Pierce is described in the latest installment of The Post's "Presidential" podcast (subscribe here!) as a sort of political cipher, a man who became president because the bigwigs in the Democratic Party thought they could easily control him. Shortly after his triumph in the 1852 election, Pierce's youngest son was killed (and nearly beheaded) in front of Pearce and his wife when a train car they were traveling in derailed and careened down an embankment. (His two older sons had also died early in life.)
That death defined Pierce's presidency in many ways. He refused to take his oath of office on the Bible, believing that his son's death was evidence of God's anger at him. His wife, Jane, was equally convinced that the price they paid for him being elected president was his son's life. She was often referred to as "The Shadow in the White House" because of her lack of interest in politics and her extended grieving for her lost son.
Brutal. Listen to the whole Franklin Pierce story below. And be thankful you weren't him.