News Archive 2009-2018

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Bio of Franklin Pierce an Adept ‘Literary Invention’ (Slate) Archives

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Class of 1825

One of the last pieces of noted works Nathaniel Hawthorne completed was a campaign biography of his longtime friend, Franklin Pierce, Class of 1824, who eventually became the 14th president of the United States. The two met while students at Bowdoin College.

Though Hawthorne claimed he was politically inexperienced, his biography, The Life of Franklin Pierce, turned out “as adept “¦ as anything that could have come from the pen of a committed Democratic operative,” writes James M. Lundberg for Slate.

Hawthorne had a big job to do to convince readers of Pierce’s suitability for president: Pierce had not distinguished himself in Congress or the Senate; he had fainted twice in battle; he was rumored to have a drinking problem; and he had been a poor student at Bowdoin. (Hawthorne describes Pierce’s academic performance as “not quite distinguished for scholarship,” but assures potential supporters that Pierce was capable of growth and development.)

The Life of Franklin Pierce wasn’t fiction, according to Lundberg, but rather a “kind of literary invention.” In the end, Pierce’s campaign was successful enough to get him elected for one term. Unfortunately, both men – who believed slavery would just “vanish like a dream” – found themselves “increasingly estranged from the world being wrought by the Civil War.”

(To anyone who would like to read this political biography, the Bowdoin Bookstore sells The Life of Franklin Pierce.)