Background/Early Life
• Millard Fillmore was born in upstate New York, and his family struggled to make ends meet. After a failed apprenticeship with a clothmaker, Fillmore worked to put himself through school, studied law and became a lawyer.
• Fillmore entered the political world by serving as a New York state lawmaker, then won election to the United States House of Representatives.
• Fillmore was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in his final term as a Congressman, then lost an election for governor of New York after leaving the House. He was elected a few years later as New York’s comptroller. This win put him in position to be named Zachary Taylor’s running mate in 1848. Taylor won the election, but Fillmore did not play a major role in any decision-making in the White House.
• When Taylor died suddenly in 1850, Fillmore became president of the United States.
How he defined the office
• Fillmore didn’t believe in slavery on principle, but he believed that in order for the country to resolve its disputes on the issue, compromise was necessary.
Successes and failures
• The Compromise of 1850 was passed early in Fillmore’s time as president. It settled some of the slavery issues of the day but for each compromise that made one part of the country happy, someone else was left upset.
• Fillmore, to please Southerners threatening to secede, strongly enforced the Fugitive Slave Law, which stated that runaway slaves needed to be returned to their owners. This, in turn, upset abolitionists.
• Commodore Matthew Perry made his trade mission to Japan during Fillmore’s presidency. While the mission was not completed until after Fillmore left office, it resulted in Japan opening up for trade with the rest of the world.
• Fillmore was not very popular by the end of his time in office. He had little interest in running again, nor did the American people want him to.
notable quote
• “God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil, for which we are not responsible, and we must endure it, till we can get rid of it without destroying the last hope of free government in the world.”