Today was the birthday in 1804 of Franklin Pierce.
He was the 14th president of the United States, and that’s usually the only thing people today know about Franklin Pierce.
Those who know more usually just know that he’s ranked near the bottom of the presidential pile.
And yet, the first biography of the man sometimes called Handsome Frank was absolutely glowing, and it was written by one of the greatest authors of the time.
Pierce was was the son of a Revolutionary War general who later served as governor of New Hampshire.
He would follow his dad into politics, serving in New Hampshire’s legislature and then in the U.S. House and Senate.
But before that, he studied at Bowdoin College.
One of his Bowdoin classmates was Nathaniel Hawthorne, who would go on to write famous novels like “The Scarlet Letter” and “The House of the Seven Gables.”
And so when Pierce’s party chose him as a compromise candidate for president in 1852, Hawthorne decided to help his old friend.
Rather than let a hack crank out a quick campaign biography, Hawthorne volunteered for the job.
(He did not, however, write the party’s infamous campaign slogan: “We Polked you in ’44, We shall Pierce you in ’52.”)
The only trouble was, Franklin Pierce’s career wasn’t exactly brimming with achievements.
Hawthorne had to, well, spin most of his friend’s life story.
For example: in college, Pierce had been known for sneaking out of the dorms to go to the tavern.
Hawthorne said, no worries, some people are late bloomers.
As a lawmaker, Pierce didn’t write many laws; Hawthorne explained that there were already so many famous statesmen that Pierce didn’t want to push his way in front of them.
When Hawthorne’s book “The Life of Franklin Pierce” was released, critics called it the greatest work of fiction he’d ever written.
But it worked: Pierce won the White House handily, though it was definitely a “be careful what you wish for” moment.
His presidency was full of personal tragedies and national disasters like Bleeding Kansas.
When reelection time came around, Pierce’s party looked elsewhere.
But he and Hawthorne remained close.
President Pierce named the author to a diplomatic post in England, and Hawthorne was traveling in New Hampshire with the former president when he passed away in 1864.
And, judging by the few books that have been written about the 14th president, Hawthorne’s book is likely to be the most positive one ever written about him.
Today in 1999, the New York Times reported on a stellar update to the phone system.
As suggested by a local space program enthusiast, Robert Osband, the North American Numbering Plan Administration assigned an area code to Brevard County, Florida.
It was a fitting number for anyone calling Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral: 3-2-1.
Franklin Pierce: NH’s Forgotten President (NH Magazine)
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Party Hack (Slate)
3,2,1, Call Cape Canaveral (New York Times)
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Portrait by George Peter Alexander Healy, National Portrait Gallery via Creative Commons