Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Millard Fillmore
FILLMORE, Millard (1800-1874), thirteenth president of the United States of America. His family was of English stock, and had early settled in New England. His father, Nathaniel Fillmore, made in 1795 a clearing within the limits of what is now the town of Summer Hill, Cayuga co., New York, and there the future president was born, January 7, 1800. The father went by the title of “the squire,” and served as a justice in the beginnings of the settlements nearest to him, which were very sparsely occupied. Millard, to the age of fourteen, could have shared only the simplest rudiments of education, chiefly from his parents, with slight help from a school. At that age he was apprenticed, for the usual term, to a fuller and clothier, to card wool, and to dye and dress the cloth from the farmers' houses. Two years before the close of his term, he, by a promissory note for thirty dollars, bought the remainder of his time from his master, and entered a retired lawyer's office as a student and helper at the age of nineteen. He, of course, received and accepted the usual honour extended to young men of his proclivities, to deliver the Fourth of July Oration, before he was twenty-one years of age. In 1820 he made his way to Buffalo, — then only the germ of the present flourishing city, — and supported himself as a student in another law office by teaching a school and aiding the postmaster. In 1823 he was admitted an attorney in the court of common pleas, Eris co., and then took up legal practice at Aurora, to which his father had removed. Hard study, temperance, and integrity gave him a good reputation and moderate success, and he was made an attorney and counsellor of the supreme court of the State. In 1826 he married Abigail, daughter of the Rev. Lemuel Powers. Returning to Buffalo in 1830 he formed a partnership with two lawyers, both afterwards distinguished in public life, and became successful at the bar. From 1823 to 1831 he served as a representative in the State legislature, coming in as an anti-mason. In the single term of 1832-4 he was a representative of his district in the national Congress, as anti-Jackson, or in opposition to the administration. From 1836 to 1842, when he declined further service, he represented his district as a member of the Whig party. In Congress he opposed the annexation of Texas as slave territory, was a warm advocate of internal improvements and a protective tariff, supported J. Q. Adams in maintaining the right of offering anti-slavery petitions, advocated the prohibition by Congress of the slave trade between the States, and favoured the exclusion of slavery from the District of Columbia. His speech and tone, however, were moderate on these exciting subjects, and he claimed the right to stand free of pledges, and to adjust his opinions and his course by the development of circumstances. The Whigs having the ascendency in Congress during the latter part of his membership, he was made chairman of the House Committee of Ways and Means. Against a strong opposition he carried an appropriation of 30,000 dollars for Morse's telegraph, and secured important provisions in the new tariff measures of 1842. He found some supporters of his proposed nomination as a candidate for vice-president in the Whig National Convention at Baltimore. In May 1844, being the Whig candidate for the governorship of New York, he was defeated by Silas Wright. In 1847 he was made comptroller of the State of New York, an office of manifold responsibilities and duties, which he resigned on his election, in November 1848, as vice-president of the United States, Zachary Taylor being president. He presided over the senate ably and impartially during the seven months of exciting debate and agitation on the so-called “Compromise Measures,” and Mr Clay's “Omnibus Bill,” which, though finally defeated as a whole, substantially succeeded in its general bearing on several matters of intense import to the nation as connected with the subject of slavery.
President Taylor died July 9, 1850, and the next day Fillmore, according to the special provision of the constition, took the oath and acceded to the highest office, being then fifty-one years old. The cabinet which he called around him, contained many distinguished men, as Webster, Corwin, Crittenden, Graham, Hall, and Kennedy. On the death of Webster in 1852, Edward Everett succeeded him as secretary of state. The president sent a force to protect New Mexico in the dispute as to its boundaries with Texas. The critical matter which gave its historic significance to his administration was that chief one of the class of “compromise” measures, the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law, to make effective a provision of the constitution for the rendition of “fugitives from labour or service.” Being instructed by Crittenden, his attorney-general, that the bill was not inconsistent with the constitutional sanction of the Habeas Corpus, the president signed the bill, and issued a proclamation calling upon Government officials to enforce it. These measures roused the most passionate opposition and animosity, among Whigs as well as anti-slavery men. The attempt to enforce the odious law was restricted by mobs in various free States, and was made, for the most part, wholly ineffectual, the people being resolved to regard it as annulled by the “higher law.” The fact that the president had signed and sought to enforce the law, though he might plead for himself constitutional obligation, and a purpose of patriotic fidelity in the exercise of his best judgment, made a breach between him and his party. But few questioned the sincerity and purity of his intentions, or his own full persuasion that the measures were of vital necessity to pacify the nation. Still, as the result was a sharp and embittered variance among his previous supporters, his administration was regarded as inglorious, if not as a failure. In many other matters of high public concern, his official course, as indicated by his appointments, the recommendations in his messages, and the projects which he devised, was characterized by sound discretion, by humane promptings, and practical wisdom, His advice, however, even on these matters, was not always followed by Congress. That body having approved a plan for the extension of the Capitol, the president, on July 4, 1851, laid the corner-stone of the new edifice, Daniel Webster being the orator of the occasion. In the same year he interposed promptly and effectively in thwarting the projects of the “filibusters,” under Lopez, for the invasion of Cuba. Commodore Perry's expedition to Japan, that of Lieutenant Lynch to Africa, and that of Ringgold to the Chinese Seas, with the exploration of the valley of the Amazon by Herndon and Gibbon, may be referred to as engaging the executive ability and wide forethought of the president. His term closed March 4, 1853. In the preceding autumn he had been an unsuccessful candidate for nomination for the presidency by the Whig National Convention, and he yielded his place to Franklin Pierce. Three weeks before the close of his term his wife died in Washington, and he quietly returned, with a son and a daughter, to private life in Buffalo. In 1854, be travelled extensively through the southern and western States, and in 1855-6 he visited Europe, moving from place to place in a quiet and unostentatious way, but receiving much courteous attention. He declined the proffered honour of D.C.L. from Oxford. While in Rome he was informed of his nomination for the presidency by the “Native American” party, the nominees of the other parties being Buchanan and Fremont. In 1858 he married Mrs Caroline M‘Intosh of Albany, a lady of fortune and culture. Retiring to his home in Buffalo, he enjoyed a studious retirement among his books and friends, taking no public share in political affairs. He took great interest in the Buffalo Historical Society, of which he was the president. His life closed March 8, 1874, in his seventy-fifth year. All who knew him in any relation accorded in regarding him as an upright and conscientious man, blameless, loving simple ways, and heartily devoted to the best interests of his country. (G. E. E.)