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In A Brown Study, 20 A

November 1, 2016

There is no better use of life, but just to find out what each is fit to do.” Hawthorne

In 1852 Franklin Pierce sat at his desk in Concord to consider running for the office of President of the United States. He was flattered to be considered by the Democratic National Committee, but apprehensive about running for public office. He had retired from public office, having spent many years in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate. “Only in an emergency,” he said, and at convention time, after 17 ballots, his name was submitted, and he was selected to be the compromise candidate, the Democratic Nominee. When his wife heard the news, she fainted.

After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Pierce,Franklin’s father, bought a 50 acre farm in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. His first wife died in childbirth, but his second wife, Anna, produced eight children. Franklin, born in 1804, was the sixth, and his mother’s favorite. Located on a highway, the Pierce home was noisy and lively, but also an inn and tavern.

For a short time Franklin attended a one room schoolhouse, and when he was 12, he was sent to a boarding school several miles away. He did not enjoy being away from home and one day he slipped out and walked home. His father said nothing, gave him dinner, and drove him halfway to the boarding school before setting him out to walk back. Franklin never did that again.

1820-1824 found Pierce at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. One of 19 students, Pierce was charged $24 for tuition and $2 room and board. In the stagecoach, returning to his sophomore year, Franklin met Nathaniel Hawthorne, an incoming freshman. The two liked each other right away. Hawthorne was a quiet, compassionate young man with a questioning mind, and Pierce learned some of these qualities, making him sensitive to people and problems. Pierce was excessively honest, but he did not like to study. One day a teacher asked him where he got a correct answer to a difficult problem. Pierce responded frankly, “From Stowe’s slate.” He could not dissemble.

The rules at Bowdoin were strict, but difficult to enforce: no smoking, no gambling, no drinking, and stay away from the local tavern. Franklin, Nathaniel, and others broke these rules often, but Hawthorne never got drunk.

In his junior year, Pierce was near the bottom of the class. Hawthorne and other friends encouraged him to pull himself together and start studying. His grades improved, and by the end of his senior year, he stood third in his class. He and Longfellow gave commencement addresses. Longfellow hoped American writers would soon “lift their voices over the land, bringing a spirit and love for literature which spring from our political institutions.” Pierce and Hawthorne must have echoed, “Amen!”( to be contd.)

 

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