Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore.jpg
Photo by Mathew Brady, c. 1855–65
13th President of the United States
In office
July 9, 1850 – March 4, 1853
Vice PresidentNone[a]
Preceded byZachary Taylor
Succeeded byFranklin Pierce
12th Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1849 – July 9, 1850
PresidentZachary Taylor
Preceded byGeorge M. Dallas
Succeeded byWilliam R. King
Chairman of the
House Ways and Means Committee
In office
March 4, 1841 – March 3, 1843
Preceded byJohn Winston Jones
Succeeded byJames I. McKay
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 32nd district
In office
March 4, 1837 – March 3, 1843
Preceded byThomas C. Love
Succeeded byWilliam A. Moseley
In office
March 4, 1833 – March 3, 1835
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byThomas C. Love
14th Comptroller of New York
In office
January 1, 1848 – February 20, 1849
GovernorJohn Young
Hamilton Fish
Preceded byAzariah Cutting Flagg
Succeeded byWashington Hunt
Personal details
Born(1800-01-07)January 7, 1800
Moravia, New York, U.S.
DiedMarch 8, 1874(1874-03-08) (aged 74)
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Resting placeForest Lawn Cemetery
Buffalo, New York
Political party
ChildrenMillard and Mary
ParentsNathaniel Fillmore
Phoebe Millard
SignatureCursive signature in ink
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
 New York
Years of service1820s–1830s (militia)
1860s–1870s (guard)
RankUS-O4 insignia.svg Major (militia)
US-O3 insignia.svg Captain (guard)
UnitNew York Militia
New York Guard
CommandsUnion Continentals (New York Guard)
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

Millard Fillmore (January 7, 1800 – March 8, 1874) was the 13th president of the United States (1850–1853), and the last to be a member of the Whig Party while in the White House. A former U.S. Representative from New York, Fillmore was elected the nation's 12th vice president in 1848, and succeeded to the presidency in July 1850 upon the death of President Zachary Taylor. He was instrumental in getting the Compromise of 1850 passed, a bargain that led to a brief truce in the battle over slavery. He failed to win the Whig nomination for president in 1852; he gained the endorsement of the nativist Know Nothing Party four years later, and finished third in that election.

Fillmore was born into poverty in the Finger Lakes area of New York state—his parents were tenant farmers during his formative years. Though he had little formal schooling, he rose from poverty through diligent study and became a successful attorney. He became prominent in the Buffalo area as an attorney and politician, was elected to the New York Assembly in 1828, and to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1832. Initially, he belonged to the Anti-Masonic Party, but became a Whig as the party formed in the mid-1830s; he was a rival for state party leadership with editor Thurlow Weed and Weed's protégé, William H. Seward. Through his career, Fillmore declared slavery an evil, but one beyond the powers of the federal government, whereas Seward was not only openly hostile to slavery, he argued that the federal government had a role to play in ending it. Fillmore was an unsuccessful candidate for Speaker of the House when the Whigs took control of the chamber in 1841, but was made Ways and Means Committee chairman. Defeated in bids for the Whig nomination for vice president in 1844, and for New York governor the same year, Fillmore was elected Comptroller of New York in 1847, the first to hold that post by direct election.

As vice president, Fillmore was largely ignored by Taylor, even in the dispensing of patronage in New York, on which Taylor consulted Weed and Seward. In his capacity as President of the Senate however, he presided over angry debates in the Senate as Congress decided whether to allow slavery in the Mexican Cession. Fillmore supported Henry Clay's Omnibus Bill (the basis of the 1850 Compromise) though Taylor did not. Upon becoming president in July 1850, Fillmore dismissed Taylor's cabinet and carried out his own policy priorities. He began by exerting pressure on Congress to pass the Compromise, highlighting how it gave legislative victories to both North and South – the five-bill package was approved and then enacted into law that September. The Fugitive Slave Act, expediting the return of escaped slaves to those who claimed ownership, was a controversial part of the Compromise, and Fillmore felt himself duty-bound to enforce it, though it damaged his popularity and also the Whig Party, which was torn North from South. In foreign policy, Fillmore supported U.S. Navy expeditions to open trade in Japan, opposed French designs on Hawaii, and was embarrassed by Narciso López's filibuster expeditions to Cuba. He sought election to a full term in 1852, but was passed over by the Whigs in favor of Winfield Scott.

As the Whig Party broke up after Fillmore's presidency, many in Fillmore's conservative wing joined the Know Nothings, forming the American Party. In his 1856 candidacy as that party's nominee, Fillmore had little to say about immigration, focusing instead on the preservation of the Union, and won only Maryland. In retirement, Fillmore was active in many civic endeavors—he helped in founding the University of Buffalo and served as its first chancellor. During the American Civil War, Fillmore denounced secession and agreed that the Union must be maintained by force if necessary, but was critical of the war policies of Abraham Lincoln. After peace was restored, he supported the Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson. Though he is relatively obscure today, Fillmore has been praised by some, for his foreign policy, and criticized by others, for his enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act and his association with the Know Nothings. Historians and scholars have consistently ranked Fillmore as one of the worst presidents.

Early life and career

Millard Fillmore was born January 7, 1800 in a log cabin,[b] on a farm in what is now Moravia, Cayuga County, in the Finger Lakes region of New York. His parents were Phoebe (Millard) and Nathaniel Fillmore[2]—he was the second of eight children and the oldest son.[3] Nathaniel Fillmore was the son of Nathaniel Fillmore Sr. (1739–1814), a native of Franklin, Connecticut who became one of the earliest settlers of Bennington when it was founded in the territory then called the New Hampshire Grants.[4]

Nathaniel Fillmore and Phoebe Millard moved from Vermont in 1799, seeking better opportunities than were available on Nathaniel's stony farm, but the title to their Cayuga County land proved defective, and the Fillmore family moved to nearby Sempronius, where they leased land as tenant farmers, and Nathaniel occasionally taught school.[5][6] Historian Tyler Anbinder described Fillmore's childhood as, " of hard work, frequent privation, and virtually no formal schooling".[2]

Historical marker at the site of Fillmore's birth in Cayuga County, New York

Over time, Nathaniel became more successful in Sempronius, though during Millard’s formative years the family endured severe poverty.[c] Nathaniel became sufficiently regarded that he was chosen to serve in local offices including justice of the peace.[9] In hopes his oldest son would learn a trade, he convinced Millard at age 14 not to enlist for the War of 1812[10] and apprenticed him to cloth maker Benjamin Hungerford in Sparta.[11] Fillmore was relegated to menial labor; unhappy at not learning any skills, he left Hungerford's employ.[12] His father then placed him in the same trade at a mill in New Hope.[13] Seeking to better himself, Millard bought a share in a circulating library, and read all the books he could.[13] In 1819, he took advantage of idle time at the mill to enroll at a new academy in the town, where he met a classmate, Abigail Powers, and fell in love with her.[14]

Later in 1819, Nathaniel moved the family to Montville, a hamlet of Moravia.[15] Appreciating his son's talents, Nathaniel followed his wife's advice and persuaded Judge Walter Wood, the Fillmores' landlord and the wealthiest person in the area, to allow Millard to be his law clerk for a trial period.[16] Wood agreed to employ young Fillmore, and to supervise him as he read law.[16] Fillmore earned money teaching school for three months and bought out his mill apprenticeship.[17] He left Wood after 18 months—the judge paid him almost nothing, and the two quarreled after Fillmore, unaided, earned a small sum advising a farmer in a minor lawsuit.[18] Refusing to pledge not to do it again, Fillmore gave up his clerkship.[19] Nathaniel again moved the family, and Millard accompanied them west to East Aurora, in Erie County, near Buffalo.,[20] where Nathaniel purchased a farm which became prosperous.[21]

In 1821, Fillmore turned 21 and reached emancipation.[22] He taught school in East Aurora, and accepted a few cases in justice of the peace courts, which did not require the practitioner to be a licensed attorney.[22] He moved to Buffalo the following year and continued his study of law—first while teaching school, and then in the law office of Asa Rice and Joseph Clary. At that time he also became engaged to Abigail Powers.[22] In 1823, he was admitted to the New York bar, declined offers from Buffalo law firms, and returned to East Aurora to establish a practice as the town's only residing lawyer.[20][23] Later in life, Fillmore stated that he initially lacked the self-confidence to practice in the larger city of Buffalo; his biographer, Paul Finkelman, suggested that after being under others' thumbs all his life, Fillmore enjoyed the independence of his East Aurora practice.[24] On February 5, 1826, Millard and Abigail wed, and later had two children, Millard Powers Fillmore (1828–1889) and Mary Abigail Fillmore (1832–1854).[25]

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беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Мілард Філмар
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български: Милърд Филмор
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čeština: Millard Fillmore
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Ελληνικά: Μίλαρντ Φίλμορ
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مازِرونی: میلارد فیلمور
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српски / srpski: Милард Филмор
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Türkmençe: Millard Filmor
українська: Міллард Філлмор
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