Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore Photo

Millard Fillmore Photo

Millard Fillmore was the thirteenth (1850–1853) President of the United States and the second President to succeed to the office from the Vice Presidency on the death of the predecessor. Born into desperate poverty, he climbed to the highest office in the land, inheriting a nation breaking into fragments over the question of slavery. He was never elected into office in his own right, but only served out the term of his predecessor Zachary Taylor. He was the last candidate of the Whig Party.

Fillmore, the second of eight children, was born January 7, 1800, in extreme poverty to Nathaniel Fillmore and Phoebe Millard in Summerhill, New York. His family’s small farm in upstate Cayuga County, New York, could not support them, and Fillmore’s father apprenticed his son to a clothmaker. Fillmore served in slave-like conditions, but was able to borrow enough money to fulfill his obligation to the clothmaker and walked the 100 miles to return to his home.

Obsessed with educating himself, Fillmore taught himself to read, stealing books on occasion. Some years later, he moved to Buffalo, New York to continue his studies. His teacher, Abigail Powers, encouraged and helped him. She would prove to be the most influential person in his life. She was only nineteen — not even two years older than her pupil. After Fillmore received a clerkship with a local judge, he began to court Abigail Powers. The couple married in 1826.

He was admitted to the bar in 1823 and began his practice of law in Aurora. As a young lawyer, Fillmore was asked to run for the New York State Assembly. In 1829, he began the first of three terms in the assembly, and sponsored a substantial amount of legislation. In 1832, Millard Fillmore was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Fillmore served four terms in office. Then, in 1843, resigned from the legislature and unsuccessfully lobbied for the vice-presidential nomination on the Whig Party ticket, then lost a bid of Governor of New York, both events occuring in 1844. He was then elected the New York state comptroller in 1847, winning the election by such a wide margin that he was immediately considered a prospect for national office.

The opportunity came in 1848 when Fillmore was selected as the vice-presidential candidate alongside military hero General Zachary Taylor, the presidential nominee. The Taylor-Fillmore ticket won a bitterly fought election over the Democratic ticket led by Michigan senator Lewis Cass.

Taylor and Fillmore were an odd match — the products of very different backgrounds and educations and far apart on the issues of the day. The two men did not meet until after the election and did not hit it off when they did. In a short time, Fillmore found himself excluded from the councils of power, relegated to his role as president of the Senate.

The critical issue facing President Taylor was slavery. The two men came to a head on the issue in the new western territories taken from Mexico in the Mexican-American War. Henry Clay had crafted a series of proposals into an omnibus bill that became known as the Compromise of 1850, a patchwork of legislation that would admit California as a new free state; organize New Mexico and Utah, the remainder of the Mexican Cession, as territories on the basis of popular sovereignty; and readjust the disputed boundary between Texas and New Mexico.

Taylor wanted the new states to be free states, while Fillmore supported slavery in those states in order to appease the South. In his own words: “God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil … and we must endure it and give it such protection as is guaranteed by the Constitution.” Taylor refused to take a stand, and the compromise bill was stalled. Then the unthinkable happened: President Taylor died, possibly of cholera.

Taking the office of President, Fillmore strongly supported the compromise and engineered its passage. In so doing he believed he had helped to safeguard the Union by forcing these issues. However, it soon became clear that the compromise only served to give everyone something to hate. Under the strains of the failed agreement, the Whig Party began to come apart at the seams.

Internationally, Fillmore dispatched Commodore Perry to open Japan to Western trade. He worked to keep the Hawaiian Islands out of European hands, and refused to back an invasion of Cuba by a group of Southern adventurers who wanted to expand the South into a slave-based Caribbean empire. Southerners blamed Fillmore for his refusal to support their campaign. At the same time he offended Northerners by enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law in their region.

Discouraged, Fillmore declined to run again but was prevailed upon to allow his name to be put forward — only to lose the nomination to General Winfield Scott. It wasn’t long after that his beloved Abigail died, followed by his twenty-two-year-old daughter Mary.

Despite Fillmore’s his best efforts to maintain the solvency of the Union, the lines of the future battles of the Civil War were drawn, and Fillmore found himself rejected by his own dying party and denied re-nomination. After almost a quarter of a century out of the White House, he died in New York state in 1874.

Millard Fillmore Facts

  • President No.: 13th
  • When did Millard Fillmore serve? 1850-53
  • What was Millard Fillmore’s party? Whig
  • Where was Millard Fillmore from? New York
  • Who was Millard Fillmore’s wife? Abigail Powers Fillmore
  • When was Millard Fillmore born? January 7, 1800
  • Where was Millard Fillmore born? Cayuga County, New York
  • When did Millard Fillmore die? March 8, 1874
  • Which college did Millard Fillmore attend? Never attended college, went to one-room schoolhouse.
  • What was Millard Fillmore’s Jobs Before President? Farmer, Congressman
  • What was Millard Fillmore’s height? 5 feet, 9 inches
  • What was the population when Millard Fillmore was president? 23,191,876
  • What transportation did Millard Fillmore use? Train
  • How did Millard Fillmore communicate? Letter

Speeches

Millard Fillmore State of the Union Addresses


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