to Concord, New Hampshire, for the funeral of a family
friend. Early in the trip their passenger car broke loose and
fell down an embankment. Bennie was crushed to death. He
was eleven years old—the same age as Willie when he died.2
Inevitably, news of Willie’s death brought back
painful memories for Pierce, inspiring him to write a touching
letter to Lincoln exactly one year after the latter’s inauguration:
March 4, 1862
My dear Sir,
The impulse to write you, the moment I heard of
your great domestic affliction was very strong, but it brought
back the crushing sorrow which befel me just before I went
to Washington in 1853, ^with such power^ that I felt your
grief to be too sacred for intrusion.
Even in this hour, so full of danger to our Country,
and of trial and anxiety to all good men, your thoughts will
be, of your cherished boy, who will nestle at your heart, until
you meet him in that new life, when tears and toils and conflict
will be unknown.
I realize fully how vain it would be, to suggest sources
of consolation. There can be but one refuge in such an hour,
but one remedy for smitten hearts, which, is to trust in Him
“who doeth all things well”, and leave the rest to—“Time
comforter & only healer when the heart hath bled”
With Mrs Pierce’s and my own best wishes and truest
sympathy for Mrs. Lincoln and yourself
I am, very truly,
Presdt & & & &3
Despite this heartfelt letter to Lincoln, Pierce was
frequently a fierce critic of the Lincoln administration’s
conduct of the war. He viewed the suspension of habeas
corpus as a gross violation of civil liberties and believed that
the Emancipation Proclamation was evidence of Lincoln’s
subservience to the abolitionists, whom Pierce despised.
Pierce corresponded with Lincoln critics such as U.S. Chief
Justice Roger B. Taney and Peace Democrat Clement L.
Vallandigham. Relations between Pierce and the
administration were so frayed that in December 1861,
Secretary of State William H. Seward implied in a letter to
the former president that Pierce was a traitor. In a speech
1Helen Nicolay, Lincoln’s Secretary: A Biography of John G. Nicolay
(New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1949), 132-33; Ruth Painter
Randall, Lincoln’s Sons (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1955), 131.
2Larry Gara, The Presidency of Franklin Pierce (Lawrence:
University Press of Kansas, 1991), 32.
3Franklin Pierce to Abraham Lincoln, 4 March 1862, Robert Todd
Lincoln Collection of Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress,
4Roy F. Nichols, Franklin Pierce: Young Hickory of the Granite
Hills (Norwalk, CT: Easton Press, 1988 reprint edition), 521; Roger
B.Taney to Pierce, 12 June 1861; Clement L. Vallandigham to Pierce,
11 April 1862; William H. Seward to Pierce, 20 December 1861, all in
the Franklin Pierce Papers, Library of Congress; New York Times, 12
July 1863, 2:5.
Image courtesy of the White House Historical Association,
given on July 4, 1863, Pierce portrayed the president as a
despot who was trampling the Constitution.4
Personal losses during the war only added to Pierce’s
bitterness. His beloved wife Jane, who had never recovered
from Bennie’s death, died in December 1863. Six months
later, Pierce’s close friend Nathaniel Hawthorne also passed
away. There is no record that Lincoln replied to Pierce’s
March 1862 letter of condolence or consoled Pierce when
his wife died.
By Ed Bradley, Assistant Editor
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