America's Worst PEZident?

The only president from NH didn't leave much of a legacy



In the wonderfully entertaining viral video, "Granite State of Mind," the New Hampshire pride anthem by The Super Secret Project, famous residents such as Daniel Webster, J.D. Salinger, Robert Frost and Alan Shepard all get enthusiastic shout-outs.

Not so for President Franklin Pierce, despite the fact that his name rhymes with "fierce" and "scarce," both easy words to insert in a parody song. It's doubtful that the songwriters were deliberately blacklisting him. More likely, the snub was because Pierce's name evokes no emotional reaction whatsoever. Most Granite Staters have no idea what he accomplished beyond being the first guy from New Hampshire to eat off the White House china.

Historians, however, do have an idea. And they universally give him the thumbs down. In more than a dozen scholarly surveys, Pierce's rank consistently lands him in the Worst 5 Presidents of All Time.

According to his official WhiteHouse.gov biography, written by historians Michael Beschloss and Hugh Sidey, the 14th president was a savvy real estate man, snapping up 29,670 square miles of current day Arizona and New Mexico for a mere $10 million. But he also likely accelerated the start of the Civil War by supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which empowered voters in those newly created states to decide if they wanted slavery or not.

Perhaps these are the issues that today's elementary school children will explore as they snack on sugar pellets coming out of Franklin Pierce's neck.

The first 15 American Presidents were just immortalized as PEZ dispensers late last year, with numbers 16-26 (Abraham Lincoln through Teddy Roosevelt) slated for release next fall. PEZ is marketing these candy-carrying historical toys as its "Education Series," urging teachers to use them as learning incentives in the classroom.

Among those celebrating the introduction of PEZident Pierce is historian Peter Wallner, author of "Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire's Favorite Son" and "Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union."

"The physical likeness is fairly good," says Wallner, who also teaches a graduate level presidential leadership course at Franklin Pierce University. "I think Pierce would have liked having his own PEZ because it would have been something to connect the presidency to the common man. He considered his constituency to be the small farmers, the store clerks and the millworkers."

Wallner's one complaint: PEZ only sells the Commander-in-Chiefs in sets of five. The only way to stock up on Pierces is to also simultaneously buy James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan (all of whom, except Polk, also earn poor rankings from scholars).

NHPR's Brady Carlson, the local radio host of "All Things Considered," also considers himself a fan of the PEZident genre. The notorious pop culture junkie recently began a book project documenting his quest to visit the graves of all 38 deceased presidents. The journey so far has included a detour to the Madame Tussauds wax museum in Washington D.C., where he posed with the life-size Franklin Pierce figure.

"America has become fragmented," Carlson says. "We don't listen to the same music anymore. We don't watch the same TV shows. But we still honor the same presidents."

"Little toys like this make the presidents much more relatable. You can't really relate to enormous statues like the Lincoln Memorial, but if you shrink them down to PEZ size, it makes the presidents feel like people again," he adds.

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