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 Millard Fillmore

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Millard Fillmore

  • Birth 7 Jan 1800 Summerhill, Cayuga County, New York, USA
  • Death 8 Mar 1874 Buffalo, Erie County, New York, USA
  • Burial Buffalo, Erie County, New York, USA
  • Memorial ID 336

US Congressman, Vice President, and President. A member of the Whig party, he served as Vice President under Zachary Taylor from March 1849 until July 1850 and as the 13th US President from July 1850 until March 1853, assuming the presidency upon Taylor's death. He was the last Whig US president and the last president not to be affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties. He was also the first of a long line of late 19th century Presidents, mostly lawyers, who acquired only modest wealth during their lives, were "distinctly middle class", and who spent most of their careers in public service. Born the second of nine children and oldest son into humble means, his father apprenticed him to a cloth maker in Sparta, New York when he was 14 years old. He left after four months, but subsequently took another apprenticeship in the same trade at New Hope, New York. He struggled to obtain an education living on the frontier and attended the New Hope Academy for six months in 1819. Later that year he began to clerk and study law under Judge Walter Wood of Montville, New York. He then moved to Buffalo, New York where he continued his studies in the law office of Asa Rice and Joseph Clary, was admitted to the bar in 1823 and began practicing law in East Aurora, New York. In 1828 he was elected to the New York State Assembly on the Anti-Masonic ticket, serving three one-year terms, from 1829 to 1831. In 1832 he was elected as a National Republican to Congress from New York's 32nd congressional district, serving from 1833 to 1835. In 1834 he formed a law partnership, Fillmore and Hall (which became Fillmore, Hall and Haven in 1836), which became one of western New York's most prestigious firms, and exists to this day as Hodgson Russ LLP. He was succeeded in Congress in 1834 by Thomas C. Love and when Love declined re-nomination in 1836, and he was elected as a Whig, serving from 1837 until 1843. During his time in Congress, he opposed admitting Texas as a slave territory, advocated internal improvements and a protective tariff, advocated the prohibition by Congress of the slave trade between the states, and he favored the exclusion of slavery from the District of Columbia. He served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from 1841 to 1843 and was an author of the Tariff of 1842. In 1842 he declined re-nomination and after leaving Congress, he was the unsuccessful Whig Party candidate for Governor of New York in the 1844 election. He was the first New York State Comptroller elected by general ballot, serving from 1848 to 1849. While in this position, he revised New York's banking system, making it a model for the future National Banking System. At the 1848 Whig National Convention, he was nominated as the vice presidential candidate to run with presidential candidate Zachary Taylor and they won against the Democratic candidates Lewis Cass and William Orlando Butler in a fairly close race. When he became President upon the sudden death of Taylor, the entire presidential cabinet resigned and he replaced them with people who, except for Treasury Secretary Thomas Corwin, favored the Missouri Compromise of 1850. When the Compromise finally came before both Houses of Congress, it was very watered down and as a result, he urged Congress to pass the original bill which provoked an enormous battle where "forces for and against slavery fought over every word of the bill." To his disappointment, the bitter battle over the bill crushed public support. His greatest difficulty was the Fugitive Slave Law. Southerners complained bitterly about any slackness, but enforcement was highly offensive to northerners. His solution was to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, but also enforce the Neutrality Act of 1818 against filibustering Southerners. In foreign affairs, he was particularly active in the Asia and the Pacific, especially with regard to Japan, which at this time still prohibited nearly all foreign contact. American merchants and shipowners wanted Japan "opened up" for trade, and so that American ships could call there for food and water on voyages to Asia, and could put in there in emergencies without being punished. He and Secretary of State Daniel Webster dispatched Commodore Matthew C. Perry to open Japan to relations with the outside world. Though Perry did not reach Japan until after the end of his presidential term, because he ordered the Perry Expedition, he was credited with its success. In early 1852 he decided he would run for President. The Whigs held their National Convention in June that year. He was then unpopular with northern Whigs for signing and enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act. After leading narrowly on the early ballots, he was short of a majority and could gain no votes. On the 52nd ballot, Daniel Webster's delegates switched to General Winfield Scott, winning him the nomination. Shortly after leaving office, his wife Abigail died, followed by his daughter Mary in 1854, and he travelled abroad. While touring Europe in 1855, he was offered an honorary Doctor of Civil Law Degree by the University of Oxford and he turned it down, explaining that he had neither the "literary nor scientific attainment" to justify the degree. When he returned to the US, the Whig Party had splintered over slavery issues and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and he joined the American Party, who nominated him as their presidential candidate in the 1856 election and finished third in the results. In the election of 1860, Fillmore supported Constitutional Union Party candidate John Bell. He denounced secession, and supported the Union war effort, but also became a constant critic of the war policies of President Lincoln, such as the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1862 he helped found the Buffalo Historical Society (now the Buffalo History Museum) and served as its first president. In 1864 he supported Democratic candidate George B. McClellan for the presidency, believing that the Democratic Party's plan for immediate cessation of fighting and allowing the seceded states to return with slavery intact was the best possibility for restoring the Union. After the American Civil War, supported President Andrew Johnson's conservative Reconstruction policies, and opposed the policies of the Radical Republicans. He died at his home in Buffalo, New York from the aftereffects of a stroke at the age of 74. In 1846 he helped found the private University of Buffalo and became its first Chancellor, which today is the public University at Buffalo, the largest school in the New York state university system. A statue in his honor stands outside of City Hall in Buffalo, New York. His home in East Aurora, New York is designated a National Historic Landmark.

Bio by: William Bjornstad





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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 336
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Millard Fillmore (7 Jan 1800–8 Mar 1874), Find A Grave Memorial no. 336, citing Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, Erie County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .