Millard Fillmore’s links to March 8: Hurrah! and R.I.P.


I awoke from a particularly hard sleep after a night celebrating ten Cub Scouts’ earning their Arrow of Light awards and advancing into Boy Scout troops, to a missive from Carl Cannon (RealClear Politics) wondering why I’m asleep at the switch.

Millard Fillmore died on March 8, 1874, and he expected to see some note of that here at the Bathtub.  This blog is not the chronicler of all things Millard Fillmore, but can’t we at least get the major dates right?

Carl is right.  Alas, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub is avocation, and at times like these an avocation that should be far down the list of avocations.

To mark the date, here is a post out of the past that notes two key events on March 8 that Fillmore had a hand in, the second being his death.  Work continues on several fronts, and more may splash out of the tub today, even about Fillmore.  Stay tuned.

Fillmore died on March 8, 1874; exactly 20 years earlier, Commodore Matthew C. Perry landed in Japan, in the process of what may be the greatest and most overlooked legacy of Millard Fillmore’s presidency, the opening of Japan to the world.  Here’s that post:

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.

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4 Responses to Millard Fillmore’s links to March 8: Hurrah! and R.I.P.

  1. [...] Millard Fillmore’s links to March 8: Hurrah! and R.I.P. (timpanogos.wordpress.com) [...]

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  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Imperialism?

    Oddly enough, Millard Fillmore had some thoughts about that. In his message to Congress earlier (the State of the Union), Fillmore said he thought the U.S. uniquely positioned to open relations to Japan from the world, since the U.S. would be prevented from imperialism by the Constitution.

    No kidding.

    Our settlements on the shores of the Pacific have already given a great extension, and in some respects a new direction, to our commerce in that ocean. A direct and rapidly increasing intercourse has sprung up with eastern Asia. The waters of the Northern Pacific, even into the Arctic Sea, have of late years been frequented by our whalemen. The application of steam to the general purposes of navigation is becoming daily more common, and makes it desirable to obtain fuel and other necessary supplies at convenient points on the route between Asia and our Pacific shores. Our unfortunate countrymen who from time to time suffer shipwreck on the coasts of the eastern seas are entitled to protection. Besides these specific objects, the general prosperity of our States on the Pacific requires that an attempt should be made to open the opposite regions of Asia to a mutually beneficial intercourse. It is obvious that this attempt could be made by no power to so great advantage as by the United States, whose constitutional system excludes every idea of distant colonial dependencies. I have accordingly been led to order an appropriate naval force to Japan, under the command of a discreet and intelligent officer of the highest rank known to our service. He is instructed to endeavor to obtain from the Government of that country some relaxation of the inhospitable and antisocial system which it has pursued for about two centuries. He has been directed particularly to remonstrate in the strongest language against the cruel treatment to which our shipwrecked mariners have often been subjected and to insist that they shall be treated with humanity. He is instructed, however, at the same time, to give that Government the amplest assurances that the objects of the United States are such, and such only, as I have indicated, and that the expedition is friendly and peaceful. Notwithstanding the jealousy with which the Governments of eastern Asia regard all overtures from foreigners, I am not without hopes of a beneficial result of the expedition. Should it be crowned with success, the advantages will not be confined to the United States, but, as in the case of China, will be equally enjoyed by all the other maritime powers. I have much satisfaction in stating that in all the steps preparatory to this expedition the Government of the United States has been materially aided by the good offices of the King of the Netherlands, the only European power having any commercial relations with Japan.

    This was after the Mexican/American War, mind you — barely four years past.

    Sometimes Fillmore seems amazingly prescient, and sometimes he seems amazingly naive — in this case, in the same paragraph.

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  3. [...] Millard Fillmore’s links to March 8: Hurrah! and R.I.P. (timpanogos.wordpress.com) [...]

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  4. Jaycubed says:

    Re. Portrait of Matthew Perry.

    The Peabody Essex Museum doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

    The Japanese made depictions of Europeans in their art more than 300 years before this print. The images included not just the Portugese sailors who had arrived to engage in the Nanban trade in Japan, but their African slaves and exotic wildlife. There were also numerous artistic depictions of (white) Jesus, Mary & European clerics made for the christian market, especially in Southern Japan.

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