Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history
in VOA Special English.
Franklin Pierce was elected the fourteenth president
in eighteen fifty-two. He was forty-eight years old, one of America's youngest
the compromise candidate of the Democratic Party. He won the nomination on the
forty-ninth ballot at the party's convention. He then won a big victory in the
general election over the candidate of the Whig Party, General Winfield Scott.
One of Pierce's friends, the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, helped him with his
in our series, Steve Ember and Shirley Griffith talk about the presidency of Franklin
Pierce was from the northeastern state of New Hampshire. He was a lawyer and
former state lawmaker. He also had served in the United States Senate and House
of Representatives. He became an officer in the Army during America's war with
Mexico in the late eighteen forties.
been a public official for more than twenty years when he became president. Yet
he was not a strong leader. He also faced a difficult situation in his personal
Two of his
children had died when they were babies. A third child was killed in a train
accident shortly before Pierce was inaugurated.
addition, his wife Jane did not like the city of Washington. She did not
support her husband's campaign for president. Years earlier, she had urged him
to resign from the Senate and return to New Hampshire. She did not want to go
back to Washington, even to be first lady.
husband was elected, she agreed to live there. But she rarely saw anyone. One
of her close friends took her place at public events.
Pierce was a young man. And his inauguration speech was about a young America.
He promised strong support for expanding the territory of the United States. He
also promised a strong foreign policy.
In his foreign
policy, President Pierce successfully negotiated with Britain to gain American
fishing rights along the coast of Canada. However, he was unsuccessful in an
attempt to buy Cuba from Spain.
One of the
most important developments in foreign policy during Pierce's administration actually
began earlier. Former president Millard Fillmore had sent Navy Commodore
Matthew Perry to Asia. Perry finally sailed into Tokyo Bay in eighteen fifty-three.
His arrival led to the establishment of diplomatic and trade relations between
the United States and Japan.
issues presented President Pierce with more difficult decisions. The Compromise
of eighteen fifty had settled the dispute over slavery in the western
territories. But it did not end slavery. There was still a chance that the North
and South would go to war over the issue.
question linked slavery and the western territories. Where should the United
States build its new railroads.
grew and white settlers moved west, many felt a great need for good
transportation. They wanted railroads that reached across the continent from
the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Engineers decided that four new rail
lines would be possible.
One could cross
the northern part of the country, connecting the cities of Saint Paul and
Seattle. Another could cross the middle, connecting Saint Louis and San
Francisco. A third could connect Memphis and San Francisco. And a fourth could
be far to the south, connecting New Orleans and San Diego.
Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois proposed that three lines be built. He said
the government could give land to the railroad companies. The companies could
then sell the land to get the money they needed to build the lines.
committee discussed the situation. It decided that building three railroads at
the same time would be too difficult. It proposed that only one be built. But
congressmen believed that a southern line would be best. There would be little
snow in winter. And the railroad would cross lands already organized as states
or official territories. A northern or central line would face severe winter
weather. And it would have to cross a wild area called Nebraska. Nebraska was
neither a state nor a territory.
to settle the question of railroads, the issue of slavery rose once again.
lay north of the Missouri compromise line, which had been established in eighteen
twenty. Slavery was not permitted there.
of Missouri lay next to Nebraska. Missouri was a slave state. Slave-holders in
Missouri did not want the Nebraska area to become a free territory. They were
afraid their slaves would flee to it. They felt threatened by the free states
and free territories all around them.
Congressmen from Missouri had defeated all attempts to make Nebraska an
official territory. When Congress met in eighteen fifty-three, it considered a
new bill on Nebraska. Instead of creating one large territory, the bill would
create two. The northern part would be called the Nebraska territory. The
southern part would be called the Kansas territory. The proposal to split them
was called the Kansas-Nebraska bill.
did not clearly say if slavery would be legal, or illegal, in the two new
purpose of the Kansas-Nebraska bill reportedly was to settle differences among
opposing railroad interests in the area. Yet many Americans believed the real
purpose was to permit the spread of slavery.
A group of
anti-slavery Senators denounced the bill. They said it was part of a southern
plan to spread slavery wherever possible. They also said it was being used by
Senator Stephen Douglas for political purposes. They said he was trying to gain
southern support for himself in the next presidential election. When the Senate
began debate on the Kansas-Nebraska bill, Stephen Douglas was the first to
said the bill would give people in the Kansas and Nebraska territories the
right to decide if slavery would be permitted. He said the same right had been
given to people in New Mexico and Utah by the compromise of eighteen fifty. And
he said that same right was meant for people of all future territories.
past, he noted, the national government had tried to divide free states from
slave states by a line across a map. He said a geographical line was not the
answer. He said the people of a state or territory had the right to decide for
argued that the compromise of eighteen fifty took the place of the earlier Missouri
compromise of eighteen twenty. The new Kansas-Nebraska bill, he said, simply
recognized the fact that the Missouri compromise was dead.
of the Kansas-Nebraska bill quickly rejected the Senator's argument. They said
Douglas was not honest in his statements about the eighteen fifty compromise.
True, they said, the compromise gave the people of Utah and New Mexico the
right to decide about slavery. But they said it did not give that right to the
people of all future territories.
to the Kansas-Nebraska bill was extremely strong in the northern United States.
In city after city, big public meetings were held. Businessmen organized many
of the meetings. They were angry at Senator Douglas because he had re-opened
the dispute about slavery. They feared that the dispute would hurt the economy.
churchmen also united against the Kansas-Nebraska bill. Thousands signed
protests and sent them to Congress. Senator Douglas criticized the churchmen.
He said they should stay out of politics.
southern United States, the Kansas-Nebraska bill caused little excitement. Most
southerners were not greatly interested in it. They believed it might help the
cause of slavery. But they also believed it might lead to trouble.
debate on the bill continued for more than a month. Senator Stephen Douglas was
sure it would be approved. We will continue the story of the Kansas-Nebraska
bill, and the administration of President Franklin Pierce, next time
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Steve
Ember and Shirley Griffith. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs can
be found along with historical images at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again
next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA
This is program #81 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION