Better Know A President XIII: Millard Fillmore

4 03 2009


-Served from 1850-1853.

-He was not elected as a President. He failed to even get the nomination from the Whig party in 1852, and he did not win as the Know Nothing/Whig candidate in 1854 (Yes, there was a political party called the Know Nothings)

-Prior to the Presidency, he was Vice President (obviously), a US Representative from New York, and New York State Comptroller.

-He became an indentured servant to a cloth maker at 14. He later studied law under a prominent judge in New York state. He was admitted to the bar in 1823 and practiced in the town of East Aurora. He later founded a prominent law firm with Nathan Hall, who would become Postmaster General under Fillmore.

-Founded the University at Buffalo. (SUNY Buffalo)

-He was selected as the VP nomination for the Whig party for two reasons: He was from a free state, and he was from New York and would help the Whig Party carry such a large and important state. The fact that he was unknown also helped him, because the party’s leaders did not see him on either side of the split party.

-While he served as Vice President, a Senator from Mississippi pulled a gun on a Senator from Missouri over the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise of 1850 was a major precursor to the Civil War. It reorganized many of the Western territories, and also passed the Fugitive Slave Act. Zachary Taylor’s death was incredibly important to the passing of the Compromise, because he was against it. Fillmore, who was for the Compromise, helped it get passed. California was admitted as a free state, Utah and New Mexico became territories but they were left to decide on slavery on their own, and Texas dropped claims to certain areas of unorganized territory. It resolved some of the disputes that were diving the North and the South at the time, that were centered around the extension of slavery. Fillmore, was against slavery itself, but allowed that the Constitution did not make it specifically illegal.  Of course, the resolution only held off war for so long. However, delaying the Civil War was probably very important to the North, because it gave them time to develop more infrastructure that would be pivotal to their victory in the Civil War.

-While his Presidency was dominated by the Compromise of 1850, he made an unpopular choice to deny safe haven to Lajos Kossuth, a Hungarian revolutionary. He was seen as a Hungarian version of George Washington, and was also highly respected by many people in America. Fillmroe refused him, because he wanted to continue America’s neutrality in European issues. This was an important, unspoken rule among American Presidents prior to Fillmore and established by Washington himself.

-While serving as President, Fillmroe had no vice-president.

-Fillmore was a constant reader and established the White House Library, as there were no books, or any good books, in the White House when he became President.

-Fillmore suggested the idea of colonizing parts of Africa as a solution to the growing conflict between the North and the South.  Colonization would mean that all African-Americans would be removed and placed back in Africa, except ones who were still slaves. Some blacks, however, supported the idea. They thought that a return to Africa was the easiest, most effective resolution to the issue and maybe the only resolution possible. Most Americans were indifferent on the idea. Fillmore said, “There can be no well grounded hope for the improvement of either their moral or social condition, until they are removed from a humiliating sense of inferiority in the presence of a superior race.”

-Although Fillmroe did not win the election in 1854, he achieved 21.6% of the popular vote, one of the best showings from a 3rd party in election history.

-Fillmore later led a group of militia to help in Reconstruction after the Civil War.


When Fillmore announced his need for a new carriage, a White House attendant, Edward Moran, was enlisted to find one. Moran, having hunted far and wide, finally found a handsome vehicle which was being sold at a reduced rate because its owner was moving. Fillmore was troubled: “How would it do, Edward, for the president of the United States to ride around in a second-hand carriage?” he asked. “But surely,” Moran allegedly replied, “Your Excellency is only a second-hand president!”

President Millard Fillmore was once offered an honorary degree (written in Latin) by Oxford University. He declined to accept. “I have not the advantage of a classical education,” he explained, “and no man should, in my judgement, accept a degree which he cannot read.”


It is not strange… to mistake change for progress.

May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not.

“It is a national disgrace that our Presidents, after having occupied the highest position in the country, should be cast adrift, and, perhaps, be compelled to keep a corner grocery for subsistence.”

“The man who can look upon a crisis without being willing to offer himself upon the altar of his country is not fit for public trust.”

“God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil… and we must endure it and give it such protection as is guaranteed by the Constitution.”




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