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Franklin Pierce: The American Presidents Series: The 14th President, 1853-1857 Hardcover – March 30, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like many historians, Holt considers Franklin Pierce's administration (1853-1857) to be so inept that perhaps the greatest praise is that the succeeding administration, James Buchanan's, was worse. Son of a prominent New Hampshire governor, Pierce (1804-1869) served in the Houseand Senate, resigning in 1842 but remaining leader of the Democrats in New Hampshire, where he remained extremely popular. This stood him in good stead when he was chosen in 1852 as a dark-horse presidential candidate by a deadlocked Democratic convention. He drubbed Winfield Scott in the presidential election to become the country's 14th president. However, Pierce saw abolitionism as a threat to the Union, and his sympathy with Southern views helped lead the nation to civil war. Holt (The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party) argues that Pierce's support of 1854's Kansas-Nebraska Act helped trigger the expansion of slavery into the territories. This bitterly divided the party in the North, which denied Pierce renomination in 1856. Holt writes well, delivering a lively, opinionated account of a president who served in turbulent times and did not improve matters. This is an admirable addition to the already admirable American Presidents series.(Apr.)
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From Booklist

Pierce deserves his low ranking by historians, but not, Holt argues, because he was a bad man or politician. Handsome and athletic, he’d been a state representative at 24, a congressman at 29, a one-term U.S. senator at 34, and was New Hampshire’s leading Democrat when he became the first dark-horse candidate to secure the presidency in 1852. With congressional, state-legislative, and governorship majorities, the Democrats were riding high, and Pierce aimed to keep it that way. He chose cabinet members to represent the party’s factions and crafted his domestic policy to quash divisive squabbles. But his era’s big issue was slavery. He backed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, arguing that it nullified all previous limitations on the extension of slavery, and stood by during subsequent terrorism in Kansas on the grounds that the Constitution barred the president from intervening. Despite foreign-policy successes and a squeaky-clean administration, he wasn’t nominated for a second term because Kansas-Nebraska, foreboding all too well what lay ahead, fractured his beloved party. Another excellent American Presidents series volume. --Ray Olson

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Product Details

  • Series: The American Presidents
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1 edition (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805087192
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805087192
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on April 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The American Presidents series, conceived in part by the late Arthur Schlesinger, is a series (now mostly complete) of short biographies of the U.S. Presidents. Michael Holt has given us the latest in that series...a biography of our fourteenth president, Franklin Pierce.

Pierce's life and career seemed to have been beset by tragedy and ill fortune. Little known outside New England, Pierce, nonetheless, became the famous dark horse candidate in 1852, much like James K. Polk had been eight years earlier. Holt is particularly good at describing the politics of Pierce's ascendancy to the presidency (one of Pierce's few strokes of "luck") and he's equally good at setting up the president's downfall. Since there is little of an actual written nature of the Pierce years in the White House (he never wrote an autobiography) much has to be sewn together by others' accounts.

The author spends a fair amount of time on the Kansas-Nebraska Act... the downhill turning point of the Pierce presidency... but offers as much that while Pierce made major mistakes during his time in office it seems unlikely that any person who ran the country in the 1850s could have done much to calm the seething factions before the outbreak of the Civil War. I enjoyed Holt's offering up Pierce's feelings about future presidents. It seems he despised his successor, James Buchanan, and hadn't much use for Abraham Lincoln. Pierce was content when Andrew Johnson was acquitted during the latter's impeachment trial of 1868.

President Pierce's unhappy and unsuccessful administration might only have been matched by the unhappiness of his personal life....three children dying very young, a sickly wife and his own heavy drinking.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Chris on November 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read a handful of the books from this American Presidents Series, and three of the four have been exactly what I was looking for -- a clear, concise biography that covers the major aspects of the subject's life, particularly his presidency. None is better than this one, though.

While I've read a fair amount about the antebellum period in general, I didn't know much about Franklin Pierce, other than that he signed into law the Kansas-Nebraska Act and that he's widely considered to be one of the worst presidents we've ever had. But I was interested to find out that along with his negative qualities -- a destructive loyalty to the Democratic Party being the most significant, according to Holt -- he was also a superb public speaker, a loyal and extremely well-liked individual, and a prominent and influential Democrat in one of the rare northern states that consistently voted Democrat.

This book provides a broad overview of Pierce's early life and career, three strong chapters on his presidency, and a wrap-up chapter on his retirement, which, to my surprise, included several attempts by some Democrats to convince him to run for president again, even though he was very unpopular at the close of his term and wasn't even renominated by his party. When I was done reading, I retained my disapproval of Pierce's endorsement of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and his unwillingness to take a stand against slavery or the South's determination to compile slave states. However, I felt that Pierce was a likable person; he made some costly miscalculations, but he was inherently a decent and honest man.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Steven Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one more addition to the series of brief presidential biographies, "The American Presidents." Original series editor, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. said of the purpose of this series (Page xviii): "It is the aim of the American Presidents series to present the grand panorama of our chief executives in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, authoritative enough for the scholar." These are ambitious standards, but these books, overall, do pretty well in meeting them. As does the work on Franklin Pierce.

This is a solid biography of Franklin Pierce, often rated as in the bottom tier of American presidents. The book does a nice job of describing Pierce's ascent to political power, from his base in New Hampshire. His father had been a political figure and James followed in his footsteps.

He became president because of a deadlock in the 1852 convention. He emerged as an acceptable candidate to other factions and won. However, his presidency was not successful. In his zeal to hold the fractious Democratic Party together, he ended up presiding over a slow disintegration as the country moved toward the 1856 election. He was denied renomination and led his life out fairly quietly.

A good, solid, brief biography for those who don't want to delve deeply into the subject matter. That brevity is both a strength and a weakness, since various themes cannot be fully developed.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 11, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Franklin Pierce is another President that I really knew very little about. After reading this biography, I know a little more about him, but not a lot. I recognize and understand that Pierce accomplished very little in his time as President. However, I felt like there was too much gloss on his presidency given in this book. I felt there could have been more emphasis placed on those four years, as opposed to just what was going on, generally. I would have liked more insight into Pierce, personally.

It was a good book. A little short, and a good read for those wanting to learn more about the American Presidents.
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