Franklin Pierce Event Timeline

March 04, 1853

Franklin Pierce (14) Event Timeline

03/04/1853 – 03/04/1857


Election Day. Democratic candidate Pierce wins 85.8% of the Electoral College and 50.8% of the popular vote defeating Whig candidate Winfield Scott and Free-Soil candidate John Hale.




Pierce’s only surviving son, Benjamin, is killed in a train wreck two months before Pierce assumes the presidency. Pierce’s wife, Jane Pierce, interprets Benjamin’s death as an indictment of Franklin’s presidency and becomes socially distant. (Click here for an 08/02/1853 letter from Jane Pierce discussing her grief.)


Inaugural Address. Pierce becomes the first and only President to state “I do solemnly affirm” while taking the oath of office, as the Constitution permits, rather than “do solemnly swear.”


Issues Executive Order for plans to mourn and commemorate Vice President William R. King, who dies 45 days into office. Congress was forced to pass special legislation (10 Stat 180) allowing King to take the oath of office in Cuba, where he moved hoping to recover from tuberculosis. King died on 04/18/1853 at his home in Chestnut Hill, Alabama, the evening after returning home from Cuba.

07/10/1853 - 07/22/1853

On a speaking tour, visits Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey.


Speaks to Open the Crystal Palace Exhibition in NYC. This is the first World’s Fair hosted in the United States. Pierce highlights the Exhibition’s demonstration of American progress in his opening ceremony speech.


First Annual State of the Union Message.


U.S. Minister to Mexico James Gadsden and Mexican President Antonio de Santa Anna sign what becomes known as the Gadsden Treaty, stipulating the purchase of 45,000 square miles south of the New Mexico territory for $15 million. The Senate later ratifies a treaty on April 25, 1854 reducing the deal to 29,670 square miles for $10 million. (Click HERE for more information about the Gadsden Treaty.)




Issues Proclamation 60 warning United States citizens against participating in an unlawful invasion of Mexico.


A group of Senators and Representatives publish “Appeal of the Independent Democrats to the People of the United States,” calling for opposition to the Kansas and Nebraska bill. 


The Republican Party is founded in Ripon, Wisconsin following demonstrations sparked by the publication of “Appeal of the Independent Democrats” in various newspapers. A mass meeting “Under the Oaks” was later held in the outskirts of Jackson, Michigan on 06/06/1854, during the decline of the Whig Party. The new Republican Party is composed of former Whigs, Free-Soilers, and northern Democrats dismayed with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and slavery’s potential expansion.


Commadore Matthew C. Perry signs the Treaty of Kanagawa, the first treaty between Japan and the United States. The Treaty obtains two coaling ports for the United States, protects the rights of American whalers, and plants the seeds for a commercial treaty between the two nations in 1858. (Click HERE for more information about the Treaty of Kanagawa.)


The Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company is founded by Eli Thayer in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Later renamed the New England Emigrant Aid Company, the company was originally founded to transport antislavery settlers to Kansas Territory. The organization’s founding is a precursor to the violence experienced in the Bleeding Kansas conflict. (Click HERE for more information about the New England Emigrant Aid Society.)


Issues Veto Message for land grants for the benefit of "indigent insane persons.” Veto is sustained.


Signs the Kansas-Nebraska Act (10 Stat 277), repealing the 1820 Missouri Compromise and creating two new territories. The Act included a provision for popular sovereignty, where citizens of Nebraska and Kansas would decide whether to permit slavery in their territories. Proslavery and antislavery settlers poured into Kansas immediately following its enactment, hoping to influence the territory’s first election. The ensuing years of violent conflict became known as Bleeding Kansas. The Act would also become a major source of division within the Democratic Party, which helped pass the law in Congress. (Click HERE for more information about the Kansas-Nebraska Act.)


Issues Proclamation 61, warning United States citizens against participating in an unlawful invasion of Cuba.


Anthony Burns, a fugitive slave from Virginia, is arrested in Boston. There is a trial to determine whether Burns must be returned to his prior owners under the Fugitive Slave act of 1850. The judge orders Burns’s return, which occurred despite violent protest resulting in the death of a federal marshal. (Click HERE for more information about the life and capture of Anthony Burns.)


British North America Governor General Lord Elgin and U.S. Secretary of State William Marcy sign the Canadian Reciprocity Treaty, a free trade agreement between the United States and Canada. The Treaty reduced import duties and protective tariffs on specific goods exchanged between the two countries.


Signs Appropriations Bill (10 Stat 301) enabling the President to fulfill the amended purchase outlined in the Gadsden Treaty. The U.S. purchases 29,670 square miles of Mexican land for $10 million, later comprising parts of Arizona and New Mexico. The Treaty resolves tensions from the Mexican-American war and provides enough land for a southern transcontinental railroad. (Click HERE for more information about the Gadsden Treaty.)


Issues Veto Message denying the appropriation of funds for the repair, preservation, and completion of certain public works. Veto is sustained.


U.S. minister to Spain, Pierre Soule, writes the Ostend Manifesto, advising the United States to threaten to invade Cuba if Spain refuses to sell Cuba to the U.S. The document, also signed by future President James Buchanan, ruins U.S. hopes of Cuban annexation and leads to Soule’s resignation. (Click HERE for a pdf of the Ostend Manifesto.)


Second Annual State of the Union Message.




Signs Act (10 Stat 604) guaranteeing the right of U.S. citizenship for all children born on foreign soil to American parents.


Issues Veto Message rejecting French Spoliation Claims bill, which would have allowed private citizens to make claims and pursue damages against the French Government. Veto is sustained.


Signs Act (10 Stat 612) establishing the first United States Court of Claims.


Issues Veto Message rejecting bill which would have subsidized “the transportation of United States mail, by ocean steamships and other-wise.” Veto is sustained.


The “Know Nothing” Party, a nativist political party and movement, changes its official name from the Native American Party to the American Party. (Click HERE for more information about the Know Nothing Party.)


Kansas antislavery settlers form the Free State Forces and gather at Big Springs in response to the “bogus” proslavery legislature that convened in Pawnee on 07/02/1855.

10/23/1855 - 11/11/1855

The Topeka Constitutional Convention meets in Topeka, Kansas and drafts the Topeka Constitution, banning slavery in Kansas. Free Staters organize the convention to counter the proslavery Kansas Territory Legislature formed through election fraud. Congress rejects the constitution and denies the request for admission to the Union.


Wakarusa War begins as part of "Bleeding Kansas" tensions between Free-Staters and pro-slavery militias. A peace treaty is signed by both sides to prevent violence and the destruction of Lawrence, Kansas. (Click HERE for more information about the Wakarusa War.)


Issues Proclamation 64, warning United States Citizens against participating in unlawful military operations in Nicaragua.


Third Annual State of the Union Message.




Sends Special Message to Congress regarding the events of "Bleeding Kansas.” Pierce recommends the citizens of Kansas frame a constitution to gain statehood and admittance into the Union.


Issues Proclamation 66—Law and Order in the Territory of Kansas, commanding “all persons engaged in unlawful combinations against constituted authority of the Territory of Kansas or of the United States to disperse and retire peaceably. . . ”


Vetoes two bills.  One appropriating funds to improve navigation on the Mississippi, and the second appropriating funds to deepen a river channel in Michigan

Argues that the Constitution does not give the General Government authority to carry out “internal improvements.” Both vetoes are overridden on 07/08/1856 (11 Stat 25, 11 Stat 26)


Proslavery forces and Border Ruffians raid Lawrence, Kansas following Judge Samuel D. LeCompte’s demand that Free State officials be indicted for treason. The proslavery forces destroy the Free-State Hotel and two of Lawrence’s antislavery newspapers, escalating the tensions of Bleeding Kansas.


Representative Preston Brooks viciously attacks Senator Charles Sumner with a cane in what becomes known as the Sumner-Brooks Affair. The attack comes three days after Sumner insults Senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his “Crime Against Kansas” speech. The speech advocated for the admission of Kansas to the Union as a free state. (Click HERE for more information about the Sumner-Brooks Affair.)


John Brown, five of his sons, and three additional associates murder 5 proslavery men in cabins along the Potawatomie Creek. The attack serves as Brown’s revenge for the sacking of Lawrence and attack on Senator Charles Sumner a few days prior. (Click HERE for more information about the Potawatomie Massacre.)


The Democratic National Convention is held in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pierce seeks re-election, but is denied by the Democratic Party due to his handling of the “Bleeding Kansas” conflict. The Democratic Party nominates James Buchanan and John C. Breckinridge for Vice President. Pierce would become the only active elected president to be denied renomination by his party for a second term.


The American Party, also known as the Know Nothing Party, nominates former President Millard Fillmore for President and Andrew J. Donelson for Vice President. At the convention, a group of antislavery delegates abruptly left in reaction to the proposal of a proslavery party platform.

06/17/1856 - 06/19/1856

The first Republican National Convention is held in Philadelphia. The Republican Party nominates John C. Fremont for President and William L. Dayton for Vice President.


Issues Veto Message rejecting an Act to repair sections of the Patapsco River and make the port of Baltimore accessible to U.S. war steamers. Veto is overridden by Congress.


The Battle of Osawatomie occurs between approximately 250 border ruffians and 40 Free-Staters led by John Brown. John W. Reid’s proslavery forces overwhelmed the Free-Staters and destroyed Osawatomie. The engagement marks another instance of violence in the Bleeding Kansas conflict. (Click HERE for more information about the Battle of Osawatomie.) 

09/17/1856 - 09/18/1856

The last Whig National Convention is held in Baltimore. The Whig Party nominates Millard Fillmore for President and Andrew J. Donelson for Vice President.


Election Day. James Buchanan wins 58.8% of the Electoral College and 45.3% of the popular vote. Buchanan defeated Whig candidate Millard Fillmore and Republican candidate John Fremont.


Fourth Annual State of the Union Message.




State of Disunion Convention is held in Worcester, Massachusetts to discuss the prospect of a peaceful separation of Northern and Southern States. (Click HERE for the official Proceedings of the State of Disunion Convention.)


Signs Act (11 Stat 163) ordering foreign coins to be re-minted and no longer considered legal tender.


Signs Tariff Act of 1857 (11 Stat 199), reducing tariffs on imports by over 20% and increasing the list of goods that could be imported for free.


Serves Final Day in Office. James Buchanan is inaugurated as the 15th President of the United States.


Last edits 7/24/2023.

Franklin Pierce, Franklin Pierce Event Timeline Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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