Why Is Franklin Pierce Famous?

The 14th president of the United States and the only New Hampshire resident to serve in the position, Franklin Pierce is known by many as one of the nation's worst presidents owing to his having made a number of highly divisive decisions during his presidency. Historians consider his biggest failure in the executive office to be his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which incited debate over slavery in the West.

The History Channel indicates that Pierce entered politics as a relatively young man after serving as governor of New Hampshire and later speaker of the state legislature and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He served as president from 1853 until 1857. His administration urged settlement of the nation's Northwest during a time when tensions were high over the expansion of slavery into new territories, with Southerners urging it and Northerners opposing it.

According to Pierce's official White House biography, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which Pierce signed into law in 1854, raised questions about allowing slavery in the West. The Act was intended to allow construction of a railroad from Chicago to California via Nebraska. However, the senator who sponsored the bill added a provision allowing residents of new federal territories to determine the legality of slavery for themselves. A subsequent scuffle that turned into a shooting incident known as "bleeding Kansas" illustrated the degree of tension over the issue and served as a precursor to the Civil War. Owing to Pierce's inability to quell chaos over the act, his party, the Democrats, refused to hand him the presidential nomination in 1856. When his term was over he returned to New Hampshire where he died in 1869.