President 14: Franklin Pierce
March 4, 1853 – March 4, 1857
The Pierce presidency was like the worst halftime show the Super Bowl has ever seen, and after the inflatable sharks Katy Perry had on stage last year, that is quite an honor. The first half had ended in the Compromise of 1850, momentarily pacifying the conflict over whether land acquired in the Mexican American war would be free or slave territory. When Senator Stephen Douglas created the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, essentially repealing the Missouri Compromise and re-opening the option of slavery through its popular sovereignty clause, the second half began and it was downhill from there. War was coming, it was going to be ugly, and there was no turning back.
The Pierces were not a pleasant bunch, but to be fair, they came to the job in absolutely tragic circumstances. Their eleven year old son had died in a train accident just prior their arrival and the ball and festivities surrounding the inauguration were cancelled. Their other two sons had passed at a young age from sickness. Mrs. Pierce, who didn’t like Washington to begin with, spent her time in the White House in mourning and in poor health to boot. I have read some accounts that hint she may have been a hypochondriac with a constant “cough” but, either way, she sported dark sunken eyes and a woebegone face. President Pierce was almost surely an alcoholic who lost his confidence as he took office. When the Democrats did not support his bid for re-election (even though things were quieter in the West at the end of this term) he was quoted saying, ““What can an ex-president of the United States do except get drunk?” Oh Lord, we need Dr. Phil stat.
With regards to Presidential entertaining, Mrs. Pierce tried to meet the basic requirements of a first lady, for which she is certainly due some credit. For the extras, she had her aunt and friend; Abigail Kent Means move in and pick up the slack. The food was the least of their concerns. As both Pierces were from New Hampshire, it seems a lot of rustic Northern fare was on the menu, though Franklin was far more concerned about the drink.
I was so depressed by the end of writing this column that the only thing that would possiblly make me feel better (other than Ted Cruz ending his Presidential campaign) was cheese dip; lots and lots of cheese dip. I had turned to cheese dip in dark times before and this occasion called for even spicier than usual. At the end of the experience, I was left feeling 5 lbs heavier but infinitely warmer inside. I have read accounts that Franklin Pierce was a fan of the spicy, and when spending time fighting during the Mexican American War, expanded his palate. Wow—he may be our first president where his time on the front lines may have been some of his happiest. He did go through a lot so take President Pierce to your tailgate—dude deserves a break.
President Pierce’s Mexican Cheese Dip
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
3.5 cups chopped canned tomatoes
5 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp celery salt
4 oz cream cheese, in cubes
1 tsp creole seasoning OR taco seasoning
Chips for serving
Green onions, chopped for topping
Optional addition: ground chorizo (6 oz)
Sweat onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent [if you are using chorizo add here and cook until it has some color]. Add jalapenos and tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes. Drain excess liquid from mixture. Add cheddar, cream cheese, and seasoning. Melt and combine until creamy and smooth. If you want some color on the top, stick it under the broiler on high for 2minutes. Sprinkle with green onions and serve with chips.
Adapted from Volume 1- Famous White House Recipes