Bowdoin College was young when three soon-to-be-famous men were students there 200 years ago. They were future president Franklin Pierce, future novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, and future poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Pierce and Hawthorne formed a lifelong friendship.
In 1852 the Democratic convention voted 48 times before they finally settled on Franklin Pierce as their candidate for president. Pierce’s wife disliked the idea of living in Washington, D.C., so much that she fainted when she heard that he was the candidate.
By then Pierce’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne was a successful author. Hawthorne supported Pierce by writing a campaign biography of him.
The Pierces had a tragic life. They lost all three of their sons while they were children. The last child died in a train accident when he was 11 years old. The accident occurred between Pierce’s Election Day in 1852 and his Inauguration Day in 1853.
In the turbulent decade before the Civil War, Pierce took some very controversial stands while trying to unite the North and South. In the process, he had gained many enemies. Hawthorne continued to believe the best of his friend.
In 1863 with the Civil War raging, Hawthorne prepared to publish a book called Our Old Home and English Note-Books. He decided to dedicate it to his friend Franklin Pierce. Hawthorne’s publisher tried to talk him out of dedicating the book to Pierce, saying that it would ruin the book’s sales. Hawthorne stood his ground, telling his publisher:
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.
The book came out with the dedication to Pierce despite the publisher’s warning. The timing was a special blessing to Pierce. His wife died that December of 1863. Hawthorne stood by Pierce’s side as his wife was buried. Pierce noticed that Hawthorne did not seem well.
The following spring Hawthorne took a trip to the mountains in hopes that it would help to restore his health. Pierce accompanied him. One night they stopped to spend the night at a hotel. In the middle of the night, Pierce checked in on his friend and found that he had passed away in his sleep.
Pierce lived for five more years, knowing that his friend had stood by him and that he had stood by his friend.
In a world seemingly filled with slander and condemnation and polarization and guilt by association, I believe that God is longing for us to be friends that other people can count on.
It’s something we can teach to and model for our children, too.
Two are better than one
because they have a good return for their labor;
for if either of them falls,
the one will lift up his companion.
But woe to the one who falls
when there is not another to lift him up!