
unsavory aspects of slavery into Northern nostrils in a terrible and vigorous way,
allowing a runaway to be caught, shackled, and shipped back to his Master without a trial
or hearing from any place, no matter how long the poor soul had lived free. A number of these arrests triggered near-riots in
So in 1852, the Free Soil party was formed and it ran John Hale for
President. He was an ardent opponent of
slavery; his campaign echoed the words of Senator Ben Wade of Ohio: There is really no Union now between the
North and the South
no two nations on earth entertain feelings of more bitter rancor
toward each other.
All this led to a walk-away election victory for Pierce.
Pierce rode in the inaugural parade in a gloom of deep sorrow. Just weeks before he and his wife had seen
Benjamin, their eleven-year-old son die violently before their eyes in a railroad
accident. Benjamin had been their only
surviving child, the light of their life. Pierces
wife, Jane, never recovered from the shock and loss.
Jane had always been painfully shy and tended toward unsociability. She had been Jane Appleton, the daughter of the
President of Bowdoin College (do we have her cousin here before us, the president of the
University of Redlands?). Jane hated
Washington, D.C. When Franklin was in the
Senate, having been elected only two years after they were married, she stayed back in New
Hampshire and rarely visited her husband in the Capital.
It was probably in deference to her that Franklin resigned his Senate seat
and returned to Concord shortly before his first term as Senator ended. That was ten years prior to his run for the
Presidency. During those ten years, except
for his service south of the border in the Mexican War, Pierce was content attending to
his law practice, staying out of the limelight.
Jane dutifully moved into the White House, but for two years she
remained a recluse upstairs, seeing almost no one. During
the last two years of her husbands presidency she occasionally attended a
Presidential Dinner, but she always appeared almost tormented by the experience. Jane
suffered from tuberculosis; without a doubt her poor health contributed to her being so
sullen. She died only a few years later.
Pierce took office hoping the compromise over the admission of
California to the Union had laid the sectional excitement (as he called the
slavery problem) to rest. He appointed a
diverse (as we would brand it today) cabinet made up of Northern and Southern
Democrats and a Whig. It soon became obvious,
however, that he would habitually defer to Southern concerns and interests; that he did
not view slavery as wrong, in and of itself. As
matters developed, the man he chose as Secretary of War (the post we call today, the
Secretary of Defense) would be, by the force of his personality and determination, the
strong man of the administration: Jefferson
Davis of Mississippi. Yes, Jeff Davis, who would too soon become the President of
Pierce was a classic Doughface. The term identified a Northern politician with
Southern sympathies. John Randolph of
Virginia first used the epithet to describe a timid leader
faced with strong opposition; the leader would not set his jaw against the
foe, but would tend to agree with him so as to reach for common ground; he would be
pliable like dough and thus could be molded by the stronger hand. Pierce was a nice guy among implacable
and defiant foes who were bred and forever dedicated to be Masters. Nice guys finish
last, warned the great winner of our day, Vince Lombardi.
Pierce succeeded Millard Fillmore, who himself proved to be a
Doughface and Pierce was followed by another Doughface, James Buchanan. That was the end of the Doughfaced Presidents. Abe, the Rail-splitter, saw to that.
It was the Kansas-Nebraska Act that brought Pierce down. Kansas and Nebraska were vast territories in the
beginning; the Nebraska Territory covered the whole of the Northern Great Plains. Those territories would one day be States.
The moralists, the religious, the abolitionists, all of those who had
been Conscience Whigs, the Northern newspapers, the Free Soilers, the New Republicans, all
were determined that those States, every one of them, would be Free States. The Democrats of the South, John Calhouns
successors, saw such a result as the final destruction of what Calhoun had called the
equilibrium between the Northern and Southern way of life. The power of population and its representation in
Congress, not to mention the number of Senators, would shift inexorably to the North. The South would be doomed. Calhoun had predicted that black
equality would reverse the role of the races in society. They and their Northern allies would be the
masters and we the slaves, Calhoun thundered.
As to the critical question at hand concerning Kansas and Nebraska,
Senator Stephen Douglas proposed the answer: forget
the old compromises. Let the people of the
Territories decide for themselves whether they would have slavery. This was really nothing more than the squatter law
of the pioneers, but Douglas dressed it up under the title of Popular
After a sharp debate Douglass bill was passed and signed by Pierce. In the North the new law meant one thing: the deliberate, final betrayal of the promises
made in the Missouri Compromise which had stood for 34 years against the western spread of
During the debate Senator George Badger of North Carolina was
bemoaning the fact that if the North had its way, he could not take his old black
mammy to Nebraska. He loved his
old black mammy, he said, and she loved him.
Turning to Senator Wade of Ohio, he exclaimed, Surely you will not prevent me
from taking my old black mammy with me?
It is not that he cannot take his old black mammy with
him, sneered hardboiled Ben Wade, But that if we make the Territories free, he
cannot sell the old black mammy when he gets her there.
Within months the new Territory of Kansas held an election under the
Popular Sovereignty plan. Across
the border from Missouri rode 5000 slavery men armed with bowie knives and revolvers. These border Ruffians, as the Northern
newspapers called them, took charge of the Kansas polls, barred Free Soil men from voting,
and elected a pro-slavery legislature. Then they rode back to Missouri. In reply, the North sent organized colonies of
tough abolitionists with wagonloads of Sharps rifles, paid for by collections taken
up in Northern churches. Soon a small scale
Civil War was flaming along the Kansas frontier. Invaders
from Missouri burned and sacked the Free Soil capital of Lawrence.
The whole country watched with shocked revulsion and while they
watched, John Browns band dragged five proslavery settlers from their cabins and
killed them in cold blood.
Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts delivered a powerful speech
on the Crime Against Kansas. In
his speech he suggested that Senator Butler of South Carolina must have chosen the
harlot, Slavery, to be his mistress. Three
days later Butlers nephew, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina walked into
the Senate Chamber and nearly killed Senator Sumner with his heavy cane. For this attempted murder Brooks received a mere
$300 fine, and Bully Brooks became a hero in the South.
As these horrific events unfolded, with Bloody Kansas in
the headlines day after day, Franklin Pierces popularity collapsed. He was the Captain of a ship afire and
wouldnt uncoil the fire hose. Way off
in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln had warned, This nation cannot endure half slave and
half free. When Pierces term
ended he could hardly count on one hand the Democrats who would support his reelection. James Buchanan was nominated to run for President
in 1856 and Pierce retired to his home in New Hampshire from which he later offered bitter
criticism of Lincoln as the Civil War raged.
During those blood soaked years of Civil War, nearly ten years after
Pierce had lost the favor of the people in the North because of his undisguised Southern
sympathies and Nathaniel Hawthorne had reached the pinnacle of a writers career,
Hawthorn dedicated to the unpopular ex-president, in the warmest and most complimentary
words, his work Our Old Home. Hawthornes
publishers remonstrated with him for such a dedication.
Hawthornes reply was an absolute refusal to withdraw the dedication. If, wrote the famous author,
Pierce is so exceedingly unpopular that his name is enough to sink the volume, there
is so much the more need that an old friend should stand by him
History frames our epitaph. Few
public works bear Pierces name. Only a
small college in New Hampshire has taken it. Only
one definitive biography has been published of his life.
But his story, the story of my cousin, has not been whispered today and I am
a better man for having met him.
Butterfield, Roger. The American Past Simon and
Schuster, NY, 1947
Rhodes, James Ford. History of the United states from the
Compromise of 185, Vols. I
& II, Harper Bros., NY 1893
Gara, Larry. The Presidency Of Franklin Pierce
Press of Kansas. 1991
Lorant, Stephen. The Presidency, McMillan
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Life of Pierce (Campaign