Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States of America.  He served part of one term (1850-1853)  after President Zachary Taylor died while in office.

Nickname: The American Louis Philippe

Quote: “God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil, for which we are not responsible, and we must endure it.”   “Where is the true-hearted American whose cheek does not tingle with shame to see our highest and most courted foreign missions filled by  men of foreign birth to the exclusion of the native-born?”

I read “Millard Fillmore” by Paul Finkelman.

  • was born on January 7th, 1800 to Nathaniel and Phoebe Fillmore in New York
  • Millard was his mother’s maiden name
  • grew up in relative poverty
  • was apprenticed for four years as a wool carder and cloth dresser
  • met his wife, Abigail, at school in 1819 – she was a teacher
  • was apprenticed to a county judge, Walter Wood for two years, before Fillmore took a freelance job representing someone and was let go
  • announced his engagement at age 18 to Abigail, who was 20
  • was admitted to the bar (to practice law) at age 23
  • was very focused on outward appearances and wanted to to have a popular public image, he felt inferior b/c of his background
  • was open about being anti-mason, anti-Catholic, anti-abolitionist, and anti-immigrant
  • married Abigail in February 1826
  • Abigail Fillmore was the only First Lady before the twentieth century to work outside the home after her marriage
  • Fillmore was a great believer in conspiracy theories of all sorts
  • in 1828, he was elected to the New York state legislature and served three consecutive terms
  • was considered a protegé of Daniel Webster
  • was elected chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in 1840
  • ran for the Whig nomination for Vice President in 1844, but lost to Henry Clay
  • then ran for governor of New York and lost to Silas Wright
  • was nominated and elected as state comptroller of New York and closed his law office
  • pushed for a federal program to improve river and harbor development
  • was elected Chancellor of the University of Buffalo
  • for most of the time he was Vice President under Zachary Taylor, he lived alone at the Willard Hotel, his wife remaining in Buffalo
  • tended to have direct opposite views from President Taylor on the big issues such as statehood for California, the spread of slavery to the west, and the expansion of Texas
  • was snubbed when President Taylor took Fillmore’s hated political rival, William Henry Seward, to be his closest confidant and adviser
  • openly stated on one occasion that he would vote against the President’s wishes if there was a chance for him to be the tie-breaking vote on a bill
  • allied himself with Daniel Webster and Henry Clay
  • supported the Compromise of 1850, which allowed over 400,000 square miles of territory in the west to be declared as slavery-allowing territory
  • was sworn in as President on July 10, 1850, after the death of President Taylor
  • fired every single one of Taylor’s cabinet the day he took office, mainly out of spite – and was the only “accidental” President to do so
  • had trouble finding men to replace the ones he fired because of his party (Whigs) and because of his petulant attitude
  • gave Texas the right to define their own territorial boundaries and invade New Mexico, even if Congress said otherwise and he himself declared otherwise
  • firmly supported the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed southern slave owners to travel up North to re-claim their runaway slaves (and sometimes free African Americans as well)
  • established a mint in San Francisco to stimulate the economy and aid those who found gold in getting it circulating in the economy
  • was the first President to propose a trans-continental railroad
  • he and his wife started the White House library
  • sent Commodore Matthew C. Perry on a mission to Japan to begin foreign relations with them – previously, all westerners were considered criminals when they landed in Japan
  • protected Hawaii from being annexed by Napoleon
  • favorite foods (via The Awl) – Beef stew, mock turtle soup, fish, ham with macaroni, duck, chicken, pigeon, and larded sweet breads.
  • failed to stop a man named Lopez from recruiting an army and trying to invade and conquer Cuba; Lopez was killed by the Spanish in Cuba, most of his expedition’s party members were executed or captured and sent to Spain, he then ransomed them and brought them home
  • amended the Fugitive Slave – barring African Americans from defending themselves at their own hearing/trial
  • became infuriated with Chicago and Boston when their city councils nullified the Fugitive Slave Act
  • authorized the use of Federal troops to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act (the Marines)
  • blamed the disharmony that came from the FSA on other politicians and the public in the North who refused to enforce it
  • was more concerned about his home state’s local politicians undermining him than he was about his own stand alienating him from the entire country
  • was only the fourth “Northern” President elected (Adams, Adams, and Van Buren) all the rest were from the South
  • was the first solidly middle-class President
  • instructed for the formation of the Washington Territory (it was part of the Oregon Territory previously)
  • after an African American man escaped while being tried under the FSA, the next trial of a black man under the Act was tried in a courthouse surrounded by nearly 500 special deputies and and ringed with anchor chain so that no one could mob it
  • personally demanded prosecution of four white people and 36 African Americans who participated in a riot that resulted in the escape of a fugitive slave, they were all charged with treason, by his request,  in the largest treason trial in the history of the US
  • despite the fact that he and Daniel Webster were cronies, they blocked each other from receiving the Whig nomination for the Presidency in 1852 just by running against each other and refusing to back down or communicate; this was especially ridiculous considering Webster was part of Fillmore’s cabinet and it was frowned upon for a current cabinet member to challenge a current President with their own campaign
  • his wife, Abigail, died on March 30, 1853 – less than a month after Fillmore left office – supposedly from a cold she caught attending Franklin Pierce’s inauguration
  • in 1854, Fillmore’s daughter, Mary Abigail, died
  • when he visited Queen Victoria of England, she reportedly thought him “the handsomest man she had ever met”
  • despite his deep dislike for Catholics, he agreed to meet the Pope in 1855 (as long as he didn’t have to kneel or kiss the Pope’s ring)
  • after the downfall of the Whig party, Fillmore joined the American Party (or Know-Nothing Party) which was strongly anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant; he ran as their Presidential nominee in 1856
  • when he lost the election, he returned to Buffalo and married Caroline Carmichael, a wealthy widow
  • organized a home guard of elderly men in Buffalo during the Civil War and raised $25,000 to aid wounded soldiers
  • after giving a speech denouncing the War and President Lincoln, he was regarded by his neighbors as a “Copperhead”, someone who lived in the North but sympathized with the Confederacy
  • founded the Buffalo Historical Society
  • died on March 8, 1874 of a stroke, and was buried in Buffalo

<— Zachary Taylor                                           Franklin Pierce —>

Post title taken from Jonathan Coulton’s song “The Presidents”