Millard Fillmore (January 7, 1800 – March 8, 1874) was the 13th
President of the United States
President of the United States (1850–53), 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 was elevated to the presidency by the death of Zachary
Taylor. He was instrumental in getting the
Compromise of 1850
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. He
rose from poverty through study, and became a lawyer with little
formal schooling. He became prominent in the Buffalo area as an
attorney and politician, was elected to the
New York Assembly
New York Assembly in 1828,
and to the
U.S. House of Representatives
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
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.
Fillmore received the Whig vice presidential nomination in 1848 as
Taylor's running mate, and the two were elected. He was largely
ignored by Taylor, even in the dispensing of patronage in New York, on
which Taylor consulted Weed and Seward. As vice president, Fillmore
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. After President Taylor died in July 1850, Fillmore dismissed
the cabinet and changed the administration's policy. The new president
exerted pressure to gain the passage of the Compromise, which gave
legislative victories to both North and South, and which was enacted
by 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
University of Buffalo
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.
1 Early life and career
2 Buffalo politician
3.1 First term; return to Buffalo
3.2 Second through fourth terms
4 National figure
5 Election of 1848
5.2 General election campaign
6 Vice president (1849–1850)
7 Presidency (1850–1853)
7.1 Succession amid crisis
7.2 Domestic affairs
7.3 Foreign relations
7.4 Election of 1852 and completion of term
8.1 Tragedy and political turmoil (1853–1855)
8.2 1856 campaign
8.3 Later life and death
9 Legacy and historical view
10 Memorial plaques
11 See also
14 Works cited
15 Further reading
16 External links
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 state. His parents were Phoebe (Millard) and Nathaniel
Fillmore—he was the second of eight children and the oldest
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.
Nathaniel Fillmore Sr. was a
member of the Green Mountain Boys, and served as an ensign and first
lieutenant during the American Revolution. In 1767, Nathaniel
Fillmore Sr. married Hepzibah Wood (1747-1783), the mother of
Nathaniel Fillmore and grandmother of Millard Fillmore. [c]
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.
Historian Tyler Anbinder described Fillmore's childhood as, “...one
of hard work, frequent privation, and virtually no formal
Historical marker at the site of Fillmore's birth
Over time, Nathaniel became more successful in Sempronius, though
during Millard’s formative years the family endured severe
poverty.[d] Nathaniel became sufficiently regarded and was chosen to
serve in local offices including justice of the peace. In hopes
his oldest son would learn a trade, he convinced Millard at age 14 not
to enlist for the War of 1812 and apprenticed him to cloth maker
Benjamin Hungerford in Sparta. Fillmore was relegated to menial
labor; unhappy at not learning any skills, he left Hungerford's
employ. His father then placed him in the same trade at a mill in
New Hope. Seeking to better himself, Millard bought a share in a
circulating library, and read all the books he could. 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
Later in 1819, Nathaniel moved the family to Montville, a hamlet of
Moravia. Appreciating his son's talents, Nathaniel 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.
Wood agreed to employ young Fillmore, and to supervise him as he read
law. Fillmore earned money teaching school for three months and
bought out his mill apprenticeship. 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. Refusing to pledge not to do it again, Fillmore
gave up his clerkship. Nathaniel again moved the family, and
Millard accompanied them west to East Aurora, in Erie County, near
Buffalo., where Nathaniel purchased a farm which became
In 1821, Fillmore turned 21 and reached emancipation. 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. 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. 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. 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. On February 5, 1826, Millard and Abigail wed, and later
had two children,
Millard Powers Fillmore
Millard Powers Fillmore (1828–1889) and Mary
Abigail Fillmore (1832–1854).
Other members of the Fillmore family were active in politics and
government in addition to Nathaniel’s service as a justice of the
peace. Millard’s grandfather, Nathaniel Sr., served in local offices
in Bennington—as hayward, highway surveyor, and tax collector.
[e] Millard then also became interested in politics—the rise of the
Anti-Masonic Party in the late 1820s provided his initial attraction
Millard Fillmore helped build this house in East Aurora, New York, and
lived here 1826–1830.
Many Anti-Masons were opposed to the presidential candidacy of General
Andrew Jackson, a Mason, and Fillmore was a delegate to the New York
convention that endorsed President
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams for re-election,
and served as well at two Anti-Masonic conventions in the summer of
1828. At the conventions, Fillmore and one of the early political
bosses, newspaper editor Thurlow Weed, met and impressed each
other. By then, Fillmore was the leading citizen in East Aurora,
successfully sought election to the New York State Assembly, and
served in Albany for three one-year terms (1829 to 1831).
Fillmore's 1828 election was in contrast to the victories of the
Jacksonian Democrats (soon the Democrats), who swept the general into
White House and their party to a majority in Albany—thus
Fillmore was in the minority in the Assembly. He proved effective
anyway, promoting legislation to provide court witnesses the option of
taking a non-religious oath, and in 1830 abolishing imprisonment for
debt. By then, much of Fillmore's legal practice was in Buffalo
and later that year he moved there with his family; he did not seek
re-election in 1831.
Fillmore was also successful as a lawyer. Buffalo was then in a period
of rapid expansion, recovering from British conflagration during the
War of 1812, and becoming the western terminus of the Erie Canal.
Court cases from outside Erie County began falling to Fillmore's lot,
and he reached prominence as a lawyer in Buffalo before he moved
there. He took lifelong friend
Nathan K. Hall
Nathan K. Hall as a law clerk in East
Aurora—Hall became Fillmore's partner in Buffalo and his postmaster
general as president. Buffalo was legally a village when Fillmore
arrived, and although the bill to incorporate it as a city passed the
legislature after Fillmore had left the Assembly, he helped draft the
city charter. In addition to his legal practice, Fillmore helped found
the Buffalo High School Association, joined the lyceum and attended
the local Unitarian church; he became a leading citizen of
Buffalo. He was also active in the New York Militia, and attained
the rank of major as inspector of the 47th Brigade.
First term; return to Buffalo
In 1832 Fillmore ran for the House of Representatives and was elected.
The Anti-Masonic presidential candidate, William Wirt, former Attorney
General, won only Vermont, as President Jackson easily gained
re-election. At the time, Congress convened its annual session in
December, and so Fillmore had to wait more than a year after his
election to take his seat. Fillmore, Weed, and others realized that
opposition to Masonry was too narrow a foundation on which to build a
national party, and formed the broad-based Whig Party from National
Republicans, Anti-Masons, and disaffected Democrats. The Whigs were
initially united by their opposition to Jackson, but became a major
party by expanding their platform to include support for economic
growth through rechartering the
Second Bank of the United States
Second Bank of the United States and
federally funded internal improvements including roads, bridges, and
canals. Weed joined the Whigs before Fillmore, and became a power
within the party; his anti-slavery views were stronger than Fillmore's
(who disliked slavery but considered the federal government powerless
over it), and closer to those of another prominent New York Whig,
William H. Seward
William H. Seward of Auburn, who was also seen as a Weed protégé.
In Washington, Fillmore urged the expansion of Buffalo harbor, a
decision under federal jurisdiction, and privately lobbied Albany for
the expansion of the state-owned Erie Canal. Even during the 1832
campaign, Fillmore's affiliation as an Anti-Mason had been uncertain,
and he rapidly shed the label once sworn in. Fillmore came to the
notice of the influential
Massachusetts senator Daniel Webster, who
took the new congressman under his wing. Fillmore became a firm
supporter and the close relationship between the two would continue
until Webster's death late in Fillmore's presidency. Despite
Fillmore's support of the Second Bank as a means of national
development, he did not speak in the congressional debates in which
some advocated renewing its charter, although Jackson had previously
vetoed legislation for a charter renewal. Fillmore supported
building infrastructure, voting in favor of constructing a bridge
Potomac River and navigation improvements on the
Anti-Masonry was still strong in Western New York though it was
petering out nationally, and when the Anti-Masons did not nominate him
for a second term in 1834, Fillmore declined the Whig nomination,
seeing that the two parties would split the anti-Jackson vote and
elect the Democrat. Despite Fillmore's departure from office, he was a
rival for state party leadership with Seward, the unsuccessful 1834
Whig gubernatorial candidate. Fillmore spent his time out of
office building his law practice and boosting the Whig Party, which
gradually absorbed most of the Anti-Masons. By 1836, Fillmore was
confident enough of anti-Jackson unity that he accepted the Whig
nomination for Congress. Democrats, led by their presidential
candidate, Vice President Martin Van Buren, were victorious nationwide
and in Van Buren's home state of New York, but Western New York voted
Whig and sent Fillmore back to Washington.
Second through fourth terms
Van Buren, faced with the economic Panic of 1837, caused in part by
lack of confidence in private bank note issues after Jackson had
instructed the government to only accept gold or silver, called a
special session of Congress. Government money had been held in
so-called "pet banks" since Jackson had withdrawn it from the Second
Bank; Van Buren proposed to place funds in sub-treasuries, government
depositories that would not lend money. Believing that government
funds should be lent to develop the country, Fillmore felt this would
lock the nation's limited supply of gold money away from commerce. Van
Buren's sub-treasury and other economic proposals passed, but as hard
times continued, the Whigs saw an increased vote in the 1837
elections, and captured the New York Assembly. This set up a fight for
the 1838 gubernatorial nomination. Fillmore supported the leading Whig
vice presidential candidate from 1836, Francis Granger; Weed preferred
Seward. Fillmore was embittered when Weed got the nomination for
Seward, but campaigned loyally; Seward was elected, while Fillmore won
another term in the House.
The rivalry between Fillmore and Seward was affected by the growing
anti-slavery movement. Although Fillmore disliked slavery, he saw no
reason it should be a political issue. Seward, on the other hand, was
hostile to slavery and made that clear in his actions as governor,
refusing to return slaves claimed by Southerners. When the Buffalo
bar in 1839 proposed Fillmore for the position of vice chancellor of
the eighth judicial district, Seward refused, and nominated Frederick
Whittlesey—indicating that if the state senate rejected Whittlesey,
he still would not appoint Fillmore.
Fillmore was active in the discussions of presidential candidates that
preceded the Whig National Convention for the 1840 race. He initially
supported General Winfield Scott, but really wanted to defeat Kentucky
Senator Henry Clay, a slaveholder he felt could not carry New York
state. Fillmore did not attend the convention, but was gratified when
it nominated General
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison for president, with former
John Tyler his running mate. Fillmore organized
Western New York for the Harrison campaign, and the national ticket
was elected, while Fillmore easily gained a fourth term in the
At the urging of Senator Clay, Harrison quickly called a special
session of Congress. With the Whigs to organize the House for the
first time, Fillmore sought the Speakership, but it went to a Clay
acolyte, John White of Kentucky. Nevertheless, Fillmore was made
chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Harrison was
expected to go along with anything Clay and other congressional Whig
leaders proposed, but died on April 4, 1841, elevating Vice President
Tyler to the presidency. Tyler, a onetime maverick Democrat, soon
broke with Clay over congressional proposals for a national bank to
stabilize the currency, which he vetoed twice, leading to his
expulsion from the Whig Party. Fillmore remained on the fringes of
that conflict, generally supporting the congressional Whig position,
but his chief achievement as Ways and Means chairman was the Tariff of
1842. The existing tariff did not protect manufacturing, and part of
the revenue was distributed to the states, a decision made in better
times that was by then depleting the Treasury. Fillmore prepared a
bill raising tariff rates that was popular in the country, but the
continuation of distribution assured a Tyler veto, and much political
advantage for the Whigs. Once Tyler vetoed it, a House committee
headed by Massachusetts'
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams condemned his actions.
Fillmore prepared a second bill, this time omitting distribution, and
when it reached his desk, Tyler signed it, but in the process offended
his erstwhile Democratic allies. Thus, Fillmore not only achieved his
legislative goal, but managed to politically isolate Tyler.
Fillmore received praise for the tariff, but in July 1842 he announced
he would not seek re-election. The Whigs nominated him anyway, but he
refused it. Tired of Washington life and the conflict that had
revolved around President Tyler, Fillmore sought to return to his life
and law practice in Buffalo. Fillmore continued to be active in the
lame duck session of Congress that followed the 1842 elections and
returned to Buffalo in April 1843. According to his biographer,
Scarry: "Fillmore concluded his Congressional career at a point when
he had become a powerful figure, an able statesman at the height of
Thurlow Weed deemed Congressman Fillmore "able in
debate, wise in council, and inflexible in his political
Out of office, Fillmore continued his law practice and made
long-neglected repairs to his Buffalo home. He remained a major
political figure, leading the committee of notables that welcomed John
Quincy Adams to Buffalo, and the former president expressed his regret
at Fillmore's absence from the halls of Congress. Some urged Fillmore
to run for vice president with Clay, the consensus Whig choice for
president in 1844—
Horace Greeley wrote privately that "my own first
choice has long been Millard Fillmore"—others thought Fillmore
should try to win back the governor's mansion for the Whigs.
Fillmore wanted the vice presidency, and he was not delayed in his
efforts to return to Washington in that capacity.
Fillmore in 1843
Fillmore hoped to gain the endorsement of the New York delegation to
the national convention, but Weed wanted the vice presidency for
Seward, with Fillmore as governor. Seward, however, withdrew prior to
the 1844 Whig National Convention. When Weed's replacement vice
presidential hopeful, Willis Hall, fell ill, Weed sought to defeat
Fillmore's candidacy to force him to run for governor. Weed's attempts
to boost Fillmore as a gubernatorial candidate caused the former
congressman to write, "I am not willing to be treacherously killed by
this pretended kindness ... do not suppose for a minute that I
think they desire my nomination for governor." New York sent a
delegation to the convention in Baltimore pledged to support Clay, but
with no instructions as to how to vote for vice president. Weed told
out-of-state delegates that the New York party preferred to have
Fillmore as its gubernatorial candidate, and after Clay was nominated
for president, the second place on the ticket fell to former New
Jersey senator Theodore Frelinghuysen.
Putting a good face on his defeat, Fillmore met and publicly appeared
with Frelinghuysen, quietly spurning Weed's offer to get him nominated
as governor at the state convention. Fillmore's position in opposing
slavery, but only at the state level, made him acceptable as a
statewide Whig candidate, and Weed saw to it the pressure on Fillmore
increased. Fillmore had previously stated that a convention had the
right to draft anyone for political service, and Weed got the
convention to choose Fillmore, who had broad support despite his
The Democrats nominated Senator
Silas Wright as their gubernatorial
candidate, and former Tennessee governor
James K. Polk
James K. Polk for president.
Although Fillmore worked to gain support among German-Americans, a
major constituency, he was hurt among immigrants by the fact that New
York City Whigs had supported a nativist candidate in the mayoral
election earlier in 1844—Fillmore and his party were tarred with
that brush. He was not friendly to immigrants, and blamed his
defeat on "foreign Catholics". Clay was beaten as well.
Fillmore's biographer Paul Finkelman suggested that the hostility to
immigrants and weak position on slavery defeated him for governor.
In 1846, Fillmore was involved in the founding of the University of
Buffalo, and became its first chancellor; he served until his death in
1874. He had opposed the annexation of Texas, and spoke against the
subsequent Mexican-American War, seeing it as a contrivance to extend
slavery's realm. Fillmore was angered when President Polk vetoed a
river and harbors bill that would have benefitted Buffalo, and
wrote, "May God save the country for it is evident the people will
not". New York governors at the time served a two-year term, and
Fillmore could have had the Whig nomination in 1846, had he wanted it.
He actually came within one vote of it while maneuvering to get the
nomination for his supporter, John Young, who was elected. A new
New York state
New York state provided that the office of
comptroller was made elective, as were the attorney general and some
other positions that were formerly chosen by the state legislature.
Fillmore's work in finance while Ways and Means chairman made him an
obvious candidate for comptroller, and he was successful in getting
the Whig nomination for the 1847 election. With a united party at
his back, Fillmore won by 38,000 votes, the largest margin a Whig
candidate for statewide office would ever have in New York.
Before moving to Albany to take office on January 1, 1848, he left his
law firm and rented out his house. Fillmore received positive reviews
for his service as comptroller. In that office, he was a member of the
state canal board, supported its expansion, and saw that it was
managed competently. He secured an enlargement of Buffalo's canal
facilities. The comptroller regulated the banks, and Fillmore
stabilized the currency by requiring that state-chartered banks keep
New York and federal bonds to the value of the banknotes they
issued—A similar plan was adopted by Congress in 1864.
Election of 1848
Main article: United States presidential election, 1848
For further information on the procedures of American political
conventions, see United States presidential nominating convention.
Engraving of Fillmore
President Polk had pledged not to seek a second term, and with gains
in Congress during the 1846 election cycle, the Whigs were hopeful of
White House in 1848. The party's perennial candidates,
Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, each wanted the nomination, and amassed
support from congressional colleagues. Many rank and file Whigs backed
the Mexican War hero, General Zachary Taylor, for president. Although
Taylor was extremely popular, many northerners had qualms about
electing a Louisiana slaveholder at a time of sectional tension over
whether slavery should be allowed in the territories ceded by Mexico.
Taylor's uncertain political views gave others pause—career Army, he
had never cast a ballot for president, though he stated that he was a
Whig supporter, and some feared they might elect another Tyler, or
With the nomination undecided, Weed maneuvered for New York to send an
uncommitted delegation to the
1848 Whig National Convention
1848 Whig National Convention in
Philadelphia, hoping to be a kingmaker in position to place former
governor Seward on the ticket, or to get him high national office. He
persuaded Fillmore to support an uncommitted ticket, though he did not
tell the Buffaloan of his hopes for Seward. Weed was an influential
editor, and Fillmore tended to cooperate with him for the greater good
of the Whig Party. But Weed had sterner opponents, including Governor
Young, who disliked Seward and did not want to see him gain high
Despite Weed's efforts, Taylor was nominated on the fourth ballot, to
the anger of Clay's supporters and of
Conscience Whigs from the
Northeast. When order was restored, John A. Collier, a New Yorker and
a Weed opponent, addressed the convention. Delegates hung on his every
word as he described himself as a Clay partisan; he had voted for Clay
on each ballot. He eloquently described the grief of the Clay
supporters, frustrated again in their battle to make Clay president.
Collier warned of a fatal breach in the party, and stated that only
one thing could prevent it: the nomination of Fillmore for vice
president, whom he incorrectly depicted as a strong Clay supporter.
Fillmore in fact agreed with many of Clay's positions, but did not
back him for president and was not in Philadelphia. Delegates did not
know this was false, or at least greatly exaggerated, and there was a
large reaction in Fillmore's favor. At the time, the presidential
candidate did not automatically pick his running mate, and despite the
efforts of Taylor's managers to get the nomination for their choice,
Abbott Lawrence of Massachusetts, Fillmore became the Whig nominee for
vice president on the second ballot.
Taylor/Fillmore campaign banner by Nathaniel Currier
Weed had wanted the vice presidential nomination for Seward (who
attracted few delegate votes), and Collier had acted to frustrate them
in more ways than one, for with the New Yorker Fillmore as vice
president, under the political customs of the time, no one from that
state could be named to the cabinet. Fillmore was accused of
complicity in Collier's actions, but this was never substantiated.
Nevertheless, there were sound reasons for the selection of Fillmore,
as he was a proven vote-getter from electorally crucial New York, and
his track record in Congress and as a candidate showed his devotion to
Whig doctrine, allaying fears he might be another Tyler were something
to happen to General Taylor. Delegates remembered him for his role in
the Tariff of 1842, and he had been mentioned as a vice presidential
possibility along with Lawrence and Ohio's Thomas Ewing. His rivalry
with Seward (already known for anti-slavery views and statements) made
him more acceptable in the South.
General election campaign
It was customary in mid-19th century America for a candidate for high
office not to appear to seek it. Thus, Fillmore remained at the
comptroller's office in Albany, and made no speeches; the 1848
campaign was conducted in the newspapers and with addresses made by
surrogates at rallies. The Democrats nominated Michigan Senator Lewis
Cass for president, with General
William O. Butler
William O. Butler his running mate,
but it would be a three-way fight as the Free Soil Party, opposed to
the spread of slavery, chose former president Van Buren. There was
a crisis among the Whigs when Taylor also accepted the presidential
nomination of a group of dissident South Carolina Democrats. Fearing
that Taylor would be an party apostate like Tyler, Weed in late August
scheduled a rally in Albany aimed at electing an uncommitted slate of
presidential electors, but Fillmore interceded with the editor,
assuring him that Taylor was loyal to the party.
Results by state. Those won by Taylor and Fillmore are in yellow.
Northerners assumed that Fillmore, hailing from a free state, was an
opponent of the spread of slavery. Southerners accused him of being an
abolitionist, which he hotly denied. Fillmore responded to one
Alabamian in a widely published letter that slavery was an evil, but
one that the federal government had no authority over. Taylor and
Fillmore corresponded twice in September, with the general happy that
the crisis over the South Carolinians was resolved. Fillmore, for his
part, assured his running mate that the electoral prospects for the
ticket looked good, especially in the Northeast.
In the end, the Taylor/Fillmore ticket won narrowly, with New York's
electoral votes again key to the election. The Whig ticket won the
popular vote by 1,361,393 (47.3 percent) to 1,223,460 (42.5 percent),
and triumphed 163 to 127 in the Electoral College.[f] Minor party
candidates took no electoral votes, but the strength of the
burgeoning anti-slavery movement was shown by the vote for Van Buren,
who though he won no states earned 291,501 votes (10.1 percent) and
finished second in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts.
Vice president (1849–1850)
Further information: Compromise of 1850
Fillmore in 1849
Millard Fillmore was sworn in as vice president on March 5, 1849, in
the Senate Chamber. As March 4, then the usual Inauguration Day, fell
on a Sunday, the swearing-in was postponed until the following day.
Fillmore took the oath from Chief Justice
Roger B. Taney
Roger B. Taney and in turn
swore in the senators beginning their terms, including Seward, who in
February had been elected by the New York legislature.[g] Fillmore
then went outside with the senators to attend Taylor's inauguration,
and that night accompanied the president to the inaugural
Fillmore had spent the four months between the election and
swearing-in being feted by the New York Whigs and winding up affairs
in the comptroller's office. Taylor had written promising influence in
the new administration, but the president-elect mistakenly thought
that the vice president was a cabinet member, which was not true in
the 19th century. Fillmore, Seward and Weed had met and come to
general agreement on how to divide federal jobs in New York. Seward,
once he went to Washington, made friendly contact with Taylor's
cabinet nominees, advisers, and the general's brother, and an alliance
between the incoming administration and the Weed machine was soon
under way behind Fillmore's back. In exchange for support, Seward and
Weed were allowed to designate who would fill federal jobs in New
York, with Fillmore given far less than had been agreed. When
Fillmore, after the inauguration, discovered this, he went to Taylor,
but the only result was that the warfare against Fillmore's influence
became open. Fillmore supporters like Collier, who had nominated him
at the convention, were passed over for candidates backed by Weed, who
was triumphant even in Buffalo. This greatly increased the influence
of Weed in New York politics, and diminished Fillmore's. According to
Rayback, "by mid-1849, Fillmore's situation had become desperate."
Despite his lack of influence, he was pestered by office seekers and
those seeking to lease or sell a house to him, as there was then no
official residence for the vice president. He enjoyed one aspect of
his office, due to his lifelong love of learning: he became deeply
involved in the administration of the
Smithsonian Institution as a
member ex officio of its Board of Regents.
Through 1849, the status of slavery in the territories remained
unresolved. Taylor advocated the admission of California and of New
Mexico[h] as states; both were likely to outlaw slavery. Southerners
were surprised to learn the president, despite being a Southern
slaveholder, did not support the introduction of slavery into the new
territories, as he believed the institution could not flourish in the
arid Southwest. There was anger across party lines in the South, where
making the territories free of slavery was considered excluding
Southerners from part of the national heritage. When Congress met in
December 1849, this discord broke out in the election for Speaker,
which took weeks and dozens of ballots to resolve as the House divided
along sectional lines.
Peter F. Rothermel
Peter F. Rothermel engraving: Vice President Fillmore (upper
right) presides over the Compromise debates as
Henry Clay takes the
floor of the Old Senate Chamber.
John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun (seen in part
standing just to Fillmore's right) and
Daniel Webster (seated to the
left of Clay) look on.
Fillmore fought back against Weed by building a network of like-minded
Whigs in New York state, with their positions publicized by the
establishment of a rival newspaper to Weed's Albany Evening Journal.
This was backed by wealthy New Yorkers. All pretense at friendship
between Fillmore and Weed vanished in November 1849 when the two
happened to meet in New York City, and they exchanged accusations.
Fillmore presided[i] over some of the most momentous and passionate
debates in American history as the Senate debated whether to allow
slavery in the territories. The ongoing sectional conflict had already
excited much discussion when on January 21, 1850, President Taylor
sent a special message to Congress urging the admission of California
immediately and New Mexico later, and that the Supreme Court settle
the boundary dispute whereby the state of Texas claimed much of what
is now the state of New Mexico. On January 29, Henry Clay
introduced what was called the "Omnibus Bill".[j] The bill would give
victories to both North and South: it would admit California as a free
state, organize territorial governments in New Mexico and Utah, and
ban the importation of slaves into the District of Columbia for sale
and export out of it. It would also toughen the Fugitive Slave Act, as
resistance to enforcement in parts of the North was a longtime
Southern grievance. Clay's bill provided for the settlement of the
Texas-New Mexico boundary dispute; the status of slavery in the
territories would be decided by those living there (known as popular
sovereignty). Taylor was unenthusiastic about the bill, and it
languished in Congress, but Fillmore, after hearing weeks of debate,
in May 1850 informed Taylor that if senators divided equally on the
bill, he would cast his tie-breaking vote in favor. He did his best
to keep the peace among the senators, reminding them of the vice
president's power to rule them out of order, but was blamed for
failing to maintain it when a physical confrontation between
Henry S. Foote
Henry S. Foote and Missouri's Thomas Hart Benton broke
out on April 17, with Foote pointing a gun at his colleague as Benton
advanced on him.
Main article: Presidency of Millard Fillmore
Succession amid crisis
BEP engraved portrait of Fillmore as president
July 4, 1850 was a very hot day in Washington, and President Taylor,
Fourth of July
Fourth of July ceremonies, refreshed himself, likely with
cold milk and cherries. What he consumed probably gave him
gastroenteritis, and he died on July 9. Taylor, nicknamed "Old Rough
and Ready", had gained a reputation for toughness through his military
campaigning in the heat, and his sudden death came as a shock to the
Fillmore had been called from his chair presiding over the Senate on
July 8, and had sat with members of the cabinet in a vigil outside
Taylor's bedroom at the White House. He received the formal
notification of the president's death, signed by the cabinet, on the
evening of July 9 in his residence at the Willard Hotel. After
acknowledging the letter, and spending a sleepless night, Fillmore
went to the House of Representatives, where, at a joint session of
Congress, he took the oath as president from William Cranch, chief
judge of the federal court for the District of Columbia, and the man
who had sworn in President Tyler. The cabinet officers, as was
customary when a new president took over, submitted their
resignations, expecting Fillmore to refuse, allowing them to continue
in office. Fillmore had been marginalized by the cabinet members, and
the new president accepted the resignations, though he asked them to
stay on for a month, which most refused to do. Fillmore is the only
president who succeeded by death or resignation not to retain, at
least initially, his predecessor's cabinet. He was already in
discussions with Whig leaders, and on July 20 began to send new
nominations to the Senate, with the Fillmore cabinet to be led by
Webster as Secretary of State. Webster had outraged his Massachusetts
constituents by supporting Clay's bill, and with his Senate term to
expire in 1851, had no electoral future in his home state. Fillmore
appointed his old law partner, Nathan Hall, as Postmaster General, a
cabinet position that controlled many patronage appointments. The
new department heads were mostly supporters of the Compromise, as was
The brief pause from politics out of national grief at Taylor's death
did not abate the crisis. Texas had attempted to assert its authority
in New Mexico territory, and the state's governor, Peter H. Bell, had
sent belligerent letters to President Taylor. Fillmore received
another such after becoming president. He reinforced federal troops in
the area, and warned Bell to keep the peace. By July 31, Clay's
bill was effectively dead, as all the significant provisions had been
deleted by amendment other than the organization of Utah
Territory—one wag put it that the "Mormons" were the only remaining
passengers on the Omnibus. Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas
then stepped to the fore, with Clay's agreement, proposing to break
the Omnibus into individual bills that could be passed piecemeal.
Fillmore endorsed this strategy, with the Omnibus to become (as it
proved) five bills.
Fillmore sent a special message to Congress on August 6, 1850,
disclosing the letter from Governor Bell and his reply, warning that
armed Texans would be viewed as intruders, and urging Congress to
defuse sectional tensions by passing the Compromise. Without the Great
Triumvirate of John C. Calhoun, Webster and Clay who had long
dominated the Senate,[k] Douglas and others led that body towards the
administration-backed package of bills. Each bill passed the Senate
with the support of the section that wanted it, plus a few members who
were determined to see all the bills passed. The battle then moved to
the House, which had a Northern majority because of population. Most
contentious was the Fugitive Slave Bill, whose provisions were
anathema to abolitionists. Fillmore applied pressure to get Northern
Whigs to abstain rather than oppose, including New
Yorkers—threatening to kill the renomination of Congressman Abraham
Schermerhorn of Rochester, whose constituents included Frederick
Douglass, if he voted against the bill. Through the legislative
process, various changes were made, including the setting of a
New Mexico Territory
New Mexico Territory and Texas—the state would be
given a payment to settle any claims. California was admitted as a
free state, the District slave trade was ended, and the final status
of slavery in New Mexico and Utah would be settled later. Fillmore
signed the bills as they reached his desk, holding the Fugitive Slave
Bill for two days until he received a favorable opinion as to its
constitutionality from the new Attorney General, John J. Crittenden.
Although some Northerners were unhappy at the Fugitive Slave Act,
relief was widespread, as was the hope this would settle the slavery
1851 poster warning that the Boston police enforce the Fugitive Slave
The Fugitive Slave Act continued to be contentious after its
enactment: Southerners complained bitterly about any slackness, but
enforcement was highly offensive to many Northerners. Abolitionists
recited the inequities of the law: it punished severely any aid to an
escaped slave, and if captured, he had no due process and could not
testify before a magistrate who would be paid more for deciding he was
a slave than for deciding he was not. Nevertheless, Fillmore believed
himself bound by his oath as president and by the bargain made in the
Compromise to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. He did so even though
some prosecutions or attempts to return slaves ended badly for the
government, with acquittals or the slave taken from federal custody
and to freedom by a Boston mob. Such cases were widely publicized
North and South, and inflamed passions in both places, undermining the
good feeling that had followed the Compromise.
In August 1850, the social reformer
Dorothea Dix wrote to Fillmore,
urging support for her proposal in Congress for land grants to finance
asylums for the impoverished mentally ill. Though her proposal did not
pass, they became friends, meeting in person and corresponding,
continuing well after Fillmore's presidency. In September of that
year, Fillmore appointed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Brigham Young as the first governor of Utah Territory. In
gratitude, Young named the first territorial capital "Fillmore" and
the surrounding county "Millard".
A longtime supporter of national infrastructure development, Fillmore
signed bills to subsidize the
Illinois Central railroad from Chicago
to Mobile, and for a canal at Sault Ste. Marie. The 1851 completion of
Erie Railroad in New York prompted Fillmore and his cabinet to
ride the first train from New York City to the shores of Lake Erie, in
company with many other politicians and dignitaries. Fillmore made
many speeches along the way from the train's rear platform, urging
acceptance of the Compromise, and afterwards went on a tour of New
England with his Southern cabinet members. Although Fillmore urged
Congress to authorize a transcontinental railroad, it did not do so
until a decade later.
Fillmore appointed one justice to the Supreme Court of the United
States, and made four appointments to United States District Courts,
including that of his law partner and cabinet officer, Nathan Hall, to
the federal district court in Buffalo. When Supreme Court Justice
Levi Woodbury died in September 1851 with the Senate not in session,
Fillmore made a recess appointment of
Benjamin Robbins Curtis
Benjamin Robbins Curtis to the
high court. In December, Congress having convened, Fillmore made
formal nomination of Curtis, who was confirmed. Justice Curtis would,
in 1857, dissent in the slavery case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, and
resign as a matter of principle.
Justice John McKinley's death in 1852 led to repeated, fruitless
attempts by the president to fill the vacancy. The Senate took no
action on the nomination of
New Orleans attorney Edward A. Bradford.
Fillmore's second choice, George Edmund Badger, asked that his name be
Judah P. Benjamin
Judah P. Benjamin declined to serve. The
nomination of William C. Micou, a
New Orleans lawyer recommended by
Benjamin, was not acted on by the Senate. The vacancy was finally
filled after Fillmore's term, when President
Franklin Pierce nominated
John Archibald Campbell, who was confirmed by the Senate.
White House portrait of Millard Fillmore
Fillmore oversaw two highly competent Secretaries of State, Daniel
Webster, and after the New Englander's 1852 death, Edward Everett,
looking over their shoulders and making all major decisions. The
president was particularly active in Asia and the Pacific, especially
with regard to Japan, which at this time still prohibited nearly all
foreign contact. American merchants and shipowners wanted Japan
"opened up" for trade. This would allow not only commerce, but permit
American ships to call there for food and water, and in emergencies
without being punished. They were concerned that American sailors cast
away on the Japanese coast were imprisoned as criminals. Fillmore
and Webster dispatched Commodore Matthew C. Perry to open Japan to
relations with the outside world, by force if necessary. Though the
commodore did not reach Japan until after the end of Fillmore's term,
Fillmore ordered the Perry Expedition.
Fillmore was a staunch opponent of European influence in Hawaii.
Napoleon III sought to annex Hawaii, but backed down
after Fillmore issued a strongly worded message warning that "the
United States would not stand for any such action." Taylor had
pressed Portugal for payment of American claims dating as far back as
the War of 1812, and had refused offers of arbitration; Fillmore
gained a favorable settlement.
Fillmore had difficulties regarding Cuba; many Southerners hoped to
see the island part of the U.S. as slave territory: Cuba was a colony
of Spain where slavery was practiced. Venezuelan adventurer
Narciso López recruited Americans for three filibustering expeditions
to Cuba, in the hope of overthrowing Spanish rule there. After the
second attempt in 1850, López and some of his followers were indicted
for breach of the Neutrality Act, but were quickly acquitted by
friendly Southern juries. The final López expedition ended with
his execution by the Spanish, who put several Americans before the
firing squad, including the nephew of Attorney General Crittenden.
This resulted in riots against the Spanish in New Orleans, causing
their consul to flee; historian Elbert E. Smith, who wrote of the
Taylor and Fillmore presidencies, suggested that Fillmore could have
had war against Spain had he wanted it. Instead, Fillmore, Webster and
the Spanish worked out a series of face-saving measures that settled
the crisis without armed conflict. Many Southerners, including Whigs,
supported the filibusters, and Fillmore's response helped divide his
party as the 1852 election approached.
A much-publicized event of Fillmore's presidency was the arrival in
late 1851 of Lajos Kossuth, the exiled leader of a failed Hungarian
revolution against Austria. Kossuth wanted the U.S. to recognize
Hungary's independence. Many Americans were sympathetic to the
Hungarian rebels, especially recent German immigrants, who were now
coming to the U.S. in large numbers and had become a major political
force. Kossuth was feted by Congress, and Fillmore allowed a White
House meeting after receiving word that Kossuth would not try to
politicize it. In spite of his promise, Kossuth made a speech
promoting his cause. The American enthusiasm for Kossuth petered out,
and he departed for Europe; Fillmore refused to change American
policy, remaining neutral.
The Fillmore Cabinet
Secretary of State
Secretary of Treasury
Secretary of War
Charles Magill Conrad
John J. Crittenden
Nathan K. Hall
Samuel Dickinson Hubbard
Secretary of the Navy
William Alexander Graham
John P. Kennedy
Secretary of the Interior
Thomas McKean Thompson McKennan
Alexander Hugh Holmes Stuart
Election of 1852 and completion of term
Main article: 1852 Whig National Convention
As the election of 1852 approached, Fillmore remained undecided
whether to run for a full term as president. Secretary Webster had
long coveted the presidency and, though past seventy, planned a final
attempt to gain the White House. Fillmore was sympathetic to the
ambitions of his longtime friend, but though he issued a letter in
late 1851 stating that he did not seek a full term, was reluctant to
rule it out, fearing the party would be captured by the Sewardites.
Thus, approaching the national convention in Baltimore, to be held in
June 1852, the major candidates were Fillmore, Webster and General
Scott. Weed and Seward backed Scott; in late May, the Democrats
nominated former New Hampshire senator Franklin Pierce, who had been
out of national politics for nearly a decade before 1852, but whose
profile had risen as a result of his military service in the Mexican
War. The nomination of Pierce, a northerner sympathetic to the
southern view on slavery, united the Democrats and meant the Whig
candidate would face an uphill battle to gain the presidency.
Fillmore was by then unpopular with northern Whigs for signing and
enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act, but had considerable support from
the South, where he was seen as the only candidate capable of uniting
the party. Once the convention passed a party platform endorsing the
Compromise as a final settlement of the slavery question, Fillmore was
willing to withdraw, but found that many of his supporters could not
accept Webster and his action would nominate Scott. The convention
deadlocked, and this persisted through Saturday, June 19, when a total
of 46 ballots had been taken; delegates adjourned until Monday. Party
leaders proposed a deal to both Fillmore and Webster: if the secretary
could increase his vote total over the next several ballots, enough
Fillmore supporters would go along to put him over the top; if he
could not, Webster would withdraw in favor of Fillmore. The president
quickly agreed, but Webster did not do so until Monday morning. On the
48th ballot, Webster delegates began to defect to Scott, and the
general gained the nomination on the 53rd ballot. Webster was far more
unhappy at the outcome than was Fillmore, who refused the secretary's
resignation. Bereft of the votes of much of the South, and also of
Northerners who depended on peaceful intersectional trade, Scott was
easily beaten by Pierce in November. Smith suggested that the Whigs
might have done much better with Fillmore.
The final months of Fillmore's term were uneventful. Webster died in
October 1852, but during the final illness, Fillmore effectively acted
as his own Secretary of State without incident, and Everett stepped
competently into Webster's shoes. Fillmore intended to lecture
Congress on the slavery question in his final annual message in
December, but was talked out of it by his cabinet, and he contented
himself with pointing out the prosperity of the nation and expressing
gratitude for the opportunity to serve it. There was little discussion
of slavery during the lame duck session of Congress, and Fillmore left
office on March 4, 1853, succeeded by Pierce.
Tragedy and political turmoil (1853–1855)
Fillmore was the first president to return to private life without
being independently wealthy or in possession of a landed estate, and,
with no pension to anticipate, was unsure how he would make a living
consistent with the dignity of his former office. His friend, Judge
Hall, assured him that it would be proper for him to practice law in
the higher courts of New York, and Fillmore intended to do so.
The Fillmores had planned a tour of the South after leaving the White
House, but Abigail caught a cold at President Pierce's inauguration,
developed pneumonia, and died in Washington on March 30, 1853. A
saddened Fillmore returned to Buffalo for the burial. The fact
that he was in mourning limited his social activities, and he made
ends meet on the income from his investments. He was bereaved
again on July 26, 1854 when his only daughter Mary died of
The former president ended his seclusion in early 1854, as debate over
Senator Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Bill embroiled the nation. This
would open the northern portion of the Louisiana Purchase to
settlement, including slavery, and would end the northern limit on
slavery under the
Missouri Compromise of 1820. Fillmore decided on an
ostensibly nonpolitical national tour, hoping to rally disaffected
Whig politicians to preserve the Union and back a run for president,
for he retained many supporters. This occupied much of the late winter
and spring of 1854. Fillmore made public appearances opening railroads
and visiting the grave of Senator Clay, but met behind the scenes with
Such a comeback could not be under the auspices of the Whig Party,
with its remnants divided by the Kansas-Nebraska legislation (which
passed with the support of Pierce). Many northern foes of slavery,
such as Seward, gravitated towards a new party, the Republicans, but
Fillmore saw no home for himself there. There was in the early 1850s
considerable hostility towards immigrants, especially Catholics, who
had recently arrived in the United States in large numbers, and
several nativist organizations, including the Order of the Star
Spangled Banner, sprang up in response. By 1854, the Order had morphed
into the American Party, which became known as the Know Nothings, for
in its early days, members were sworn to hold private its internal
deliberations, and if asked were to say they knew nothing about
them. Many from Fillmore's "National Whig" faction had joined the
Know Nothings by 1854, and influenced the organization to take up
causes besides nativism. The success of the
Know Nothings in the
1854 midterm elections, in which they won in several Northeastern
states and showed strength in the South encouraged Fillmore, and on
January 1, 1855, he sent a letter for publication, warning against
immigrant influence in American elections, and soon thereafter joined
the Order of the Star Spangled Banner.
Later that year, Fillmore went abroad, stating publicly that as he
lacked office, he might as well travel. The trip was at the advice of
political friends, who felt that by touring, he would avoid
involvement in the contentious issues of the day, and he spent over a
year, from March 1855 to June 1856, in Europe and the Middle East.
Queen Victoria is said to have pronounced the ex-president the
handsomest man she had ever seen, while his presence in the gallery of
House of Commons
House of Commons at the same time as Van Buren excited a comment
from MP John Bright. Fillmore was offered an honorary Doctor of
Civil Law (D.C.L.) degree by the University of Oxford. Fillmore turned
down the honor, explaining that he had neither the "literary nor
scientific attainment" to justify the degree. He is also quoted
as having explained that he "lacked the benefit of a classical
education" and could not, therefore, understand the
Latin text of the
diploma, adding that he believed "no man should accept a degree he
cannot read." Another possibility is that Fillmore refused the
degree to escape the heckling and taunting to which Oxford students
typically subjected the recipients of such honors.[l]
Dorothea Dix had preceded him to Europe, and was lobbying to improve
conditions for the mentally ill. They continued to correspond, and met
several times. In Rome, Fillmore had an audience with Pope Pius
IX. Fillmore carefully weighed the political advantages and
disadvantages of meeting with Pius, and nearly withdrew from the
meeting when told he would have to kneel and kiss the pope's hand. To
avoid this, Pius remained seated throughout the meeting.
Main article: United States presidential election, 1856
Fillmore's running mate in 1856,
Andrew Jackson Donelson
Fillmore's allies were in full control of the American Party, and they
arranged for him to get its presidential nomination while he was in
Europe. As Fillmore's running mate, the
Know Nothing convention chose
Andrew Jackson Donelson of Kentucky, nephew by marriage and onetime
ward of President Jackson. Fillmore returned in June 1856, arriving to
a huge reception in New York City. He progressed across the state to
Buffalo, speaking at a series of welcomes. These addresses were
ostensibly in thanks for his reception, and so did not violate the
custom that it was considered office-seeking for a presidential
hopeful to make campaign speeches. Fillmore warned that electing the
Republican candidate, former California senator John C. Frémont, who
had no support in the South, would divide the Union and lead to civil
war. Both Fillmore and the Democratic candidate, former Pennsylvania
senator James Buchanan, agreed that slavery was principally a matter
for state and not federal government. Fillmore rarely spoke about the
immigration question, and focused on the sectional divide, urging
preservation of the Union.
In the 1856 election, Fillmore won only Maryland (in pink).
Once Fillmore was back home in Buffalo, he had no excuse to make
speeches, and his campaign stagnated through the summer and fall of
1856. Political fixers who had been Whigs, such as Weed, tended to
join the Republican Party, and the
Know Nothings lacked experience at
selling anything but nativism. Accordingly, Fillmore's pro-Union
stance mostly went unheard. Although the South was friendly towards
Fillmore, many there feared a Frémont victory would lead to
secession, and some sympathetic to Fillmore moved into the Buchanan
camp lest the anti-Frémont vote be split, which might elect the
Republican. Scarry suggested that the events of 1856, including
the conflict in
Kansas Territory and the caning of Charles Sumner on
the floor of the Senate polarized the nation, making Fillmore's
moderate stance obsolete.
On Election Day, Buchanan won with 1,836,072 votes (45.3%) and 174
electoral votes to Frémont's 1,342,345 votes (33.1%) and 114
electoral votes. Fillmore and Donelson finished third, winning 873,053
votes (21.6%) and carrying the state of Maryland and its 8 electoral
votes.[m] The American Party ticket narrowly lost in several southern
states, and a change of fewer than 8,000 votes in Louisiana, Kentucky,
and Tennessee would have thrown the election to the House of
Representatives, where the sectional divide would have made the
Allan Nevins wrote that Fillmore was not a
Know Nothing or a
nativist. He was out of the country when the nomination came and had
not been consulted about running. Furthermore, "By no spoken or
written word had he indicated a subscription to American tenets."
He sought national unity and felt the American Party was the "only
hope of forming a truly national party, which shall ignore this
constant and distracting agitation of slavery."
Later life and death
With his defeat in 1856, Fillmore deemed his political career at an
end. He again felt inhibited from returning to the practice of law.
But his financial worries were removed when on February 10, 1858,
Fillmore married Caroline McIntosh, a well-to-do widow. Their combined
wealth allowed them to purchase a large house on
Niagara Square in
Buffalo, where they lived for the remainder of Millard Fillmore's
life. There, the Fillmores devoted themselves to entertaining and
philanthropy, according to Smith, "they generously supported almost
every conceivable cause". Among these was the Buffalo Historical
Society and the Buffalo General Hospital, which he helped found.
Fillmore during the Civil War
In the election of 1860, Fillmore voted for Senator Douglas, the
nominee of the northern Democrats. After the vote, in which the
Republican candidate, former Illinois representative Abraham Lincoln
was elected, many sought out Fillmore's views but he refused to take
any part in the secession crisis that followed, feeling that he lacked
influence. He decried Buchanan's inaction as states left the
Union, writing that while the federal government could not coerce a
state, those advocating secession should simply be regarded as
traitors. When Lincoln came to Buffalo en route to his inauguration,
Fillmore led the committee selected to receive the president-elect,
hosted him at his mansion, and took him to church. Once war came,
Fillmore supported Lincoln in his efforts to preserve the Union.
He commanded the Union Continentals, a corps of home guards of males
over the age of 45 from the upstate New York area. The Continentals
trained to defend the Buffalo area in the event of a Confederate
attack. They performed military drill and ceremonial functions at
parades, funerals, and other events. The Union Continentals guarded
Lincoln's funeral train in Buffalo. They continued operations after
the war, and Fillmore remained active with them almost until his
Despite Fillmore's zeal in the war effort, he was attacked in many
newspapers when he gave a speech in early 1864 calling for magnanimity
towards the South at war's end, and counting the heavy cost, financial
and in blood, of the war. The Lincoln administration saw this as an
attack on it, that could not be tolerated in an election year, and
Fillmore was called a Copperhead and even a traitor. This led to
lasting ill-feeling against Fillmore in many circles. In the 1864
presidential election Fillmore supported Democratic candidate George
B. McClellan for the presidency, believing that the Democratic Party's
plan for immediate cessation of fighting and allowing the seceded
states to return with slavery intact was the best possibility for
restoring the Union.
A pink obelisk marks Fillmore's grave at Buffalo's Forest Lawn
Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, black ink was thrown on
Fillmore's house as it was not draped in mourning like others, though
he was apparently out of town at the time and put black drapes in the
windows once he returned. Although he retained his position as
Buffalo's leading citizen and was among those selected to escort the
body when Lincoln's funeral train passed through Buffalo, there was
still anger against him for his wartime positions. Fillmore
supported President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction policies, feeling
that the nation needed to be reconciled as quickly as possible.
Most of his time was devoted to his civic activities. He aided Buffalo
in becoming the third American city, after Boston and Philadelphia, to
have a permanent art gallery with the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy.
Fillmore stayed in good health almost to the end, but suffered a
stroke in February 1874, and died after a second one on March 8. Two
days later, he was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo after a
funeral procession of hundreds of notables; the U.S. Senate sent
three of its members to honor its former president, including
Lincoln's first vice president, Maine's Hannibal Hamlin.
Legacy and historical view
According to his biographer, Scarry: "No president of the United
States ... has suffered as much ridicule as Millard
Fillmore". He ascribed much of the abuse to a tendency to
denigrate the presidents who served in the years just prior to the
Civil War as lacking in leadership. For example, later president Harry
S. Truman "characterized Fillmore as a weak, trivial thumb-twaddler
who would do nothing to offend anyone", responsible in part for the
war. Anna Prior, writing in
The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal in 2010,
stated that Fillmore's very name connotes mediocrity. Another
Fillmore biographer, Finkelman, commented, "on the central issues of
the age his vision was myopic and his legacy is worse ... in the
end, Fillmore was always on the wrong side of the great moral and
political issues". Rayback, however, applauded "the warmth and
wisdom with which he had defended the Union".
Presidential dollar of Millard Fillmore
Although Fillmore has become something of a cult figure as America's
most forgettable chief executive, Smith found him to be "a
conscientious president" who chose to honor his oath of office and
enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, rather than govern based on his
personal preferences. Paul G. Calabresi and Christopher S. Yoo,
in their study of presidential power, deemed Fillmore "a faithful
executor of the laws of the United States—for good and for
ill". But, according to Smith, the enforcement of the act has
given Fillmore an undeserved pro-southern reputation. Fillmore's place
in history has also suffered because "even those who give him high
marks for his support of the compromise have done so almost
grudgingly, probably because of his Know-Nothing candidacy in
1856". Smith argued that Fillmore's association with the Know
Nothings looks far worse in retrospect than it did at the time, and
that the former president was not motivated by nativism in his
Benson Lee Grayson suggested that the Fillmore administration's
ability to avoid potential problems is too often overlooked.
Fillmore's constant attention to Mexico avoided a resumption of the
war and laid the groundwork for the Gadsden Treaty during Pierce's
presidency. Meanwhile, the Fillmore administration resolved a
controversy with Portugal left over from the Taylor
administration, smoothed over a disagreement with Peru over guano
islands, and peacefully resolved disputes with Britain, France, and
Spain over Cuba. All of these crises were resolved without the United
States going to war or losing face. Grayson also applauded
Fillmore's firm stand against Texas' ambitions in New Mexico during
the 1850 crisis. Fred I. Greenstein and Dale Anderson praised
Fillmore for his resoluteness in his early months in office, noting
that Fillmore "is typically described as stolid, bland, and
conventional, but such terms underestimate the forcefulness evinced by
his handling of the Texas–New Mexico border crisis, his decision to
replace Taylor's entire cabinet, and his effectiveness in advancing
the Compromise of 1850".
Statue of Fillmore outside City Hall in downtown Buffalo, New York
Millard Fillmore, with his wife Abigail, established the first White
House library. There are a number of remembrances of Millard
Fillmore; his East Aurora house still stands, and sites honor him at
his birthplace (where a replica log cabin was dedicated in 1963 by the
Millard Fillmore Memorial Association) and boyhood home. A statue
of Fillmore stands outside Buffalo City Hall. At the university
he helped found, now SUNY Buffalo,
Millard Fillmore Academic Center
Millard Fillmore College bear his name. On February 18,
United States Mint
United States Mint released the thirteenth coin in the
Presidential $1 Coin Program, bearing Fillmore's likeness.
According to the assessment of Fillmore by the Miller Center of Public
Affairs at the University of Virginia:
Any assessment of a President who served a century and a half ago must
be refracted through a consideration of the interesting times in which
he lived. Fillmore's political career encompassed the tortuous course
toward the two-party system that we know today. The Whigs were not
cohesive enough to survive the slavery imbroglio, while parties like
the Anti-Masonics and Know-Nothings were too extremist. When, as
President, Fillmore sided with proslavery elements in ordering
enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, he all but guaranteed that he
would be the last Whig President. The first modern two-party system of
Whigs and Democrats had succeeded only in dividing the nation in two
by the 1850s, and seven years later, the election of the first
Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, would guarantee civil war.
Fillmore's East Aurora house was moved off Main Street.
The house is designated a National Historic Landmark.
The DAR placed this plaque on the house in 1931.
A memorial to Fillmore on the gate surrounding his plot in Buffalo
Detail of the Fillmore obelisk in Buffalo
List of Presidents of the United States, sortable by previous
U.S. Presidents on U.S. postage stamps
U.S. Government portal
^ Fillmore was Vice President under President
Zachary Taylor and
became President upon Taylor's death on July 9, 1850. Prior to the
adoption of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment in 1967, a vacancy in the
office of Vice President was not filled.
^ The original log cabin was demolished in 1852, but in 1965, the
Millard Fillmore Memorial Association using materials from a similar
cabin, constructed a replica, which is located in Fillmore Glen State
Park in Moravia.
^ Members of the Fillmore family had resided in
New England for
Nathaniel Fillmore Sr. was the son of John
Fillmore (1702-1777), who lived in
Massachusetts and Connecticut, and
worked as a ship's captain. John Fillmore was the son of John
Fillmore Sr. (1676-1712), a native of Manchester,
England who was also
a mariner and died as a prisoner of the French on the island of
Martinique during Queen Anne's War.
^ Later, Nathaniel, the first father of a president to visit his son
at the White House, alluded to his family's onetime poverty when he
told a questioner how to raise a son to be president: "Cradle him in a
^ Fillmore's uncle
Calvin Fillmore served in the New York State
Assembly, and another uncle, Simeon Fillmore, served as town
supervisor of Clarence, New York.
^ South Carolina did not yet use the popular vote for choosing
electors, with the legislature electing them instead.
^ Until 1913, senators were elected by state legislatures, not by the
^ Today's New Mexico and Arizona, less the Gadsden Purchase
^ The constitution designates the vice president as the Senate's
^ For it carried all the proposals as passengers, the origination of
that political term.
^ With, by then, Calhoun dead, Webster as Secretary of State, and Clay
recovering from his exertions on behalf of the bill at Newport, Rhode
^ In fact, Fillmore had been awarded an honorary LL.D. from Geneva
College in 1850; he accepted, even though its text was in Latin.
^ Fillmore thus became the first former president to receive electoral
votes, a distinction he would be joined in by
Grover Cleveland (1892)
Theodore Roosevelt (1912).
^ "Presidential Places: Millard Fillmore". American Presidents: Life
Portraits. C-SPAN. Archived from the original on February 24, 2015.
Retrieved December 20, 2016.
^ a b c d e f g American National Biography.
^ a b Bahles, Gerald (2010). "Millard Fillmore: Life Before the
Presidency". American President: Miller Center of Public Affairs.
Archived from the original on October 18, 2016. Retrieved October 19,
^ Bassett, Mary Cooley; Johnston, Sarah Hall (1914). Lineage Book,
National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. 39.
Harrisburg, PA: Telegraph Printing Company. p. 111.
^ a b Lineage Book, National Society of the Daughters of the American
^ Phillimore, William Phillimore Watts (1886). Memorials of the Family
of Fynmore. London, England: W. P. W. Phillmore. p. 62.
^ Drake, Samuel Gardner (1856). The History and Antiquities of Boston.
Boston, MA: Luther Stevens. p. 570.
^ Memorials of the Family of Fynmore.
^ Rayback, 191–97.
^ Storke, Elliot G. (1879). History of Cayuga County. Syracuse, NY: D.
Mason & Co. p. 513.
^ Snyder, p. 50.
^ Fillmore, Millard; Severance, Frank H. (1907). Millard Fillmore
Papers. 2. Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Historical Society. pp. 151,
^ Smith, Henry Perry (1884). History of the City of Buffalo and Erie
County. I. Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co. p. 197.
^ a b Scarry, 18.
^ Doty, Lockwood Lyon (1876). A History of Livingston County, New
York. Geneseo, New York: Edward L. Doty. pp. 673–676.
^ Scarry, 19.
^ a b Scarry, 20.
^ Rayback, 224–58.
^ Scarry, 22.
^ a b Scarry, 23.
^ Scarry, 24.
^ Scarry, 25.
^ Rayback, 258–308.
^ a b Finkelman, p. 5.
^ Dayer, Donald H.; Utts, Harold L.; Utts, Janet R. (2000). Town of
Aurora: 1818-1930. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing. p. 24.
^ a b c Scarry, 26.
^ Scarry, 528–34.
^ Finkelman, pp. 5–6.
^ Scarry, 128–34.
^ TownRecords. A-1, pages 1-200. Bennington, VT: Bennington Town
Clerk. 1767. pp. 39, 50, 73.
^ Johnson, Crisfield (1876). Centennial History of Erie County, New
York. Buffalo, NY: Matthews & Warren. pp. 355–356.
^ Centennial History of Erie County, New York.
^ a b c Finkelman, pp. 12–13.
^ Scarry, 42.
^ Smith, p. 45.
^ Rayback, 314, 750–810.
^ Skinner, Roger Sherman (1830). The New-York State Register for 1830.
New York, NY: Clayton & Van Norden. p. 361.
Millard Fillmore Papers.
^ Scarry, 936–940, 993–999.
^ Rayback, 878–905.
^ Finkelman, p. 13.
^ Rayback, 1261.
^ Scarry, 999.
^ Finkelman, p. 14.
^ Scarry, 1079.
^ Rayback, 1495–1508.
^ a b Rayback, 1556–1679.
^ Scarry, 1326–1331.
^ Scarry, 1356–1361.
^ Scarry, 1891.
^ Rayback, 1950–1957.
^ Rayback, 1957–2186.
^ Scarry, 1729–1776.
^ Scarry, 1766.
^ Scarry, 1776–1820.
^ Rayback, 2417.
^ Rayback, 2425–2471.
^ Rayback, 2471–2486.
^ a b Rayback, 2486–2536.
^ Rayback, 2536–2562.
^ Finkelman, p. 24.
^ Finkelman, pp. 23–24.
^ Finkelman, pp. 35, 152.
^ Rayback, 2620.
^ Rayback, 2735–2763.
^ Finkelman, p. 25.
^ Rayback, 2769–2799.
^ Finkelman, pp. 43–45.
^ Rayback, 2902–2955.
^ Rayback, 2981–2994.
^ Rayback, 3001–3008.
^ Finkelman, pp. 47–49.
^ Snyder, p. 37.
^ Scarry, 3138–3150.
^ a b Finkelman, p. 53.
^ Scarry, 3188–3245.
^ Finkelman, p. 51.
^ Scarry, 3245–3258.
^ Rayback, 3090.
^ Scarry, 3283.
^ Finkelman, pp. 51–52.
^ Snyder, pp. 39–41.
^ Congressional Globe, March 5, 1849
^ Rayback, 3101–3307.
^ Smith, pp. 160–162.
^ Rayback, 3307–3367.
^ Smith, pp. 93–94.
^ Rayback, 3367–3399.
^ Scarry, 3445–3467.
^ Smith, pp. 138–139, 163–165.
^ Finkelman, p. 1.
^ Snyder, p. 43.
^ Finkelman, pp. 72–77.
^ a b Greenstein & Anderson, p. 48.
^ Smith, pp. 152–157.
^ a b Smith, pp. 158–160.
^ Scarry, 4025–4102.
^ Finkelman, pp. 82–85.
^ Smith, pp. 208–213.
^ Snyder, pp. 80–82.
^ "The American Franchise". American President, An Online Reference
Resource. Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia.
Archived from the original on April 21, 2008. Retrieved
^ Winder, Michael Kent (2007). Presidents and Prophets: The Story of
America's Presidents and the LDS Church. American Fork, UT: Covenant
Communications. ISBN 978-1-59811-452-2.
^ Smith, pp. 199–200.
^ "Biographical Dictionary of the Federal Judiciary". Washington, DC:
Federal Judicial Center. Archived from the original on July 30, 2016.
Retrieved March 4, 2012. searches run from page, "select
research categories" then check "court type" and "nominating
president", then select U.S. District Courts (or U.S. Circuit Courts)
and also Millard Fillmore.
^ Smith, pp. 218, 247.
^ "Supreme Court Nominations, 1789–Present". Senate.gov. U.S.
Senate. Retrieved 2014-09-08.
^ Smith, p. 233.
^ a b c d e Bahles, Gerald (2010). "Millard Fillmore: Foreign
Affairs". American President: Miller Center of Public Affairs.
Archived from the original on November 5, 2013. Retrieved October 19,
^ Smith, pp. 72–73.
^ Smith, p. 228.
^ Smith, pp. 230–232.
^ Smith, pp. 238–244.
^ Smith, pp. 244–247.
^ Smith, pp. 247–249.
^ Rayback, 5726–5745.
^ Rayback, 5858–5865.
^ Rayback, 6025–6031.
^ Millard Fillmore, author, Frank H. Severance, editor, Millard
Fillmore Papers, Volume X, 1907, p. 25.
^ Rayback, 6038–6057.
^ Rayback, 5900–5966.
^ Rayback, 5952–5959.
^ Smith, pp. 252–253.
^ Rayback, 6191–6234.
^ "Millard Fillmore". Internet Public Library. Retrieved
^ "Millard Fillmore". EBSCO Industries, Inc. Retrieved
^ Scarry, Robert J. (2001). Millard Fillmore. Jefferson, NC: McFarland
& Company, Inc. p. 270. ISBN 978-0-7864-0869-6.
^ "Honorary Degree Recipients, 1827–1913" (PDF). Hobart and William
Smith Colleges Library. Geneva, NY: Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
2013. p. 39. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 5,
^ Snyder, pp. 217–218.
^ Rayback, 6248.
^ Finkelman, p. 132.
^ Scarry, 6650–6699.
^ Rayback, 6326–6411.
^ Rayback, 6398–6458.
^ Scarry, 6918.
^ "Presidential Elections, 1789–2016". infoplease.com. Retrieved
January 11, 2017.
^ Rayback, 6458–6473.
^ Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union: A House Dividing 1852–1857
(1947) 2:467. Nevins states that Fillmore was not publicly a member
but historian William Gienapp says he was a secret member. William E.
Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852–1856 (1987) p
^ Tyler Anbinder. "Fillmore, Millard" American National Biography
^ Rayback, 6476–6518.
^ Smith, pp. 254–255.
^ "Hospital History". Kaleida Health. Kaleida Health. Retrieved
December 31, 2016.
^ Scarry, 7285–7297.
^ Rayback, 6578–6600.
^ Proceedings, Volumes 23–37. Buffalo Historical Society. 1885.
^ Smith, pp. 264–265.
^ Rayback, 6667–6706.
^ Neil A. Hamilton, Presidents: A Biographical Dictionary, 2010, p.
^ Rayback, 6706.
^ Finkelman, p. 154.
^ Rayback, 6783–6790.
^ Rayback, 6930–6946.
^ Scarry, 8118.
^ Scarry, 8151.
^ Scarry, 8157–8161.
^ a b Anna Prior (February 18, 2010). "No Joke: Buffalo and Moravia
Duke It Out Over Millard Fillmore". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved
December 1, 2016. (Subscription required (help)).
^ Finkelman, p. 137.
^ Rayback, 6953.
^ Smith, pp. 257, 260.
^ Calabresi & Yoo, p. 151.
^ Smith, pp. 260–261.
^ Smith, p. 254.
^ Grayson, p. 120.
^ Grayson, p. 83.
^ Grayson, pp. 103–109.
^ Smith, pp. 288–289.
^ Greenstein & Anderson, p. 55.
^ "First Lady Biography: Abigail Fillmore". The National First Ladies'
Library. Retrieved 2013-12-19.
^ Rayback, 8151–8157.
^ Scarry, 6946–6953.
Millard Fillmore College".
Millard Fillmore College. Retrieved
December 31, 2016.
Millard Fillmore Academic Center (MFAC)". University at Buffalo.
Retrieved December 31, 2016.
^ Smith, Lester (ed.). "
Millard Fillmore Presidential $1 Coin — 13th
President, 1850–1853". United States Mint. Retrieved December 1,
^ Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. "Millard
Fillmore: Impact and Legacy". Archived from the original on November
4, 2016. Retrieved November 19, 2016.
Anbinder, Tyler (February 2000). "Fillmore, Millard". American
National Biography Online. Retrieved September 27, 2016. (Subscription
Calabresi, Steven G.; Yoo, Christopher S. (2008). The Unitary
Executive: Presidential Power from Washington to Bush. Yale University
Press. ISBN 978-0-300-12126-1.
Finkelman, Paul (2011). Millard Fillmore. The American Presidents.
Times Books. ISBN 978-0-8050-8715-4.
Grayson, Benson Lee (1981). The Unknown President: The Administration
of Millard Fillmore. University Press of America.
Greenstein, Fred I.; Anderson, Dale (2013). Presidents and the
Dissolution of the Union: Leadership Style from Polk to Lincoln.
Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-4641-2.
Rayback, Robert J. (2015) . Millard Fillmore: Biography of a
President (Kindle ed.). Pickle Partners Publishing.
Scarry, Robert J. (2001).
Millard Fillmore (Kindle ed.). McFarland
& Co., Inc. ISBN 978-1-4766-1398-7.
Smith, Elbert B. (1988). The Presidencies of
Zachary Taylor &
Millard Fillmore. The American Presidency. University Press of Kansas.
Snyder, Charles M. (1975). The Lady and the President: The Letters of
Dorothea Dix and Millard Fillmore. University Press of Kentucky.
Anbinder, Tyler. Nativism and Slavery: The Northern
Know Nothings and
the Politics of the 1850s (1992), covers 1856 campaign.
Brinkley, Alan; Dyer, Davis, eds. (2004). The American Presidency.
pp. 145–151. ISBN 978-0-618-38273-6.
Overdyke, W. Darrell (1950). The Know-Nothing Party in the South.
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
Silbey, Joel H. (2014). A Companion to the Antebellum Presidents
1837–1861. Wiley. ISBN 978-1-118-60929-3.
Van Deusen, Glyndon G. "Fillmore, Millard". Encyclopedia Americana.
Archived from the original on May 10, 2004. Retrieved
Wikisource has original works written by or about:
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Millard Fillmore.
White House biography
United States Congress. "
Millard Fillmore (id: F000115)". Biographical
Directory of the United States Congress.
Millard Fillmore: A Resource Guide from the Library of Congress
Biography by Appleton's and Stanley L. Klos
Finding Aid to
Millard Fillmore Letters, 1829–1859 at the New York
Millard Fillmore at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Millard Fillmore at Internet Archive
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LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
Millard Fillmore: A bibliography by The Buffalo History Museum
Millard Fillmore House, Buffalo, NY
Abigail Fillmore House Museum, East Aurora, NY
Millard Fillmore at Encyclopedia American: The American Presidency
Essays on Fillmore and each member of his cabinet and First Lady
"Life Portrait of Millard Fillmore", from C-SPAN's American
Presidents: Life Portraits, June 11, 1999
Offices and distinctions
U.S. House of Representatives
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 32nd congressional district
Thomas C. Love
Thomas C. Love
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 32nd congressional district
William A. Moseley
John Winston Jones
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James Iver McKay
Azariah Cutting Flagg
Comptroller of New York
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US Congress: F000115