Millard Fillmore (1800-74)

Figure 1.--.

Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States. He was the first president born in the new century. While little regarded in the public presidential pantheon, Fillmore may have well saved the Union. Fillmore's conciliatory politics did not solve the sectional crisis over slavery, but it did help postpone secession and the Civil War. That might be hust regarded as postooning the inevitable but that postponement probably was a key factor in the North's victory and the preservation of the Union. This may not have been Filmore's calculation, but it was the impact of his policies. His support of the Fugative Slave Act as part of the Compromise of 1850 while heling postpone the war, destroyed his political career. In his rise from a log cabin to wealth and the White House, Millard Fillmore demonstrated that through methodical industry and some competence an uninspiring man could make the American dream come true.


Born in the Finger Lakes country of New York in 1800, Fillmore as a youth endured the privations of frontier life. He worked on his father's farm, and at 15 was apprenticed to a cloth dresser.


He attended one-room schools, and fell in love with the redheaded teacher, Abigail Powers, who later became his wife.


Fillmore in 1823 he was admitted to the bar; 7 years later he moved his law practice to Buffalo. As an associate of the Whig politician Thurlow Weed, Fillmore held state office and for 8 years was a member of the House of Representatives.

Election of 1848

Fillmore in 1848, while Comptroller of New York, was nominated by the Whigs as the vice-presidential candidate for Zacary Taylor.

Zacary Taylor

Zaccary Taylor was the 12th president of the United States. He was the first military hero elected without previous elected office. He may in fact have been the only President not to have voted for himself. The Whigs, desperate for a presidential electoral victory, nominated Taylor without any idea of his views on key issues. He was a firm Union man and threatened to hang Southern secessionists as high as he hung traitors in Mexico. He died in office of food poisoning after serving only 16 months. He is regared as an honest, stright forward man. Confederate President Jeffereson Davis was his son in law. His son was to become a Confederate General.

Vice President

Fillmore presided over the Senate during the months of nerve-wracking debates over the Compromise of 1850. He made no public comment on the merits of the compromise proposals, but a few days before President Taylor's death, he intimated to the President that if there should be a tie vote on Henry Clay's bill, he would vote in favor of it.

Presidency (1850-53)

The Fillmore presidency was dominated by the increasingly bitter sectional politics and the underlying issue of slavery. His major accomplishment was the Compromise off 1850. It proved extreemly unpopular in the North, especially the Fugative Slave Act. It essentially destroying his political career. It did not solve the sectiinal crisis, bi=ut it did postpone the Civil War for a decade.

The Compromise of 1850

The sudden accession of Fillmore to the Presidency in July 1850 brought an abrupt political shift in the administration. Taylor's Cabinet resigned and President Fillmore at once appointed Daniel Webster to be Secretary of State, thus proclaiming his alliance with the moderate Whigs who favored the Compromise. A bill to admit California still aroused all the violent arguments for and against the extension of slavery, without any progress toward settling the major issues. Clay, exhausted, left Washington to recuperate, throwing leadership upon Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. At this critical juncture, President Fillmore announced in favor of the Compromise. On August 6, 1850, he sent a message to Congress recommending that Texas be paid to abandon her claims to part of New Mexico. This helped influence 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 from the White House to give impetus to the Compromise movement. Breaking up Clay's single legislative package, Douglas presented five separate bills to the Senate: 1.Admit California as a free state. 2.Settle the Texas boundary and compensate her. 3.Grant territorial status to New Mexico. 4.Place Federal officers at the disposal of slaveholders seeking fugitives. 5.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."

Foreign policy

It was under orders from President Filmore that Commodore Perryopened Japan.

Election of 1852

Some of the more militant 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.

The Election of 1856

As the Whig Party disintegrated in the 1850's, Fillmore refused to join the Republican Party; but, instead, in 1856 accepted the nomination for President of the Know Nothing, or American, Party. Throughout the Civil War he opposed President Lincoln and during Reconstruction supported President Johnson. He died in 1874.

Civil War (1861-65)

While little regarded in the public presidential pantheon, Fillmore may have well saved the Union. He played a key role in the delicarely balanced Compromise of 1850 to at least temprarily defuse the secession crisis. He was villified in the North, especially for the Fuigtive Slave Act. And we see continued criticism in quite a number of history books by authors who tend to put values over practicality. Without the Fugative lave ct, the Civil War probably would have taken place a decade earlier. This would have meant without the sybstantial industrial expansion in the North. And without Lincoln in the White House. Fillmore's conciliatory politics helped postpone the Civil War, probably a key factor in the North's victory and the preservation of the Union. The Condederacy in the first 2 years of the War came close to winning the War. In the end it was the industrial power of the North that proved the deciding factor. And in 1850 the North while more of an industrial power than the agricultural south, had a much smaller industrial base than was the situation in 1850. This may not hve been Fillmore's inteentions, but it was the result of his policies of avoiding aar and keeping the Union together.

Abigail Powers Fillmore (1798-1853)

Abigail Fillmore was the first of the First Ladies to hold a job after marriage, Abigail Fillmore was helping her husband's career. She was also revealing her most striking personal characteristic: eagerness to learn and pleasure in teaching others. She was born in Saratoga County, New York, in 1798, while it was still on the fringe of civilization. Her father, a locally prominent Baptist preacher named Lemuel Powers, died shortly thereafter. Courageously, her mother moved on westward, thinking her scanty funds would go further in a less settled region, and ably educated her small son and daughter beyond the usual frontier level with the help of her husband's library. Shared eagerness for schooling formed a bond when Abigail Powers at 21 met Millard Fillmore at 19, both students at a recently opened academy in the village of New Hope. Although she soon became young Fillmore's inspiration, his struggle to make his way as a lawyer was so long and ill paid that they were not married until February 1826. She even resumed teaching school after the marriage. And then her only son, Millard Powers, was born in 1828. Attaining prosperity at last, Fillmore bought his family a six-room house in Buffalo, where little Mary Abigail was born in 1832. Enjoying comparative luxury, Abigail learned the ways of society as the wife of a Congressman. She cultivated a noted flower garden; but much of her time, as always, she spent reading. In 1847, Fillmore was elected state comptroller; with the children away in boarding school and college, the parents moved temporarily to Albany. Abigail Fillmore came to Washington in 1849 as wife of the Vice President; 16 months later, after Zachary Taylor's death at a height of sectional crisis, the Fillmores moved into the White House. Even after the period of official mourning the social life of the Fillmore administration remained subdued. The First Lady presided with grace at state dinners and receptions; but a permanently injured ankle made her Friday-evening levees an ordeal--two hours of standing at her husband's side to greet the public. In any case, she preferred reading or music in private. Pleading her delicate health, she entrusted many routine social duties to her attractive daughter, "Abby." With a special appropriation from Congress, she spent contented hours selecting books for a White House library and arranging them in the oval room upstairs, where Abby had her piano, harp, and guitar. Here, wrote a friend, Mrs. Fillmore "could enjoy the music she so much loved, and the conversation of ... cultivated society ...." Despite chronic poor health, Mrs. Fillmore accompanied her husband to the outdoor ceremonies for President Pierce's inauguration. It was a cold, wer day a a strong northeast wind swept snow over the participants. She was chilled to the bone when she and her husband eeturned to the Willard Hotel. As a result she contracted pneumonia and died at the Willard on March 30, 1853. The Congress adjourned, and Federal Government offices closed in morning. Her husband and children took her home to Buffalo for burial.


President and Mrs. Filmore had two children, a son and a daughter.

Millard Powers (1828-89)

Millard was known by his middle name Powers. Only very basic information is known about him. We know nothing about his childhood. He attended Harvard and then worked as an attorney. He won appointment as a Federal court clerk. He also assisted his father as a personal secreatry during the later period of his presidency. Powers did not marry and had no children.

Mary Abigail (1832-54)

Mary was known as Abby. She had a wonderful childhood. When her father became presodent she was a teenager and delighted in assisting her mother as White House hostess. She died tragically of cholera in 1854 a year after losing her mother and her father leaving office. Still a young woman, she never m,arried and had children


Wead, Doug. All the President's Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Familirs (Atria: New York, 2003), 456p.


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Created: June 25, 1999
Last changed: 9:29 AM 7/14/2016