Academic journal article Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

A Man for the Whole Country: Marketing Masculinity in the Pierce Biography

Academic journal article Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

A Man for the Whole Country: Marketing Masculinity in the Pierce Biography

Article excerpt

The political campaigns we have endured over the past decade offer an inviting context for examining Hawthorne's 1852 campaign biography, The Life of Franklin Pierce, as if it were fiction. Early reviewers did so. The Salem Register entitled its review "Hawthorne's New Romance" (Idol 227), the Springfield Republican called it Hawthorne's "best" fiction, revealing a "greater degree of inventive genius than any of his previous works" (Idol 231), and Horace Mann famously commented that, if Hawthorne represented Pierce as "either a great or a brave man," the biography would be the "greatest work of fiction" he ever wrote (quoted in Wineapple 262). Hawthorne himself helped promote the generic confusion by advising his publisher, Ticknor and Fields, to advertise the volume as "HAWTHORNE'S Life of GENERAL PIERCE" (16:588-89), and after the fact he would admit to Horatio Bridge that, "though the story is true, yet it took a romancer to do it" (16:605). Scott Casper has argued, in fact, that Pierce was the "first presidential candidate completely created by his biographers and partisans" (216-17), and so many of Pierce's presidential qualities seem rooted in Hawthorne's fiction that the biography might be thought a sequel to "Feathertop," which predates it by less than a year. Hawthorne creates another straw man, so to speak--and runs him for President!

Although Hawthorne claimed in his preface that he would not "voluntarily have undertaken the work here offered to the public" (23:273), he did volunteer for the job. Pierce was nominated by the Democrats on the forty-ninth ballot at their Baltimore convention the first week of June in 1852. The day after hearing the news Hawthorne wrote to Pierce, congratulating him on the nomination. Although he hedged a bit and even suggested an alternative biographer, he coyly expressed his interest in the job. "It has occurred to me," he told Pierce, "that you might have some thoughts of getting me to write the necessary biography" (16:545). Hawthorne felt free to volunteer because he had just finished The Blithedale Romance, which he began in late November 1851, shortly after he moved from the Berkshires into a rented house in West Newton. He finished the romance on May first, 1852, bought and moved into the Wayside in Concord at the beginning of June, and began collecting materials for the campaign biography immediately, even though he did not actually begin writing it until July 25. (1) Blithedale remained on Hawthorne's mind throughout the summer, as he anticipated its publication, which occurred on July 14 (16:566), and its sales receipts.

When I read the Pierce biography for the first time, I noted many parallels between the biography and The Blithedale Romance. Since Hawthorne wrote the novel first and before he could have had any inkling that he would write the biography, any influence works in an unexpected direction. It is not that Hawthorne plays Coverdale to Pierce's Hollingsworth, for example, at least not in any simple sense. Rather, I think, Hawthorne recycled features of both characters--as well as the tension between them--in his portrait of Pierce. (2) I am especially interested in the "manly" imagery Hawthorne employs in each text and how that imagery reveals his manner of negotiating 19th-century gender politics in a forum more public and politically more volatile than any for which he had yet written. What greater challenge and opportunity than creating a man who would be President? More important, what model of manhood would be most politically marketable to a male electorate?

Because the Whig and Democratic platforms were "nearly identical," with both supporting the Compromise of 1850 and the controversial Fugitive Slave Law (Wallner 211), a portrait of the candidate as a man--a "character," in both senses of the word--was all the more important. (3) As Peter Wallner notes, the Whigs started a negative campaign against Pierce's character as soon as he accepted the nomination, attacking him for being a gambler, drunk, and coward (Wallner 212). …

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