This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/presidential-rankings/
Franklin Pierce started his presidency vowing to not reopen the slavery issue settled by the compromise of 1850, unfortunately he was unable to keep this promise. In 1854 Pierce was persuaded by Senator Stephen Douglas and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to go along with the Kansas Nebraska Act. Douglas was even prudent enough to get Pierce to submit a written draft stating his support of the law. Douglas favored the law, because he wanted a transcontinental railroad built with it’s eastern terminal in his home state of Illinois.
The Kansas Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by allowing slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36°30′ parallel. The Act ended up re-opening the slavery issue, which had been settled by the Missouri Compromise & The Compromise of 1850, and fractured the political parties along sectional lines. Bleeding Kansas was another outgrowth of the law, which erupted into actual violence and can be seen as a mini civil war of its own. Violence began in 1855, and ended in 1861 In all 56 people died in bleeding Kansas. The Kansas controversy also led to the rise of John Brown, whom only came to the territory to fight slavery. He eventually committed the Pottawatomie Massacre, and later his raid on Harpers Ferry. By foolishly going along with Douglas and “popular sovereignty”, Pierce derailed his entire presidency, and became one of the few elected presidents unable to be re-nominated by his party.
Pierce was also an avid expansionists, and he cared not whether the new land would be slave or free territory. During his term he was able to acquire the Gadsen Purchase from Mexico for $10 million in 1853. He had also sought Baja California, but Mexico was unwilling to part with it. He made another bigger attempt with his planned purchase of Cuba from Spain in 1855. Under the Ostend Manifesto Pierce offered to pay either $120 million of wrest control of Cuba outright. Had it not been for the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854, Pierce might have been able to pull off the acquisition, but after the laws passage, Pierce was seen as a tool of the slave interests.
One other positive of the Pierce Administration was his ability to pay the federal debt down from $60 Million to $11 million during his lone term. Had it not been for the massive error of going along with the Kansas Nebraska Act, Pierce would have been a halfway decent president.