|Millard Fillmore - The Man
1800 - 1874 Years
1850 - 1853 Partial Term
Millard Fillmore was born on January 7, 1800 in the Finger Lakes region of New York. His family had quite a courageous background. His great grandfather was a seaman who was captured by pirates. He refused to become a pirate, so was treated very poorly on board. After several months, he and two others rose against the pirates when they were drunk, killed four and brought six others into Boston harbor. His son Nathaniel moved to Vermont. He fought in the French and Indian War. In the Revolutionary War he was one of General Stark’s Green Mountain Boys. His son, also named Nathaniel, moved to western New York. This was Millard’s father.
Growing up there was little chance for education, and there were only two books in his childhood home: A Bible and a hymnbook.
At 14 his father sent him 100 miles away to work as an apprentice to a wool carder (cloth maker). He did not like the harsh conditions and as soon as his term was up came home. Here he worked again as an apprentice to learn the cloth and clothing business. As soon as he got a little money he bought a small English Dictionary which he studied while he worked. There was a small library in the village and he read the books eagerly. He also attended a one-room country school and straightway fell in love with the pretty redheaded schoolma’am. Abigail Powers. Abigail helped him with his learning to the extent that he was soon able to teach school himself.
A rich lawyer advised him to study law, and offered him the use of his own office and law books. He jumped at the chance, but still had three years left on his apprenticeship. He bought out the balance of his time giving his master a note instead of money, and promising to pay it out of the money he might earn as a lawyer. So his life took a turn at age 19.
At 21 he went to Buffalo and got into a law office. He paid his way by teaching school. At 23 he began to practice law. He settled in Aurora and won his first suit, for which he was paid $4.00. In three years he was making enough money to get married. Abigail was a clergyman’s daughter. Three years later they moved to Buffalo, New York where he began a prosperous practice.
Fillmore now begins his political career. He was sent to the Legislature. In 1832 he was elected to Congress. He continued to serve in Congress for three terms with an intermission. He was elected as Governor of his State and served with honor.
In 1848 Old Rough and Ready, Zachary Taylor, was nominated by the Whigs for the Presidency. The old soldier was a slaveholder, and it was thought the northern lawyer would win many votes that might be lost. So the rugged Southern warrior and the polished northern lawyer, were harnessed together.
When Fillmore was vice-president under Taylor, people said he looked more like a president than the President himself did. In contrast to the squat, sloppily attired Taylor, Fillmore used to walk the streets of Washington in a tall silk hat perched on the back of his head and a black broadcloth suit purposely made too large for him. The Vice-President was over 6’tall, impressively handsome, and always faultlessly groomed. In further contrast, he did not use tobacco in any form and disdained liquor to such an extent that he would seek a “temperance hotel” to stop in when he was away from home.
A great stir was created with the Fillmores appeared in a splendid wine-colored carriage, which had seats of blue silk and silver-mounted harness. This had been presented to Abigail by the ladies of New York State and cost $2,000. And the horses $1,000 each.
16 months passed and President Tyler passed away and Fillmore became President. An anecdote the Fillmore like to tell in later years was that he needed a carriage and took an old Irish servant from the White House, Edward Moran, to look for one. They inspected it closely and concluded it would do. “This is all very well, Edward,” said the President, with a smile, “but how will it do for the President of the United States to ride in a second-hand carriage?”
“Sure that’s all right, your Honor,” said the old man, with a twinkling eye. “You’re ownly a sicond hand President, you know.”
While Abigail was First Lady she found a serious deficiency in the White House. She was a great reader, and the White House had no books. Congress made appropriation for a library to be established. She also installed the first bathtub in the White House. (Now you really wanted to know that)
Fillmore suffered a blow to his pride in the convention of 1852 when his own Whig Party passed him over and nominated General Winfield Scott (Old Fuss and Feathers). His party having won in the past with war heroes felt Scott stood a better chance against Democratic Pierce. A month after leaving office Abigail died and a year later his only daughter died of cholera.
Fillmore now spent time among his books and with friends. He visited Europe two years later and in 1856 ran for president as candidate of the American, or Know-Nothing Party, and suffered a humiliating defeat, carrying only Maryland.
Two years later he married a wealthy widow, Mrs. Caroline C. McIntosh, but not until he had first drawn up a carefully worded marriage contract. By the terms of the contract he had complete control of her fortune “without being in any way accountable therefore.” He received all profits and income from it and got her entire estate if he survived her. The one concession made was that should he die first, she would receive one third of his estate.
After his marriage Fillmore bought the largest mansion in Buffalo, New York and lived there with his wife until his death in 1874. She survived him by seven years. When Lincoln was assassinated, a mob, remembering Fillmore’s southern leanings, surrounded the house, demanded that he drape it in black mourning cloth, and splashed ink on it. He ultimately died here on March 8, 1874, thus ended our thirteenth President.