Without a doubt the saddest American President when he took the oath of office was Franklin Pierce. He, his wife, Jane Pierce, and his son Benjamin were traveling on a train near Andover, Massachusetts when the car they were traveling in derailed. Pierce and his wife received only slight injuries, but Benjamin was slain before the eyes of his horrified parents, crushed to death and nearly decapitated. He was eleven years old, the sole surviving child of the Pierces, their first son dying four days after birth and their second at the age of four. Both parents were sunk in a depression from which they never fully recovered. Mrs. Pierce wrote a letter to her departed son in which she lamented her shortcomings as a mother. It was two years before she could bring herself to go to Washington and take up the duties of First Lady, which she did with quiet dignity and to enormous public sympathy.
Pierce, as best he could, bottled up the endless grief he felt over the death of his son. He only referred to it publicly once, during his inaugural address:
“You have summoned me in my weakness, you must sustain me by your strength.”