MILLARD FILLMORE | 1850-1853
In his rise from a log cabin to the White House, Millard Fillmore proved that through methodical industry and some competence an uninspiring man could make the American dream come true.
Born in Summerhill, New York on January 7,1800, Fillmore worked on his father’s farm. In 1823 he was admitted to the bar; seven years later he moved his law practice to Buffalo. Fillmore held state office and for eight years was a member of the House of Representatives. In 1848, while comptroller of New York, he was elected vice president.
He presided over the Senate during the months of debates over the Compromise of 1850. A few days before President Taylor’s death, Fillmore intimated that if there should be a tie vote the bill, he would vote in favor of it. Thus his accession to the presidency in July 1850 brought an abrupt political shift in the administration. Taylor’s cabinet resigned and President Fillmore appointed Daniel Webster as secretary of state, thus proclaiming his alliance with the moderate Whigs who favored the Compromise.
A bill to admit California aroused all the violent arguments over the extension of slavery. 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 many 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.
Stephen A Douglas of Illinois 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. 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.
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.
Permission granted to re-post by The White House Historical Association