Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


January 17, 2013

Dalton column: Death of a boy, and a presidency


Mrs. Pierce forever blamed her husband’s ambition for her son’s death, saying that Bennie’s death was payment to God for Franklin’s ambition. In his inaugural address, the youngest man to be president to that time, looked worn and said, “My Countrymen! It is a relief that no heart but my own can know the personal regret and bitter sorrow over which I have been borne to a position so suitable for others rather than desirable for myself.” (Fuess). When the First Lady joined her husband in the White House, she remained upstairs for over a year, writing sad letters to Bennie. She was cruelly called the “shadow in the White House” by some newspapers, and wore black mourning clothes the rest of her life. In coming years, Jane tried to console herself by communicating with her sons at seances, at the time not considered unusual, and some of these seances were held at the Aikens’ house.

A month after taking office, Pierce’s vice president, William R.King, died, and Pierce served out his term without a vice president. While president, he and Jane spent their summers with the Aikens, whose home was known as the Summer White House. The building at 47 Central St. was used to house the presidential staff. The Pierces never recovered from Bennie’s death, and who can blame them. Franklin, a weakened man, perhaps a condition made worse by his wife’s blame, was an ineffective, unpopular president.

Jane died of consumption (tuberculosis) in Andover, and her funeral was at the Aikens home. Franklin Pierce died of liver disease six years after his wife. Both were buried with their three children in Concord.

In addition to where I have specifically indicated, some of the facts in this column were taken from Mofford and Fuess’s books.

Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman. His email address is

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