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The Inauguration of Franklin Pierce

The inauguration of Franklin Pierce was unique for a number of reasons. Pierce is the only President to have made an affirmation (a non-religious legal promise) rather than sworn an oath. Pierce placed his hand on a law book and not a bible. There is no requirement that any book, or any sacred text, be used to administer the oath of office, and none is mentioned in the Constitution. The use of the Bible has been customary. Franklin Pierce is the only President who did not use a bible for the ceremony.


Pierce was the only President who recited his inaugural address from memory. Pierce's Vice-President, William Rufus King, did not attend the inaugural ceremonies. King was very ill and and had gone to Cuba to try to recover at the time of the Inauguration, and was sworn into office there on March 24, 1853. King died on April 18, 1853, one day after returning to his home in Alabama.

Pierce, who was in mourning over the recent death of his son Bennie, cancelled the inaugural ball. Two months before, on January 6, 1853 (160 years ago today), Pierce's family had been trapped in a train travelling from Boston. To celebrate both Christmas and Franklin's election, the family of three set out for a vacation to Boston before Pierce's inauguration. After the vacation, just after their train departed Andover, Massachusetts, an axle broke and the train jumped the track and went over a fifteen-foot embankment. Franklin and Jane received only minor bruises and scrapes, but they witnessed their only son, Benny, being crushed beneath the railroad car. He was the only passenger killed in the accident. First Lady Jane Pierce viewed the train accident as a divine punishment for her husband's vanity in pursuing and accepting the nation's high office.

Pierce was inaugurated on March 4, 1853 at the East Portico of the Capitol Building. The weather is recorded as being light snow and wind with heavier snow during the Inaugural address. The estimated temperature at noon was 35°F. Chief Justice Roger Taney presided over the inauguration.

In his inaugural addres, Pierce called for an era of peace and prosperity at home and urged a vigorous assertion of US interests in its foreign relations. He said:

"The policy of my Administration will not be deterred by any timid forebodings of evil from expansion. Indeed, it is not to be disguised that our attitude as a nation and our position on the globe render the acquisition of certain possessions not within our jurisdiction eminently important for our protection".

Prior to Pierce's election, Jane Pierce had gone to Newport, New Hampshire, for a respite. While there, Benny wrote to her, expressing the wish that his father lost the election. Benny wrote "I hope he won't be elected for I should not like to be at Washington and I know you would not either." But Pierce convinced his wife that his office would be an asset for Benny's success in life.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 6th, 2013 02:05 pm (UTC)
Poor Handsome Frank may well be our most tragic president and listed at the bottom of the list. A "mistake" on many levels.
But I give him a thumbs up for affirmation. I suppose Jane would have seen that as yet one more reason for their tragedy.
Jan. 6th, 2013 04:43 pm (UTC)
I suspect that tragedy triggered his alcoholism and he just didn't care about being president. When one of the three divisions of government fails, the system of checks and balances goes all out of whack.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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