Franklin Pierce   (1804-1869)

By George Peter Alexander Healy, 1853. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the National Gallery of Art, gift of Andrew W. Mellon

Fourteenth President, 1853-1857

Franklin Pierce tried hard to keep the peace between the North and South, but his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 brought the country one step closer to civil war. The act called for settlers to decide among themselves whether or not to allow slavery in their territories, but the result of the act was a bloody border war between pro and antislavery factions as each side tried to bring in enough supporters to win the vote.

Under Pierce's watch, Commodore Perry concluded a treaty with Japan allowing American trade with that country, and the Gadsden Purchase secured the border between the United States and Mexico. But it was for the Kansas-Nebraska Act that Pierce was remembered, and he was not nominated for a second term.