On the Eve of Rebellion, Pierce Still Defends the Kansas-Nebraska Act

October 13, 1860

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On the Eve of Rebellion, Pierce Still Defends the Kansas-Nebraska Act
Autograph Letter Signed
4 pages | SMC 964

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      Background

      President Franklin Pierce, who signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law on May 30, 1854, here defends his support for the act.  Six years later, on the very eve of rebellion, the hardheaded Pierce still swore by "the wisdom, constitutional soundness and patriotic policy of the provisions” of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. “The bill had not only my cordial assent," he writes, "but . . . my earnest approbation. I have never seen cause to regret either."  Lincoln, Jonas, and the emerging Republican Party, however, thought differently, and three weeks later, Lincoln would be elected president on the basis of his  opposition to the expansion of slavery.

      On the eve of Rebellion, Pierce insists that the Kansas-Nebraska Act – which undisputedly, and disastrously, set into motion the events that led to the Civil War - was the right course to follow.

       
      You are entirely mistaken in supposing that I have changed my opinion in relation to the wisdom, Constitutional soundness and patriotic policy of the provisions of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  The bill had not only my cordial assent, but as you justly suppose, my earnest approbation.  I have never seen cause to regret either.  Far from it. The convictions upon which I then acted have only been strengthened by time and reflection.  Indeed, I am not aware, that my opinions have under gone any essential change…with regard to measures or men. 

       

      Pierce adds that he prefers Breckinridge over Douglas for president in the upcoming election, but cannot endorse New Hampshire’s Democrats running two electoral tickets, one pledged to Breckinridge and the other to Douglas. A party man, he will support the ticket. Still, he hopes that all the “blackness” surrounding political affairs may portend “a bright and not distant dawn.”


      What dawned brightly, however, was the emerging Republican Party. T
      hree weeks later, Lincoln would be elected president on the basis of his  opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its expansion of slavery.






      Autograph Letter Signed, 4 pages, recto and verso, Concord, October 13, 1860. To ex-Governor John Hardy Steele in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
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      Private

      Concord,
      Oct 13, 1860

      My dear Sir

      Your letter was received two or three days ago and read not without some degree of regret,-- as much perhaps on your account, as on my own.  It is not easy to conceive, how the expression of an opinion or of a preference -- not always matters of volition,-- could have excited the "anger" of one of my "warmest and most constant friends" as you still subscribe yourself, 

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      and as I have always taken you to be.  You are entirely mistaken in supposing that I have changed my opinion in relation to the wisdom, Constitutional soundness and patriotic policy of the provisions of the Kansas & Nebraska Act.  The bill had not only my cordial assent, but, as you justly suppose, my earnest approbation.  I have never seen cause to regret either.  Far from it. The convictions upon which I then acted have only been strengthened by time and reflection.  Indeed, I am not aware, that my opinions have under gone any essential change since we met, either with regard  to measures or men.  But on these and other matters, I shall be glad to compare conclusions with you when we meet, and that I 

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      trust may be, at a day not far distant. It will be much more easy and satisfactory to talk matters over as of yore, than to undertake their discussion in writing.  When do you expect to be at Boston or Concord [text is crossed out]? I shall probably pass most of the autumn at Andover, where Mrs Pierce is to be with her Sister, after this week, but I shall be happy to meet you and will do so, if you will give me a very short  notice.  While my preference for Mr Breckenridge [sic], over Mr Douglas, has been made more and more decided by the developments of the Canvass, still my judgment & sense of duty are so entirely opposed to the nomination of another electoral ticket in this state, under the circumstances, that 

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      I can in no way favor it.

      The aspect of political affairs is bad enough at best, but let us hope, that the very blackness may portend a bright and not distant dawn -- However this may be, there is every reason why the democracy here and elsewhere should stand firmly upon adjudicated Constitutional principles and act with wise and patriotic reference to future harmony and union --
       
      Yr. friend
       
      FRANKLIN PIERCE
       
      Hon Jn H. Steele
      Peterboro
      N. H.