spacer Franklin Pierce Franklin Pierce (1804-1869)
Fourteenth President (1853-1857)

In 1852, Franklin Pierce seemed to his fellow Democrats an ideal choice for the presidency. He was a northerner with southern sympathies and could therefore engender credibility in both regions in this year marked by continuing debate over slavery. But "Handsome Frank Pierce" also had an almost pathological impulse to please, and that trait, combined with his willingness to listen to pro-slavery extremists, served the country poorly once he was in office. The most obvious case in point was his approval of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which opened an area once closed to slavery to settlement by slaveholders. The result was armed violence in Kansas and a sharp escalation in hostilities between North and South. As for Pierce's reputation, many fellow northerners could not find words harsh enough to describe this man who seemed to be selling out his own region. While Ralph Waldo Emerson accused him of "imbecility," another characterized his administration as the "lickspittles" of southern rapaciousness.

Portraitist George P. A. Healy derived the original version of this image from sittings that took place in Boston in November 1852, shortly after Pierce heard confirmation of his presidential election. At the same time, Healy was painting for Pierce a likeness of the President-elect's campaign biographer and longtime friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

George P. A. Healy (1813-1894)
Oil on canvas, 1853
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the National Gallery of Art
Gift of Andrew W. Mellon

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Franklin Piercespacer Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce was known to very few Americans before his presidential nomination, and a top priority for his supporters, following his Democratic endorsement in 1852, was to secure portrait images of him for distribution to the general public. That task was carried out with great efficiency. "[Pierce's] portrait," reported his friend and campaign biographer Nathaniel Hawthorne, "is everywhere and in all the shop windows on wood, steel and copper, on horseback, on foot . . . in iron medallions, in little brass medals and on handkerchiefs." It is thought that this daguerreotype served as one of the models for the flood of Pierce likenesses.

Attributed to Albert Sands Southworth (1811-1894)
and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1808-1901)
Daguerreotype, circa 1852
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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