Washington — Meet Franklin Pierce of Hillsboro, N.H. He was 14th president of the United States, 1853-57. He was the only elected president in history who wanted renomination and was rejected by his party.
A substantial number of Democrats today want to do the same thing to President Carter. But the rarity of the event indicates the difficulty of turning down, or "dumping," an incumbent president who wants to continue the job.
Mr. Carter, in his dramatic hour-long press conference this week dealing with his brother, Billy, may have improved his position in holding on to his party's nomination. The President has held only five press conference in 1980, and only 57 in his term of office, compared with the two-a-week routine of Franklin Roosevelt. And in view of the success of the latest appearance before the news media many feel he may hold more in the immediate future and re-establish what some think is a decline in communication with the public.
Political parties have rejected other presidents of their party but under different circumstances from Franklin Pierce. Several were "accidental" chief executives. Vice- President Millard Fillmore succeeded Zachary Taylor as 13th US president and failed to get nominated in 1852. Andrew Johnson took over when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and was similarly passed over. So was Chester A. Arthur who moved to the White House after James Garfield was shot. None of the three had been nominated as president to begin with.
In another category are Presidents Ulysses Grant and Theodore Roosevelt. Neither were incumbents when they were rejected for nomination. General Grant had served two presidential terms 1869 to 1877, which were characterized by corruption in his Cabinet. He was succeeded by Rutherford B. Hayes, another REpublican. In 1880, the Republican "Old Guard" tried to secure another nomination for Grant, but failed.
"Teddy" Roosevelt, a Republican, came to office at the death of William McKinley in 1901 and was elected in his own right in 1904. He handed on his succession to William Howard Taft, with whom he subsequently broke. In 1912, Roosevelt tried for renomination again but Republican stuck to incumbent Taft although he appeared certain of defeat by Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt started a third party, the progressives. Taft's renomination, shows the power of incumbency under the American political system for re-election.
The current view here in Washington is that maneuver to "open" next week's Democratic convention in New York will likely fail. But even if the rules are changed, President Carter may be re-nominated anyway.
Polls show Carter currently below any president in history.But does that foreclose the result? No, It is argued. This is a volatile year. Polls have more validity later in the campaign. Reagan-Carter debates could eventually decide the result. And events in foreign fields might have startling results.
But what about Franklin Pierce? "A winning smile and a blank (hence blameless) political record were the only apparent qualifications of this gentleman," wrote historians Morison and Commager. He was the original "dark horse" candidate in the Democratic convention in 1852, and got nominated on the 49th ballot. He went on to defeat the Whig candidate, Gen. Winfield Scott, who had been his commanding officer in the Mexican war (Pierce was a brigadier general).
Will he have to move over in history as the only elected incumbent president ever dumped by his party? Next week's Democratic convention will provide the answer.