Franklin Pierce was one of the least known, least liked, and least successful presidents in American history. In this study of his administration, historian Larry Gara makes no attempt to revive Pierce's reputation. Instead he provides a clear analysis of Pierce's shortcomings as well as his few successes.Franklin Pierce's administration (1853-1857) spanned a turbulent perFranklin Pierce was one of the least known, least liked, and least successful presidents in American history. In this study of his administration, historian Larry Gara makes no attempt to revive Pierce's reputation. Instead he provides a clear analysis of Pierce's shortcomings as well as his few successes.Franklin Pierce's administration (1853-1857) spanned a turbulent period in the life of the nation: North-South polarization reached new extremes due, in part, to Pierce's failure to understand the depth of Free Soil sentiment in the North; the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its aftermath made civil war likely, if not inevitable; and Pierce's apology for southern actions served only to widen the rift. The term "Bleeding Kansas" came to symbolize the failures of Pierce's administration.Pierce's few achievements were in the realm of foreign policy. In fact, Gara points out, the Pierce years were an important chapter in the history of American imperialism--a time when Japan was opened to the West, U.S. trade in Central America and Asia was expanded, and additional land was acquired from Mexico. Pierce also initiated discussions on acquiring Alaska, the Hawaiian Islands, Nicaragua, Formosa, the Dominican Republic, the guano islands of the Pacific, and Cuba.In this twenty-fourth volume of the American Presidency Series, Gara provides a clear, tough-minded analysis of the Pierce administration and a fair, though generally negative, assessment of the man and the president....
|Title||:||The Presidency of Franklin Pierce|
|Number of Pages||:||232 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
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The Presidency of Franklin Pierce Reviews
Book Thirty-Three of my Presidential Challenge.Here's a conversation I had with my wife after finishing this book:Me: You know what's interesting about Franklin Pierce?Her: Nothing?Me: Nothing.That's not quite fair. He was somewhat interesting in a hot mess kind of way. I don't think I've read about too many Presidents with worse instincts though. (Only Buchanan comes to mind.)I think most political historians would place Pierce in the bottom 5 if not bottom 3 Presidents. Why? He was a weak President at a time when America needed a very strong one if it was to survive. "Highlights" of his administration:- The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was the biggest disaster of his time in office. It effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. It allowed white males to use popular sovereignty to decide if Slavery would be allowed in any new territories, North, South, or West, longitude and latitude be damned. This was a huge boost to Slavery's power and influence and set in motion the events which would lead to the Civil War. So yea, this was bad.- Pierce's actions were all pro-Slavery, at least until it was too late. His policies, his appointments, they all stacked the deck in favor of slave power. He only changed his mind once he failed to secure his parties nomination for a 2nd term.- He was weak willed and easily influenced by his cabinet and basically anyone who was smarter than him. He often agreed with the last person who spoke with him about an issue and, Spoiler Alert, spoke almost exclusively with pro-Slavery jerks.- He was a drunk. I'm sure many were at that time but I'm sure this didn't help.- His foreign policy was weak. He was aggressive until he got push back and then wussed out.- Until his dying day, he blamed the North for all of the problems with Slavery and the Civil War. What an asshole.- Nobody was more surprised than Pierce that he wasn't re-nominated for President. He was sure that he was doing a great job and that he was super popular. That's one of my favorite things about the political system. It is one of the few aspects of civilization that can put a stop to this sort of delusion. He should thank Buchanan for beating him. If he hadn't, Pierce would be remembered as the worst President of all time, instead of just forgotten as a joke.It may seem like I'm being too hard on Pierce but I don't think so. A lot of folks died senseless deaths because of this clown. We had one of our worst Presidents at one of our most important times. Add that to his lack of self-awareness and unearned sense of righteousness just makes it real easy to hate this guy.The book? It had lots of information but had two major problems.1. The book needed a better editor. There were comma's missing all over the place and sentences that went nowhere.2. The worst problem was how the information was organized. He organized everything chronologically by subject. For example, he would discuss the Kansas-Nebraska Act and all of its' repercussions throughout all of Pierce's time in office, start to finish. The next chapter would deal with Pierce's foreign policy and its' repercussions throughout Pierce's time in office, start to finish. The effect was disorienting and made it difficult to keep track of which events happened in relation to other events. There's a reason biographies aren't organized that way, Gara.
This was an excellent history book, packed with information and perspective about this brief, but important part of American History. He treated Franklin Pierce with objectivity and revealed a man who was not ready, and arguably not capable, of being president of the United States of America. I have great pity for Pierce's personal life, suffering the death of all three children. His wife was plagued with illness and the same tragedies. He had a serious illness too, the treatment for which was about eighty years before his time. Slavery is just wrong. It has always been wrong. Pierce should have known better and he let his politics prevent him from even examining "right vs. wrong" when it came to policy and governance. We should know better when it comes to our racism.I live in "Pierce County" Washington, named for him. I wish we could change the name of our County.Some of the prose was cause for some reading stumble but it was only a small fraction of the time where I had to re-read a sentence. He tried so hard to make each sentence fresh and packed with information and this can cause a stumble for this reader. Plus, this type of concise history is always packed with lots of names and dates and that slows me down too.
The years before 1860 were a period of increasing cold war in the United States. From the perspective of over a century after the conclusion of the internal war, we tend to lose the knowledge that there was more to the separatism than the disagreement concerning slavery. While the North/South dispute over slavery was paramount, other regional differences such as the role of the frontier led to a political fragmentation that prevented any faction from being able to govern and solve the growing problems. Several new parties arose while the formerly powerful Whig party was dying. This fragmentation is the main theme of this book and Gara states it very well. With the modern emphasis on the slavery question, the other divisive forces in the nation are often overlooked, which leads to historical inaccuracy.Gara explains in great detail how the political fragmentation prevented any real attempt to resolve the issues. One point in particular that is often ignored is the three-fifths representation. For census purposes a slave was considered to be three-fifths of a person, even though they were also property. This absurdity caused a great deal of resentment in free states, as it concentrated more political power in the slave states than the size of the free population should have allowed. This caused more representatives to be elected from the southern states, which altered the outcome of some of the votes in favor of the south. Deeply resented by many in the north, it points out the inherent absurdities of slavery and is well documented and explained.The federal government was still largely a weak institution with most of the power held by the states. With all of these problems, it would have taken an extraordinary president to alter the course of history. Franklin Pierce was no such man, and the best that can be said is that he muddled through without any great catastrophes. More than anything else, it was his handsome, presidential appearance that earned him the white house. His rise to the presidency was largely an accident, as he was a compromise candidate after the better candidates were somehow disqualified. His administration also began on a tragic note, when one of the Pierce children was killed before the eyes of his father and mother. Being largely untested on the national political arena, Pierce also wore a colossal political tin ear, often making basic errors that made things worse.Given all of these problems, it is surprising that the Pierce administration did as well as it did. As the author points out, his presidency is ranked somewhere above a failure, but nowhere near a success. In reading about all of the problems of the country at that time, it is hard to see where a great deal of improvements could have been made. The country was expanding rapidly and the industrial revolution with associated social changes was just beginning. Slavery was a historical anachronism, clearly in the process of being eliminated and had it not become the symbol of the rights and tradition of the southern states, it would have naturally ceased to exist. Even the ardent proponents of slavery referred to is as the "peculiar institution."In retrospect, the forces that led to the regional split were so powerful that it is hard to envision any way that it could not have led to a civil war. Those forces were stronger than any man or political party and in this book you learn about the actions of a man who landed in a job beyond his talents and yet avoided being a total failure. Given the complexity of the circumstances, his time as president was close to the best that could have been done.This review also appears on Amazon
Franklin Pierce apparently was one of the worst presidents America has ever had. I won't argue with that, especially since I knew nothing about the man before I read this book. In plain, workmanlike prose, Gara gives us the rundown: America is floundering her way through an identity crisis, less than a decade away from one of its bloodiest and most divisive events: the Civil War. The country seem to be unraveling at the Mason-Dixon Line and the man at its helm is a shadowy figure, obscure even in his own day. With the Compromise of 1850 freshly on the books, and Pierce's Cabinet made up of a coalition of differing viewpoints, it seemed to me like the measure of equanimity that might have been exactly what the situation called for. Instead, as the bulk of Gara's text shows, the issues had run their course too far to be solved with one stroke. Not that Pierce intended to make any such dramatic move. He believed that the rights of the South to hold slaves were enshrined in the Constitution and would not willingly interfere. Gara opines, and I tend to agree, that this sort of bland laissez-faire was both one of Pierce's chief characteristics and one of his great failings. We see that, in this age of social and political upheaval, Pierce was the sort of man things happened around, rather than one who made them happen. He did administer several internal improvements, legislating government pay reforms and instituting qualifying exams for government officials, but these did nothing, of course, to address the looming issue. Pierce strikes me as a man with a small-scale imagination, suited better to the minutiae of bureaucracy rather than the grand sweep of history. Which, of course, is one of history's sad ironies. On the eve of the nation's reformation in the Civil War, at the crossroads of the fiery trial that would destroy and rebuild it's very identity, it came under the leadership of a man rather vague about his own identity. Pierce, it can hardly be argued, was a decent man, even a good man. What America needed then was a great man. A really decent book, authoritative and clear, if dry.
This book really is about Pierce's presidency and not Pierce. There are hardly any direct quotes from Pierce and most of the content refers to "the Pierce administration" so it's hard to see the man behind the office. I learned a lot about North/South relations and the development of the Republican party so it was still interesting.
An adequate summary of one of our worst and most ineffective presidents. Quite workaday, and only meant as a summary, but with some good basic information on the political issues and economic climate of the times.
He was a proslavery idiot and the bio a yawn.