Even New Hampshire's Having a Hard Time Celebrating Franklin Pierce

Roundup: Talking About History

Betty Lowry, in the St. Petersburg Times (Aug. 15, 2004):

He was the "Young Hickory of the Granite Hills," and at age 48, the youngest and handsomest U.S. president up to that time. He had rapidly climbed the political ladder, although it took 49 ballots before he was nominated at the deadlocked 1852 Democratic Convention.

If today he seems to have been a nonentity, never mind. A liberal arts college (with 1,500 undergraduates plus six graduate-professional branches), a private law school, high school, lake, highway and self-guided trail have been named for him. As the only New Hampshire citizen who ever made it all the way to the top, he appears prominently in local history books.

Now, his home state is examining, rather than excusing, his four years in the White House as it celebrates the bicentennial of his birth.

Of course, by now you must have figured out we're talking about Franklin Pierce. Or maybe not, because he probably is the most important president you never heard of.

Even Jayme Simoes, chairman of the Franklin Pierce Bicentennial Commission, says there are three schools of thought about the man.

"One," she says, is that "Pierce was great. Two, he was the worst president in our history. Three, Franklin who?"

With all three versions in mind, the exhibition titled "Franklin Pierce: Defining Democracy in America" opened in May in Concord's New Hampshire Historical Society Library. The exhibit brings together for the first time more than 100 objects, paintings, photographs and documents.

The focus is on the ideas and events of Pierce's time (he lived from 1804 to 1869), and the themes range from "Inheriting the Revolution" to "In the Public Memory." The exhibition will continue until May 8, 2005.

Lectures, forums, band concerts, graveside memorial service and a costume Inaugural Ball will supplement the exhibition....

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