president pierce

Jane Pierce

Jane Means Appleton Pierce (March 12, 1806December 2, 1863), wife of Franklin Pierce, was First Lady of the United States from 1853 to 1857.


Jane Means Appleton was born March 12, 1806, the daughter of Congregational minister Jesse Appleton, president of Bowdoin College. After Rev. Appleton's death, her mother moved the family to Amherst, New Hampshire. Jane then met a Bowdoin graduate, Franklin Pierce, a young lawyer with political ambitions.

Although he was immediately devoted to Jane, they did not marry until she was 28. Her family opposed the match; She came from an aristocratic Whig family and was extremely shy, deeply religious, often ill, and pro-temperance. Jane could be described as shy and tubercular and she was never happy with the fact that her husband was in the political world. His personal life imposed a great deal of pain on him and Pierce was known to many as being a heavy drinker.

Mrs. Pierce hated life in Washington, D.C., and encouraged Pierce to resign his United States Senate seat and return to New Hampshire, which he did in 1841. They had three children who all died in childhood. Two of their children died very young and the last one survived until the age of 11 and was killed in a train wreck. None of them lived to see their father become president. This made her believe God was displeased with her husband's political ambitions. After the deaths of her children, Mrs. Pierce was overcome with melancholia and distanced herself during her husband's presidency.

Franklin Pierce, Jr. (February 2, 1836February 5, 1836) died three days after birth.

Frank Robert Pierce (August 27, 1839November 14, 1843) died at the age of four from epidemic typhus.

Benjamin "Bennie" Pierce (April 13, 1841January 16, 1853) died at the age of 11 in a tragic railway accident in Andover, Massachusetts which his parents witnessed, 1 month before the inauguration of his father.

Service in the Mexican-American War brought Pierce the rank of Brigadier General and local fame as a hero. He returned home safely, and for four years the Pierces lived quietly at Concord, New Hampshire, in the happiest period of their lives, where Jane watched her son Benjamin growing up.

In 1852, the Democratic Party made Pierce their candidate for President. His wife fainted at the news. When he took her to Newport for a respite, Benny wrote to her: I hope he won't be elected for I should not like to be at Washington and I know you would not either. But the President-elect convinced Jane that his office would be an asset for Benny's success in life.

Franklin, Jane, and Benny were traveling on the Boston and Maine Railroad between Andover, Massachusetts and Lawrence, Massachusetts on January 6, 1853. Their car derailed near Andover and toppled over an embankment. Franklin and Jane received only minor injuries but Benny was killed before their eyes. The whole nation shared the parents' grief. The inauguration on March 4 took place without an inaugural ball and without the presence of Mrs. Pierce. She joined her husband later that month, but any pleasure the White House might have brought her was gone. Other events deepened the somber mood of the new administration: Mrs. Fillmore's death in March, and that of Vice President William R. King in April.

Jane Pierce turned for solace to prayer. She had to force herself to meet the social obligations inherent in the role of First Lady. Fortunately she had the companionship and help of a girlhood friend, now her aunt by marriage, Abigail Kent Means.

Mary Anna Custis Lee wrote in a private letter: I have known many of the ladies of the White House, none more truly excellent than the afflicted wife of President Pierce. Her health was a bar to any great effort on her part to meet the expectations of the public in her high position but she was a refined, extremely religious and well educated lady.

With retirement, the Pierces made a prolonged trip abroad in search of health for the invalid–she carried Benny's Bible throughout the journey. The quest was unsuccessful, so the couple came home to New Hampshire to be near family and friends until Jane's death in 1863. She was buried near Benny's grave.


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