In 1833 Benjamin Brown French was 33 years old. He had worked briefly as a lawyer and had served in administrative positions in county and state government, and was finishing up his term as a representative to the N.H. State Legislature. He was the proprietor and editor of the New Hampshire Spectator, a newspaper published in Newport that supported the Jacksonian Democratic Party.
This party had recently evolved out of the former Democratic-Republican Party, and it would eventually become the modern Democratic Party. Led in the early years by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, the party distrusted the concentration of political and economic power, and favored a weak central government.
Andrew Jackson was elected President of the United States in 1828 and 1832. In June 1833, during his second term, he made a grand tour of cities in the mid-Atlantic region and the Northeast. Jackson was a controversial figure, especially in the northern states, but newspapers reported that the public response to his visits was overwhelmingly positive.
The cities on his route, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Hartford, and Boston went to great expense to honor “Old Hickory,” the hero of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.
On June 21, 1833, a committee made up of Benjamin French and three other New Hampshire legislators was in Boston to observe President Jackson’s visit, and to invite him to visit Concord.
They were amazed to see the President arrive in a carriage at his hotel on Tremont Street in the midst of a crushing crowd of eager onlookers. The committee was invited to a drawing room in the hotel, where the men were honored to be introduced to President Jackson, Vice President Van Buren, and other dignitaries. They extended their invitation to the President, and were thrilled when it was accepted.
At about 3 p.m. on Friday, June 28, 1833 President Jackson arrived in Concord surrounded by his entourage and the members of the welcoming committee. He rode into town on horseback, which greatly pleased the large crowd of cheering admirers.
As Benjamin French described in his journal, “The President … was received with all the cordiality which could be bestowed. I never saw people so happy as all appeared. There were some croakers who kept themselves hidden until all was over, and then commenced finding fault.” Jackson spent a busy weekend in Concord, and made it a point to attend Sunday services at the local Congregational, Unitarian, and Baptist churches. He started his return trip to Washington, D.C. on Monday morning.
On Saturday, June 29, Benjamin and about a dozen other Jacksonian Democrats enjoyed a pleasant dinner at the home of Mr. Zebina Lincoln, a part-owner of a dry goods store in Concord. Among the guests were Vice President Van Buren (who would succeed President Jackson after winning the election of 1836).
Also present was Ralph Metcalf, N.H. secretary of state (and future governor); Gayton Pickman Osgood, U.S. congressman from Massachusetts; N.H. Congressman Henry Hubbard of Charlestown (later U.S. senator and governor); and one of Benjamin’s close friends who had served with him in the state legislature — Congressman Franklin Pierce of Hillsborough (a future U.S. Senator and President of the United States).
After this exciting period, Benjamin French had to face the fact that he had gotten himself into financial difficulty. He decided that he would leave his wife Elizabeth at home in Newport so that he could try to find work in Washington, D.C., where he had connections. On Dec. 21, 1833 Benjamin wrote in his journal, “At half past 1 o’clock this morning I arrived in this city … I am now here and I came here to earn money, not to spend it. I have left behind me all I love on this earth — my dear wife — and nothing but a hope and a wish that I may here earn enough to pay my debts would ever have tempted me to leave my happy home … but though distance separate us, thought, which knows no bounds, can pass from one to the other in a single second, and I can record here such ideas as hereafter we can both read and live over again together the time that was passed in separation.”