Millard Fillmore and March 8: Hurrah! and R.I.P.


Commodore Matthew C. Perrys squadron in Japan, 1854 - CSSVirginia.org image

The Black Ships — Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s squadron in Japan, 1854 – CSSVirginia.org image from Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, Boston, May 15, 1852 (also, see BaxleyStamps.com); obviously the drawing was published prior to the expedition’s sailing.

On March 8, 1854, Commodore Matthew C. Perry landed for the second time in Japan, having been sent on a mission a year earlier by President Millard Fillmore.  On this trip, within 30 days he concluded a treaty with Japan which opened Japan to trade with the U.S. (the Convention of Kanagawa), and which began a cascade of events that opened Japan to trade with the world.

Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1852 photograph, Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1852 photograph, Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Within 50 years Japan would come to dominate the seas of the the Western Pacific, and would become a major world power.

1854 japanese woodblock print of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Peabody Museum: The characters located across the top read from right to left, A North American Figure and Portrait of Perry. According to the Peabody Essex Museum, this print may be one of the first depictions of westerners in Japanese art, and exaggerates Perrys western features (oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose).  But compare with photo above, right.  Peabody Museum holding, image from Library of Congress via WikiMedia

1854 japanese woodblock print of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Peabody Museum: “The characters located across the top read from right to left, ‘A North American Figure’ and ‘Portrait of Perry.’ According to the Peabody Essex Museum, ‘this print may be one of the first depictions of westerners in Japanese art, and exaggerates Perry’s western features (oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose).'” But compare with photo above, right. Peabody Museum holding, image from Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Then, 20 years later, on March 8, 1874, Millard Fillmore died in Buffalo, New York.

The Perry expedition to Japan was the most famous, and perhaps the greatest recognized achievement of Fillmore’s presidency.  Fillmore had started the U.S. on a course of imperialistic exploitation and exploration of the world, with other expeditions of much less success to Africa and South America, according to the story of his death in The New York Times:

The general policy of his Administration was wise and liberal, and he left the country at peace with all the world and enjoying a high degree of prosperity. His Administration was distinguished by the Lopez fillibustering expeditions to Cuba, which were discountenanced by the Government, and by several important expeditions to distant lands. The expedition to Japan under Commodore Perry resulted in a favorable treaty with that country, but that dispatched under Lieut. Lynch, in search of gold in the interior of Africa, failed of its object. Exploring expeditions were also sent to the Chinese seas, and to the Valley of the Amazon.

Here we are in 2013, 160 years after the end of Millard Fillmore’s presidency, 159 years after Commodore Perry’s success on the mission to Japan Fillmore sent him on, 139 years after Millard Fillmore’s death, and not yet have we come to grips with Fillmore’s real legacy in U.S. history. Most of that legacy, we don’t even acknowledge in public. Santayana’s Ghost paces nervously.

6 Responses to Millard Fillmore and March 8: Hurrah! and R.I.P.

  1. […] President Fillmore.  Perry told the Emperor he would return the following year for an answer.  Perry returned on March 8, 1854, and within a month concluded the Convention of Kanagawa, opening Japan to trade from the west.  […]

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  2. [...] wasn’t a total washout as President, contrary to his reputation.  Among other things, he was the guy who dispatched Commodore Perry to Japan, to open that reclusive nation to trade, and to stop them from executing random sailors from [...]

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  3. [...] told the Emperor he would return the following year for an answer.  Perry returned on March 8, 1854, and within a month concluded the Convention of Kanagawa, opening Japan to trade from the west.  [...]

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    I’ll take that as a compliment, coming from the master of the obscure, middle-of-the-19th-century picture!

    That site I link to (somewhere in that post) of the CSS Virginia has more great pictures. Go check it out.

    Like

  5. elektratig says:

    I’m so humiliated! How could I have missed this twin anniversary! Thank God you were on the ball! And the pictures are great, too.

    Like

  6. Catherine Sherman says:

    The Japanese woodcut is much more flattering! The outfit in the woodcut is dazzling, much better than his stiff suit!

    The Japanese are brilliant in their ability to maintain their own traditions while absorbing those of other cultures and making them their own. I loved my visit there. Thanks for this article.

    Like

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