Born January 7, 1800
Cayuga County, New York
Died March 8, 1874
Buffalo, New York
Thirteenth U.S. president and candidate of the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party
"May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not."
M illard Fillmore became president unexpectedly in 1850 upon the sudden death from a stomach ailment of President Zachary Taylor (1785–1850; served 1849–50). As a conservative politician from New York, Fillmore shared in widespread prejudice against immigration that arose after a large influx of German and Irish immigrants during the 1840s. Some of the anti-immigrant prejudice reflected the fact that Irish immigrants in particular were overwhelmingly Catholics, which aroused long-standing religious prejudices by many American Protestants. In 1856, four years after losing the Whig nomination as the incumbent, or current, president, Fillmore was nominated for president by the anti-immigrant American Party (popularly known as the Know-Nothing Party). But in the election in November, he won a majority of votes in just one state, Maryland. Ironically, Maryland was originally founded in the early 1600s as an English colony where Catholics would be safe to practice their religion.
Millard Fillmore was born in Cayuga County, New York, on January 7, 1800. Fillmore's early life had been guided by good luck. The son of a poor farmer, Fillmore at age fourteen became an apprentice to a clothing maker. His teacher, Abigail Powers (1798–1853), whom he later married, persuaded him to aim higher, and a friendly county judge helped supervise his study of the law. In the 1820s, Fillmore helped organize a new political party, the Anti-Mason Party, which opposed the supposed political influence of the Masonic Lodge, a secret social organization whose members had included, among others, President George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97). (A political party is a group of people with similar ideas and goals who work together to elect like-minded individuals to public office.) At age twenty-eight, Fillmore was elected to the New York state legislature, where he served for three years.
The Anti-Masonic Party never attracted widespread support and soon dissolved. Most of its members, like Fillmore, joined the Whig Party instead. The Whigs were in favor of government policies that helped business owners and promoted the westward expansion of the United States during an era when the "frontier" was still in western Missouri. In 1832, Fillmore was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from his home district in New York; he served for two years, decided not to run for reelection, then ran again and was elected a representative for three terms in a row. In 1844, he ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York. In 1846, he was elected comptroller (the official in charge of paying government bills) of New York, and was then elected vice president in the election of 1848. Fifteen months later, after President Taylor's death, Fillmore became president.
Social changes in the 1840s
During the 1840s, American society had been undergoing significant changes as a result of immigration, the first such changes since independence from Britain. Until the mid-1830s, most immigrants to the United States came from England or Scotland, which was also the ancestral home of the majority of people already living in the United States (except for African American slaves and a relatively small number of people living in the Hudson River valley of New York, whose ancestors had come from Holland). These English Americans were both white and Protestants, either members of the Church of England (the Episcopal Church in the United States) or members of other denominations such as Presbyterians and Baptists. (Protestants traced their religious ancestry to the movement in Europe during the 1500s called the Reformation, which challenged the supremacy of the pope as head of the Catholic Church.)
Beginning with the flow of German immigrants in the 1840s, more Catholics began immigrating to the United States. The early trickle became a flood in the late 1840s, when the Irish potato crop, a major source of food, was hit by a blight, or plant disease. The failure of the potato crop resulted in widespread starvation and forced desperate Irish farmers to leave the country for the United States. Almost 3 million immigrants, including 1.2 million Irish and over 1 million Germans, came to the United States between 1845 and 1859, an average of about 200,000 per year. The flood of newcomers was unlike anything the United States had experienced before; in the previous three decades, the annual number of immigrants ranged from 10,000 to 100,000. The poor immigrants shocked some residents of cities like Boston, Massachusetts, with public drunkenness and fighting, or gang warfare, while living in poor slums that bred disease. Cities of the era did not have modern sanitation facilities; hogs, or even rats, in the streets were the preferred method of garbage disposal.
The sudden arrival of large numbers of Catholics worried some American Protestants, who feared that Catholics might owe their loyalties to the pope, as head of the Catholic church, instead of the government in Washington, D.C. Although the U.S. Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion and barred declaration of an "official" religion (as had been the case in most European countries), not all states had taken the same position until well into the 1800s. In Massachusetts, for example, taxes supported the Protestant church until 1833; as late as 1877, the constitution of New Hampshire contained a clause disqualifying Catholics from holding public office. Popular sentiment against Catholics had resulted in riots and attacks against churches. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Catholic bishop ordered that Sunday services not be held on May 14, 1844, for fear of further violence after mobs had attacked several Catholic churches, burning two of them to the ground.
In the mid-1840s, several secret societies sprang up to oppose both immigration and Catholics. The largest of these organizations were the Order of United Americans and the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner. Their goals were to preserve the United States as a predominantly Protestant country by restricting immigration and preventing immigrants (by which they meant Catholics) from becoming citizens for twenty-one years after they arrived. Conducted in secrecy, the organizations instructed their members to respond to inquiries by replying, "I know nothing." Members thus came to be called "Know Nothings," although there was never an organization with that formal name.
The swelling of immigration after 1845 was not the only change in American society during the 1840s. Prices were rising rapidly, due in large part to the introduction of gold discovered in California in 1848. (More gold in the U.S. economy meant, in effect, that there was more money to spend on goods. The amount of money in circulation increased faster than the amount of goods, resulting in "inflation," a rapid increase in prices.) Industrial enterprises continued to expand, resulting in rapid growth of cities in a country that had been predominantly rural. And the issue of slavery continued to divide the southern states, where it was legal, from the northern states, where it was not. Abolitionists, or people against slavery, in the north pressed for outlawing slavery; southerners, who feared their agricultural economies based on cotton picked by slaves might be ruined if slavery were abolished, strongly resisted.
Fillmore, the accidental president
Fillmore, thrust into the White House in 1850, was immediately confronted with a crisis over the issue of slavery. California had asked to enter the union, threatening to upset the balance of free states and slave states that had been preserved, overall, for thirty years. A bitter debate raged over California's request. Fillmore was more on the side of the south, whereas President Taylor, himself a southerner, had been more firmly on the antislavery side of the debate. Finally, U.S. senator Henry Clay (1777–1852) of Kentucky promised a compromise: California would be admitted as a free state, but the Fugitive Slave Act would make it possible, anywhere in the United States, to recapture slaves who escaped to free states. The large slave market in Washington, D.C., would be abolished, but slavery would still be allowed in the nation's capital. In addition, Texas, a slave state, would give up its claims to territory reaching all the way to Santa Fe (which later became the capital of New Mexico) in exchange for ten million dollars from the U.S. government to pay the state's debts from its war for independence from Mexico. In effect, Texas was opening the possibility that the territory it gave up could become free states sometime in the future.
When debate over the compromise of 1850 began, Fillmore was still vice president, presiding over the U.S. Senate. While he was in the Senate on the evening of July 8, 1850, Fillmore learned that Taylor had fallen gravely ill in the White House; the next morning, Taylor was dead and Fillmore became president in the midst of the emotional debate. He made no secret of his support for a compromise solution that would avoid a crisis.
Passage of the Compromise of 1850 with the support of Fillmore made the president popular, but only temporarily. Soon, Southerners regretted the concessions, or points given up in an argument for the sake of reaching an agreement, that they had made, and Northerners grew to hate the Fugitive Slave Act. Fillmore's support evaporated, and in 1852, the Whig Party refused to nominate him as its candidate, turning instead to former Army general Winfield Scott (1786–1866). In the election, the Democratic Party's candidate, Franklin Pierce (1804–1869; served 1853–57) of New Hampshire, won, and Scott came in a distant second. After leaving the White House, Fillmore went home to Buffalo, New York.
Two years later, in 1854, Fillmore reappeared on the political stage in New York, still as a leader of the Whigs and now supported by Know Nothings. The Know Nothings nearly captured control of the legislature in New York, and did capture the state governments of Massachusetts and Delaware, with more limited success in other states. Their campaign was
presented as an effort to preserve the white, Protestant character of the United States in the face of unregulated immigration by Catholics from Ireland, especially. The campaign was also an effort to draw attention from the issue of slavery.
As the Whig Party continued to disintegrate, badly divided over the issue of slavery, the Know-Nothing movement in 1854 hoped to form a new party and capture the White House in the next presidential election in 1856. The new party, called the American Party, was organized around the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic principles of the secret societies formed ten years earlier. (The American Party is sometimes referred to as the Know-Nothing Party, but it was never formally known by that name.) Part of the strategy of the party was to focus attention away from the divisive slavery issue, which had destroyed the Whig Party, and onto the twin issues of immigration and religion. But in 1855, at an American Party meeting in Philadelphia, a group of Southerners gained control of the meeting and passed a resolution supporting slavery, putting the new party in the same position as the fading Whigs. Many Know Nothings from the North did not support slavery, and the next year, when Fillmore was nominated as the presidential candidate of the American Party in the 1856 election, he had no chance of winning.
Although the American Party accounted for 21 percent of the total popular vote in the 1856 election, the party won a majority in only one state, Maryland, with eight electoral votes. The winner of the election was James Buchanan (1791–1868; served 1857–61), who won 45 percent of the popular vote and 174 electoral votes. (In presidential elections, candidates are technically elected by the Electoral College, in which each state has as many votes as the total number of senators and U.S. representatives from that state. Popular votes determine which candidate will receive the electoral votes from each state; usually, but not always, the candidate who wins the most popular votes in a state receives all of that state's electoral-college votes.)
After his overwhelming loss, Fillmore retired to Buffalo and the American Party disappeared. In the next presidential election, the Republican Party swept to power with Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) as its candidate. Afraid that the Republicans would move to ban slavery, eleven southern states seceded, or separated, from the United States and formed the Confederacy, leading to the outbreak of the Civil War (1861–65).
During and after the Civil War, Fillmore continued to take what he regarded as a moderate view. After the Union victory over the South, Fillmore supported efforts by President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875; served 1865–69) to moderate the policies of Reconstruction, the policy of punishing the South for the Civil War and aggressively promoting freedom for freed African American slaves.
Fillmore continued to live in Buffalo and never returned to the national political stage. He died in 1874.
—James L. Outman
For More Information
Anbinder, Tyler G. Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Grayson, Benson Lee. The Unknown President: The Administration of President Millard Fillmore. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1981.
Scarry, Robert J. Millard Fillmore. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2001.
Smith, Elbert B. The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988.
Holland, Barbara. "Millard Fillmore Was My Kind of Guy." Smithsonian (October 1989): p. 238.
Wernick, Robert. "The Rise, and Fall, of a Fervid Third Party." Smithsonian (November 1996): p. 150.
Holt, Michael F. "Getting the Message Out! National Political Campaign Materials, 1840–1860: The Know Nothing Party." Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project.http://dig.lib.niu.edu/message/ps-knownothing.html (accessed on March 12, 2004).
"Knownothingism." New Advent.http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08677a.htm (accessed on March 12, 2004).
"Millard Fillmore." The White House.http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/mf13.html (accessed on March 12, 2004).
Millard Fillmore was a Whig, a member of the New York Assembly, a member of the U.S. Congress, vice president of the United States under zachary taylor, and the 13th president of the United States. Despite a personal dislike of slavery, he signed into law the fugitive slave act of 1850, among other bills that originated in the compromise of 1850. His administration supported trade with foreign countries, forging one of the first trade agreements with Japan, but Fillmore was opposed to expansionism and refused to support an attempted annexation of Cuba in 1851.
Fillmore was born January 7, 1800, in Locke, New York. His father, Nathaniel Fillmore, was a farmer who wanted Fillmore to escape a life of poverty. Fillmore left school at an early age to become apprenticed, but a judge recognized his talents and ambition and persuaded him to study law. He was admitted to the bar at the age of 24 and soon became a leading lawyer in the state of New York.
In 1828, Fillmore was elected to the New York Assembly, and in 1832, he was elected to Congress, where he served three terms. In 1844, he ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York State. In 1848, the whig party nominated him for vice president to run with the Mexican War hero Taylor. Fillmore and Taylor won the election by appeasing both northern and southern voters, taking the position that although slavery was evil, it was a problem that had to be solved by the states.
Fillmore was disappointed with his lack of power and voice as vice president. The country was facing a crisis over the issues of slavery and the admittance of Texas, California, and New Mexico into the Union. The Compromise of 1850, written by Senator henry clay, was an omnibus that recommended that California be admitted to the Union as a free state, the rest of Mexican cession be formed without restrictions on slavery, Texas end its boundary dispute with New Mexico, and a new fugitive slave law be passed. As president of the Senate, Fillmore was involved in the debate over the compromise but found himself unable to influence its course.
President Taylor was seen as the greatest obstacle to the compromise because he refused to sign it as one comprehensive piece of legislation, wanting to consider separately the issue of California's admission into the Union as a free state. The South feared that if California was admitted as a free state, other western territories would eventually become free states, thereby giving the antislavery movement a more powerful voice in Congress. In the summer of 1850,
Taylor became even more hostile to the South when he threatened to lead the U.S. Army against the Texas militia, which was trying to spread slavery westward by threatening Texas's boundary with the territory of New Mexico. This never transpired because on July 9, 1850, Taylor died suddenly and Fillmore was sworn in as president.
Fillmore supported the compromise, but he too wanted the legislation divided into separate bills. With the departure from the Senate of the compromise's strongest supporters—Clay, daniel webster, and John C. Calhoun—and the maneuvering of new leaders such as stephen a. douglas, Jefferson Davis, and
William H. Seward, the bill was split up. Only three months after Taylor's death, all the separate bills were passed by Congress and signed into law by Fillmore.
Fillmore was opposed to slavery and had difficulty signing one of the bills, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The act forbade both government and individuals to help slaves escape from their masters. It also made the federal government responsible for recovering and returning runaway slaves. Fillmore believed it was his constitutional responsibility to enforce the law even though he disagreed with it. In a letter to Webster, he wrote,
God knows I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil, for which we are not responsible, and we must endure it and give it such protection as is guaranteed by the constitution, till we get rid of it without destroying the last hope of free government in the world.
In the area of foreign policy, the Fillmore administration achieved one of the first trade agreements ever reached between the empire of Japan and a foreign country. This agreement opened up new sources of coal to power the United States's seagoing steamers, and it helped establish a Pacific trade route between the United States and Asia. Fillmore opposed the popular nineteenth-century philosophy of Manifest Destiny, which regarded U.S. expansion into the Pacific as the inevitable will of God. He thought seizing another nation's land was dishonorable. In August 1851, he refused to give military support to an attempted annexation of Cuba by four hundred U.S. citizens, mostly veterans of the Mexican War. The invasion of the Spanish colony failed, and most of the invaders, including their leader, Narciso Lopez, were captured and executed.
Early in his presidency, Fillmore had determined that he would not seek reelection, but in the months leading up to the 1852 election, it became clear that the southern Whigs would support only Fillmore. Even though he did not desire his party's nomination, Fillmore left his name on the convention ballot to prevent the nomination of General Winfield Scott. Fillmore knew the general would be a hopeless candidate in the South because of his connections with abolitionists like Seward. But on the fifty-third ballot, Scott was nominated. As Fillmore predicted, Scott lost the general election to Democrat franklin pierce.
Fillmore's last venture into politics came in 1856 when he accepted the presidential nomination of the know-nothing party. This political party was formed as a result of a division in the Whig Party between those who favored national expansion and those who were against slavery. The Know-Nothings, created by the national Whigs, used their opposition to mass immigration from Europe to unite northern and southern voters. U.S. citizens never took the party seriously, and Fillmore lost the election to southern Democrat james buchanan.
After the election, Fillmore settled down in Buffalo, New York, and became the city's leading citizen. He participated in many committees and supported institutions such as the University of Buffalo and the Orphan Asylum. When the nation fell into civil war in 1861, he pledged his support to the Union cause and worked to enlist Buffalo men in the war effort. His support dwindled as the war raged on, and in 1863, he publicly denounced Abraham Lincoln's administration's handling of the conflict and supported George B. McClellan in the 1864 presidential election.
"Let us remember that revolutions do not always establish freedom. Our own free institutions were not the offspring of our Revolution. They existed before."
On February 13, 1874, Fillmore suffered a stroke, which was followed by a second stroke on February 26. He died on March 8, 1874, at the age of 74.
Grayson, Ben L. 1981. The Unknown President. Univ. Press of America.
Rayback, Robert J. 1989. Millard Fillmore. Norwalk, Conn.: Eastman.
Scarry, Robert J. 2000. Millard Fillmore. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.
Smith, Elbert B. 1988. The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.
Millard Fillmore overcame the challenges of a poor frontier upbringing to become a successful lawyer. He had a career in state and federal politics before becoming vice president of the United States in 1848. He became the thirteenth president of the United States upon the death of President Zachary Taylor (1784–1850; served 1849–50) in 1850.
Fillmore was born on January 7, 1800, in a log cabin on the frontier in western New York . His parents, Nathaniel and Phoebe Fillmore, had a small farm.
Fillmore learned to read as a child, but he did not attend school until he was nineteen. At the Academy of Good Hope in New Hope, New York, Fillmore fell in love with books and a young teacher, Abigail Powers. A long courtship began, and they were married on February 5, 1826. They had two children.
Abigail continued to teach throughout their courtship and marriage while Fillmore studied to become a lawyer. He never attended law school, but learned by studying and working in the offices of a county judge and other attorneys. In 1823, Fillmore passed the bar, a test that must be taken and passed to become a lawyer. Fillmore then established a successful practice in East Aurora, New York, and eventually formed a partnership with two other attorneys in nearby Buffalo. In 1830, he moved his family to Buffalo.
Fillmore was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1828. As a member of the Whig Party , Fillmore supported the national bank, protective U.S. tariffs, and internal improvements sponsored by the federal government. After serving three terms in the state legislature, he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1832. He served one term of two years and then returned to his home in Buffalo to practice law.
Fillmore ran for Congress again in 1836 and returned to serve in the House of Representatives for three more terms, declining nomination in 1842. He rose rapidly within the Whig Party and became the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee during his last term.
The Whig Party was the second major political party in the United States by the mid-1840s. As a successful congressman, Fillmore earned his party's attention and was nominated for governor of New York in 1844. Fillmore lost the election to U.S. senator Silas Wright (1795–1847) by only ten thousand votes. He was elected as New York comptroller in 1847, but he remained in that position only briefly. In 1848, the Whigs nominated him as vice president to run with the presidential nominee, Mexican-American War general Zachary Taylor. They won election in November and were inaugurated in March 1849.
President Taylor fell ill and died in July 1850. Upon Taylor's death, Fillmore was sworn in as president on July 10, 1850. At that time, debates concerning the westward expansion of slavery were raging in Congress, and the nation was on the verge of being torn apart by the issue.
In an effort to avert civil war, compromise legislation had been introduced in Congress. Fillmore backed the proposal. At first it was defeated, but when the legislation was broken down into five different bills, it passed. The Compromise of 1850 was adopted in September 1850 with Fillmore's approval.
The slavery issue was the most challenging aspect of Fillmore's presidency. The Compromise of 1850 was not fully satisfactory to the proslavery or antislavery political factions. Abolitionists and slaves remained determined to end slavery forever. Emotions were heightened by the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required the federal government to enforce the return of runaway slaves. National debate continued with the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's antislavery book Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852.
By 1852, internal differences were weakening the Whig Party, and it was in decline. As a result, Fillmore failed to gain the party's support for nomination in the presidential election of 1852. It was the last presidential election in which the Whigs would participate, and the party dissolved soon after.
Many Whigs, including Fillmore, found a temporary political home in the Know-Nothing Party (also known as the American Party). In 1856, it nominated Fillmore as the party's presidential candidate. His campaign stressed the value of the Union and the dangers of sectionalism, and he lost.
Abigail had died soon after they left the White House in 1853. After losing the election in 1856, Fillmore returned to Buffalo and he soon busied himself with civic affairs. He was the first president of the Buffalo Historical Society, first chancellor of the University of Buffalo, a founder of the Buffalo General Hospital, and a trustee of the local library. In February 1858, he married a local widow, Caroline McIntosh. They shared life together in Buffalo until Fillmore's death, from a series of strokes, on March 8, 1874.
Millard Fillmore was born in Cayuga County, N.Y., the son of a poor farmer. Although he held several legal clerkships, he was largely self-taught in the law. He entered politics in association with Thurlow Weed and William H. Seward, helping to organize the Anti-Masonic party as a major third party in the North. As one of the party's leaders in the New York Assembly, Fillmore sponsored reforms, including abolishing debtor imprisonment and a bankruptcy bill. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1830s and 1840s, he led his party into the newly formed Whig party. He was elected comptroller of New York State in 1846.
In 1848 Fillmore was elected vice president of the United States under Zachary Taylor. This proved an unpleasant experience, as he was excluded from all patronage and policy-making decisions. He was unable to prevent Taylor's opposition to Henry Clay's proposals for ending the sectional crisis over the extension of slavery into territories acquired by the Mexican War; but before Taylor could veto Clay's compromise bill, he died. Fillmore, now president, quickly accepted the five bills which made up the Compromise of 1850. This was the high point of his administration and demonstrated his attempt to find a middle ground on the slavery question. However, he was attacked by antislavery groups, especially for his vigorous enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, which was part of the compromise. Fillmore believed that slavery was evil but, as long as it existed, had to be protected.
Fillmore's policies all aimed at turning the country away from the slavery question. His most important recommendation was that the U.S. government build a transcontinental railroad. His foreign policy, formulated with Secretary of State Daniel Webster, had similar goals. In marked contrast to the aggressive policy followed by the United States during the rest of the 1840s and 1850s (when Democratic administrations made every effort to acquire additional territory), Fillmore sought to encourage trade through peaceful relations. One of his major undertakings was to send Commodore Matthew Perry to open Japan to American commerce.
In 1852 Fillmore was repudiated by the Whigs. After he ran unsuccessfully for president in 1856 as the Know-Nothing party's candidate, he returned to Buffalo to devote himself to local civic projects. He died on March 8, 1874.
The definitive biography of Fillmore is Robert J. Rayback's objective Millard Fillmore (1959). For background on Fillmore's New York career see the books by Glyndon G. Van Deusen on the leaders of the Whig party in the Empire State: Thurlow Weed: Wizard of the Lobby (1947), Horace Greeley: Nineteenth-Century Crusader (1953), and William Henry Seward (1967). □
13th president, 1850–1853
Born: January 7, 1800
Died: March 8, 1874
Vice President: none
First Lady: Abigail Powers Fillmore
Children: Millard Powers, Mary Abigail
Millard Fillmore was born in upstate New York in 1800. He was the first of five sons of Nathaniel and Phoebe Fillmore. Because his family was poor, he was almost entirely self-educated. When Fillmore did finally attend a school, he fell in love with his teacher, Abigail Powers, and later married her in 1826.
In 1823, Fillmore became a lawyer and later opened a practice in Buffalo, New York. He went on to serve as a member of the House of Representatives for eight years, and in 1848, he was elected vice president.
Fillmore was responsible for modernizing the White House. During his presidency, he had a cast-iron kitchen stove installed. An avid reader, Abigail Fillmore was responsible for starting the first library at the White House, with funds allocated by Congress.
Slavery was an important issue during Fillmore's presidency, and Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which required runaway slaves to be returned to their owners. Those who helped runaway slaves could be jailed. When Fillmore signed the bill, he became quite unpopular with Northerners and abolitionists.
- Fillmore was an apprentice to a cloth dresser when he was 15 years old.
- Fillmore was the last president from the Whig Party and the first not to be re-nominated by his own political party.
Even among his supporters, Fillmore was not regarded as a particularly strong president, and his party did not nominate him to run for a second term in 1852. In 1856, he was nominated; however, he lost the election. He then retired from politics and made his home in Buffalo, New York. During the Civil War, he supported the Union cause by helping with fundraising and enlistment.
When fillmore Was in Office
- Thousands of slaves escaped to the North and to Canada along the Underground Railroad.
- California was admitted to the Union as a free state.
The Compromise of 1850, establishing the Fugitive Slave Act, was passed.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in weekly installments.
- Herman Melville's Moby-Dick was published.
- Uncle Sam, the symbol of the United States, was created.
Millard Fillmore, 1800–1874, 13th President of the United States (July, 1850–Mar., 1853), b. Locke (now Summer Hill), N.Y. Because he was compelled to work at odd jobs at an early age to earn a living his education was irregular and incomplete. He read law in his spare time and was admitted (1823) to the bar. After practicing law in East Aurora, N.Y., until 1830, he settled in Buffalo. Thurlow Weed made Fillmore a lieutenant in the Anti-Masonic party, and with Weed's support he served in the New York state assembly (1829–31) and in the U.S. House of Representatives (1833–35). In 1834 he joined the Whig party and was reelected three times (1836, 1838, 1840) to the House. When the Whigs came into national power in 1840, Fillmore became prominent in his party. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he promoted the high tariff of 1842. He was considered (1844) for the vice presidential candidacy, but instead became Whig candidate for the governorship of New York. His defeat by Silas Wright in a close contest was caused by the split between proslavery and antislavery Whigs. With Henry Clay's backing, Fillmore was nominated (1848) for Vice President on the Whig ticket with Zachary Taylor. As Vice President, Fillmore presided with notable fairness over the Senate during the turbulent debates of 1850. Succeeding to the presidency upon Taylor's death, he encouraged and then signed the Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act. He tried to enforce the measures despite the criticism his course evoked from the North. Cheaper postal rates were introduced during his administration. He appointed Daniel Webster Secretary of State, emphasized nonintervention in foreign disputes, and approved the treaty that opened Japan to Western commerce. He unsuccessfully tried to make the Whigs a national party that, by occupying middle ground on the issue of slavery, could conciliate North and South and prevent extremists from gaining power. Neither he nor Webster could win the support of the Whig convention in 1852, and the nomination went to Gen. Winfield Scott, representative of the more radical antislavery element. With the division of the Whigs over the slavery issue and the party's consequent rapid decline, Fillmore's political career came to an end. He joined the Know-Nothing movement in the vain hope that it might unite North and South, and he accepted (1856) the nomination of that group for the presidency, being endorsed also by the small remnant of the Whigs. He opposed Lincoln's election and his Civil War administration and supported Andrew Johnson's stand against radical Reconstruction measures, but he took no active part in the controversies over these issues.
See biographies by W. L. Barre (1856, repr. 1971), R. J. Rayback (1959, repr. 1992), and R. Scarry (1965, repr. 1970).