President Millard Fillmore

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Millard Fillmore was a state and federal representative who served half of a presidential term in the mid-19th Century.

Fillmore was born on Jan, 7, 1800 in Locke Township, N.Y. His family had very little money, and Millard found work as a cloth maker's apprenticeship to help bring in some money. He left, at age 17, and moved to New Hope. It was at New Hope Academy that he met Abigail Powers, who was one of his teachers. Years later, they married.

Millard Fillmore

Fillmore studied law, got on as a clerk with a judge, and won admittance to the New York bar in 1823. He moved to Buffalo in 1830 and began a partnership with noted lawyers Nathan Hall and Solomon Haven.

He began his political career by joining a relatively new political party, the Anti-Masonic Party, America's first third party. His first election campaign was in 1828: He won a seat in the New York State Assembly. He served three one-year terms in the Assembly and then ran for Congress. He won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1832, served one term, sat out a term, then ran again, winning election twice more.

Most members of Fillmore's Anti-Masonic Party joined the Whig Party in the 1830s. Fillmore followed suit.

In 1843, Fillmore resigned from the U.S. House to run for Governor of New York. He was unsuccessful. He sought the vice-presidential nomination in 1844 but did not get it.

Fillmore helped establish the University at Buffalo in 1846 and served as the university's first chancellor. He became even more well-known by getting elected to the position of New York's chief financial officer in 1847. Also at this time, he spoke out against the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War, seeking both as an opportunity to spread slavery, which he personally opposed.

Taylor and Fillmore

The Whig Party had won the Election of 1840 but had lost the following election. In 1848, the party nominated Mexican-American War hero Zachary Taylor as the presidential candidate. Taylor was a Southerner who owned slaves. The Whigs were looking to broaden their appeal and so wanted an anti-slavery candidate to run as the vice-presidential candidate. Fillmore had early had made his view on the subject, advocating for an end to the slave trade between the states. At the Whig Party national convention, the party leaders nominated Fillmore to run with Taylor.

Taylor and Fillmore did not meet formally until after the election and expressly a dislike for each other when they finally did. Fillmore played no part in the selection of the Cabinet. Further, Taylor had relegated Fillmore to a status of little more than President of the Senate–still an important job but not the kind of responsibility that other Vice-presidents had had. Thus, when Taylor died sudden in July 1850, Fillmore had to take over with little real knowledge of many details to which Taylor and the Cabinet were privy. In addition to his four terms in the House, Fillmore had served as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the early 1840s and had championed an 1842 tariff that was popular nationwide, so he had a good knowledge for how Congress worked.

President Millard Fillmore

Taylor's entire Cabinet ended up resigning, leaving Fillmore to appoint all new advisers. Also hanging in the balance was the Compromise of 1850, a series of bills designed to appease both North and South in the growing struggle over whether to allow slavery in newly acquired territories. Taylor had made known his displeasure with the Compromise; Fillmore, on the other hand, was all for it.

In particular, Fillmore expressed his support for the stringent update of the Fugitive Slave Act. This stance cost him the 1852 presidential nomination of his party. The Whigs instead opted for Mexican-American War hero Winfield Scott, who lost to Franklin Pierce.

Far worse for Fillmore personally, his wife, Abigail, (in a repetition of what happened to President William Henry Harrison) caught pneumonia after sitting outside for hours during Pierce's inauguration and died a month later. Not long after that, Fillmore's only daughter, Mary, died of cholera; she was 22.

Although Fillmore refused to join the newly formed Republican Party, he wasn't done with politics, running at the head of the American ("Know Nothing") Party in the Election of 1856. He won his party only one state, Maryland, as James Buchanan eked out a narrow victory.

Fillmore married again, to Caroline McIntosh, in 1858. She survived him.

Still not done with politics, Fillmore continued as a sort of elder political statesman, speaking out on the growing slavery controversy. He publicly criticized President Buchanan for not acting swiftly enough when South Carolina left the Union. On the other hand, he spoke out also against some of Abraham Lincoln's policies during the Civil War and made known his preference for the softer, gentler approach to Reconstruction favored by Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson.

However, he also played a major part in raising money for the Union war effort and in organizing enlistments–two critical factors that eventually helped the North win the war. He also organized and led the Union Continentals, a corps of home guard soldiers who underwent military training and guarded Buffalo against a Confederate attack.

In the international arena, Fillmore played a part in some major developments:

  • He signed off on the expedition of Commodore Matthew Perry that resulted in the opening of Japan to trade with the West.
  • Fillmore also invoked the Monroe Doctrine in issuing a stern warning to French leader Napoleon III that any attempt by France to take over the Hawaiian Islands would be met with force by the United States.
  • As well, Fillmore continued the work begun by Taylor in signing the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, preventing Great Britain from claiming further territories in Central America, by sending American warships to the region to protect American merchant interests there.

Fillmore suffered a stroke in early 1874 and died in Buffalo on March 8. His son, Millard (who had served as his father's private secretary in the White House), survived him, living until 1889.

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