Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Franklin Pierce - A Recap

I am in the thick of the stretch of reading that my presidential biography project advisor, also known as my Brad-Dad, warned would be boring reading.  Since I have a flair for the dramatic, I'm going to call this boring reading the "monstrosity of dryness."  Cadence asked me if I was going to write about it on my blog, and my answer three days ago was, "Yes, if I can think of anything to say."

I finished the biography at lunch today, and I've been able to come up with a few words about President Franklin Pierce. But only a few words.
  • His presidency was a dismal failure and helped move this country closer to the Civil War.
  • This biographer, Michael F. Holt, summarized Pierce's administration: 
    • "...they (other biographers or historians) faulted Pierce for a misbegotten patronage policy and a disastrous decision to endorse the Kansas-Nebraska Act that helped bring on the Civil War. And they usually tended to attribute those mistakes to Pierce's alleged character flaws: a weak will, too great of an eagerness to please others, decided prosouthern proclivities. As a result, Pierce has languished near the bottom when historians periodically go about ranking American presidents...I attribute Pierce's most fateful political decisions to his obsession with preserving the unity of the Democratic Party."
  •  I am grateful for those wrap-up paragraphs at the end of the biography. They helped crystallize what I'd spent most of the rest of my time reading not understanding.  This period of history is new to me. It wasn't covered in any of the classes I took. 
  • As a born and bred Kansan, my interest was piqued when the Kansas-Nebraska Act entered the story. I still don't understand it as well as I like, but I'm getting the gist of it.  Prior to Kansas and Nebraska becoming states, the government was in the heat of determining if they would enter statehood as free or slave states. Pierce appointed incompetent people to serve as territory governors and drama and illegal activity ensued. I am certain that the overlapping quality of this reading project will help me understand the high points as I read Buchanan, another terrible president.
  • While Pierce was a dismal failure as president, he seems to have been well liked as a person.  He was a close friend of author, Nathaniel Hawthorne who had this to say about Pierce: "Never having had any trouble before, that pierced into my very vitals, I did not know what comfort there might be in the manly sympathy of a friend, but Pierce has undergone so great a sorrow of his own, and has so large and kindly a heart, and is so tender and strong that he really did us good, and I shall always love him better for the recollection of those dark days."
  • As I read this volume, there were moments where I felt like I could be reading a contempory book about modern politics. So familiar were the deceits, shenanigans, and tomfoolery.  That's the enduring lesson of this project: if we do not study history, we are bound to repeat it. 
  • I am intrigued by my own interest and tenacity to keep pushing through these boring spots in history certain that more interesting reading is ahead of me. I picked up the James Buchanan biography after work and will get started reading about him immediately.  
  • It dawned on me today that I am only one president away from Lincoln, a real milestone in this project.  As soon as I read his biography, I can begin planning the train trip to Springfield, Illinois, to take in the museums and house tour. 

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