Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "Books"

Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne met when they were about 17 years old, long before Pierce was President of the United States or Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter, at Bowdoin College in Maine. They formed a friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives, and their devotion to each other caused controversy, especially in later years after President Pierce, a Northerner, supported Southern interests and remained close to Jefferson Davis. Many of Pierce’s friends, neighbors, and supporters deserted him, but Hawthorne never did. Hawthorne had written a campaign biography of Pierce in 1852 and Pierce appointed Hawthorne as the U.S. Consul in Liverpool — a position which required few duties from Hawthorne but provided him with a steady income to continue his writing.

In 1863, the Civil War was raging and former President Pierce was as unpopular as any ex-President in American history, with some even accusing him of treason and alleging that his longtime friendship with the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, suggested Pierce’s collusion with Davis’s cause. Despite that storm, Nathaniel Hawthorne had told some friends that he was planning on dedicating his latest book, Our Old Home, to Franklin Pierce. They were outraged. Hawthorne’s friends, neighbors, and publisher strongly urged him to reconsider, with many telling the author that the American people would soon turn against him, too, if he remained so publicly supportive of the unpopular former President who was seen by many as a traitor.

In the face of such backlash, it didn’t take Hawthorne long to decide on what to do. On July 2, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was entering its second day and Nathaniel Hawthorne sat down in his home, The Wayside, in Concord, Massachusetts and wrote:


On the next page, the dedication continued with a lengthy inscription beginning:
I HAVE not asked your consent, my dear General, to the foregoing inscription, because it would have been no inconsiderable disappointment to me had you withheld it; for I have long desired to connect your name with some book of mine, in commemoration of an early friendship that has grown old between two individuals of widely dissimilar pursuits and fortunes. I only wish that the offering were a worthier one than this volume of sketches, which certainly are not of a kind likely to prove interesting to a statesman in retirement, inasmuch as they meddle with no matters of policy or government, and have very little to say about the deeper traits of national character. In their humble way, they belong entirely to aesthetic literature, and can achieve no higher success than to represent to the American reader a few of the external aspects of English scenery and life, especially those that are touched with the antique charm to which our countrymen are more susceptible than are the people among whom it is of native growth.

Hawthorne’s dedication ended with:
And now farewell, my dear friend; and excuse (if you think it needs any excuse) the freedom with which I thus publicly assert a personal friendship between a private individual and a statesman who has filled what was then the most august position in the world. But I dedicate my book to the Friend, and shall defer a colloquy with the Statesman till some calmer and sunnier hour. Only this let me say, that, with the record of your life in my memory, and with a sense of your character in my deeper consciousness as among the few things that times has left as it found them, I need no assurance that you continue faithful forever to that grand idea of an irrevocable Union, which, as you once told me, was the earliest that your brave father taught you. For other men there may be a choice of paths, — for you, but one; and it rests among my certainties that no man’s loyalty is more steadfast, no man’s hopes or apprehensions on behalf of our national existence more deeply heartfelt, or more closely intertwined with his possibilities of personal happiness, than those of FRANKLIN PIERCE

Our Old Home was subtitled A Series of English Sketches and much of the book had been inspired (and written) by Hawthorne’s time as U.S. Consul in Liverpool, which allowed him to not only write, but to travel the English countryside. The Atlantic Monthly had published the manuscript as a serial, and editor James T. Fields was at the front of the queue demanding that Hawthorne drop any connection of the book with Pierce. Rather than scrubbing his idea of dedicating Our Old Home to Pierce, Nathaniel Hawthorne declared his undying friendship and appreciation for his friend with his inscription, in the strongest words possible. Understanding all of the accusations being made about Pierce, Hawthorne even offered a defense of his friend’s loyalty, reminding his readers that Franklin Pierce had spent nearly his entire adult life in public service and that the 14th President inherited his patriotism from his father, Benjamin Pierce, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and early Governor of New Hampshire.

To Fields, Hawthorne responded, “I find that it would be a piece of poltroonery in me to withdraw either the dedication or the dedicatory letter. My long and intimate relations with Pierce render the dedication altogether proper, especially as regards this book, which would have had no existence without his kindness; and if he is so exceedingly unpopular that his name is enough to sink the volume, there is so much the more need that an old friend should stand by him. I cannot, merely on account of pecuniary profit or literary reputation, go back from what I have deliberately thought and felt it right to do; and if I were to tear out the dedication, I should never look at the volume again without remorse and shame.” Hawthorne stood his ground and the dedication remained once Our Old Home was published. Many others, however, did tear out the pages referencing Pierce, including Ralph Waldo Emerson who tore the dedication out of the copy he received directly from Hawthorne before allowing the book to join his personal library. It wasn’t just Our Old Home which was unpopular; Hawthorne wrote, “My friends have dropped off from me like autumn leaves,” to one of those who remained by his side.

Another who remained at his side was Franklin Pierce. In December 1863, Pierce’s long-suffering wife, Jane, died after years of lingering illnesses. Pierce was lonely when he was married — when a friend once asked him how the gregarious, fun-loving politician could marry someone with as such an opposite personality as Jane, Pierce answered, “I could take better care of her than anyone else was the reply.”. Life as a widower added to that loneliness, as well as the fact that his neighbors in Concord, New Hampshire shunned him, his political career allies had deserted him years ago, and one of his closest friends happened to be the Commander-in-Chief of the rebellious states then engaged with the Union in a bloody Civil War — Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It didn’t help that Pierce’s alcoholism was taking a severe toll on his health. But, as the dedication in Our Old Home had proven, Pierce still had Hawthorne at his side, too.

Hawthorne was at Pierce’s side in Concord, New Hampshire in December 1863 as Jane was laid to rest. Pierce was devastated by his wife’s death, and Hawthorne was disturbed by seeing Jane in her open casket — he recognized that he, too, was nearing death. Hawthorne’s health had been failing for years and he had less than six months to live. As Jane’s casket was being lowered into her grave at Old North Cemetery, the grieving former President was thankful for his friend’s presence, but clearly worried about Hawthorne’s physical condition. At Jane’s graveside, Pierce took the time to adjust Hawthorne’s collar for him to keep him warm in the cold December wind of New Hampshire.

"Happy the man that has such a friend beside him, when he comes to die!" — Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (1852)

In the spring of 1864, Hawthorne continued to decline. Stomach pain plagued him chronically, but he hoped that a trip to the White Mountains would be good for his health and asked Pierce to accompany him. Hawthorne’s friends worried that he was making a mistake by traveling in his physical condition and remained bitterly opposed to Hawthorne’s continuing connection with Pierce. But Hawthorne dismissed any concerns and his wife, Sophia, was supportive of the trip. Sophia, however, warned Pierce of how ill his friend really was and wrote, “He really needs to be aided in getting in and out of carriages, because his eyes are so affected by this weakness, and his steps are so uncertain.” In her letter of May 6, 1864, Sophia continued, “I would not trust him in any hands now excepting just such gentle and tender hands as yours,” and, “God bless you fear General Pierce for your aid in this strait.”

After meeting Hawthorne in Boston, the two friends traveled to Pierce’s home in Concord to wait for the weather to improve before beginning their journey into New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Hawthorne was gaunt, weak, and clearly dying, but in good spirits as they traveled from PIerce’s home to Dixville Notch in northern New Hampshire. On May 18, 1864, Pierce and Hawthorne arrived at the first-class Pemigewasset House hotel in Plymouth, New Hampshire, about 100 miles from Dixville Notch. In the evening, Hawthorne had a bit of food and a cup of tea, fell asleep for an hour on a couch and then woke up and retired to his room. Pierce described the next few hours in a letter to Sidney Webster in 1868:

Passing from his room to my own, leaving to door open and so placing the lamp that its direct rays would not fall upon him and yet enable me to see distinctly from my bed, I betook myself to rest too, a little after ten o’clock. But I awoke before twelve, and noticed that he was lying in a perfectly natural position, like a child, with his right hand under his cheek. That noble brow and face struck me as more grand serenely calm then than ever before. With new hope that such undisturbed repose might bring back fresh vigor, I fell asleep again; but he was so very restless the night previous that I was surprised and startled when I noticed, at three o’clock, that his position was identically the same as when I observed him between eleven and twelve. Hastening softly to his bedside, I could not perceive that he breathed, although no change had come over his features. I seized his wrist, but found no pulse; ran my hands down upon his bare side, but the great, generous, brave heart beat no more.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was dead. To Webster, Pierce noted that as they were traveling by carriage to the Pemagewasset House earlier that day, Hawthorne asked him if he had read William Makepeace Thackeray’s account of death and “remarked in a low, soliloquizing tone, what a boon it would be if, when life draws to its close, one could pass away without a struggle.” Closing his letter to Webster describing Hawthorne’s final hours, he wrote, “The boon of which he spoke in the afternoon had, before morning’s dawn, been graciously granted to him. He had passed from natural sleep to that from which there is no earthly waking, without the slightest struggle, evidently without moving a muscle.”

Pierce notified Sophia Hawthorne by telegram and made arrangements for Hawthorne’s return to Massachusetts, accompanying the body of the legendary author in a solemn conclusion to their final journey together. As he was packing up their belongings, he found a pocketbook that felt empty, opened it up and found that Hawthorne carried a photograph of Franklin Pierce with him everywhere he went.

At Hawthorne’s funeral, Pierce’s friendship with Hawthorne and care of the author in his final days was overlooked by Hawthorne’s other friends, who still shunned the former President due to political differences. Pierce was heartbroken that he was passed over and not included as a pallbearer. Instead, he was pushed aside in favor of less controversial names like Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louis Agassiz, and John Greenleaf Whittier. Pierce’s was treated with respect as a former President of the United States, but nothing beyond what was required for proper society. To most of the people at the funeral, Pierce wasn’t the man who Hawthorne chose to spend his final days with; to them, he was a Northern President whose Southern sympathies had led them to Civil War. To them, Franklin Pierce wasn’t Nathaniel Hawthorne’s best friend; to them, he was a close friend of Jefferson Davis at a gathering of some of the country’s most passionate abolitionists. Franklin Pierce’s closest ally at Hawthorne’s funeral was the man lying in the casket, and all he could do was sprinkle apple blossoms into the grave.

"I need not tell you how lonely I am, and how full of sorrow," Pierce wrote to his friend, Horatio Bridge, shortly after Hawthorne’s death. Still devastated by Jane’s passing and now without Hawthorne, Pierce increasingly turned to the bottle. Drinking was punishing his body, and he began to decline. By the end, on October 8, 1868, Pierce was suffering from liver failure and reportedly weighed less than 100 pounds. Hawthorne stood by Pierce until the end, Pierce accompanied Hawthorne in the author’s final hours, but in the former President’s remaining years, he was increasingly lonely. He had been able to visit his other famous friend, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, shortly before Davis was released from prison, but that was the last time they saw each other. The war, politics, and time had taken a toll on Pierce’s health and reputation, no matter his years of public service as a State Legislator, U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, Brigadier General in the Mexican-American War, or President of the United States. His dear friend Hawthorne had once written, "A hero cannot be a hero unless in a heroic world," and Franklin Pierce could not overcome his political failures or personal demons. In the end he died alone, but linked (or remaining in "concord"), in a way, to Hawthorne by their hometowns and final resting places — Pierce is buried in Concord, New Hampshire and Hawthorne is buried in Concord, Massachusetts.
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Have you read The Alienist by Caleb Carr?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

No, I haven’t read The Alienist (BOOK | KINDLE). I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but that’s solely because I simply don’t have enough time to read all of the non-fiction books that I want and need to read, so it’s hard to squeeze in a genre that isn’t at the top of my list. The premise of the book sounds interesting, though, set during Theodore Roosevelt’s time as Police Commissioner in New York City.

There is a great non-fiction book on that subject and era, however, that I would highly recommend: Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks (BOOK | KINDLE). Anyone interested on TR’s time as NYC’s Police Commissioner (or those of you who might have read the The Alienist and found the idea to be fascinating) should check out Island of Vice.

What books about the presidents have the best writing or prose?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

First and foremost, I’d have to say the books that Edmund Morris has written — his trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt and his unique biography of Ronald Reagan:

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (BOOK | KINDLE)
Theodore Rex (BOOK | KINDLE)
Colonel Roosevelt (BOOK | KINDLE)
Edmund Morris’s Theodore Roosevelt trilogy bundle
Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan (BOOK | KINDLE)

I don’t want to make this list too long, so I’ll just leave it with Morris, who I think writes the best prose of any Presidential biographer. Of course, I love the work of Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Caro, and David McCullough, but I think that every sentence Morris writes is a thing of beauty.

However, I do want to mention one campaign book that stands out, even in a field containing Theodore White’s The Making of the President books and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72, and that is Richard Ben Cramer’s classic, exhaustive take on the 1988 campaign, What It Takes: The Way to the White House (BOOK | KINDLE) which delves into the campaigns of George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole, Gary Hart, Richard Gephardt, and a guy you might have heard of named Joe Biden.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
When you receive advance copies of books do they usually come from the author or publisher and how far ahead do the books comes
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Advanced copies almost always come from the publisher. Every once in a while an author or an outside marketing company will send me an advanced reading copy, but that’s very rare. Most of the time that I’ve been sent books directly from the authors, it’ll be a PDF copy of their manuscript that they are putting the finishing touches on and sending around to certain people before making a final submission to see if anyone notices any errors or glaring issues that the author didn’t catch. On two or three occasions, I’ve had an author ask if I’d mind taking a look at their manuscript and then they’ve sent an unbound manuscript — basically just their book as if they had printed it straight off of their computer at home, but that’s even more rare. Like I said, in almost every case, an advanced reading copy will come from the publisher and it will be bound — not the final product that you would buy from the bookstore, but something that normally looks like this:

As for the second part of the question, how far in advance that I receive books all depends on the book, the author, the subject matter, and the publishing company. Some companies place embargoes on books that prohibit releasing certain information or even whole reviews on specific books until an exact date (sometimes shortly before the date of release, sometimes not until the actual release date). So, at times, I receive advanced copies of books with a one-sheet from the publicist that specifies an embargo date. Sometimes, publishers control certain books so tightly in order to keep them from leaking that I don’t receive review copies until the Friday or Monday before the release date (they are usually released on Tuesdays) or even the release dates itself. I always marvel at how well publicists are able to time the arrival of those type of review copies (even with Next-Day Air it would seem like they’d make some mistakes!).

But there is no uniform way that I can decipher when it comes to when review copies arrive. There have been big-name authors or highly-anticipated books that I’ve been shocked to receive copies of way ahead of time, and some other books that I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to buy that are strictly embargoed. I don’t know if the power lies with the author, the publicist, or the editors; I’m just always happy when UPS, FedEx, or the USPS drops a package (or ten) at my door. Right now, I have an ARC of a book with a January 2015 release date, but they usually don’t come that far ahead of time. Plus, it’s important to remember that many of the release dates, even a lot of release dates for upcoming books on Amazon, are tentative and tend to shift quite a bit. Again, it all depends on the book, the author, the subject matter, and the publishing company — certain companies are a sure bet for the book hitting stores on the tentative publication date, but if books leak or if deadlines get pushed back that release date can often shift, sometimes dramatically.

Asker aerohydra Asks:
Hey, so this just happened, Bush 43 is authoring a biography of his father, initial thoughts? Also, anything like this ever been done before?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

This is the first I’m hearing about it, but that will be very, very interesting. Bush 41 has never written a true autobiography, so it’ll be nice to have such a unique perspective from one President about another.

However, it won’t be the first time that a President has written about another President. We even nearly had another instance of a President whose father was also President writing a biography about his father — John Quincy Adams had worked off-and-on at trying to get together his father’s papers and either edit them into the autobiography that John Adams wanted to write but never finished, or write his own book about his father. Unfortunately, he never got that completed. John Quincy Adams did write a joint biography of his two immediate predecessors — The Lives of James Madison and James Monroe (BOOK | KINDLE). JQA also had book-length eulogies (which is largely what the joint biography was drawn from) on those two Presidents: An Eulogy on the Life and Character of James Monroe, published after Monroe died in 1831, and An Eulogy on the Life and Character of James Madison, published after Madison’s death in 1836.

Woodrow Wilson wrote a biography of George Washington with the snazzy title of George Washington (BOOK | KINDLE) in 1896, long before he began his own political career. And in 1958, Wilson was the subject of a biography from 84-year-old former President Herbert Hoover, The Ordeal of Woodrow WilsonWhat makes Hoover’s book about Wilson especially fascinating was that he served on behalf of President Wilson during the war effort of World War I and wrote about the toll that the Presidency, particularly the battle to win ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and American entry into the League of Nations, exacted on Wilson.

To me, the book by George W. Bush about his father is by far the most intriguing of any book by a President about a President. Bush 43 also didn’t write a traditional post-Presidential autobiography; his 2010 book, Decision Points (BOOK | KINDLE), was more of a memoir on specific events of his Presidency. But I found it to be a lot more candid than I expected. Any Presidential autobiography of memoir is going to contain some revisionist history because it’s often their last chance to personally shape their legacy, and Decision Points certainly contains a lot of that, but it was also far more personal than I imaged it would be. I’m excited about the prospect of the book you mentioned.

This is the workspace of a crazy man, and I am exhausted. Can somebody just please give me a book deal? Because the work is done. And I can’t stop writing.

I’ll probably need an editor, too, because nobody publishes or reads books that are over 6,000 pages long.

Asker kaiyves Asks:
I was wondering if you'd heard of/seen the new graphic novel biography of Andre the Giant? I'm not a wrestling fan, but I saw it on my library's "New" shelf and read it, and I enjoyed it.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I have definitely heard of Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend (BOOK | KINDLE), but haven’t seen it yet. I’ve heard a lot of people rave about the book, though — whether they are wrestling fans or not — so I think I’ll have to pick a copy of it up.

David Pietrusza has written three of my favorite books focusing on specific Presidential campaigns, 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents> (BOOK | KINDLE), 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory and the Year That Transformed America, and 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies, all of which I give my highest recommendation. So, I definitely suggest checking out this recent article by Mr. Pietrusza for the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation — The Coolidges and the Hardings: Northeast Meets Midwest — an interesting piece on the relationship between a President and the Vice President who would eventually succeed him.

I just want to say that I picked up Shooting Victoria at the library based on your review and I'm finding it to be the most interesting book! I'm only on chapter 4, but I've learned a lot already. Thanks for recommending it.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Cool, I’m happy to hear that you checked it out! That book, Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy (BOOK | KINDLE), is really interesting, especially for people like me who spend most of their time reading about American history rather than British history (or the history of other foreign leaders). It also made me understand Queen Victoria in a very different light, especially after reading somewhat similar books like Helen Rappaport’s A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy (BOOK | KINDLE) and Jane Ridley’s The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince (BOOK | KINDLE) — both of which are also excellent.

I would also recommend checking out another book on a similar subject and from pretty much the same era — Why Spencer Perceval Had To Die, (BOOK | KINDLE) Andro Linklater’s book about the only assassination of a British Prime Minister, which took place in the lobby of Parliament in 1812.

You should definitely get this book when it is released on August 5th. I was barely able to tear myself away from it to make this post.

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (BOOK | KINDLE) by Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, and published by Simon & Schuster (@simonbooks) on August 5th.