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Millard Fillmore: 13th President: Fighter for Freedom

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else we're destined to repeat it.

Millard Fillmore's Political Career Career

Millard Fillmore was born on January 7, 1800, in 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 Fillmore 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. He borrowed $30 to buy his freedom to escape working for him. He then had to hike over a hundred miles to return 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 excellent relationship with a Whig politician, Thurlow Weed. He then became a Congressman and served eight years as a member of the House of Representatives.

Fillmore and Donelson 1856

United States political poster for American party

United States political poster for American party

Taylor Dies and Leaves Filmore President.

In 1848, the Whig party elected him as Vice President. He was present in the Senate for many 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. He was not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties since he was part of the Whig party.

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

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

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 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 as Secretary of State, which showed allegiance to the moderate Whigs that favored the Compromise of 1850.

Clay became exhausted and left Washington, which caused Senator Stephen A. Douglas from Illinois to take the lead. Fillmore then stated he favored the compromise, which forced the northern Whigs 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 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.
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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 from 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 achieve. Instead, it only served as a temporary truce. Many remained angry with Fillmore for his support of the Fugitive Slave Act, which may have contributed to the disintegration of the Whig party.

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

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

 Official Presidential portrait of Millard Fillmore

Official Presidential portrait of Millard Fillmore

Fun Facts

  • He was the last president not to have an affiliation with either the Democratic or Republican parties.
  • The 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 turned a room in the White House into a library. She received $250 to buy books for the library.

Basic Facts

QuestionAnswer

Born

in New York; Jan. 7, 1800

President Number

13th

Party

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

Vice-President

none

Age and Year Died

74 years old in March 8, 1874

Cause of Death

Unknown

Excerpt from the History Channel

Sources

  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). Millard Filmore. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/millardfillmore
  • History.com Staff. (2009). Compromise of 1850. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://www.history.com/topics/compromise-of-1850
  • 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 http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/history/presidential-fun-facts/#geo-washington.jpg

Questions & Answers

Question: What is one important change Millard Fillmore made during his presidency?

Answer: Millard Fillmore's greatest contribution in foreign affairs was in progress while he was President, but it was not finished until after he left office. Fillmore ordered the Perry Expedition, which sought to begin foreign trade with Japan. Japan, up until this point, was closed to all trade with the United States. Americans would be punished if they sought food or even emergency provisions from Japan. Eventually, this did result in the United States being able to trade with Japan. Unfortunately, he did not see this happen during his Presidency, but only as a result of it.

© 2016 Angela Michelle Schultz

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