During the Civil War, Franklin Pierce was a fierce critic of Abraham Lincoln. When Union soldiers raided Jefferson Davis’ home in 1863, they found letters from Pierce – bemoaning the “madness of abolitionism” and an “unnecessary war.” Harriet Beecher Stowe labeled him “the archtraitor.”

His reputation never recovered. Today, Pierce ranks as one of America’s worst presidents.

After the death of his wife and his best friend Hawthorne, Pierce fell back to heavy drinking. He died in 1869.

Learn More: Buy Michael F. Holt’s “Franklin Pierce”

As reward for helping Pierce win the Presidency, Nathaniel Hawthorne was appointed Consul to Liverpool. He spent the rest of the 1850’s in England and Italy.

When he died in 1864, only Pierce was at his deathbed.

Hawthorne ranks as one of America’s most revered authors. He is considered the father of the American Novel.

Learn More: Read Peter Wallner’s “Revealing Relationships”

During the War, William Pitt Fessenden was Lincoln’s second Treasury Secretary.

When South Carolina seceded, the Charleston Mercury called him “one of most dangerous men in the country.”

He later co-chaired the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, and became more moderate with age.

Fessenden died in 1869. His role in antebellum politics is often passed over by historians.

Learn More: Buy Robert Cook’s “Civil War Senator: William Pitt Fessenden and the Fight to Save the American Republic”

After running for President, John P. Hale returned to the Senate in 1855.

In 1865, Lincoln appointed him Minister to Spain.

Hale’s daughter, Lucy Hale, was John Wilkes Booth’s girlfriend. She gave booth a ticket to Lincoln’s second inauguration. Her photo was found on Booth’s body after he was captured and killed.

His statue stands today in front of the New Hampshire state capitol, steps away from Franklin Pierce.

Hale died in 1873. He and Pierce never reconciled.

Learn More: Buy Richard Sewell’s “John P. Hale & The Politics of Abolition”

1852
DEMOCRATS NOMINATE FRANKLIN PIERCE
Democrats nominate Brigadier General and Former Senator Franklin Pierce on the 49th ballot at the Democratic National Convention. Although unknown to most voters, Pierce was chosen for his credentials as a pro-slavery Northerner.
WHIGS NOMINATE WINFIELD SCOTT
Whigs nominate General Winfield Scott – Pierce’s former commanding officer in the Mexican War.
FREESOILERS NOMINATE JOHN P. HALE
The Free Soil Party nominates Senator John P. Hale – Pierce’s classmate and New Hampshire rival – known as the first anti-slavery senator.
PIERCE WINS PRESIDENCY
Pierce beats Scott in a rout – winning 254 out of 296 Electoral College votes. The Whigs’ platform was barely distinguishable from the Democrats – while their pro-slavery platform depressed Whig turnout in the North. The anti-slavery Hale received a little more than 150,000 votes – about 5% of the electorate.
WHY WASN’T SLAVERY A MAJOR ISSUE IN THE 1852 ELECTION?
In 1850, slavery almost tore the union apart. A series of bills called the “Compromise of 1850” was passed with the leadership of Whig leaders Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. It allowed California to enter the union as a free state, while the Utah and New Mexico territories were allowed to hold a popular vote on whether to allow slavery. The most controversial component of the compromise was the Fugitive Slave Act, which made it a crime for any federal official to not arrest runaway slaves. While most of the country proclaimed the slavery issue solved, Northern abolitionists were infuriated by the Fugitive Slave Act – which is credited as the first political provocation for a strong anti-slavery party.
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE PUBLISHES UNCLE TOM’S CABIN
Harriet Beecher Stowe, the wife of a Bowdoin College professor and a staunch abolitionist, publishes “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” – a novel depicting the cruel realities of slavery in the south. The book sells 300,000 copies in 1852 alone and goes on to become the best-selling book of the 19th Century. It is often credited as a foundation for the rise of the anti-slavery movement and the Civil War.
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE’S CAMPAIGN BIOGRAPHY OF PIERCE
Because of Pierce’s low name recognition to most of the country, his campaign biography was crucial to his introduction as a viable choice for president. To support his college friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne pens the only work of non-fiction in his life, “The Life of Franklin Pierce.” The biography glorifies Pierce’s Senate and military years, while portraying slavery as an institution that should be left alone. After Pierce’s victory, Hawthorne is rewarded with a political appointment as Consul to Liverpool. He spends the rest of the 1850’s traveling in Europe.
HENRY CLAY AND DANIEL WEBSTER DIE
In a year when Pierce & the Democrats rout the Whigs, Whigs also lose their two elder statesmen and the leaders of their party – Kentucky Senator Henry Clay and Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster. Clay and Webster were instrumental to passing the Compromise of 1850 – the last act of political compromise before the Civil War.
STEPHEN DOUGLAS, FRANKLIN PIERCE & KANSAS-NEBRASKA
Hoping to earn Southern support for his presidential aspirations, Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas introduces the Kansas-Nebraska Act – opening up slavery to territories above the 36’-30” parallel established during the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The bill advocated for “popular sovereignty” – allowing a popular vote in each territory to decide whether slavery should be permitted. It infuriates anti-slavery forces (mostly Whigs), but with the support and cover from President Franklin Pierce, Kansas-Nebraska passes both Chambers.
WILLIAM PITT FESSENDEN ELECTED TO THE SENATE
Maine Senator William Pitt Fessenden takes his seat in the Senate in the middle of the Kansas-Nebraska debate, and dares the South to secede in his maiden speech. His confrontation of South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler garners national attention, as his phrase “do not delay [secession] on my account” becomes an anti-slavery rally cry in the North.
KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT BECOMES LAW
On May 30, 1854, Franklin Pierce signs the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law. The passage of the bill nullifies the Compromises of 1820 and 1850, and is seen as the opening blows of the Civil War as compromise is scratched for partisan and sometimes violent politics.
BLEEDING KANSAS BEGINS
To determine whether Kansas enters as a free or slave state, pro and anti-slavery forces begin moving into the territory – mostly from neighboring Missouri. Violence between pro-slavery “Border Ruffians” and anti-slavery “Jayhawkers” turn Kansas into a low-scale Civil War, as settlers from both sides are killed and election after election is rigged.
WHIGS BREAK APART, REPUBLICAN PARTY FORMS
Because of its inability to take a position on slavery different from the Democrats and its attempts to remain a national party when the country wanted sectionalism, the Whig Party splits into two. Anti-slavery Whigs form the Republican Party – an exclusively Northern party. The Whig’s other base, anti-immigration, anti-Catholic Know-Nothings, form the American Party.
CHARLES SUMNER CANED
In 1856, after making personal attacks and insinuating an interracial affair between South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler and a female slave, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner is viciously beaten on the Senate floor by Congressman Preston Brooks – Butler’s nephew. The event infuriates the North, while the South cheers Brooks.
DEMOCRATS DITCH PIERCE, NOMINATE BUCHANAN
Pierce’s support for Kansas-Nebraska and the violence in Kansas that followed make him toxic for re-election. Democrats ditch him for another pro-slavery Northerner, James Buchanan of Pennsylvania.
REPUBLICANS NOMINATE FIRST NOMINEE, JAMES FREMONT
The Republicans nominate their first candidate for president in 1856 – California Senator James Fremont.
KNOW-NOTHINGS NOMINATE MILLARD FILLMORE
The Know-Nothings nominate former President Millard Fillmore.
BUCHANAN WINS PRESIDENCY
By running against a fractured opposition, Buchanan receives only 45% of the vote but wins convincingly in the Electoral College. He wins all of the South and West, and his home state of Pennsylvania – the only Northern state the Republicans don’t win.
DRED SCOTT
In 1857, the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott vs. Sandford rules that Congress has no power to regulate slavery – and that slaves can never become full citizens. Northerners are infuriated – pushing many Know-Nothings from 1856 into the Republican Party.
THE LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATES
In the Illinois Senate race, former Congressman and Republican Abraham Lincoln mounts an impressive challenge against Senator Stephen Douglas. Their debates across the state become legend as it previews the presidential campaign just two years later.
REPUBLICANS MAKE MIDTERM GAINS
In the 1858 Midterm elections, Republicans make gains in both chambers of Congress – alarming the South to what may await the country in 1860.
JOHN BROWN’S RAID
In 1859, abolitionist John Brown plans an armed slave revolt by seizing a United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown is defeated and hanged for treason. The raid shocks the South – realizing that there are northerners who did not fear violence – but even welcome it.
DEMOCRATIC PARTY SPLITS IN TWO
Stephen Douglas’ backpedaling on popular sovereignty and the protection of slavery in the territories leads Southern Democrats to suspect his viability for president. At the Democratic National Convention, the party splits into two. Northern “National” Democrats nominate Douglas, and Southern Democrats nominate Vice President John Breckinridge, a slaveowner.
REPUBLICANS NOMINATE LINCOLN
At the Republican National Convention in Chicago, the frontrunner, New York Senator William Seward, loses to Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln is a relative newcomer to the national stage, a Westerner that could be molded to be seen as more moderate and acceptable on slavery than more well-known Republicans.
CONSTITUTIONAL UNIONISTS NOMINATE JOHN BELL
A fourth party composed of mostly old Southern Whigs form the Constitutional Union Party – choosing Tennessee Senator John Bell as their presidential nominee.
LINCOLN WINS PRESIDENCY
In a four-way contest, Lincoln wins with just 38% of the vote. In many Southern states, he never even made it onto the ballot. Lincoln primarily competes with Douglas for Northern votes, while Breckinridge and Bell compete for Southern votes. Lincoln’s election marks the beginning of Secession Winter – leading to the Civil War in April 1861.
SOUTH CAROLINA SECEDES
On December 20, 1860 - South Carolina becomes the first state to secede from the United States.

JOHN P. HALE

Class of 1827

Congressman from NH (Democrat) 1843-45
Senator from NH (Independent Dem) 1846-53
Presidential Nominee (Free Soil) 1852
Senator from NH (Republican) 1855-65

Known as America’s “First Abolitionist Senator,” John P. Hale was a freshman at Bowdoin when Franklin Pierce was a senior. Years later, Hale started his political career under the patronage of Pierce, rising from state representative to Congressman as a Democrat until 1845 - when he split with Pierce and the Democrats over the annexation of Texas as a slave state.

Hale formed a coalition to elect him to the Senate in 1846 and ran for President as the Free Soil Party nominee in 1852 against Franklin Pierce. He returned to the Senate in 1855 and was appointed by President Lincoln as Minister to Spain in 1865.

FRANKLIN PIERCE

Class of 1824

Congressman from NH (Democrat) 1833-37
Senator from NH (Democrat) 1837-42
14th U.S. President (Democrat) 1853-57

A congressman at 29, a senator at 33, and a general during the Mexican War, Franklin Pierce became the Democratic nominee for President in 1852 because he was a pro-slavery Northerner. After winning the Presidency, his actions during the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act effectively ended his career.

Pierce’s role in repealing the compromises of 1820 and 1850 pushed America onto the path to Civil War and often rank him among the worst Presidents in American history.

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE

Author
Class of 1825

Nathaniel Hawthorne is remembered today as one of the greatest authors in American literature. His works include The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, The Marble Faun, among others.

A close friend of Franklin Pierce, Hawthorne’s only work of non-fiction was Pierce’s 1852 campaign biography. As reward for helping him win the presidency, Pierce made Hawthorne Consul to Liverpool. He spent most of the 1850’s in England and Italy.

When Hawthorne died in 1864, Pierce was the only one at his deathbed.

WILLIAM PITT FESSENDEN

Class of 1823

Congressman from ME (Whig) 1840-42
Senator from ME (Whig/Republican) 1854-64-69
Treasury Secretary to Pres. Lincoln 1864-65

William Pitt Fessenden was one of the early founders of the Republican Party, and one of the party’s leading Senators before, during and after the Civil War. A staunch abolitionist, Fessenden dared the South to secede from the Senate floor as early as 1854, and was one of the first national leaders to switch from the Whigs to the Republicans.

Many Republicans urged Fessenden to run for President in 1860, but he refused. During the war, he served as President Lincoln’s second Treasury Secretary. He was succeeded by Hugh McCulloch, class of 1827. Fessenden later co-chaired the Joint Committee on Reconstruction.

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

Poet

Class of 1825

Considered one of America’s greatest poets, Henry W. Longfellow was in the same class as Nathaniel Hawthorne. His works include Paul Revere's Ride, The Song of Hiawatha, Evangeline, among others. He was also a celebrated professor at Harvard.

Longfellow was a close friend of William Pitt Fessenden throughout their lives. Fessenden was engaged to Longfellow’s sister, Elizabeth, until she died to tuberculosis. He also introduced Fessenden to another close friend of his, Charles Sumner, in 1841 – a decade before Fessenden and Sumner stood against the Slave Power in the Senate.

JOHN BROWN RUSSWURM

Abolitionist

Class of 1826

John Brown Russwurm was the first black graduate of Bowdoin College and the third black graduate of an American university. A friend of Hawthorne’s at Bowdoin, he went on to found the first black abolitionist newspaper, Freedom’s Journal in 1827. It was the first newspaper to be owned, published and edited solely by African-Americans in American history.

Russwurm later left the United States for Africa and served as Governor of the Maryland section of the African-American colony in Liberia.

ALPHEUS FELCH

Class of 1827

A member of the class of 1827 with John P. Hale, Alpheus Felch served as Governor of Michigan from 1846-47 and Senator from Michigan from 1847-53 as a Democrat. After his stint in the Senate, Pierce appointed him lands commissioner in California to Spanish and Mexican land claims after the Mexican War.

SEARGENT SMITH PRENTISS

Class of 1826

A Whig congressman from Mississippi, Seargent Smith Prentiss was widely considered the greatest orator of the 19th Century. President Millard Fillmore considered him the greatest orator in Congress, and Daniel Webster once said that he had “never beheld a speaker” like Prentiss.

CALVIN STOWE

Class of 1824

A celebrated professor of religion at Bowdoin, Stowe was Valedictorian of Franklin Pierce’s class. He is more remembered as the husband and literary agent of the famous abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe.

HARRIET BEECHER STOWE

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling book of the 19th Century. In its first publication in 1852, the book sold 300,000 copies. She wrote the book while living at Bowdoin during her husband’s tenure in 1851. Among the Stowes’ Bowdoin mentees was the Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain.

JONATHAN CILLEY

Class of 1825

A Democratic Congressman from Maine, Jonathan Cilley was seen as a rising star alongside Franklin Pierce and was also a close friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne. But in 1838, a feud that started on the House floor ended up with Cilley’s death in a duel with another Congressman.

JEFFERSON DAVIS

Honorary Degree (1858)

Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis, later the president of the Confederacy, was Franklin Pierce’s closest advisor – serving as his Secretary of War. Because of his friendship with Pierce, Bowdoin gave him an honorary degree during his visit to Maine in 1858. The decision stirred controversy across New England among abolitionists. Bowdoin decided to award the same degree to William Pitt Fessenden – with the two political opponents sharing the stage at Bowdoin’s 1858 commencement.

JAMES BRADBURY

Class of 1825

James Bradbury served Maine in the Senate as a Democrat from 1847-53. Considered a conservative, he often sided with pro-slavery forces and was a strong ally of Franklin Pierce. William Pitt Fessenden replaced Bradbury in 1854.

HUGH McCULLOCH

Class of 1827

Hugh McCulloch, a banker from Ohio, was President Abraham Lincoln’s last Treasury Secretary. He replaced William Pitt Fessenden at the end of the Civil War in 1865 and served until 1869. He would return to the same position under President Chester Arthur in 1884.

WILLIAM GEORGE CROSBY

Class of 1823

William George Crosby was Governor of Maine from 1853-1857 during Fessenden’s first Senate term. A Whig who often shared the stage with Fessenden, Crosby was the Whig nominee for Congress in 1838, the term before Fessenden was nominated in 1840.

  • Creator
  • Frank Chi
  • Producers
  • William Donahoe
  • Matt Patton
  • Narrator
  • Gabe Kornbluh
  • Featuring
  • Prof. Michael F. Holt
  • Prof. Michael Landis
  • Peter Wallner
  • Special Thanks
Jim Cole, Ian Cook, Prof. Robert Cook, Richard Doerner, Aaron Duffey, Ethan Porter, Scott Strong, Anne Thompson, Office of the Senate Curator & VCU Brandcenter
  • Photo Credits
Bowdoin College Museum Of Art
George J. Mitchell Department
Of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College
Library Of Congress
New Hampshire Historical Society
U.S. Senate Collections
  • Contact
Inquiries: Frank Chi
Web: William Donahoe