OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

October 30, 2003

My Doughface Cousin

JonesMortPierce03.jpg (6753 bytes)

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 Club.

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 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 1800’s and in those beginning years of America, just a generation removed from the Boston Tea Party, the story of my New England cousin begins.

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 day’s 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 football’s Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, the great San Diego Charger’s 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 veins.

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 Protectionism.

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.

Pierce’s 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 friend’s campaign for the presidency, Hawthorne wrote Pierce’s 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.

Hawthorne’s “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 country.

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 elsewhere.

With Hawthorne’s 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 hound’s 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-             before they chose the hero of the Mexican War as their nominee, none other than Winfield Scott, Pierce’s 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 Scott’s views on the slavery question, and he didn’t 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 with fear.

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 everyone’s 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 Tom’s 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 the North.

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.  Pierce’s 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 husband’s 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 the Confederacy.

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 Calhoun’s 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 Sovereignty.”

After a sharp debate Douglas’s 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 slavery.

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 Sharp’s 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 Brown’s 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 Butler’s 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 Pierce’s popularity collapsed.  He was the Captain of a ship afire and wouldn’t uncoil the fire hose.  Way off in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln had warned, “This nation cannot endure half slave and half free.”  When Pierce’s 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 writer’s career, Hawthorn dedicated to the unpopular ex-president, in the warmest and most complimentary words, his work “Our Old Home.”  Hawthorne’s publishers remonstrated with him for such a dedication.   Hawthorne’s 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 Pierce’s 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 , Univ. Press of Kansas. 1991

Lorant, Stephen. The Presidency, McMillan Co., 1951

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Life of Pierce (Campaign Biography), 1852

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