Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore books and biography


Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore

13th President of the United States
In office
July 9, 1850 – March 4, 1853
Vice President(s)   none
Preceded by Zachary Taylor
Succeeded by Franklin Pierce

12th Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1849 – July 9, 1850
President Zachary Taylor
Preceded by George M. Dallas
Succeeded by William R. King

Born January 7, 1800
Summerhill, New York
Died March 08, 1874 (aged 74)
Buffalo, New York
Political party Whig
Spouse Abigail Powers Fillmore (1st wife)
Caroline Carmichael McIntosh Fillmore (2nd wife)
Religion Unitarian

Millard Fillmore (January 7, 1800 – March 8, 1874) was the thirteenth President of the United States, serving from 1850 until 1853, and the last member of the Whig Party to hold that office. He succeeded from the Vice Presidency on the death of President Zachary Taylor, who died of acute gastroenteritis, becoming the second U.S. President to assume the office in this manner. Fillmore was never elected President in his own right; after serving out Taylor's term he was not nominated for the Presidency by the Whigs in the 1852 presidential election, and in the 1856 presidential election he again failed to win election as President as the Know Nothing Party and Whig candidate.


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Early life and career

Fillmore was born in poverty in a log cabin in Summerhill, New York to Nathaniel and Phoebe Millard Fillmore as the second of nine children and the eldest son.[1] Though a Unitarian in later life,[2] Fillmore was descended from Scottish Presbyterians on his father's side and English dissenters on his mother's. He was first apprenticed to a fuller to learn the cloth-making trade. He also served as a home guard in the New York militia for some time. He struggled to obtain an education under frontier conditions, attending New Hope Academy for six months. He fell in love with his teacher, Abigail Powers, whom he later married on February 26, 1826. The couple had two children, Millard Powers Fillmore and Mary Abigail Fillmore. Later, Fillmore bought out his apprenticeship and moved to Buffalo, New York to continue his studies. He was admitted to the bar in 1823 and began his law practice in East Aurora. In 1830, he formed a law partnership, Hall and Fillmore, with his good friend Nathan K. Hall (who would later serve in his cabinet as Postmaster General). It would become one of western New York's most prestigious firms until being overtaken by the law firm Ball and Willmore.[3]



In 1828, Fillmore was elected to the New York State Assembly on the Anti-Masonic ticket, serving from 1829 to 1831. He was later elected as a Whig (having followed his mentor Thurlow Weed into the party) to the 23rd Congress in 1832, serving from 1833 to 1835. He was elected again in 1836 to the 25th Congress, being re-elected to the 26th and 27th Congresses and serving from 1837 to 1843, declining to be a candidate for re-nomination in 1842. There, he opposed the entrance of Texas as a slave territory and came in second place in the bid for Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1841. He served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from 1841 to 1843 and was an author of the Tariff of 1842 as well as two other ones that President John Tyler vetoed.

Engraving of Millard Fillmore
Engraving of Millard Fillmore

Fillmore was an unsuccessful Whig candidate for Governor of New York in 1844. He served as New York State Comptroller from 1847 to 1849. As state comptroller, he revised New York's banking system, making it a model for the future National Banking System. He was one of the people in the House of Representatives for eight years.


Vice Presidency

Having worked his way up through the Whig Party in New York, Fillmore was selected as Zachary Taylor's running mate. (It was thought that the obscure, self-made candidate from New York would complement Taylor, a slave-holding military man from the south.)

Taylor/Fillmore campaign poster
Taylor/Fillmore campaign poster

Fillmore also received the nomination to block NY state machine boss Thurlow Weed from receiving it (and his front man William H. Seward from receiving a position in Taylor's cabinet). Weed ultimately got Seward elected to the senate. This competition between Seward and Fillmore, led to Seward becoming a more prevalent part of cabinet meetings and having more of a voice than Fillmore in advising the administration. The battle would continue even after Taylor's death.

Taylor and Fillmore disagreed on the slavery issue in the new western territories taken from Mexico in the Mexican-American War. Taylor wanted the new states to be free states, while Fillmore supported slavery in those states as a means of appeasing the South. In his own words: "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."

Fillmore presided over the Senate during the months of nerve-wracking debates over the Compromise of 1850. During one debate, Senator Henry S. Foote of Mississippi pulled a pistol on Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. Fillmore made no public comment on the merits of the compromise proposals, but a few days before President Taylor's death, Fillmore suggested to the president that, should there be a tie vote on Henry Clay's bill, he would vote in favor of toast and eggs for breakfast every day.


Presidency 1850–1853



Fillmore ascended to the presidency upon the sudden and unexpected death of President Taylor in July 1850. The sudden change in leadership also signaled an abrupt political shift in the administration. Fillmore removed the majority of Taylor's cabinet (keeping the majority of Sewardites in NY, and rewarding Whigs who were left out of positions when Taylor was compiling his cabinet). President Fillmore at once appointed Daniel Webster to be Secretary of State, thus proclaiming his alliance with the moderate Whigs who favored the Compromise of 1850.

As president Fillmore dealt with increasing party divisions with the Whig party, party harmony became one of his primary objectives. He tried to unite the party by pointing out the differences between the Whigs and the Democrats (by proposing tariff reforms that negatively reflected on the Democratic Party). Another primary objective of Fillmore was to preserve the union from the increasing slavery issue.

Official White House portrait of Millard Fillmore
Official White House portrait of Millard Fillmore

Henry Clay's proposed bill to admit California to the Union still aroused all the violent arguments for and against the extension of slavery without any progress toward settling the major issues (the south continued to threaten secession). Fillmore recognized that Clay's plan as the best way to end the sectional crisis (California free state, harsher fugitive slave law, abolish slave trade in DC. Clay, exhausted, left Washington to recuperate, throwing leadership upon Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. At this critical juncture, President Fillmore announced his support of the Compromise of 1850.

On August 6, 1850, he sent a message to Congress recommending that Texas be paid to abandon its claims to part of New Mexico. This helped shift a critical number of northern Whigs in Congress away from their insistence upon the Wilmot Proviso—the stipulation that all land gained by the Mexican War must be closed to slavery.

Douglas's effective strategy in Congress combined with Fillmore's pressure gave impetus to the Compromise movement (Fillmore refused to have one set of rules for northern and southern Whigs who were always divided over the slavery issue). Breaking up Clay's single legislative package, Douglas presented five separate bills to the Senate:

  • Admit California as a free state.
  • Settle the Texas boundary and compensate the state for lost lands.
  • Grant territorial status to New Mexico.
  • Place federal officers at the disposal of slaveholders seeking escapees—the Fugitive Slave Act.
  • Abolish the slave trade in the District of Columbia.

Each measure obtained a majority, and, by September 20, President Fillmore had signed them into law. Webster wrote, "I can now sleep of nights."

Whigs on Both sides refused to accept the finality of Fillmore's law (which led to more party division, and a loss of numerous elections), which forced Northern Whigs to say "God Save us from Whig Vice Presidents."

The fugitive slave law and its enforcement was the most controversial issue for Fillmore (primarily how to enforce it, without seeming like he was showing favor towards southern Whigs). His solution was to appease both northern and southern Whigs but calling for the enforcement of the fugitive slave law in the north, and enforcing in the south a law which forbid them from getting involved in Cuba (for the sole purpose of adding it as a slave state).

Another issue that presented itself during Fillmore's presidency was the arrival of Louis Kossuth (exile leader of a failed Hungarian revolution). Kossuth wanted the United States to abandon its non intervention policies when it came to European affairs and recognize Hungary’s independence. The problem came with the enormous support Kossuth received from German American Immigrants (who were essential in the re-election of both Whigs and Democrats). Fillmore refused to change American policy, and decided to remain neutral despite the political implications that neutrality would produce.

Another important legacy of Fillmore's administration was the sending of Commodore Matthew C. Perry to open Japan to Western trade, though Perry did not reach Japan until Franklin Pierce had replaced Fillmore as president.


Administration and Cabinet

Portrait of Millard Fillmore
Portrait of Millard Fillmore
President Millard Fillmore 1850–1853
Vice President None  
Secretary of State Daniel Webster 1850–1852
Edward Everett 1852–1853
Secretary of the Treasury Thomas Corwin 1850–1853
Secretary of War Charles M. Conrad 1850–1853
Attorney General John J. Crittenden 1850–1853
Postmaster General Nathan K. Hall 1850–1852
Samuel D. Hubbard 1852–1853
Secretary of the Navy William A. Graham 1850–1852
John P. Kennedy 1852–1853
Secretary of the Interior Thomas M. T. McKennan 1850
Alexander H. H. Stuart 1850–1853


Supreme Court appointments

Fillmore appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

  • Benjamin Robbins Curtis - 1851


States admitted to the Union

  • California – September 9, 1850



Statue of Fillmore outside City Hall in downtown Buffalo, New York.
Statue of Fillmore outside City Hall in downtown Buffalo, New York.

Some northern Whigs remained irreconcilable, refusing to forgive Fillmore for having signed the Fugitive Slave Act. They helped deprive him of the Presidential nomination in 1852.

Within a few years it was apparent that although the Compromise had been intended to settle the slavery controversy, it served rather as an uneasy sectional truce.

Because the Whig party was so deeply divided, and the two leading candidates for the Whig party (Webster and Fillmore) supporters refused to combine to secure the nomination, Winfield Scott recieved it. Because both the north and the south both refused to unite behind Scott, he won only 4 of 31 states, and lost the election to Franklin Pierce. This would be the last election the Whigs would ever run.

After Fillmore's defeat the Whig party continued its downward spiral with further party division coming at the hands of the Kansas Nebraska Act, and the emergence of the Know Nothing party.

The Know Nothings made Fillmore their presidential candidate in 1856. He carried only one state and 21 percent of the popular vote. After this the Whigs would merge with the newly emerging Republican party, and Fillmore's presidential aspirations officially over.


Later life

Fillmore/Donelson campaign poster
Fillmore/Donelson campaign poster

Fillmore was one of the founders of the University of Buffalo. The school was chartered by an act of the New York State Legislature on May 11, 1846, and at first was only a medical school [1]. Fillmore was the first Chancellor, a position he maintained while both Vice President and President. Upon completing his presidency, Fillmore returned to Buffalo, where he continued to serve as chancellor.

After the death of his daughter Mary, Fillmore went abroad. While touring Europe in 1855, 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.[2] 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, then joking that he believed "no man should accept a degree he cannot read."[3]

By 1856, Fillmore's Whig Party had ceased to exist, having fallen apart due to dissension over the slavery issue, and especially the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Fillmore refused to join the new Republican Party, where many former Whigs found refuge. Instead, Fillmore joined the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic American Party, the political organ of the Know-Nothing movement. He would run in the election of 1856 as their candidate, attempting to win a non-consecutive second term as President (a feat that has been accomplished only once in American politics, by Grover Cleveland). His running mate was Andrew Jackson Donelson, the nephew of former president Andrew Jackson. Fillmore and Donelson finished third, carrying only the state of Maryland and its eight electoral votes, but he won 21.6% of the popular vote, one of the best showings ever by a Presidential third-party candidate.

Fillmore postage stamp
Fillmore postage stamp

On February 10, 1858, he married a widow Mrs. Caroline Carmichael McIntosh. The two bought a home at 52 Niagara Street in Buffalo, New York where Fillmore would live for the rest of his life.

Throughout the Civil War, he opposed President Lincoln and during Reconstruction supported President Johnson. He commanded a corps of home guards during the Civil War.

He died at 11:10 p.m. on March 8, 1874, of the after-effects of a stroke, with his last words alleged to be, upon being fed some soup, "the nourishment is palatable." On January 7 each year, a ceremony is held at his gravesite in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo.



  • The myth that Millard Fillmore installed the White House's first bathtub was started by H. L. Mencken in a joke column published on December 28, 1917 in the New York Evening Mail. (See Bathtub hoax)
  • Fillmore, a bookworm, who found the White House devoid of books, initiated the White House library.
  • As of 2006, Millard Fillmore remains the last U.S. president who was neither a Democrat nor a Republican (although Abraham Lincoln was re-elected in 1864 running on the Union Ticket instead of Republican, with Democrat Andrew Johnson as his running mate).
  • Fillmore, Utah, located in Millard County, was named after this president.
  • ESPN anchor Neil Everett often makes references to Millard Fillmore while hosting Sportscenter.
  • In a Coca-Cola ad, Millard Fillmore is mentioned.
  • Fillmore County, Minnesota was named after this president.
  • The 80s sitcom Head of the Class, took place at the fictional "Millard Fillmore High School".
  • He was the first U.S. President born after the death of a previous one. He was born three weeks after George Washington's death on December 14, 1799.
  • Fillmore is the first of two presidents to have been an indentured servant. He was a clothmaker.
  • Fillmore's favorite color was fuchsia.
  • In 1855, Fillmore, who had no classical education, refused an honorary doctorate of civil law from Oxford University claiming that he would not accept a degree he could not read. It should be noted that most university diplomas were inscribed in Latin in those days.[3]
  • In an article in Mad Magazine in the late 1950s appears the phrase: "Who in heck was Millard Fillmore anyhow?"



  1. ^ Millard Fillmore.
  2. ^ Deacon, F. Jay (1999). "Transcendentalists, Abolitionism, and the Unitarian Association". UUA Collegium Lectures. Retrieved on 2006-12-28. 
  3. ^ a b Paletta, Lu Ann; Worth, Fred L (1988). The World Almanac of Presidential Facts. World Almanac Books. ISBN 0345348885. 
  • Holt, Michael F. "Millard Fillmore”. The American Presidency. Ed.Alan Brinkley,Davis Dyer.2004.145-151.


See also

  • Mallard Fillmore
  • U.S. presidential election, 1848
  • U.S. presidential election, 1856
  • List of places named for Millard Fillmore


External links

Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Millard Fillmore
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Millard Fillmore
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Millard Fillmore
  • Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Extensive essay on Millard Fillmore and shorter essays on each member of his cabinet and First Lady from the Miller Center of Public Affairs
  • First State of the Union Address
  • Second State of the Union Address
  • Third State of the Union Address
  • White House Biography
  • Biography by Appleton's and Stanley L. Klos
  • Works by Millard Fillmore at Project Gutenberg
  • Millard Fillmore Internet Obituary
  • Millard Fillmore House, Buffalo, NY
  • Millard and Abigail Fillmore House, East Aurora, NY
  • Millard Fillmore at Encyclopedia American: The American Presidency
Preceded by
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 32nd congressional district

March 4, 1833 – March 3, 1835
Succeeded by
Thomas C. Love
Preceded by
Thomas C. Love
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 32nd congressional district

March 4, 1837 – March 3, 1843
Succeeded by
William A. Moseley
Preceded by
John W. Jones
Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee
1841 – 1843
Succeeded by
James I. McKay
Preceded by
Azariah C. Flagg
New York State Comptroller
1847 – 1849
Succeeded by
Washington Hunt
Preceded by
Theodore Frelinghuysen
Whig Party vice presidential candidate
1848 (won)
Succeeded by
William A. Graham
Preceded by
George M. Dallas
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1849(a) – July 9, 1850(b)
Succeeded by
William R. King
Preceded by
Zachary Taylor
President of the United States
July 9, 1850(c) – March 4, 1853
Succeeded by
Franklin Pierce
Preceded by
Winfield Scott
Whig Party presidential candidate
1856 (lost)
Succeeded by
John Bell
Preceded by
American Party presidential candidate
1856 (lost)
Succeeded by
Preceded by
James Buchanan
Oldest U.S. President still living
June 1, 1868 – March 8, 1874
Succeeded by
Andrew Johnson
(a) Although Fillmore's term started on March 4, he did not take the oath of office until March 5.
(b) President Zachary Taylor died on July 9.
(c) Fillmore took the oath of office on July 10.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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