In the ranking of the POTUS project I am at #38- the 13th President of the United States Millard Fillmore. Fillmore was the president from July 1850 until March 1853. He was elected Vice President in 1848 under President Zachary Taylor. When Taylor became the second president to die in office, Fillmore became president and completed Taylor’s term. Fillmore may be the most obscure POTUS.
Millard Fillmore was the first president born in the 19th century, born on January 7, 1800 in Locke, New York. Fillmore’s family was poor and he received little schooling. Fillmore would be mostly self-educated until the age of nineteen when an academy was established in New Hope, New York. He enrolled, his teacher Abigail Powers was twenty-one. She encouraged his learning, they fell in love and were married. Fillmore would study the law and become a lawyer.
At the age of 29 he became a New York State Assemblyman which he served from 1829-31. He then served a term in the U.S. House of Representative from 1833-35, sat out a term and then returned to the Congress for three terms 1837-43. He was a candidate in 1844 for the Vice Presidency for the Whig Party but finished third in the voting. Fillmore would be Comptroller of New York State 1848-49 before being elected Vice President.
As a person Fillmore was well liked. By the time he became president his hair had turned white and he had gained a lot of weight. He was called a practical man who thought logically and not with emotion.
In his year and a half as Vice President, Fillmore wasn’t consulted by President Taylor. Fillmore didn’t even meet Taylor until after they had already won the presidential election of 1848.
The big issue in the U.S. Congress was the Compromise of 1850, Taylor was against it but in July 1850 Taylor died and Fillmore became president and Fillmore was in favor of the controversial compromise and would sign it into law. Fillmore was in favor of all 5ive parts of the Compromise of 1850. This would lead to his ultimate demise.
Millard Fillmore always talked a big game as far as being against slavery, for example he wrote Daniel Webster” God knows that I detest slavery.” He may have talked the talk but he didn’t walk the walk, his every action made one think that he sympathized with the south on the issue.
The Compromise of 1850 consisted of 1- California becomes a free state, 2-the border of Texas is defined and New Mexico is established, 3-Utah is established 4- the most controversial part- the Fugitive Slave Law- slaves escaping into the north were to be captured and returned to their owners and 5-the slave trade was abolished in Washington, D.C. The Compromise of 1850 was kicking the can down the road, keeping things together in the country for the moment, trying to make both sides happy but really it just delayed things and no one was happy. It didn’t please the expansionists or slave holders and it alienated the anti-slavery northern Whigs. This would eventually lead to the break-up of the Whig Party. Fillmore would be denied the Whig nomination for president in 1853.
In 1856 the Know-Nothing Party would nominate Millard Fillmore for President. Their platform included barring Catholics from running for office or teaching in schools, a 21 year wait for immigrants to become naturalized and to restrict immigration especially from Catholic countries. Fillmore finished a distant third place and went back home to Buffalo to live out the rest of his life. He would support the north in the American Civil War but again he seemed to be on the wrong side of history. In 1864 he would speak of giving the south back all their rights under the U.S. Constitution, including letting them have their slaves. Yes, surely does sound like a ma who just hated the institution of slavery.
Fillmore’s failure to deal with the main issue of the day would seal his fate as one of the worst presidents ever. On the grading system he gets an E.
Some trivia to tell your friends about President Millard Fillmore-
- Millard Fillmore was a big lifelong reader. While in the White House hies wife Abigail would start the first library in the White House.
- One of the reasons for Fillmore not getting the Whig nomination in 1852 was that he replaced President Taylor’s cabinet with his own people. The most notable member of his cabinet was Secretary of State Daniel Webster, who died in office.
- Fillmore would have no vice president, at that time the vacancy wasn’t filled until the next election.
- Benjamin Curtis was the only Supreme Court Justice appointed by Fillmore and it’s considered a good pick. Curtis was the first Supreme Court Justice to have a formal legal degree. In 1857 he would dissent in the Dred Scott case and become the only Supreme Court Justice to resign as a matter of principle. He was also the only Whig to ever serve on the court.