We hear a lot of people talk about politicians not being conservative enough or liberal enough, or that they compromise their political values.  These concerns are all valid, but sometimes the problem with a leader is that he is simply too much of one of way, incompatible with the demands of the problems at hand.  Franklin Peirce, the nation’s fourteenth president, was an example of that.

Franklin Pierce took was president from 1853 to 1857.  With tensions building between the North and the South over slavery, Pierce ran as a doughboy, a Northerner with Southern sympathies.  This was that era’s version of a “centrist”.  He was an  attractive, charismatic, and charming .  Often referred to as “a beautiful boy”, he was the image candidate. 

In an age of disillusionment with partisan politics, many voters embraced Pierce because they knew nothing about him.  Though he served in his opponent Winfield Scott’s army, his record was not impressive.   He had mild notoriety as a state’s attorney. 

Todd Leopold, entertainment  editor of editor of CNN.com observed, “After Pierce, the country was made safe for good-looking empty suits.” 

Sounds familiar.  Isn’t that what they said about someone else.   Well, let’s not get into that debate here.  This one is all about Frank.

Even though he was elected as the a man who could be a uniter, he ultimately sent the nation barreling toward the civil war with his pandering to the Southern extremist politics. Instead of practicing the Northern Southern supporters sought from him, he was only responsive to the slave holders ideology.  His disastrous agenda lead him to a series of devastating errors that included:

Supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 which allowed the territories settlers to decide whether they wanted to have slavery.

He continually appointed pro-slavery governors to these territories, whose conflicts with abolitionists led to “Bleeding Kansas” where they clashed with pro-slavery forces to violent battles.

Used federal troops to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, an example of the federal government imposing on local communities to perpetuate the evils of slavery.

With of these terrible mistakes, he was still a fierce adherent to the Constitution, and he defended the rights of immigrants.  But his submission to the slave holder’s interests destroyed his historical reputation, now known as the pro-slavery president who propelled the nation to the eminent Civil War. 

As rotten as Peirce’s track record is on this issue, The Greyfalcon does agree that all presidents should first be viewed first in the context of their time not ours, and should be considered in terms of historical not political terms. 

Today we have many pundits and self-appointed “holders of the true faith” judging every president in history against today’s “Conservative verse Progressive” trendy, media oriented rhetoric.  However, this modern-day nomenclature does not work for the majority of this nation’s history.  It is a great way to make a point in 2010, or to sell books, but it doesn’t help us understand the American journey.

If we look at Pierce only as a pro-Southern, pro-slavery advocate we might try to tie him only to the extreme racist factions or fringe political groups.  But Pierce would not have been that in 1853.  Instead we must also consider his branding as a handsome, relative unknown who talked a good game and tried to play both sides of a viciously contested battle between the prevailing philosophies of the day.

Jayme Simoe, president of a Concord, New Hampshire public relation’s agency said of Pierce “I don’t see Pierce as a hero, but i don’t see him as a villain either.  Simoe adds that when we type-cast a US president in terms of the modern dichotomy “we lose track of how he got where we are today.” 

Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Nixon, and JFK may have done things that we would identify as politically antithetical to what we believe today, but their roles in the nation’s story must be understood comprehensively if we want to truly understand the American story.

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