Franklin Pierce was born on November 23, 1804, in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. He was the sixth child of Anna Kendrick Pierce and General Benjamin Pierce, who also had a daughter from a previous marriage. Pierce later described his mother as affectionate and endlessly forgiving of his youthful hijinks, but it was his far sterner father, the most influential man in Hillsborough County, who had the greater impact on him. A native of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Benjamin Pierce had enlisted in the Continental army as a teenager as soon as he heard about the fighting at Lexington and Concord. He fought in the battles of Breed's Hill and Ticonderoga, among others, and spent the winter with George Washington at Valley Forge. He was mustered out of the army with a medal from Washington, and at the rank of lieutenant, in 1784. In short, he had the credentials of a Revolutionary War hero, and his war stories inspired young Franklin with a desire to emulate his father's military service. That two of his older brothers as well as his half sister's husband fought in the War of 1812 intensified this yen.
His reputation as a war hero served Benjamin Pierce well when he moved to the frontier town of Hillsborough in western New Hampshire in 1786. Not only would he quickly become the commanding general of the state's militia, but he was also elected to several terms as the county's sheriff, where he became famous for his generosity toward jailed debtors. He also sat on the governor's council. In the late 1820s, he served two one-year terms as governor of the state. Benjamin Pierce was a Jeffersonian Republican who loathed Federalists as elitist snobs, and that hatred deepened when a Federalist majority in the state legislature purged him from the office of sheriff after he had defied an order from a Federalist judge.
Frank Pierce was hardly a bookish youth. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed roughhousing, swimming, fishing, and ice skating far more than lessons in school. Even as a boy he evinced the personal charm that would smooth his political rise. He was his playmates' ringleader, and adults, especially adult women, found him an altogether winning lad—honest, polite, and poised. To put it differently—and perhaps more ominously—from boyhood on Pierce was eager to please other people. Pierce did not like school, but his father, who lacked a formal education of his own, was determined that his sons attend college. Thus Pierce was dispatched to a series of academies outside Hillsborough to learn Latin and Greek in preparation for the required college entrance exams. Excerpted from FRANKLIN PIERCE, The American Presidents Series: The 14th President, 1853-1857, by Michael F. Holt. Copyright (c) 2010 by Michael F. Holt. Reprinted by permission of Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.
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