PIERCE, FRANKLIN

Sixteen-page ALS from Europe Criticizing President Buchanan, Mentioning Jefferson Davis, Discussing Strife Within the Democratic Party and the 1858 Election that Resulted in Republicans Gaining Control of the House of Representatives for the First Time

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Item #20229


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PIERCE, FRANKLIN - Sixteen-page ALS from Europe Criticizing President Buchanan, Mentioning Jefferson Davis, Discussing Strife Within the Democratic Party and the 1858 Election that Resulted in Republicans Gaining Control of the House of Representatives for the First Time
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PIERCE, FRANKLIN - Sixteen-page ALS from Europe Criticizing President Buchanan, Mentioning Jefferson Davis, Discussing Strife Within the Democratic Party and the 1858 Election that Resulted in Republicans Gaining Control of the House of Representatives for the First Time

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“Were politicks in the U. States ever in greater confusion than at the present time… If the Pres[iden]t. does not get  from the Satanic enough of this foolish adulation and rather too much assaults upon what are termed the factious members of our party… I shall be surprized”

 

PIERCE, FRANKLIN. (1804-1869). Fourteenth president of the United States.ALS. (“Franklin Pierce”). 16pp. 8vo. Florence, October 24, 1858. To SIDNEY WEBSTER (1829-1910), his personal secretary when president.

 

“My dear Webster, We reached here on the 11th inst. and the most pleasant thing which greeted me the day after our arrival was your long letter of the 12th ult. We are now very satisfactorily established at the hotel de la ville where we shall probably remain until December, perhaps longer. The city is finally situated upon the Arno… with a beautiful undulating country on either side, highly cultivated studded with villas and rising at many points several hundred feet above the valley. The city is literally filled with works of art, in the examination of which one may pleasantly and profitably spend six or eight weeks. I shall not write a word in the way of description because you will find all that so tastefully and thoroughly done by turning again to the admirable work of your neighbor Mr. Hillard. It has gratified my national pride to find that here no less than at home these are regarded as among the very best of the numerous volumes, which in modern time have been written upon Italy. Our journey from Geneva by the way of St. Gothard to Lake Maggiore was delightful throughout. To Neuchatel we went by rail, thence across lakes Neuchatel and Bienne by steamboat, thence by rail again to Berne. Here Mr. Fay met us at the railroad station and was… assiduous in attending during our brief sojourn. With him we called on the president of the republic and visited various objects of interest. The capital thro’ the various parts of which the president conducted us is a little structure and commands a grand view of the Mont Blanc chain. From Berne to Thun a perfectly charming little place upon the lake of that name by private carriage, thence by steamer to Interlacken [sic]. Here we remained three days which was filled up in part by visits to Lauterbrunnen, the Staubbach, Grindelwald, etc. From Interlacken to Brinne by steamer from this little village Mrs. P. crossed the Brinne on horseback. We reached the border of Lake Lucern [sic] in the lake of the four Cantons as it is sometimes called at 5 o’clock & the city of Lucern by steamer at 7. After a day or two of much enjoyment at L. we crossed the lake again to Küssnacht which is at the base of the Rigi, the summit of which … from its elevation so much as from its isolated position, undoubtedly commands the finest view in Switzerland. We left our servants at Lucern to come to Wiggis the next day with the baggage by boat. We were amply repaid for the toil of the ascent of the Rigi which Mrs. Pierce made on horseback in three hours. I walked and from the steepness of the continuous descent I found my strength pretty seriously taxed before I reached the calm. Still we were richly compensated. The day was beautiful and as we stood at last up on the top most peak half an hour before sunset and surveyed the scene of surpassing magnificence and beauty we lost all consciousness of fatigue. The next morning we descended to Wiggis and crossed another arm of the lake to Fluellen [sic] where we took a carriage for the entire route to Lake Maggiore in order to control our own time for travel and for rest. The descriptions of the grandeur of the St. Gothard Pass have not exceeded the truth. Mr. Daniels was absent from Turin when we reached there but has since passed a day or two with us here. He has repurchased his interest (the quarter part) in The Examiner and expects soon to return to Richmond to resume the labors of editor. His resignation has been accepted but he does not know who is to succeed him. If Mr. Buchanan entertained the opinion of foreign ministers appointed by me which has been expressed by some persons who assume to speak for him, it is not easy to understand why one half of his official term should be allowed to elapse without replacing them with better & more competent men. If the changes which have already taken place after at Berlin, Lisbon, Copenhagen, Liverpool, etc. are to be taken as samples of what we may expect hereafter, it cannot I think be regarded as a mark of stupidity if the improvement is not readily perceived. Carroll Spence with his family are here. He is a man of scholarship and was undoubtedly a most acceptable and influential minister at the court of Turkey. He speaks Italian as well as French fluently and is very thorough in his local information, so that I have found it useful as well as agreeable to meet him as I have very often. Upon the same floor with ourselves in the hotel and occupying a suite of rooms contiguous to ours are Colo. Jno. S. Preston and his family consisting of eight persons. With his daughters is a charming young daughter of Gov. Manning who you know is brother-in-law of Colo. P. We find them most agreeable neighbors and friends.

 

The struggle between the intellect and learning arranged on either side of the case at Newport must have been full of interest and instruction. Genl. Davis it seems has been making another speech at an agricultural fair in Maine which was highly praised in the Providence Journal (an opposition paper) which fell in my view a few days since. Were politicks in the U. States ever in greater confusion than at the present time. The New York Evening Post, Times, Tribune, & Herald are taken here but so far as I know in New England no New England paper except the Boston Traveller. It would be truly refreshing to see a copy of the Morning Post now and then. The last number of the Herald received here endeavors to prepare the public mind for the defeat of our party in Pennsylvania by saying that it has been so weakened by my blunders and maladministration, that it sunk down after the great struggle of 1856 in a state of complete exhaustion from which it had never been able to recover -- notwithstanding the great strength which Mr. Buchanan’s official and personal popularity brings to its aid. If the Pres[iden]t. does not get  from the Satanic enough of this foolish adulation and rather too much assaults upon what are termed the factious members of our party Toombs & others I shall be surprized. Can you explain the cause of the frequent hits at Slidell and Bright. I see that … & Martin has been nominated for Congress. Do the personal & political relations between him & Colo. Forney remain unchanged? If so how is his canvass to be conducted after the publication of the Colo.’s Tarrytown speech and subsequent letters? I should have said how was it conducted because I believe the election took place last week. I hope you saw Genl. Davis in Boston as anticipated at the date of yr. last letter. If you did, write me fully with regard to his health etc. etc.

 

Speak more particularly too of your own health, yr habits of exercise, etc. I hope you have had Union this autumn and that you are in the saddle every day when the weather is tolerable. If you need money I think you had better get it of Judge Minot. I think he may be able to furnish such amount as you may require from my funds, but if that is so invested as to be inconvenient he may consider my name as signed with yours to a note and let you have it himself or get it at the Mechanicks Bank. I shall be much interested in the account which I expect you to give me of the defense of the men charged with piracy. It cannot help doing you good. If your success is complete the fruits will be abundant, if otherwise partial failure, especially after the publication of your able opinion, will be attached to your modesty and want of practice and do you no harm in the end. I am glad you saw Mrs. Griffin at Deerport. Perhaps I may have the pleasure of meeting her in Paris tho’ my sojourn in that city and in London will be brief, long enough however to see among other friends Gov. Fish and his family. By the way, I received a very kind letter from the Gov. since my arrival here written at Geneva, from which I learn that they arrived there two days after we left. If I had known they were on the way and so near I should have just changed my departure of course, but it is perhaps as well as it is.

 

October 25

 

I have just returned from the reading room where I found the Tribune of the fifth inst. containing two columns of extracts from Colo. Forney’s letter and a prediction of great disasters to our party in the Pennsylvania election which took place on the 12th which I hope may not be verified by the results. I read with interest an article on the last page of the Boston Traveller of the 1st in which the writer while dissenting from some of the opinions expressed in a letter, which I have not seen, from Genl. Cushing to Mr. Martin and others says “of living Americans Genl. Cushing is perhaps the first.” I observed all these just tributes to Genl. C’s learning and ability with great satisfaction. I do not remember to whom I wrote the letter a printed extract from which is enclosed in yours. My correspondence has been confined almost exclusively to yourself and Judge Minot. From what paper did you clip the extract? Except now and then a passing remark to yourself and perhaps in one or two letters to Genl. Cushing & Colo. George I have written nothing which would not be as harmless if published as this extract. Still it is provoking that any part of my private letters should be published. I have not received Dr. Loring’s articles but hope they may yet come along. Genl. Cushing’s letter written in April was not received till September. I am as faithless as you can be with regard to any suggestion or friendship from the high source to which you refer and I may add that I am as indifferent as I am faithless. In truth I should not appreciate it if it were truly tendered in the most unmistakable form. There is no high [?] impulse or generous emotion there. The substratum and all that has ever been built upon it is cold, selfish and calculating with a large infusion of Constitutional peevishness and petty malignity; I think I shall live to see what I have expressed upon into a general pervading public sentiment and opinion. I hope Genl. C. will never so much as turn on his heel to conciliate friendship or esteem in that quarter. It would not be worth having and if it were otherwise no man in the country needs it less than himself. I hope soon to receive an answer to my two last letters written at Geneva. Yr. friend, Franklin Pierce”

 

The son of New Hampshire’s governor, Pierce studied law before enjoying a varied career in state and national politics. In 1832, he was elected to Congress, and four years later, Pierce won a Senate seat that he held until 1837. In 1846, President Polk offered Pierce the office of Attorney General, but Pierce declined, observing that when he had resigned from the Senate, he had done so with the express purpose never to be separated from his family again except to serve his country during war, which, in fact, he did the following year when he was commissioned as a colonel during the Mexican‑American War. Despite his promise to his wife, Jane, he accepted the Democratic nomination for president, and served from 1853-1857.

 

Pierce’s efforts to lead the nation were hindered by divisions within his party. Nonetheless, he reformed the Civil Service, the Departments of the Interior and Treasury; and oversaw the territorial expansion of the United States, most notably in completing the Gadsden Purchase, through which the U.S. obtained modern-day Arizona and southern New Mexico from Mexico, and which was strongly advocated by his Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. However, it was also territorial expansion and its relation to the issue of slavery that undermined Pierce’s presidency, specifically the Kansas-Nebraska Act whose passage on May 30, 1854, contributed to the rise of the Republican Party.The legislation, drafted by Pierce and Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas, opened Kansans to settlement while allowing popular sovereignty to determine whether Kansas would allow slavery. This led both pro- and anti-slavery advocates to settle in Kansas for the sole purpose of casting their ballots on the matter. The resulting violence, such as that famously perpetrated by John Brown, was dubbed “Bleeding Kansas” and helped further divide both the Democratic Party and the entire nation, propelling it toward civil war.

 

Because of the political discord that marked Pierce’s presidency, the Democratic Party failed to nominate him for reelection. After leaving Washington, he briefly returned to his native New Hampshire before setting off on a three-year tour of Europe and the Bahamas. From afar he managed to stay abreast of American affairs and maintained an extensive correspondence with Webster, a New Hampshire native who, after graduating from Yale University and Harvard Law School, became President Pierce’s private secretary. The pair formed a close relationship that would persist long after Pierce left Washington. In 1860, Webster married Sarah Morris Fish, the eldest daughter of Senator Hamilton Fish (1808-1893) of New York, future secretary of state under Ulysses S. Grant. In 1892, Webster published Franklin Pierce and His Administration.

 

Both Pierce and former Secretary of State James Buchanan (1791-1868) were Democratic candidates for president in 1852. Although he was from New York, Buchanan had Southern sympathies. After Pierce won the nomination and the election, he appointed Buchanan ambassador to the United Kingdom, where he represented American interests from 1853-1856 and was able to avoid becoming embroiled in controversial questions related to slavery. In 1856, Buchanan was elected president at a time when relations between the southern, slave-holding states and the northern states were becoming increasingly strained. Despite hailing from Pennsylvania, Buchanan’s sympathies were with the south and his split allegiances kept him from taking any action against secession, which rendered him ineffectual. He did not run for reelection and was succeeded by Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Historians regularly cite Buchanan as one of the worst presidents in American history.

 

Our letter attests to the cool relationship between Pierce and Buchanan, of whom he states “I am as indifferent as I am faithless.” Pierce discusses at length the divisions within the Democratic Party for which he feels he is unjustly blamed and which came to a head with the elections to the 36th Congress held between August 2, 1858 and November 8, 1859 when the new Republican Party gained control of the legislative body for the first time. The decline of the American, Know Nothing and Whig parties as well as the divisions within the Democratic Party had contributed to the 1854 establishment of the Republican Party, which united anti-slavery Whigs and Free Soil Democrats after the divisive Kansas-Nebraska Act. In Pennsylvania’s election, held October 12, 1858, and discussed in our letter, Republican’s gained 10 seats previously held by Democrats.

 

While traveling abroad, “though far removed from the political battles in Washington, Pierce retained a lively interest in any news from the states. Mail was infrequently received… but Pierce was kept informed by letters from Sidney Webster,” and other friends “of the political war being waged within the Democratic Party. Buchanan and [Democratic Senator Stephen A.] Douglas had split over the president’s determination to accept the proslavery Lecompton Constitution without full ratification by the voters of Kansas. Douglas viewed this decision as a flagrant violation of popular sovereignty and a violation of the president’s word… Buchanan’s old friend and supporter John W. Forney (1817-1881) also broke with the president charging, ‘The Kansas catastrophe of the administration has utterly demoralized our organization,’” (Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union, Wallner). Forney was a Democratic journalist and politician from Pennsylvania, who served as the clerk of the House of Representatives from 1851 to 1855. He later changed his party affiliation to Republican, published a pro-Lincoln newspaper and served as Secretary of the Senate from 1861-1868.

 

Robert Toombs (1810-1885) was a Georgia Democratic Senator who objected to federal attempts to limit slavery in new territories. A supporter of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, it was legislation introduced by Toombs that prompted Kansas to draft the Lecompton Constitution. After Georgia’s secession, Toombs became secretary of state of the Confederate States of America.

 

John M. Daniels (1823?-1865), editor of the Richmond Examiner, held a diplomatic appointment at the courts of Sardinia and Turin during Pierce’s administration. He was wounded during the Battle of Gaines’ Mill and, later, in a duel with Confederate States Treasurer E. C. Elmore in 1864. 

 

Carroll Spence (1818-1896) was a Maryland legislator, presidential elector and supporter of Pierce. After campaigning on Pierce’s behalf, the newly elected president appointed him U.S. minister to the Turkish Empire, where he distinguished himself in his diplomatic service from 1853 to 1858. In our letter, Pierce describes him as “a man of scholarship and was undoubtedly a most acceptable and influential minister at the court of Turkey.”

 

South Carolina lawyer and planter John Smith Preston (1809-1881) was an outspoken secessionist and state’s rights advocate. He represented South Carolina at the 1860 Democratic National Convention. During the Civil War, he served as an aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard and became a brigadier general.

 

JohnLawrence Manning (1816-1889), South Carolina’s governor from 1852-1854, and Preston married sisters, Susan Frances Hampton Manning and Caroline Martha Hampton Preston respectively.

 

Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) served as Pierce’s secretary of war from 1853 until 1857 when he took office, again, as U.S. senator from Mississippi, where he spoke out on slavery and secession. When Mississippi withdrew from the Union in January, 1861, Davis resigned his seat and became the provisional (and later elected) president of the Confederate States of America. At the end of his Senate term, Davis spent two months in New England for the sake of his health. Portland’s Democratic newspaper, The Eastern Argus, publicly welcomed Davis to the city and discussed the meaning of his stay, possibly the article which Pierce read. Among the numerous speeches Davis made during his stay was one for the Maine Agricultural Society during the state fair. Despite his many speaking engagements, Davis was careful to refrain from discussing fractious party politics.

 

Louisiana Democratic Senator John Slidell (1793-1871) was an outspoken defender of Southern rights who became a staunch supporter of secession after Lincoln’s election.  

 

As president pro tempore of the Senate Indiana Democratic Jesse Bright (1812-1875) was Pierce’s acting vice president after the death of William R. King. He declined to accept Buchanan’s appointment as secretary of state. Although he opposed the Civil War, he was expelled by the Republican majority Congress in 1862 for harboring Southern sympathies.

 

Judge Josiah Minot (1818-1891) was Pierce’s former law partner and New Hampshire’s Democratic Party chairman.

 

This remarkably long and detailed letter has remained in the Fish family until this point and is unpublished. Written on four folded sheets. Docketed on the first page. Folded and near fine.

 

Item #20229

 

 

$15,000


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