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New Hampshire Historical Society loses bid for Pierce papers

November 22, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire has given the country one president, and the state’s historical society was hoping to win back some of his papers.

It was not to be.

The New Hampshire Historical Society was on the losing end Tuesday when it bid for papers written by Franklin Pierce that were up for sale at an auction in New York City. Instead, an unidentified bidder got them for $62,500.

The papers included 90 autographed letters between Pierce and his secretary, Sidney Webster.

The society’s president, Bill Dunlap, said his organization had been authorized by trustees to bid up to $50,000. He said the society hopes to work with the winning bidder to get digital copies of the letters.

“Of course we are disappointed. We would have loved to have those letters,” Dunlap said. “But the consolation prize is if we’re able to get digital images of the letters. At least we could have that content available for researchers to use.”

Dunlap said the papers would have bolstered what already is considered the best collection of Pierce-related items in the country. Pierce served one term as president, from 1853 to 1857. He unsuccessfully tried to heal division that would eventually lead to the Civil War. Due to some of Pierce’s controversial policies, the Democrats chose not re-nominate him, picking instead James Buchanan, who became the country’s 15th president.

The letters between Pierce and Webster were written between 1854 and 1869 and include a touching letter from Pierce thanking Webster for his efforts as secretary. The collection also includes four letters from Pierce to Hamilton Fish, who came from a prominent New York family and was a former governor of New York. Webster married into the Fish family.

Two letters from the collection also were sent to Webster from Jefferson Davison, the secretary of war in Pierce’s cabinet and later the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. There also was a letter to Webster from Stephen A. Douglas, a U.S. senator from Illinois whom Lincoln unsuccessfully challenged.

The 212th anniversary of Pierce’s birth is Wednesday. On Tuesday, the 14th president was honored at the Old North Cemetery in Concord, where the New Hampshire Army National Guard laid a wreath at his gravesite.

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