1852–The Life of Franklin Pierce–Lucas Mills
An important piece of campaign rhetoric used by Franklin Pierce in the 1852 election was his self-titled biography The Life of Franklin Pierce written by long-time friend Nathaniel Hawthorne. The two men met at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Franklin’s biography was written by Hawthorne in September, 1852 for Pierce to use as “campaign life” before the election. Hawthorne was known to be one of the most influential writers of his time, having written books that include The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, and The Blithedale Romance.
The book details Pierce’s life and career up to the election. In the Preface to the book, Hawthorne says that although Pierce sanctioned the book, he did not neccessarily endorse all the information included.
“It is perhaps right to say, that while this biography is so far sanctioned by General Pierce, as it comprises a generally correct narrative of the principal events of his life, the author does not understand him as thereby necessarily endorsing all the sentiments put forth by himself, in the progress of the work. These are the author’s own speculations upon the facts before him, and may, or may not, be in accordance with the ideas of the individual whose life he writes. That individual’s opinions, however, –so far as it is necessary to know them,–may be read, in his straightforward and consistent deeds, with more certainty than those of almost any other man now before the public”
Hawthorne may have included this in the preface so the public would know that he did not write this book without other people’s input, including Whigs. I believe that in doing so Hawthorne was trying to convince his audience that it was not a biased biography.
The book chronologically goes through Pierce’s life and accomplishments he has had. In Chapter 4, Hawthorne uses excerpts from Pierce’s journal during the Mexico-American War. He exclaims that while the journal was only intended to be read by his family and friends, he used them to “bring the reader closer to the man than any narrative which we could substitute.” Hawthorne used these extracts so the reader would feel closer to Pierce and understand what he went through on the battlefield. Using these extracts from Pierce’s journal would help convince the American public that he was not a coward during the war. An testimonial from Pierce exemplifying his courageous behavior:
“Colonel Bonham’s horse was shot near me, and I received an escopette hall through the rim of my hat, but without other damage than leaving my head, for a short time, without protection from the sun. The balls spattered like hailstones around us, at the moment the column advanced; and it seems truly wonderful that so few took effect. A large portion of them passed over our heads, and struck between the rear of Colonel Bonham’s command and the main body of the brigade, two or three hundred yards behind, with the train; thus verifying what has so often been said by our gallant fellows, within the last forty days, that the nearer you get to these people in fight, the safer.”
Hawthorne continues at the end of this chapter, complimenting Pierce on his courageous behavior and native qualities of a born soldier, “He had proved himself, moreover, physically apt for war, by his easy endurance of the fatigues of the march; every step of which (as was the case with few other officers) was performed either on horseback or on foot. Nature, indeed, has endowed him with a rare elasticity both of mind and body; he springs up from pressure like a well-tempered sword. After the severest toil, a single night’s rest does as much for him, in the way of refreshment, as a week could do for most other men.” It is easy to see that the stigma that he was a coward on the battlefield was an important issue for Pierce to overcome.
Hawthorne closes the book in Chapter 7, with a emotional appeal to the United States citizens to vote for Pierce.
“It remains for the citizens of this great country to decide, within the next few weeks, whether they will retard the steps of human progress by placing at its head an illustrious soldier, indeed, a patriot and one indelibly stamped into the history of the past, but who has already done his work, and has not in him the spirit of the present or of the coming time,–or whether they will put their trust in a new man, whom a life of energy and various activity has tested, but not worn out, and advance with him into the auspicious epoch upon which we are about to enter.”
This act of campaign rhetoric was one of the first of its time. Having a powerful and influential author like Nathaniel Hawthorne lended a lot of credibility to Pierce’s campaign. He was able to reach a certain audience that may have not listened to his views before.