Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


January 17, 2013

Dalton column: Death of a boy, and a presidency

On Jan. 6, 1853, a train derailed in Andover, changing the course of American history. The only person killed was a handsome 11-year-old Phillips Academy boy by the name of Benjamin Pierce.

He was the only living child of President-elect Franklin Pierce and his wife Jane.

The Pierces’ connection with Andover was strong, and the town mourned the loss of “Bennie,” but more importantly, Bennie’s death affected the president-elect and his wife so much that most historians feel it demoralized Franklin so much as to diminish his ability to govern.

Franklin Pierce (1804-1869), was born in Hillsborough, N.H. and educated at Phillips Exeter and then Bowdoin, where, after a very poor start, he graduated third in his class. He became a successful lawyer and was elected to the N.H. legislature, soon becoming speaker of the house. Franklin’s father, Benjamin, had served in the Revolutionary War and eventually became governor of New Hampshire, and Franklin thought of him as a hero and followed in his footsteps. He once told a friend that he wanted to provide the same example for his own children. At age 27, Franklin Pierce was elected to the United States House of Representatives, making him the youngest member of Congress.

While a member of the House, he married Jane Means Appleton (1806 - 1863), born in Hampton, whose father was the president of Bowdoin College and a Congregational minister. Franklin and Jane’s love for each other overcame the fact that they were opposites: he was a social extrovert, while she was shy; he was robustly healthy, while she was fragile and inclined to melancholy; he drank, while she was a pro-temperance teatotaler; he loved Washington, while she hated it: and he loved politics, while she abhorred them. Yet, love had conquered all, but perhaps only for a while.

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