Saturday, January 31, 2009

POTUS #14: Franklin Pierce, by John Morris

All of this text is provided by my friend John Morris, who responded some years ago to my request for new portrait songs of U.S. presidents with the wonderful "Franklin Pierce's Last Ride".


John Morris writes:

Franklin Pierce is remembered as one of our worst presidents (if he's remembered at all), not for any particular misdeeds, but simply for not being up to the task. In the end it took a Lincoln to resolve the long crisis of slavery and state's rights, and Pierce was no Lincoln. Not even close.

But he was a handsome, amiable, well-spoken man, and despite the harm he did by not doing much of anything, it's hard not to feel some sympathy for him.

I chose Pierce for this project because I knew almost nothing about him except that Nathaniel Hawthorne was his friend in college, at Bowdoin. (Pierce was with Hawthorne when he died, too.)
About the song: I think of Pierce as living out one of those dreams where you show up for class for the first time and find that it's the final exam.

The first verse is Pierce as a general during the Mexican War. He served with distinction, but is best remembered for falling off his horse during battle. (It could have happened to anyone.)

The second verse is Pierce just before his inauguration. And the third is Pierce on his deathbed. There's no pass/fail option on that last test.

I do the lead vocal, and James Hughes and Michaela Giesenkirchen join in bravely on the chorus. I also play all the instruments: guitar, harmonica, bass, and mandolin. (The harmonica should have been a trumpet, but I never got around to borrowing one.)

About myself: I'm working now as an editor at Penn State Press, in State College, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. I lived in St. Louis during two different periods of my life, for nine years altogether. I recorded a project as The Accomplices, with Scott Haycock, thankfully, on most of the vocals, and some wonderful St. Louis musicians rounded up by Roy Kasten, who produced the record, as well as one track with Three Fried Men, who were also wonderful.

Now here's something bizarre: there's a site out there called, which consists of a page of pictures of Pierce, with my song playing over them. I don't get it. But the guy, who calls himself notbobdylan, does credit me in his documentation, so I'm not going to complain.

(Editor's note: John neglects to mention that I also put him in touch with some poor soul charged with coming up with the music to accompany a documentary film about this subpar president; memory no longer serves as to what, if anything, came of that.)

Free mp3
By John Morris
(With James Hughes and
Michaela Giesenkirchen)

More in this series

POTUS #17: Andrew Johnson, by William Tonks
POTUS #18: Ulysses S. Grant, by Waterloo
POTUS #26: Theodore Roosevelt, by Tim McAvin
POTUS #43: George W. Bush, by Steve Allain


Daguerreotype of Franklin Pierce in his Brigadier General's uniform, ca. 1847. courtesy of Dr. Willam J. Schultz and the Pierce Manse.


Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this song. It's nigh unto impossible to find a musical tribute to our obscure 14th President. The only other one I've found is "Pierce and King" on Oscar Brand's CD Presidential Campaign Songs, 1789-1996.

Pierce was a complex and fascinating character--a charming and successful politician, a good lawyer, a tragic figure, and in the majority opinion, a failed President.

Please stop by my blog for more on Franklin Pierce..

Anonymous said...

The fifth season of the West Wing television series had a fictional character who was written as a descendent of Franklin Pierce. The children of Franklin Pierce died during childhood. The West Wing scripts were somewhat atypical in that they didn't bash Franklin Pierce.