Millard Fillmore Biography
Thirteenth President of the United States
Years Served as President: 1850-1853
Vice President: None
Age at Inauguration: 50
Home State: New York
Date of Birth: January 7, 1800
Died: March 8, 1874
Married: Abigail Powers
Children: Millard, Mary
Nickname: Last of the Whigs
What is Millard Fillmore known for?
Millard Fillmore is best known for the Compromise of 1850. He did not take a strong stance on slavery, choosing instead to try to keep the peace between the North and the South.
The Compromise did keep the peace temporarily, but not for long.
Millard Fillmore was born in a log cabin in Cayuga County, New York. His family was poor, and Millard was the oldest of nine children.
Fillmore received little formal education and taught himself to read and write. As a teenager, he had an apprenticeship with a cloth maker before eventually switching to work in a law office.
When he was 23, he was admitted to the New York bar and became a lawyer. He opened his own law office in East Aurora, New York.
Fillmore fell in love with a teacher named Abigail Powers when he was 19. He waited until 1826 to marry her, when he was established as a lawyer and ready to support a family.
The couple had a son named Millard and a daughter named Mary.
Fillmore’s political career began when he was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1828. He became close friends with Thurlow Weed, an influential New York political boss.
Weed supported Fillmore’s run for the House of Representatives in 1831. Fillmore served four terms in Congress but didn’t run for reelection after 1843. He ran for governor of New York in 1844 but didn’t win.
In 1847, Fillmore won election as New York’s comptroller, or chief financial officer. His victory was so decisive that he was instantly seen as a possible presidential candidate for the next election.
Instead, he was chosen as a vice presidential candidate under the war hero Zachary Taylor. Taylor and Fillmore won the election, and Fillmore became the vice president of the United States.
At the time, there was heated debate over slavery and its expansion into the western U.S. territories.
President Taylor wanted the United States to remain united at all costs. He threatened the Southerners with war if they tried to secede. On the other hand, Fillmore wanted peace between the states and hoped for a compromise.
Senator Henry Clay introduced a compromise. Taylor was against the compromise, but Fillmore supported Clay’s proposal.
On July 9, 1850, Zachary Taylor died suddenly of gastroenteritis, and Millard Fillmore became the president.
That September, Congress and President Fillmore adopted Henry Clay’s legislation, a series of laws that became known as the Compromise of 1850. Some of the laws appealed to people who supported slavery. Others appealed to people who did not support slavery.
The Compromise declared that:
California would be admitted to the Union as a free state. Slavery would not be allowed.
New Mexico became only a territory. (It would have been a free state too.)
The slave trade in Washington, D.C. became illegal, but slavery itself remained legal.
The Fugitive Slave Act said that escaped slaves would be returned to their owners, even if they had fled to another state. Federal officers would help find and return slaves.
Fillmore was personally against slavery. However, he wanted to keep the peace, so he did not want to make any decisions about slavery in states where it already existed.
Throughout his presidency, he authorized federal force in the return of slaves. This enraged many people in the North, including Fillmore’s own political party, the Whigs.
Fillmore also restored diplomatic relationships with Mexico, urged trade with Japan, and supported the building of a transcontinental railroad to expand the U.S. economy.
After the Presidency
After completing his term, Fillmore was not nominated for reelection by the Whig Party. They nominated Winfield Scott instead. Scott lost, and the Whig Party soon fell apart.
Fillmore earned his nickname “The Last of the Whigs.”
In 1856, Fillmore was nominated for the presidency by the Know-Nothing Party (also known as the American Party). He finished third and retired from politics.
Fillmore’s wife Abigail died in 1853. In 1858, he married Caroline McIntosh, a wealthy widow.
Millard Fillmore died of a stroke in 1874.
Fun Facts About Millard Fillmore
In his first presidential message to Congress, Millard Fillmore said that he had become president only “by a painful dispensation of Divine Providence.”
When Fillmore heard that the Library of Congress was on fire, he ran to help put the fire out.
Millard Fillmore prevented the Hawaiian Islands from being taken over by France and Napoleon III. When Napoleon III tried to violate Hawaii’s independence, Fillmore invoked the Monroe Doctrine, saying that the United States would not allow it.
During the Civil War, Fillmore was against President Abraham Lincoln and his policies. He supported the presidential candidacy of Lincoln’s rival, General George McClellan.
The Millard Fillmore Society was founded in 1963. They used to hold a meeting once a year to celebrate Fillmore’s anonymity (the fact that most people don’t remember who he is).
Fillmore helped found the University of New York at Buffalo.