PIERCE, FRANKLIN

Criticizing President Lincoln and Discussing Fort Sumter 16 Days Before the Outbreak of the Civil War

$20,000

Item #20230


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PIERCE, FRANKLIN - Criticizing President Lincoln and Discussing Fort Sumter 16 Days Before the Outbreak of the Civil War
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PIERCE, FRANKLIN - Criticizing President Lincoln and Discussing Fort Sumter 16 Days Before the Outbreak of the Civil War

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“I’m tired of reading the contradictory newspaper accounts with regard to the purposes and policy of this administration… The Republican House and Republican Senate have seemed to me to be as weak and blind & destitute of any well defined purpose as the Republican Executive. That we of the North are to be humiliated in this unequal match of statesmanship, is to me clear enough… Even if there be no purpose to bring on civil war will not halting, blundering, arrogant imbecility stumble on it?... Ft. Sumpter [sic] must be evacuated”

 

PIERCE, FRANKLIN. (1804-1869). Fourteenth president of the United States.ALS. (“Franklin Pierce”). 4pp. 8vo. Andover, March 27, 1861. To SIDNEY WEBSTER (1829-1910), his personal secretary when president.

 

“I received your letter of the 14th inst. some days since, and wrote to Mr. Merritt, our consul, particularly with reference to Mr. Neilson. Mr. M. is an intelligent kindhearted man -- has seen a great deal of the world and is a thorough Gentleman. I feel quite sure, that Mr. Neilson & his sick sister w[oul]d. receive every attention from him without any suggestion from me, but Mr. N. ought not to come to the states before the June steamer and my letter may be useful. I’m tired of reading the contradictory newspaper accounts with regard to the purposes and policy of this administration. Pray can you tell me in what condition Dr. Fox or Mr. Lamon found the supplies in Ft. Sumpter [sic]? If there were two dozens of candles instead of one and four barrels of beef instead of two I do not think the fortress will be evacuated just at present. The question seems to turn solely upon supplies & upon the ability to hold the place. That is, if the thing is to be done at all, the Adm[i]n[istration] seems chiefly solicitous, that there shall be no doubt about the fact that it is done from the lowest possible motives. In this at least I think the public judgement is already prepared to give them the credit of success -- on the other hand with how much breadth and sagacity the affairs of the new confederation have been and are apparently conducted -- The Republican House and Republican Senate have seemed to me to be as weak and blind & destitute of any well defined purpose as the Republican Executive. That we of the North are to be humiliated in this unequal match of statesmanship, is to me clear enough. The folly of the new tariff considering the condition of the country & the circumstances of its enactment is amazing, but it does not stand alone, it is a part of the whole. Chas. Sumner Ch[air]m[an] of the Committee on Foreign relations, Henry Wilson on that of war, etc. etc. -- what can we reasonably expect. Even if there be no purpose to bring on civil war will not halting, blundering, arrogant imbecility stumble on it? I hope not but under the guidance of present counsels, if the word in this connection be not a solecism, no man can tell what a week may bring forth. Fort Pickins [sic] as well as Ft. Sumpter must be evacuated -- The idea of collecting revenue in the ports or harbors of the Gulf States must be distinctly abandoned or collision is unavoidable. Mrs. Pierce is pretty well for her and my health is perfectly restored. Give my love to Sarah and kindest regards to Gov. Fish and family -- In this Mrs. P. would heartily unite if she were sitting by me -- 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.

 

On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union putting Fort Sumter, still under construction, within enemy territory. Major Robert Anderson relocated two companies from nearby Fort Moultrie, which he abandoned, to Fort Sumter. The demands from South Carolina’s Governor Francis Pickens and Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard that President Buchanan surrender the fort were ignored. On January 9, 1861, the president ordered Union ships to send supplies and reinforcements. They were fired upon, thus igniting the fuse that would lead to the outbreak of civil war three months later. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), just three weeks into his term when Pierce derisively labeled him “the Republican Executive” in our letter, asked naval officer Gustavus V. Fox (1821-1883) to ascertain if the fort could be resupplied by sea. At the same time, Lincoln sent his friend and bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon (1828-1893), the recently appointed United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, to meet with Major Anderson at Fort Sumter. During his mission, and much to Lincoln’s displeasure, Lamon also met with Governor Pickens and discussed the possible evacuation of fort Sumter. With the fort projected to run out of food by April 15, Lincoln ordered Fox to lead a fleet of ships to resupply the fort but, shortly after their arrival, Confederate forces began a bombardment that resulted in its surrender.

 

“A loyal Democrat, Pierce did not support the new president, Abraham Lincoln. In fact, Pierce publicly blamed Lincoln for the war. This outspoken criticism cost the former President a number of longtime friendships… When Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, an angry mob surrounded Pierce’s home. Only a final display of the old lawyer’s once-famed oratorical skills kept his house in one piece: he gave a speech urging the crowd to disperse peacefully, and they did,” (“Franklin Pierce: Life After the Presidency,” millercenter.org/president/pierce/life-after-the-presidency, Baker).

 

Isaac J. Merritt was consul to the Bahamas from 1857-1861. Republican Charles Sumner (1811-1874) was a U.S. Senator, outspoken in his opposition of slavery and remembered as the victim of a caning on the Senate floor in 1856. He chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for ten years beginning on March 4, 1861. Senator Henry Wilson (1812-1875), also an anti-slavery Republican, served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs and later as President Grant’s vice president.

 

Our letter also mentions Fort Pickens, located near Pensacola, Florida which was the site of a skirmish between Union forces and local civilians on January 8, 1861, considered by some scholars as the true beginning of the Civil War. Despite ongoing Confederate attempts Fort Pickens remained in Union hands during the entire war.

 

A remarkable, unpublished letter commenting on the pivotal events that led to America’s greatest tragedy, and which has remained in the Fish family until recently. Written on a folded sheet of lined paper in fine condition.

 

Item #20230

 

 

$20,000


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