July 9, 2021

Incident At Andover: The Tragedy Of Benjamin Pierce

Bennie & Jane
On January 6, 1853, President-Elect Franklin Pierce was visiting his sister-in-law in Andover, Massachusetts. Beginning their journey back home to New Hampshire, Pierce, his wife Jane, and their 11-year-old son Bennie (a student at Philips Academy) boarded a Boston & Maine train at the Andover depot. About a mile north, an axle fractured and the train de-railed—tumbling down a 20-foot embankment. The future President and First Lady watched in horror as their only surviving son was killed—nearly decapitated in the wreck. 

The Pierces never really overcame the grief of losing their Benjamin. The new Democratic President refused to take his inaugural oath on a Bible—reasoning that God was punishing him by taking away his son. Jane Pierce spent the rest of her days grieving the loss—forever wearing black and becoming increasingly withdrawn. Pierce's one-term presidency has generally been regarded as a failure—marked by multiple concessions to pro-slavery forces in the run-up to the Civil War. After he signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act—which repealed the Missouri Compromise—his friend and famed Andover resident Harriet Beecher Stowe, would not allow him back in her home.

Years later, the former First Lady also died in Andover and the former President was vilified until his own death. Theirs was a life and a presidency marred by personal tragedy and the country's struggle against slavery.