Franklin Pierce Autograph Letter on Abolition and “Negro Mania,” Six Weeks after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation

Signed by signature excised

Item: 20682
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PIERCE, FRANKLIN. (1804‑1869). Fourteenth president of the United States. AL [signature excised]. 3pp. 8vo. Andover, February 9, 1863. To SIDNEY WEBSTER (1829-1910), Pierce’s personal secretary during his presidency.

“I went to Concord this morning and have just returned to find your letter of the 7th. Mrs. Pierce has been decidedly more comfortable today, but is very feeble and I do not allow myself to be absent from her for a single night. I am glad to hear from our old friend Washington McLean and to know that he still thinks kindly of me.

I should be tempted to go to New York this week to meet him and other friends, but in view of Mrs. Pierce’s condition it is out of the question. Say this to McL when you meet him and assure him of my kindest regards.

I can hardly entertain a doubt, that abolitionism is to be signally overthrown in N.H. at the election in March. It is no ordinary current which Negro Mania now encounters there – the Gulf Stream is running and sweeping away the petty contrivances of the demagogues who have controlled the state for several years. The canvass is being prosecuted with a vigor courage & earnestness on our part quite unknown in these modern times in that state – I have just come from Mrs. Pierce’s chamber – She thanks you and Sarah for your kind solicitude and sends her love to you both – You can hardly conceive what a deep source of regret that “halting position” of our old friend has been to me. I am sorry for, but not surprized at the dissatisfaction of which you speak. I will write you again in a day or two – Love to Sarah…”

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, he 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 of never being separated from his family again except to serve his country during war, which he did when he was commissioned as a colonel during the Mexican‑American War the following year. In 1852, against great odds, he was elected president. Despite his promise to his wife, Jane, he accepted the Democratic nomination for president, and served from 1853-1857.

Franklin Pierce

Political discord and divisions within his own party hindered Pierce’s efforts to lead the country. Nonetheless, Pierce reformed the Civil Service and the Departments of the Interior and Treasury. He also oversaw U.S. territorial expansion, most notably by completing the Gadsden Purchase, through which the U.S. obtained modern-day Arizona and southern New Mexico from Mexico, a policy strongly advocated by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. However, it was also territorial expansion and its relation to slavery that undermined Pierce’s presidency, specifically the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30, 1854. The legislation, drafted by Pierce and Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas, opened Kansas to settlement and allowed popular sovereignty to determine whether Kansas would accept 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.

The decline of the Know Nothing and Whig parties as well as the divisions within the Democratic Party contributed to the 1854 establishment of the Republican Party, which united anti-slavery Whigs and Free Soil Democrats following passage of the divisive Kansas-Nebraska Act. At the close of his term in 1857, the Democratic Party failed to re-nominate Pierce, but he remained deeply interested in the state of his party and the nation. Pierce felt unjustly blamed for divisions within the Democratic Party, which came to a head during the elections for 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. Pierce’s political instincts proved correct: New Hampshire replaced one Republican congressman with a Democrat in the March 1863 election, due, in part, to President Lincoln’s inability to bring an end to the Civil War, his suspension of habeas corpus and the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, barely six weeks before Pierce wrote our letter. Pierce’s use of the phrase “Negro Mania” likely stems from the 1851 book by John Campbell entitled Negro-Mania: Being an Examination of the Falsely Assumed Equality of the Various Races of Men.

Our letter mentions prominent Ohio Democrat Washington McLean (1816-1890), owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer, and Jane Pierce (1806-1863), Franklin’s melancholy wife who died of tuberculosis later in the year.

It is no ordinary current which Negro Mania now encounters there – the Gulf Stream is running and sweeping away the petty contrivances of the demagogues who have controlled the state for several years.

After leaving office, Pierce 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 continued to grow long after Pierce left Washington. In 1860, Webster married Sarah Morris Fish (1838-1925), the eldest daughter of Senator Hamilton Fish of New York, Ulysses S. Grant’s future secretary of state. In 1892, Webster published Franklin Pierce and His Administration. Written on a folded sheet from which Pierce’s signature has been excised, likely due to the inflammatory comments about “Negro Mania.” Folded and in very good condition.

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