Forgotten Presidents, Part 1: Millard Who?

“Millard? Is that a guys’ name?”

Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States, serving from 1850-1853. He was also the last U.S. President to not be affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties.

Like Lincoln, Fillmore grew up a poor frontier boy, working on the family farm, and intermittently receiving an education.  As a young adult, he, again like Lincoln, pursued a career in law, eventually obtaining admittance to the bar and establishing his law partnership in 1834, Fillmore and Hall (according to Wikipedia, this still exists today as Hodgson Russ LLP – I’ll guess it was incorporated into that firm, which was established in 1817.)

Politically, Fillmore moved up from New York State Assemblyman, to Congress, serving in the 23, 25, 26, and 27th Congresses. After leaving Congress (he chose to not run again), Fillmore was voted in as New York State Comptroller.

Skip forward to 1848, and Fillmore was nominated to run as Vice President on the Zachary Taylor Whig ticket.  Having won the election with 47.3% of the votes, Taylor only served as President for about a year and four months, when he suddenly died of… cherries and milk. With Taylor’s death in office, Fillmore ascended to the Presidency on July 9th, 1850.

With the turn-over of power, the Compromise of 1850 left on the table, and Henry Clay leaving Washington and appointing Stephen Douglas to take the helm, there was much political upheaval and loss of public confidence in Washington. Fillmore and Douglas were able to maneuver Congress into passing all of the somewhat amended provisions of the Compromise by September 20th, 1850.  Notably, Fillmore also signed the Fugitive Slave Act into law, which in the end cost him politically.

Fillmore’s role as President came to an end in 1853, after losing his re-election bid, and with the inauguration of Franklin Pierce.  This was sadly followed by the death of Fillmore’s wife, Abigail, less than a month later.

Not yet to fall in obscurity, Fillmore again ran for President in 1856 as a third-party candidate.  His ticket won 21.6% of the vote. He also helped to found the University at Buffalo and the Buffalo Historical Society.

In 1860, denouncing secession, yet at odds with Lincoln’s war policies, Fillmore commanded the Union Continentals during the Civil War.  They remained operational even after the war, and Fillmore remained active with them until nearly his last days.

Millard Fillmore passed away on March 8, 1874, at the age of 74.

And now you know.

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