"I have no language to express the emotions of my heart. The shock is so sudden and unexpected, I am overwhelmed." - Responding to news of Zachary Taylor's death
FILLMORE, MILLARD (1800-1874), thirteenth president of the United States of America, came of a family of English stock, which had early settled in New England. His father, Nathaniel, in 1795, made a clearing within the limits of what is now the town of Summerhill, Cayuga county, New York, and there Millard Fillmore was born, on the 7th of January 1800. Until he was fifteen he could have acquired only the simplest rudiments of education, and those chiefly from his parents. At that age he was apprenticed to a fuller and clothier, to card wool, and to dye and dress the cloth. Two years before the close of his term, with a promissory note for thirty dollars, he bought the remainder of his time from his master, and at the age of nineteen began to study law. In 1820 he made his way to Buffalo, then only a village, and supported himself by teaching school and aiding the postmaster while continuing his studies.
In 1823 he was admitted to the bar, and began practice at Aurora, New York, to which place his father had removed. Hard study, temperance and integrity gave him a good reputation and moderate success, and in 1827 he was made an attorney and, in 1829, counsellor of the supreme court of the state. Returning to Buffalo in 1830 he formed, in 1832, a partnership with Nathan K. Hall (1810-1874), later a member of Congress and postmaster-general in his cabinet. Solomon G. Haven (1810- 1861), member of Congress from 1851 to 1857, joined them in 1836. The firm met with great success. From 1829 to 1832 Fillmore served in the state assembly, and, in the single term of 1833-1835, in the national House of Representatives, coming in as anti-Jackson, or in opposition to the administration. From 1837 to 1843, when he declined further service, he again represented his district in the House, this time as a member of the Whig party. In Congress he opposed the annexation of Texas as slave territory, was an 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 ascendancy in the Twenty-Seventh Congress, he was made chairman of the House Committee of Ways and Means. Against a strong opposition he carried an appropriation of $30,000 to Morse’s telegraph, and reported from his committee the Tariff Bill of 1842. In 1844 he was the Whig candidate for the governorship of New York, but was defeated. In November 1847 he was elected comptroller of the state of New York, and in 1848 he was elected vice-president of the United States on the ticket with Zachary Taylor as president. Fillmore presided over the senate during the exciting debates on the "Compromise Measures of 1850."
President Taylor died on the 9th of July 1850, and on the next day Fillmore took the oath of office as his successor. The cabinet which he called around him contained Daniel Webster, Thomas Corwin and John J. Crittenden. On the death of Webster in 1852, Edward Everett became secretary of state. Unlike Taylor, Fillmore favoured the "Compromise Measures," and his signing one of them, the Fugitive Slave Law, in spite of the vigorous protests of anti-slavery men, lost him much of his popularity in the North. Few of his opponents, however, questioned his own full persuasion that the Compromise Measures were vitally necessary to pacify the nation. In 1851 he interposed promptly but ineffectively in thwarting the projects of the "filibusters," under Narciso Lopez for the invasion of Cuba. Commodore Matthew Caibraith Perry’s expedition, which opened up diplomatic relations with Japan, and the exploration of the valley of the Amazon by Lieutenants William L. Herndon (1813-1857) and Lardner Gibbon also occurred during his term. In the autumn of 1852 he was an unsuccessful candidate for nomination for the presidency by the Whig National Convention, and he went out of office on the 4th of March 1853. In February 1856, while he was travelling abroad, he was nominated for the presidency by the American or Know Nothing party, and later this nomination was also accepted by the Whigs; but in the ensuing presidential election, the last in which the Know Nothings and the Whigs as such took any part, he received the electoral votes of only one state, Maryland. Thereafter he took no public share in political affairs.
Fillmore was twice married: in 1826 to Abigail Powers (who died in 1853, leaving him with a son and daughter), and in 1858 to Mrs. Caroline C. McIntosh. He died at Buffalo on the 8th of March 1874.
In 1907 the Buffalo Historical Society, of which Fillmore was one of the founders and the first president, published the Millard Fillmore Papers (2 vols., vol. x. and xi. of the Society’s publications; edited by F. H. Severance), containing miscellaneous writings and speeches, and official and private correspondence. Most of his correspondence, however, was destroyed in pursuance of a direction in his son’s will.