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InA Brown Study, 20 B

November 4, 2016

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” (anon.)

By 1827 Pierce was admitted to the New Hampshire Bar. Becoming involved in politics, he served as a New Hampshire legislator and speaker, then – elected into the U.S. House of Representatives and later to the Senate, before retiring to pursue the law in New Hampshire. He did not expect nor want to be the 14th President of the United States.

In 1834 Franklin Pierce had married Jane Means Appleton, daughter of a former president of Bowdoin College. She was shy and retiring, intelligent and religious, but with signs of consumption. Franklin was a fun-loving, vain, hard-drinking backwoods democrat. A son, Franklin, Jr., was born in 1836, but died three days later. Another son, Frank Robert, was born in 1839, but died of typhus in 1843. All their love was poured into son, Benjamin, born in 1841. Benjamin was killed in a train wreck in January 1853, days before Pierce was to be inaugurated. Such tragedy is difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

Pierce had gone to War with Mexico in 1847, attaining the rank of General, but he observed first hand the horrors of war. Hawthorne, coming to Boston to see Pierce off, wrote, “General Pierce seemed to be in his element, looking fit and in good spirits.”

When Pierce asked Hawthorne to write his biography for the presidential campaign, Hawthorne complied. Hawthorne needed a job to supplement his meager income, and it was believed he wrote a flattering biography to obtain a government position. Pierce believed in states’ rights, limited federal control, and territorial expansion. He didn’t see the need for abolition at the expense of war, and he was never happy in the public eye.

The New York Times wrote that Hawthorne had written “an extremely biased political tract, intended solely for its election effect.” The Whigs joked about Pierce’s drinking when in Washington, and put up a candidate, General Winfield Scott, whom Democrats labeled “Old Fuss and Feathers.”

Pierce served one term, dismayed that the country seemed to be heading toward a civil war, and he could not stop it. Afterward, Pierce and Jane went to Europe where they saw Hawthorne in Rome. Seeing Pierce’s white hair and lined face, Hawthorne wrote that the presidency had taken a lot out of Pierce.

When they returned to Concord, Jane continued to live in the past, depressed and mourning her sons. She died in December, 1863, in the middle of the country’s Civil War. Nathaniel Hawthorne visited his friend in an effort to console him. Was that possible?

I pledge to you in this cup of grief, where floats the fennel’s bitter leaf, the battle of our life is brief, -the alarm,  -the struggle, and -the relief. Then sleep we, side by side.    (Longfellow)                    (to be contd.)

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