Jane Pierce Biography

U.S. First Lady(1806–1863)
The wife of 14th U.S. President Franklin Pierce, Jane Pierce served as first lady of the United States from 1853 to 1857.

Synopsis

Jane Pierce was born on March 12, 1806, in Hampton, New Hampshire. She married Franklin Pierce in 1834 and became first lady of the United States in 1853, when Pierce was sworn in as president. Her 11-year-old son, Benjamin, died in a train accident two months before her husband took office, following the early deaths of the couple's other two sons. During her husband's presidency, Jane Pierce started the tradition of having a Christmas tree at the White House. She died in Massachusetts on December 2, 1863, at age 57.

Early Years

Born Jane Means Appleton in Hampton, New Hampshire, on March 12, 1806, Jane Pierce was the third of six children. She showed an early interest in literature (though her precise educational background is unclear) and spent some time at a boarding school in Keene, New Hampshire. Her father served as a congregational minister and president of Bowdoin College in Maine, and her sister, Frances, married one of Franklin Pierce's tutors at the college. It is assumed that Jane and Franklin met through this Bowdoin association, soon after Franklin graduated and began his law practice.

Jane and Franklin Pierce were immediately devoted to one another, but her family objected to the union because of Pierce's unabashed political ambitions. In 1834, however, when Jane was 28, the couple married.

Moving to D.C. and Back Again

Franklin Pierce held a seat in the New Hampshire state legislature from 1829 to 1833 before moving on to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1833. Three years later, the Pierces welcomed their first child, Franklin Jr., but in what would only be the first tragedy of several to strike the family, he died just three days after being born.

Despite Jane's disapproval and discouragement of his life in politics, Franklin moved from the House to the Senate in 1837, forcing Jane to continue to be the political wife she never wanted to be. Soured on the entire D.C. experience, Jane blamed her husband's political life and associates for everything that went wrong with the family, including Franklin's excessive drinking and the death of their son.

In 1842, at Jane's urging, Franklin resigned from his Senate seat, and the pair moved to New Hampshire with the two sons they had following Franklin Jr.'s death, Frank and Benjamin. Unfortunately, the move was not accompanied by happy times for the Pierces. Frank died a year later of typhus, putting the couple under tremendous stress and leading to health issues for Jane. President James Polk offered Franklin the U.S. attorney general post, but he turned it down because Jane was so adamantly against it. He later refused an open Senate seat and nomination as governor of New Hampshire, citing not wanting to be away from his family.

Franklin Pierce Takes the Presidency

After serving in the Mexican-American War, Franklin Pierce returned home a hero, and he, Jane and Benjamin lived in Concord, New Hampshire. Disrupting the peace they had found in Concord, in 1852, the Democratic Party nominated Franklin Pierce as their candidate for president—news that caused Jane to faint. Franklin decided to accept the nomination, and went on to win the presidency.

This good news, however, was countermanded by the third and final familial tragedy for the Pierces: While the family was traveling by train soon after Pierce was elected, on January 6, 1853, their car derailed and 11-year-old Benjamin was killed right in front of his parents. The presidential inauguration followed soon after on March 4, and it was a gloomy affair, as the nation mourned for Benjamin. Jane Pierce was not in attendance, and she never fully recovered from the loss of her sons.

Later Years

Subsequent events darkened the clouds over the Pierce White House: Abigail Fillmore, the wife of previous president Millard Fillmore, died in March 1853, and Pierce's vice president, William R. King died the following month. Jane soon fell into a deep depression, and she rarely left the White House.

Franklin Pierce's presidency was less than successful, and his party did not nominate him for a second term. The Pierces spent a year abroad after Franklin left the White House, and then returned to Concord, New Hampshire. Jane Pierce died a few years later, on December 2, 1863, in Andover, Massachusetts.

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