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#13 - Franklin Pierce Estimate: $5,000+

Remarkable 16-page letter on the 'confusing' state of American politics during his post-presidential travels abroad

ALS, sixteen pages on four sets of adjoining sheets, 5 x 8.25, October 24-25, 1858. Letter to Sidney Webster, his former private White House secretary, written from Florence, Italy, during an extended European holiday spent with his wife Jane Appleton. Pierce criticizes President Buchanan, mentions Jefferson Davis, discusses strife within the Democratic Party, and touches upon the 1858 election that resulted in Republican control of the House of Representatives. In part: "We reached here on the 11th inst. and the most pleasant thing which greeted me the day after our arrival was your long letter of the 12th ult. We are now very satisfactorily established at the hotel de la ville where we shall probably remain until December, perhaps longer. The city is finally situated upon the Arno…with a beautiful undulating country on either side, highly cultivated studded with villas and rising at many points several hundred feet above the valley. The city is literally filled with works of art, in the examination of which one may pleasantly and profitably spend six or eight weeks. I shall not write a word in the way of description because you will find all that so tastefully and thoroughly done by turning again to the admirable work of your neighbor Mr. Hillard. It has gratified my national pride to find that here no less than at home these are regarded as among the very best of the numerous volumes, which in modern time have been written upon Italy.

Our journey from Geneva by way of St. Gothard to Lake Maggiore was delightful throughout. To Neuchatel we went by rail, thence across lakes Neuchatel and Bienne by steamboat, thence by rail again to Berne. Here Mr. Fay met us at the railroad station and was…assiduous in attending during our brief sojourn. With him we called on the president of the republic and visited various objects of interest. The capital thro' the various parts of which the president conducted us is a little structure and commands a grand view of the Mont Blanc chain. From Berne to Thun is a perfectly charming little place upon the lake of that name…From Interlacken to Brinne by steamer from this little village Mrs. P. crossed the Brinne on horseback. We reached the border of Lake Lucern…After a day or two of much enjoyment at L. we crossed the lake again to Kussnacht which is at the base of the Rigi, the summit of which…from its elevation so much as from its isolated position, undoubtedly commands the finest view in Switzerland. We left our servants at Lucern to come to Wiggis the next day with the baggage by boat. We were amply repaid for the toil of the ascent of the Rigi which Mrs. Pierce made on horseback in three hours. I walked and from the steepness of the continuous descent I found my strength pretty seriously taxed before I reached the calm. Still we were richly compensated. The day was beautiful as we stood at last up on the top most peak half and hour before sunset and surveyed the scene of surpassing magnificence and beauty we lost all consciousness of fatigue. The next morning we descended to Wiggis and crossed another arm of the lake…The descriptions of grandeur of the St. Gothard Pass have not exceeded the truth. Mr Daniels was absent from Turin when we reached there but has since passed a day or two with us here. He has repurchased his interest (the quarter part) in The Examiner and expects soon to return to Richmond to resume the labors of editor. His resignation has been accepted but he does not know who is to succeed him.

If Mr. Buchanan entertained the opinion of foreign ministers appointed by me which has been expressed by some persons who assume to speak for him, it is not easy to understand why one half of his official term should be allowed to elapse without replacing them with better & more competent men. If the changes which have already taken place after at Berlin, Lisbon, Copenhagen, Liverpool, etc. are to be taken as samples of what we may expect hereafter, it cannot I think be regarded as a mark of stupidity if the improvement is not readily perceived….

The struggle between the intellect and learning arranged on either side of the case at Newport must have been full of interest and instruction. Genl. Davis it seems has been making another speech at an agricultural fair in Maine which was highly praised in the Providence Journal (an opposition paper) which fell in my view a few days since. Were politicks in the U. States ever in greater confusion than at the present time. The New York Evening Post, Times, Tribune, & Herald are taken here but so far as I know in New England no New England paper except the Boston Traveller. It would be truly refreshing to see a copy of the Morning Post now and then. The last number of the Herald received here endeavors to prepare the public mind for the defeat of our party in Pennsylvania by saying that it has been so weakened by my blunders and maladministration, that it sunk down after the great struggle of 1856 in a state of complete exhaustion from which it had never been able to recover—notwithstanding the great strength which Mr. Buchanan's official and personal popularity brings to its aid. If the Prest. does not get from the Satanic enough of this foolish adulation and rather too much assaults upon what are termed the factious members of our party Toombs & others I shall be surprized. Can you explain the cause of the frequent hits at Slidell & Bright. I see that…Martin has been nominated for Congress. Do the personal & political relations between him & Colo. Forney remain unchanged? If so how is his canvass to be conducted after the publication of the Colo.'s Tarrytown speech and subsequent letters? I should have said how was it conducted because I believe the election took place last week. I hope you saw Genl. Davis in Boston as anticipated at the date of yr. last letter. If you did, write me fully with regard to his health etc. etc.

Speak more particularly too of your own health, yr habits of exercise, etc. I hope you have had Union this autumn and that you are in the saddle every day when the weather is tolerable. If you need money I think you had better get it of Judge Minot. I think he may be able to furnish such amount as you may require from my funds…I shall be much interested in the account which I expect you to give me of the defense of the men charged with piracy. It cannot help doing you good. If your success is complete the fruits will be abundant, if otherwise partial failure, especially after the publication of your able opinion, will be attached to your modesty and want of practice and do you no harm in the end."

On October 25th, Pierce continues: "I have just returned from the reading room where I found the Tribune of the fifth inst. containing two columns of extracts from Colo. Forney's letter and a prediction of great disasters to our party in the Pennsylvania election which took place on the 12th which I hope may not be verified by the results. I read with interest an article on the last page of the Boston Traveller of the 1st in which the writer while dissenting from some of the opinions expressed in a letter, which I have not seen, from Genl. Cushing to Mr. Martin and others says 'of living Americans Genl. Cushing is perhaps the first.' I observed all these just tributes to Genl. C's learning and ability with great satisfaction. I do not remember to whom I wrote the letter a printed extract from which is enclosed in yours…It is provoking that any part of my private letters should be published. I have not received Dr. Loring's articles but hope they may yet come along. Genl. Cushing's letter written in April was not received till September. I am as faithless as you can be with regard to to any suggestion or friendship from the high source to which you refer and I may add that I am indifferent as I am faithless. In truth I should not appreciate it if it were truly tendered in the most unmistakable form. There is no high impulse or generous emotion there. The substratum and all that has even been built upon it is cold, selfish and calculating with a large infusion of Constitutional peevishness and petty malignity; I think I shall live to see what I have expressed upon into a general pervading public sentiment and opinion. I hope Genl. C. will never so much as turn on his heel to conciliate friendship or esteem in that quarter. It would not be worth having and if it were otherwise no man in the country needs it less than himself." In fine condition, with writing showing through from opposing sides. Accompanied by a transcript and biographical blurbs about the many figures referenced in this letter.

Because of the political discord that marked his presidency, the Democratic Party failed to nominate Franklin Pierce for reelection. After leaving Washington, he briefly returned to his native New Hampshire before setting off on a three-year tour of Europe and the Bahamas. Though far removed from the political battles taking place in Washington, Pierce remained well informed of the goings-on in America by reading the newspaper and corresponding with friends like Sidney Webster, a New Hampshire native who served as President Pierce’s private secretary and, in 1892, published the biographical work Franklin Pierce and His Administration.

At the time of this letter, Pierce’s consideration of his successor, President James Buchanan, a man he had previously appointed as minister to Great Britain, had largely sallowed. Despite hailing from Pennsylvania, Buchanan’s sympathies rested with the south and he removed a disproportionate number of northerners who had ties to either Pierce or Stephen Douglas, cleft allegiances which kept him from taking any action against secession. Pierce discusses at length the divisions within his Democratic Party, for which he feels he is unjustly blamed. These tensions came to a head with the elections for the 36th Congress, which saw the newly formed Republican Party take control of the House of Representatives for the first time. A spectacular, extremely lengthy letter from the former president.

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