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Even Millard Fillmore?

Posted by on April 4, 2012 at 11:35 AM

MILLARD FILLMORE- 13th President (1850-53) (1800-1874) In looking high and low for things to be inspired about, my mind often drifts to the 44 men who have served as our nations president. After all, of all the hundreds of millions of men on this earth since 1789, only these select few have obtained the highest office of the land. When sifting through names like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, it is not hard to find inspiration. Through stories of our president/war heroes like Dwight Eisenhower or Ulysses Grant, it is not hard to find lessons of leadership or perserverence. Through rags to riches stories like Andrew Johnson’s it is easy to take home lessons of hard work overcoming poverty. But Millard Fillmore? When I talk to most people, the first words out of their mouths are: “Who in the world was Millard Fillmore?” Millard Fillmore was born on January 7, 1800 in the area just west of present day Syracuse, New York. He was our nation’s thirteenth president and served from 1850 to 1853. He was never elected president, becoming our Chief Executive upon the death of Zachary Taylor. His own party would not renominate him in 1852 and even a wild attempt at a third party run for president in 1856 under the Free-Soil party (also known as the Know-Nothings) fell wildly short. He retired to private life in 1853 and lived another 21 years in his adopted hometown of Buffalo, New York. So what can we draw from the life of Millard Fillmore, a mostly forgotten, mid eighteenth century president, ignored by historians, alienated by his own political party and placed somewhere between 35th and 39th in various rankings of the presidents? Well, first of all, with a little digging, we can find some positives in the life of Millard Fillmore. First, Fillmore although educated with only the most meager of educations, saved money to join a subscription library and self educated himself into the law circuit. In fact, he so impressed the local bar in Buffalo, that they allowed him to practice law at the tender age of 23. Next, Fillmore found a young woman who taught at a newly opened local academy and enrolled. Not only did his quick learning impress the teacher, but he must have impressed equally well, because Millard Fillmore and Abigail Powers were wed just a few years later, in 1826. Fillmore climbed his way largely self-taught through the New York political system. He served three one year terms in the New York Assembly before becoming a representative in the US House of Representatives for three terms. Although we hardly know him now, by the election of 1848, Fillmore was a known political veteran, the perfect compromise for war hero presidential candidate Zachary Taylor, who was from Virginia but had strong anti-slavery beliefs. Fillmore, a candidate from the north, with a diplomatic slant towards slaveowners, was the ideal vice-presidential candidate. As I mentioned earlier, Taylor, known as Old Rough and Ready, wasn’t. He died 18 months into his term and his vice president, Millard Fillmore took over. His presidency is largely forgotten, but in my research I was able to find these “highlights” - Fillmore fought off Napoleon III for Hawaii, refusing the French to annex the territory. Largely because of Fillmore, we have Hawaii as a state today. - Fillmore’s support of the Compromise of 1850, allowed California to enter the country as a free state. His support of the Compromise arguably put off the start of the American Civil War by 10 years. - Fillmore sent Admiral Matthew Perry to Japan in order to open up trade routes with the far east that exist to this day. The notable difference is that the trade in the 1850‘s was largely unbalanced in our favor, not the reverse as it is today. - Fillmore was the first president with indoor plumbing in the White House, including the first presidential bathtub. How this is inspirational is uncertain, however, it is much easier thinking of Fillmore bathing behind closed doors, then previous presidents habits of skinny dipping in the nearby Potomac River for bathing. - Fillmore, or more specifically Fillmore’s wife Abigail installed the first library inside the White House. I doubt that many of you will spend much time thinking about Millard Fillmore. You won’t find his picture on our currency (with the exception of his own presidential dollar), and he certainly will never be found carved into a mountainside alongside Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. But keep in mind, he was one of only 44 men so far to achieve the highest political office in our country. He started nearly penniless as a dirt farmer near the finger lakes region of New York. He had little to no formal education but he installed a library into the White House, and after his presidency founded the University of Buffalo. He was a faithful and loving husband, by all accounts, and as previously mentioned, he fought off Napoleon III for control over the territory of Hawaii. So maybe it will be when you are laying on the beach of Maui, sipping a Mai Tai and enjoying the sun and surf, that you will appreciate Millard Fillmore. When you thank the waiter with a simple thank you and not a Merci Beaucoup!! "The man who can look upon a crisis without being willing to offer himself upon the altar of his country is not fit for public trust." -Millard Fillmore

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