Millard Fillmore: 13th President: Fighter for Freedom

Updated on April 6, 2018
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Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past or else be destined to repeat it.


Millard Fillmore Early Career

Millard Fillmore was born January 7, 1800 in what was called the Finger Lakes Country of New York. He was the son of a poor New York farmer and grew up working on a farm; clearing land and raising crops. When he was fifteen years old, he was sent to a cloth dresser to work as his apprentice. The man he worked for treated him very poorly, in order to escape working for him, he borrowed $30 to buy his freedom. He then had to hike over a hundred miles to get back to his log cabin.

When he was 18, he attended his first school. His teacher was a redheaded woman named Abigail Powers, whom he adored. Seven years later, they married. At 23, he was admitted to the bar and started working as a law clerk. He eventually went on to become a lawyer, where he moved his practice to Buffalo. He was elected to the New York State Assembly, due to his good relationship with a Whig politician named Thurlow Weed. He then became a Congressman and served eight years as a member of the House of Representatives.

In 1848, the Whig party elected him as Vice President. He was present in the Senate for many of the debates on the Compromise of 1850. Although Fillmore never publicly vocalized his opinion on the compromise while Vice-President, he had confided with someone that if there ever were a tie vote on the bill, he would vote in favor of it, despite President Taylor's opposition to it.

Unexpectedly, President Taylor died from sunstroke, leaving the presidency to Millard who was acting Vice-President at the time. He became the 13th President of the United States and the last President who was not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties, since he was part of the Whig party.

Fillmore and Donelson 1856

United States political poster for American party
United States political poster for American party | Source

Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act

When he came into office, the issue of slavery was very prominent. Northerners wanted to end slavery, while Southerners felt that slavery should expand westward. So when the presidency changed from Taylor to Fillmore the political climate changed abruptly. President Taylor's Cabinet resigned; therefore, Fillmore appointed Daniel Webster to Secretary of State. This showed allegiance to the moderate Whigs that favored the Compromise of 1850.

This compromise consisted of laws that would admit California as a free state and also create Utah and New Mexico. This would allow each to decide whether they would permit slavery by popular vote. The compromise also would end the slave trade in Washington D.C. but would make it easier for Southerners to recapture their fugitive slaves.

Clay became exhausted and left Washington, which caused Senator Stephen A. Douglas from Illinois to take the lead. Fillmore then stated he was in favor of the compromise. This forced the northern Whigs that were in Congress to step away from their insistence that all the land gained by the Mexican War should be closed to slavery. This stipulation was the Wilmot Proviso.

Douglas strategized by breaking down the Compromise of 1850 into five different bills, which then went before the Senate to be voted on. They included:

  • to make California a free state
  • to settle the Texas boundary
  • to grant territorial status to New Mexico
  • to allow federal officers to assist in finding fugitive slaves, also known as the Fugitive Slave Act
  • abolish slavery in Washington D.C.

Each bill passed; Fillmore signed them all by September 20th. The Fugitive Slave Act was very upsetting for the northern Whigs that had supported him previously. It allowed federal officers to bring fugitive slaves back to their slave owners, which invoked a lot of anger to those who were against slavery. Some people even attacked the federal marshals that had captured slaves in their custody. This decision alone deprived him of the Presidential nomination in 1852.

In the end, the compromise did not accomplish what it hoped to accomplish. Instead it only served as a temporary truce. Many remained angry with Fillmore for his support in the Fugitive Slave Act, which may have contributed to the disintegration of the Whig party.

Fillmore did run one more time for president, but not as a Whig. He refused to join the Republican Party, but did accept the nomination by the American Party. He later supported President Johnson, but was very against President Lincoln.

On March 8th in 1874, Millard Fillmore died of unknown causes at the age of 74.

Statue of Millard Fillmore outside City Hall in Buffalo, New York.
Statue of Millard Fillmore outside City Hall in Buffalo, New York. | Source

Fun Facts

  • Last president who was not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican party.
  • First president to have a stepmother.
  • He married his school teacher.
  • While he was president, indoor plumbing and a bathtub were placed in the White House.
  • His wife Abigail started a room in the White House to be used as a library. She was given $250 to buy books for the library.

Excerpt from the History Channel

Basic Facts

in New York; Jan. 7, 1800
President Number
Whig Party
Military Service
New York, Militia - Major
Wars Served During
Mexican-American War, American Civil War
How old at Presidency
50 years old
Term of Office
July 10,1850 - March 3, 1853
How long was he President
less than 3 years
Age and Year Died
74 years old in March 8, 1874
Cause of Death

Official Presidential portrait of Millard Fillmore


List of American Presidents

1. George Washington
16. Abraham Lincoln
31. Herbert Hoover
2. John Adams
17. Andrew Johnson
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt
3. Thomas Jefferson
18. Ulysses S. Grant
33. Harry S. Truman
4. James Madison
19. Rutherford B. Hayes
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower
5. James Monroe
20. James Garfield
35. John F. Kennedy
6. John Quincy Adams
21. Chester A. Arthur
36. Lyndon B. Johnson
7. Andrew Jackson
22. Grover Cleveland
37. Richard M. Nixon
8. Martin Van Buren
23. Benjamin Harrison
38. Gerald R. Ford
9. William Henry Harrison
24. Grover Cleveland
39. James Carter
10. John Tyler
25. William McKinley
40. Ronald Reagan
11. James K. Polk
26. Theodore Roosevelt
41. George H. W. Bush
12. Zachary Taylor
27. William Howard Taft
42. William J. Clinton
13. Millard Fillmore
28. Woodrow Wilson
43. George W. Bush
14. Franklin Pierce
29. Warren G. Harding
44. Barack Obama
15. James Buchanan
30. Calvin Coolidge
45. Donald Trump


  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). Millard Filmore. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
  • Staff. (2009). Compromise of 1850. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from
  • Sullivan, G. (2001). Mr. President: A book of U.S. presidents. New York: Scholastic.
  • U.S. Presidential Fun Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Angela Michelle Schultz


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