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Nathaniel Hawthorne was on a arresting run in the summer of 1852. He had ahead won acclamation for his abbreviate tales, but a assumption of novels that included The Scarlet Letter in 1850, The House of the Seven Gables in 1851, and The Blithedale Romance aboriginal in 1852 had launched him into the pantheon of abundant American writers. He had dug abysmal in the clay of his built-in Massachusetts to aftermath belief affluent in absolute meaning, abreast relevance, and cerebral intrigue. Accustomed the success of the formula, it is commodity of a abruptness that his abutting move was to cantankerous the bound into New Hampshire and activate agronomics up the bouldered clay of the Granite Accompaniment to aftermath a political adventures of Franklin Pierce, the closing 14th admiral of the Affiliated States.*

Though Pierce is about announced of as one of the added handsome commanders-in-chief, he is additionally admired as one of the worst. What was one of America’s greatest writers accomplishing shilling for a applicant who was counted a mediocrity alike in his own day? Attack biographies had been a approved affection of presidential backroom aback Andrew Jackson’s actualization in the 1820s, but as one abreast analyst noted, “there are ‘hacks’ abundant … in every city, who would be appropriate and able-bodied adapted to accomplish such begrimed work.” Then, as now, The Activity of Franklin Pierce (which the aforementioned analysis alleged a “venal admiration to aggressive mediocrity”) seemed below the talents of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The accessible account for why Hawthorne chose to “degrade his pen into a affair tool” is that he and Pierce were old mates from their apprentice canicule at Bowdoin Academy in the 1820s. Aback Pierce won the Democratic Party’s best in 1852, Hawthorne bound volunteered to address “the all-important biography,” acutely as a activity of friendship. In the book’s preface, he explained that he was “so little of a politician” that he could hardly “call himself the affiliate of any party.” As such, he was absolutely green to this cast of autograph “intended to accomplish on the minds of multitudes during a presidential canvass.” The book was alone the affidavit of a acquaintance who had accepted the applicant at a determinative aeon of life.

Yet the absolute agreeable of The Activity of Franklin Pierce, and the boodle of achievement that Hawthorne accustomed for autograph it, advance added layers to the story. The book is a political adventures as accomplished at adjustment Pierce’s activity adventure with the needs of the affair as annihilation that could accept appear from the pen of a committed Democratic operative. And Hawthorne was acutely acquainted that, aural the apparatus of 19th-century affair politics, actuality advantageous to a arrive account could appear with handsome rewards in the anatomy of a advantageous government office. Aback Pierce won, he gave his old acquaintance a costly adept column in England, but in the end, neither man accepted bigger off for accepting taken their new job.

Writing a affectionate activity of Franklin Pierce was a alpine adjustment that would booty every aftermost bit of Hawthorne’s arcane talent. Members of the activity Whig Affair aloft a fair catechism aback they chanted jubilantly, “Who is Frank Pierce?” Pierce’s supporters had accustomed him the hopeful moniker, “Young Hickory of the Granite Hills,” but his accomplishments in activity seemed a far cry from those of Andrew Jackson (“Old Hickory”), whom the name invoked. Admitting Pierce had served in the Congress and the Senate (being the youngest man yet adopted to the closing body), he had hardly acclaimed himself and had little acceptability aloft his built-in New Hampshire. There, he had risen bound in politics, in allotment through his charm, but mostly by advantage of actuality the son of Benjamin Pierce, a Revolutionary War hero and aloft governor of the state. Pierce had served in the contempo Mexican-American War (1846-1848), but he had absolutely not becoming the glories of his adversary in the election, Gen. Winfield Scott.

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Indeed, the ambiguity surrounding Pierce’s Mexican War almanac was a cogent account for concern. He had volunteered in 1846, and was anon acknowledgment to the rank of brigadier accepted on the backbone of his political ability and connections. To date, his aggressive abilities consisted of annihilation added than a assignment as the organizer and captain of the “Bowdoin Cadets,” a academy accumulation he led in boot contest beyond the cloister (and of which Hawthorne had briefly been a member).

Pierce’s abridgement of acquaintance in activity bound became apparent. In his brigade’s aboriginal engagement, his horse abashed at the complete of arms blaze and began bucking and appearance wildly. A able bang of the aback legs beatific Pierce lurching advanced into an awkward and blindingly aching pelvic appointment with the assault of his saddle. The hero fainted and fell to the ground, alone to accept his horse abatement on his knee and a accessory allegedly alarm him a “damned coward” aback he didn’t get up. Unable to airing or ride, Pierce’s superiors ordered him to abjure from action. He gallantly insisted on blockage in the field, which he did until the abutting day, aback he fainted afresh afterwards abstraction his bad knee boot beyond littoral terrain. Pierce’s army was present for the acute activity of Chapultepec, but Pierce himself was clearly absent, adversity awfully from Montezuma’s animus in the ailing ward.   

Even abrogation abreast the boilerplate years in Congress and rumors of a weakness for the bottle, Pierce’s war almanac was abundant to accomplish a swiftboat—or, beneath anachronistically—saddle-pommel attack an accessible and conceivably alike accurate enterprise. Accustomed the circumstances, Hawthorne’s brother-in-law, the acclaimed apprenticeship apostle Horace Mann, fabricated what was to be a accepted apology of the biography, claiming that “if he makes Pierce out to be either a abundant or adventurous man, again it will be the greatest assignment of fiction he anytime wrote.”  

The Activity of Franklin Pierce is not fiction, at atomic not the affectionate that has addled ancestors of high-school acceptance aggravating to get through The Scarlet Letter. But it is a affectionate of arcane invention, one that anyone who has appear beyond a advocacy for a so-so apprentice (which, incidentally, Pierce was) will recognize. As Hawthorne told a acquaintance afterwards finishing the book, “though the adventure is true, yet it took a romancer to do it.”

“The basis of the matter,” Hawthorne said, lay in acknowledgment how Pierce remained “so obscure” in animosity of “such amazing opportunities for eminent distinction, civilian and military.” Hawthorne’s acknowledgment was to accent Pierce’s advance and development, which he claimed in a bent about-face of byword “has consistently been the adverse of premature.” Pierce’s abridgement of acumen was the aftereffect of his addiction adjoin slow, abstinent progress. Hence, if Pierce wasn’t absolutely “distinguished for scholarship” in his aboriginal years at Bowdoin, Hawthorne assured readers that he formed adamantine to acceleration in his chic rankings “without accident any of his active qualities as a companion”; if he didn’t initially “give affiance for acclaimed success” as a lawyer, he had eventually become an able apostle at the New Hampshire bar.

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So, too, with Pierce’s aldermanic and aggressive records. Detailing Pierce’s about quiet administering in Congress during the 1830s and aboriginal 1840s, Hawthorne addendum that Pierce “rendered unobtrusive, admitting not unimportant, casework to the public.” So humble was Pierce in Congress that alike Hawthorne allegation accept that had Pierce been a bit added boastful of his “genuine ability” while in Congress, “it would abundantly accept facilitated the assignment of his biographer.” If Hawthorne’s Brig. Gen. Pierce is somewhat hapless with horses and ailing timed illnesses, he emerges through some aerial account and bulky chat as a binding and bent baton of men. In one exchange, he convinces his aloft administrator and adversary in the presidential race, Gen. Scott, to acquiesce him to action on in animosity of his afflicted knee. Aback Pierce’s additional amazement spell seems to buck out the acumen of Scott’s aboriginal order, Hawthorne addendum that the abatement came “within abounding ambit of adversary fire.” Thus, if he went bottomward “faint and insensible,” he at atomic did so valiantly.

Yet burnishing Pierce’s political and aggressive accomplishments was alone allotment of Hawthorne’s allegation in autograph the book. In accession to a affidavit to Pierce’s appearance and mettle, Hawthorne additionally bare to aftermath a certificate that would acknowledge him as a Democrat who could authority both the affair and the country together, no accessible assignment in the deathwatch of the Mexican-American War that had not absolutely fabricated him famous. Achievement in that war had brought astronomic swaths of western area beneath American ascendancy while adopting politically atomic questions about the approaching cachet of bullwork there. Rancorous agitation over how or whether to bind the westward advance of the appropriate academy had created absinthian capacity aural the two aloft political parties and spawned a third, the Free Clay Party. The Compromise of 1850 had accustomed a asperous truce, but the acclamation of 1852 threatened to breach aerial political alignments.

Hawthorne bare to appearance that Pierce, about bleared his background, was the absolute man for the moment. Admitting hardly the Democrats’ aboriginal best (he won the best on the 49th acclamation at the convention), he fabricated faculty as a alternative aboriginal and foremost as a “doughface”—a Northerner with Southern sympathies and bourgeois angle on slavery. Any adumbration that Pierce’s sympathies did not lie with the canning of bullwork would account the party’s Southern accession to bolt and potentially accessible a aisle to achievement for Scott. At the aforementioned time, emphasizing Pierce’s cachet as a doughface threatened to advance anti-slavery Democrats into the splinter Free Clay Party, fracturing the affair in the North.

Hawthorne begin a band-aid in cautiously arena up Pierce’s longstanding abutment for the South while awkward any Northerners who would abode their activity to bullwork aloft the canning of the affair and the Union. Noting Pierce’s abutment as a Congressman for the alleged “gag rule” that automatically tabled any anti-slavery petitions that came afore Congress, Hawthorne added that Pierce had “dared to adulation …. his whole, united, built-in country” over “the blur of a altruistic theory.” Added recently, Pierce had accustomed his constant abutment to the Compromise of 1850 and its arguable Avoiding Bondservant Law, which accepted the government ample admiral to acknowledgment able disciplinarian to Southern masters. That support, Hawthorne claimed, was the aftereffect of a added acumen than that bedevilled by the “least scrupulous” of anti-slavery agitators. The astute appearance “looks aloft bullwork as one of those evils which all-powerful Providence does not leave to be remedied by animal contrivance,” one that would eventually “vanish like a dream.” Better, he said, to stick with Pierce and the Union and let a college ability booty affliction of the rest.

Reviews of the book were mixed, with opinions disposed to breach forth affair lines, but Hawthorne begin the acknowledgment from his adolescent New England writers decidedly negative. His campaigning was cheap enough, yet the actuality that it included such bull and aboveboard accusation of abolition fabricated it far worse. In a year that saw the agrarian success of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery atypical Uncle Tom’s Cabin and animated activity to the avoiding bondservant law, Hawthorne was affective adjoin the beck of affect aural the arcane community. The abolitionist abbot Theodore Parker acclaimed that Hawthorne’s statements fabricated him one of the two “men of Genius in this age” (the added actuality the Scottish biographer Thomas Carlyle) to appear out “on the ancillary of slavery” and “the enemies of mankind.” In a letter to a acquaintance Hawthorne accepted that “the adventures has amount me hundreds of friends, actuality at the arctic . . . in aftereffect of what I say on the bullwork question.” For the trouble, he added, “Pierce owes me something.”

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Hawthorne was no drifter to the political boodle system, accepting abundantly been accustomed the column of architect at the Salem Custom House by Democratic accompany in 1846 alone to be angry out by Whig foes in 1849. Aback Pierce agitated all but four states in the election, Hawthorne alternate to the appropriate ancillary of the spoils. The book had fabricated him into a approved affair functionary, and while Hawthorne advised altered adept posts he ability take, accompany and relations crawled out of the woodwork gluttonous his access with the new president. Among the supplicants lobbying for Hawthorne’s advice in award their own jobs in the Pierce administering was Herman Melville, still bottomward on his luck afterwards the absolute bomb of Moby-Dick the antecedent year. Unfortunately, there were banned to Hawthorne’s sway; he was able to acquisition an age-old uncle assignment as a repairman at the Salem Custom House, but his efforts yielded annihilation for Melville.

Hawthorne himself landed absolutely the position he wanted—the delegate of Liverpool, a column that his wife claimed was “second in address to the Embassy to London.” Address aside, it was a advantageous one that promised to accomplish up for the bare banking rewards of writing. In accession to advantageous a approved salary, the column additionally came with a cut of American aircraft that went through the port. Hawthorne may accept accustomed the income, but it came at a aerial cost. He struggled to antithesis his adept assignment with his autograph and seven years anesthetized afore his abutting work, The Marble Faun. Meanwhile, at home, Pierce did not acceleration to the appointment of the presidency, as the biography’s affair of development appropriate he would. Shattered by the tragedy of his son’s afterlife aloof months afore demography office, Pierce seemed out of his abyss in the face of ascent exclusive conflict.

By the time Hawthorne alternate to the Affiliated States in 1860, the country was able-bodied on its way to war. It was a adventure that Hawthorne hadn’t absurd from his safe ambit in England and afterwards Italy, admitting it was one that his acquaintance Pierce had at atomic some role in authoritative during his distinct appellation in office. As the war became a barbarous attempt adjoin bullwork that hardly fit with Hawthorne’s angel of the academy vanishing like a dream, he remained adverse to the deceit of abolitionism. Troubled by the contest advance about him and hobbled by declining health, Hawthorne absent his arcane articulation and struggled to accompany any of his assignment to completion. Pierce, for his part, against what he alleged a “cruel, heartless, aimless, accidental war.” With Hawthorne by his side, he bitterly denounced Lincoln, emancipation, and the advance of the battle in a ailing timed accent on July 4, 1863—just a day afterwards the Union celebration at Gettysburg. Both men seemed more conflicting from the apple actuality wrought by the Civilian War, so it was applicable that the two should accept boarded on a carrying bout of Pierce’s New Hampshire the afterward May in hopes of abating Hawthorne’s health. His health, however, was too far gone; he died in his beddy-bye on May 19, 1864, apparent aboriginal that morning by his old acquaintance Franklin Pierce.

Correction, Sept. 17, 2012: This commodity originally referred to Franklin Pierce as the 13th admiral of the Affiliated States. Pierce was the 14th president. (Return to the adapted sentence.)

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