Mo Rocca’s profile of Millard Fillmore

April 7, 2014

You may view Mo Rocca’s “profile” of President Millard Fillmore for CBS Sunday Morning, on YouTube:

“CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca, far left, poses with Kathy Frost, curator of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Site, and Robert Lowell Goller, town historian and director of the Aurora Historical Society, during his recent visit to East Aurora.  Photo by  Robert Lowell Goller

East Aurora Advertiser caption: CBS Visits East Aurora “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca, far left, poses with Kathy Frost, curator of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Site, and Robert Lowell Goller, town historian and director of the Aurora Historical Society, during his recent visit to East Aurora. Photo by Robert Lowell Goller

CBS broadcast this piece on February 16, 2014.

 974

More:


The Gospel About Millard Fillmore – a Unitarian paean to our 13th president

March 26, 2014

This sermon was delivered at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, by the Rev. John Robinson, on September 18, 2005.

Choir practice at First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco.

Choir practice at First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco.

That church used to keep this text in its sermon archives, but Irecently discovered that archives had gone away.  I was happy to find I could get a historic version of the page, from which I got this text below.

I offer this here for scholars of the history of the presidency, and for scholars and fans of Millard Fillmore.  Oh, and to update the link in my list of sources on Millard Fillmore.

The Gospel About Millard Fillmore

This sermon began many years ago, over 30. Elliot Richardson had been invited to speak at the Annual Meeting of our Association of Free churches. He was then the martyred hero who had resigned as Attorney General of these United States rather than obey Richard Nixon’s order to fire Archibald Cox as Special Watergate Prosecutor. He was a Unitarian from an old Unitarian family.

Not all Unitarians were happy to have him as speaker. There was much agitation about the choice. Protesters tried to interrupt his speech, but were finally prevailed upon to let him make it.

In the question and answer period that followed, one of the dissenters demanded to know how Elliot Richardson, when Nixon’s Secretary of Defense, could have authorized the infamous December bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong.

Elliot Richardson pointed out to the questioner that he had not been appointed to Secretary of Defense until after the bombings, indeed until after the Vietnam Truce had been declared. He could have stopped there. Gotten off, as so many of us are apt to do, looking good. But he did not. He told the truth. He continued saying: “But, I think the decision to bomb was right.” It was the sort of candor that impresses.

Later that evening a young minister, this was years ago, was on a hotel elevator on to which Elliot Richardson stepped, unsuspectingly. Emboldened by spirits if not spirit. The young minister thanked Mr. Richardson for his speech and apologized for the rude behavior of some self-righteous Unitarians who treat those others of this tradition with whom they disagree so intolerantly. And then, as an illustration he launched into an impromptu sermon on Millard Fillmore. Ever polite, Elliot Richardson said he would like to see a full text. The young minister sent it to him, at the Court of St. James, where Mr. Richardson was at the time United States Ambassador to Great Britain. The Ambassador sent back a letter thanking the young minister for his sermon, saying that he had enjoyed it immensely. As a not so young minister, I still treasure that letter. Here for you this morning is the text of that sermon.

History has been unkind to Millard Fillmore, often referred to as “Millard Who?”. Forgetting that he was 13th president of the United States. One of the few accomplishments for which he is given credit is installing the first bath tub in the White House. There is serious doubt about that.

One historian said of Fillmore: “He came to the Presidency by the only road available to a man of limited ability, the death of his predecessor.” He was accused of being both pro-slavery and abolitionist. It was said he did “not have courage” “but was just inflexible.” They accused him of having “no position except equivocation,” that he was “without personal earnest conviction, personal force, or capacity for strong personal leadership.” His general rating as a president has been, until recently, below average, way below. He is judged bad or poor in his religiousness by those who judge such things. He was rejected by the religious community of which he was a member. He was a Unitarian.

There are three reasons to tell the story of Millard Fillmore: First, he illustrates the on-going tension in our free religious community, between the prophetic and the practical – the privilege of moral purity and the necessity to make real world decisions. Second, he illustrates well how difficult it is to judge our contemporaries. And third, to help restore Millard Fillmore to his rightful place in history.

The list of reasons for Fillmore’s lack of fame or infamy is long. His presidency was very short, only 2 years 236 days. His presidency is greatly overshadowed by the momentous events of the Civil War, eight years later. He was not liked by either the abolitionist historians or those historians who were apologists for the south. His association with the Know-Nothings tarnished his memory. And perhaps most important, the principal source of information about him came from the writings of his arch rival and enemy, the New York political boss Thurlow Weed, who called Fillmore derisively, “That incorruptible man from Buffalo.” Weed was very corruptible.

Millard Fillmore was born in a log cabin January 1, 1800, in upstate New York on his father’s poor, unproductive, isolated, farm. Millard was his mother’s maiden name. His education was sparse, no more than three months a year. He said that in the nine months working on his father’s farm, he forgot more than he learned the other three months. But his ambitious father apprenticed Millard to a cloth cutter, and then later got him a job in a law office. Millard’s Education was mostly self-learning, though by 20 he had a position as a schoolteacher. And then he became a lawyer. At 26 he married Abigail Powers who had taught him as he tried to catch up on his education. At 28 he was elected to the New York State Assembly.

At age 31 he joined a group of like-minded citizens in Buffalo New York where he now made his home. These were the founding and charter members of the First Unitarian Church of Buffalo New York.

Millard fought many good fights in the New York State Assembly. He fought for repeal of a law that required anyone testifying in court to swear that they believed in God and the hereafter. He pushed for an end to imprisonment for debt, and bankruptcy laws to protect small business interests. He fought for separation of church and state.

Millard was a party switcher right from the beginning. He was elected to the assembly as a National Republican, the party of Jefferson. Then He was elected as an Anti-Mason, a party he had helped to form. The Anti-Masons held that the Masonic Order with its lodges, secret rites and oaths, loyalties to something other than the Constitution, constituted an invisible Empire, a dangerous intrusion in a democracy. He wanted to get Masons out of government.

Fillmore was elected to Congress as a National Republican in 1832. His first term saw the formation of the Whig Party, an event he supported, as he wanted to see a party of National Union.

Unfortunately for those who look for titillation in sermons there were no publish rumors of moral turpitude. He served but one term in Congress, (perhaps an early supporter of term limits) and then went home to Buffalo and devoted himself to cultural and intellectual enrichment of Buffalo. (I know, you may think that an oxymoron.) He supported good causes like free public education and free public libraries.

In 1836 he was again elected to the House of Representatives. There he was made chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He also was chair of a Select Committee charged with investigation of election fraud in New Jersey (yes, I know, no change there). Incredibly Fillmore’s committee found 5 congressmen of his own party guilty, threw them out of congress, and thus handed control of The House to the opposition party! (IMAGINE!)

In 1842 he again left Congress, this time as a prominent Whig. The next year Horace Greely, editor of the NEW YORK TRIBUNE (also an alleged Unitarian), urged Fillmore’s candidacy for Vice-President. (Years later Fillmore repaid the favor by getting Greely out of debtors’ prison in Paris.)

1844 was not the year for Millard to get the nomination. He was held to be anti-slave and anti-Southern. He opposed the annexation of Texas as an attempt to swell slavery forces.

Later Millard opposed the Mexican War, which he believed would spread slavery and weaken the North’s industrial economy.

1848 was the year when Fillmore was tapped as the Whigs vice-presidential candidate. He balanced the ticket, with General Zachary Taylor, a Southerner, and slave owner, who was a hero of the Mexican War (ironically). Taylor ran on a rough and ready image. Leading abolitionists bolted the party, particularly New Englanders, notably the leading Unitarian, Charles Francis Adams.

The Taylor-Fillmore ticket had no platform because whatever was said would alienate part of the country. Abe Lincoln supported this ticket. On November 7, they won.

On July 9, 1850, rough and ready Zachary Taylor died from illness. Fillmore became President, the third President to be Unitarian. (In October of that same year this church was founded.) Within a month Fillmore had aroused the ire of the North by signing the Compromise of 1850. He did it, knowing that he had ruined any hope he had to run for the Presidency on his own. He also earned the animosity of many Unitarians.

The Compromise of 1850 preserved the balance between the North and South that dated from the Missouri Compromise and earlier. By it: California was admitted as a free state; New Mexico and Utah became Territories with no restriction on slavery; Texas was paid 10 million dollars to accept the Texas-New Mexico boundaries; slavery was to be decided by the people of Texas. The balance of concessions was further kept by prohibiting the slave trade in Washington, D.C. but continuing the right (better said the wrong) of slave ownership in the capital. The provision that enraged the abolitionists most was the strengthening of the fugitive slave laws. It empowered federal agents to enforce the act. The Whig Party split over Fillmore’s signing of the law.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (Unitarian) said of the fugitive slave law, “I will not obey it, by God.” Theodore Parker (author of the opening words this morning), a Boston Unitarian minister, led an armed band of vigilantes that confronted slave hunters up from the South; intimidated them into leaving; and saved a slave couple who had escaped to Boston. Parker had acted in direct defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law. With loaded pistol and sword ready on his writing desk Unitarian Parker wrote the Unitarian President, Fillmore, telling what he had done and challenging Fillmore to enforce his “damned law.”

History has judged Fillmore harshly for that one law – a Unitarian President perpetuating slavery – the scandal! Why did he do it? Talk of secession! Remember the times. Even before Taylor’s inauguration, Virginia had passed legislation that threatened secession if the federal government interfered with “Southern Institutions”. John C. Calhoun (also a Unitarian and charter member of the Unitarian Church in Washington D.C.) and other Southern leaders were making ominous warnings. Tension between the States in the House of Representatives kept them from selecting a Speaker for over three weeks. By the time Fillmore took office, the South was ringing with calls for secession, not only if slavery were interfered with but if its expansion were checked.

Fillmore’s predecessor, Taylor, a Southerner, a slave owner and war hero, might have held the country together had he lived to veto the compromise of 1850 as he had said he would. Fillmore knew he could not hold the Union if he vetoed it. He set one goal, to preserve the Union and the Constitution. To give up the great compromise forged in 1787-1788 would, he knew, lead to the rupture of the Union. He thought the North was at that time not yet strong enough to win a civil war. Modern historians agree.

By the end of October 1850, Fillmore had angered abolitionists by sending federal troops to assist U.S. Marshal’s in the arrest of fugitive slaves. His determination for the compromise was also felt in the South. He sent reinforcements for Charleston, South Carolina where Southerners, angry over the North’s resistance to the fugitive slave laws, were threatening to seize federal property.

Fillmore has been most severely criticized for not fighting slavery with determination. However, there is another side. John F. Kennedy in Profiles of Courage chose to profile Daniel Webster. Webster was also a Whig and a Unitarian. Kennedy praises Webster for his courage in supporting The Compromise of 1850 with its Fugitive Slave Law. Fillmore had presided as Vice-President over the debates on the Compromise. He had heard Webster’s famous speech that cost Webster the support of his Massachusetts constituents. Emerson said of Webster at this time “The word ‘liberty’ in the mouth of Mr. Webster sounds like the word ‘love’ in the mouth of a courtesan.”

Webster and Fillmore thought slavery would die a natural death in the industrial revolution (Why invest capital in slave ownership when an Irishman could be rented for next to nothing in wages.) They saw the tension, not so much as slave vs. free, as agriculture vs. industry.

Webster was but one vote for the bill. Fillmore alone shouldered the final responsibility to veto or sign the bill. Fillmore bore the blame for the Compromise of 1850. Do not forget that Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, said that if he could preserve the Union by keeping slavery, he would.

When the Compromise of 1850 fell apart, the Civil War began. The Whigs were terribly weakened by abolitionist outrage.

Perhaps Fillmore’s next most far-reaching act was to send Commodore Perry to Japan. But Fillmore was done. The Whigs were done.

In the election of 1852 Fillmore and Webster fought over the nomination for President at the next Whig Convention, for 47 ballots to a deadlock. In the end, a man neither of them could support was nominated and lost the election. A saddened Fillmore attended, with his wife, the cold rainy inauguration of Franklin Pierce. Three weeks later Fillmore’s wife died of pneumonia contracted that inauguration day. Fillmore’s 22 year old daughter died the year after he left office.

After he had stepped down from office, the Officers of the American Unitarian Association invited Millard Fillmore to preside over the Annual Meeting. But abolitionists refused to allow him to be seated after he got there. They would have no part of this man who would not follow their conscience. One hopes that this free religion might be gentler today but I am not sure. After the Civil War, Fillmore stung by their action resigned from the Buffalo Church when its minister and his friend died.

By 1856 the Whig party had disintegrated. The lines grew harder: Democrats to the South, Republicans to the North. Millard Fillmore wanted a party for the Union. He then made the second mistake for which he has been charged harshly. He offered himself to the American Party, the Know-Nothings, anti-foreign and anti-Catholic, as candidate — a devil of a thing for a free religionist to do. He hoped to gather there the remnants of the Whigs. He then went off to Europe on a 12-month vacation.

Ironically he was on foreign soil, after just completing an audience with the Pope when he was notified that he had received the Know-Nothing’s nomination for President. He was chosen because he was the only person of stature that they could get.

But many Know-Nothings were unhappy with him and bolted the party. Fillmore is not known to have ever expressed any anti-Catholic sentiments. This though he had lost a bid for Governor of New York because Catholics were angry that his militancy for separation of church and state made him oppose state funding they sought for various Catholic institutions.

Fillmore expressed no support for the Know-Nothing goal of removing all Catholics from office alleging they would be loyal to the Pope rather than the U.S.A. He did, however, believe that foreigners should be fully Americanized in their views before becoming citizens. He was also concerned that immigrants, who joined our diplomatic service, were sent to the countries from which they had come. He thought it a potential conflict of interest.

In 1856, he ran for President as the American Party candidate with a Southern slaveholder as his running mate. They emphasized in the campaign regional compromise and preservation of the Union. They carried only the State of Maryland. However they also were the spoilers that kept the Republicans from winning and thus put the Civil war off four more years. It is important remember that the changes happening in this nation, at this time, were more dramatic and far reaching in many ways than the computer revolution in our own. These were the years of the industrial revolution. The dramatic growth of railroads and factories, was changing the North for a subsistence farm economy to market agriculture and industrial growth. These changes radically altered the balance between North and South, increasing the might of the North disproportionately.

It is difficult to know whether Millard was in any sense a believer in Know-Nothingism, or if he knew of the violence in which some of its members engaged, or if he merely compromised himself to win his objective of continued Union of the States. He wouldn’t be the first prejudice Unitarian. He was not a radical Abolitionist. He said, however, that he thought the fugitive slave law odious but constitutional.

Slavery was a despicable practice. There is no apology for it. It is easy to condemn compromisers. But it is harder to make the difficult decisions that the real world demands. If it had not been for the courage of Fillmore the Civil war would have come sooner. And if the South had succeeded in becoming independent, how long and how entrenched by bitterness would slavery have lasted? Until today? And if cooler heads had prevailed, compromise succeeded, would slavery possibly have collapsed anyway without the blood shed and bitterness engendered by that fratricidal war?

The tension between the ideal and the real, the promise and what is practical, between moral purity and the sin of every day life, is very real. It is a tension that we humans are both burdened and blessed with. I leave you to struggle with these hard dilemmas. You do each time you vote. I believe that we are at our best when we walk with each other talk with each other, even in our differences, rather than separating.

Millard Fillmore lived out the balance of his days quietly in private life. He supported Lincoln, met Lincoln in Buffalo when Lincoln was on his way from Illinois to his First Inaugural. He took Lincoln to services at the First Unitarian Church of Buffalo. He thought that the Republicans had provoked the Civil War but gave it his support at rallies. He thought Lincoln too harsh – he strongly supported Andrew Johnson’s efforts at conciliation.

Fillmore was no Saint if you look for moral purity, nor was he our most brilliant President. He refused an Honorary Degree from Oxford, because he had no earned degree of any kind. He said he was “not entitled to it.” (Give him high marks on humility). But he was more than most have given him credit for. He risked and lost his reputation to keep the vision of a United States, even as others risked much to purify that vision. In looking up Eliot Richardson on the Internet, I find that he is listed as an Episcopalian/Anglican. Perhaps he too felt the sting of our righteousness at the General Assembly.

May we, O God, be people who understand that the course of truth and good is never so easy, and that the tread of evil runs through each of us, most surely when we are convinced of our own righteousness.

Amen and Amen.

Mostly accurate, so far as I can tell.  No, I haven’t figured out how you cite this under MLA standards.


A sermon remembering Millard Fillmore’s second wife

March 18, 2014

This was delivered in January.  My search engines found it just a couple days ago, a story about a sermon featuring Millard Fillmore and his second wife, Caroline.

Interesting.  From the Newnan Times-Herald in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia:

Almost forgotten president focus at service

Millard Fillmore's second wife, Caroline, and Fillmore's official White House portrait.


Millard Fillmore was president for a few difficult years a decade before the Civil War split the nation into.

He is almost forgotten by most Americans today. When remembered, Fillmore is often the punchline of a joke — he is often erroneously remembered as the first president to have a bathtub in the White House.

Fillmore and his wife, Caroline, however, were points of beginning for a recent sermon at Allen-Lee Memorial United Methodist Church in Lone Oak. Winston Skinner, a member of the church and a staff member at The Newnan Times-Herald who has a great love for history, brought the message.

Skinner was a pastor for more than 24 years and often used events from history as touchstones for sermons and special services. Chad Hill, Allen-Lee’s pastor, asked Skinner to preach on Jan. 12.

“This sermon idea had been rolling around in my head,” Skinner said.

Skinner, who lives in Newnan, has been interested in presidents and first ladies since he was in elementary school. “I had been reading about Caroline Fillmore, who married the former president in 1858. Upon reflection, I saw several points that ‘will preach’ in her life story,” he said.

“The Fillmores were a religious couple. Their home was known as one of clean language and living. She was Baptist. He Unitarian. When the former president had died in 1874, ministers from three different faiths preached at his funeral,” Skinner noted in his sermon.

Caroline McIntosh “was the wife of a former president, but she had never lived in the White House, never experienced the power and burden of the presidency,” Skinner preached.

“In Caroline Fillmore’s story, we find glimpses of our own. We were not there to see Jesus speak to a multitude on the hillside. We did not taste the fish and bread multiplied from a little boy’s lunch. We did not hear the noises as Lazarus, dead three days, rose from his tomb in Bethany and walked into the sunlight,” Skinner said.

“We did not experience any of that, but we who believe know the one who worked those great miracles. We know Jesus intimately. He lives in our hearts. He accompanies us each moment of our lives,” he added.

The hymns used for the service were from Ira Sankey’s Gospel Hymns, published in the 1870s. A copy of the popular hymnal was among Caroline Fillmore’s belongings offered at auction last year.

Shelia Simpson sang “Sweet Hour of Prayer” during the service.

Church members invited visitors on Jan. 12, days after Millard Fillmore’s 214th birthday. A special effort was made to contact members descendants of Coweta County’s pioneer Carmichael family who may be distantly related to Caroline Fillmore.

After the service, a display of some of Skinner’s presidential memorabilia was displayed in the church fellowship hall. There were miniature figures of presidents, coins, stamps and items autographed by four presidents’ wives — Frances Cleveland, Mary Harrison, Rosalynn Carter and Barbara Bush.

I hope there’s an electronic copy of that sermon, and I hope I can get one.


Millard Fillmore: Ready for his closeup with CBS Sunday Morning?

February 16, 2014

http://twitter.com/fillmoremillard/status/434912774716915712

Millard Fillmore as

Millard Fillmore as “Bad President,” by jimmyemery at deviantart. How will Mo Rocca’s story portray Fillmore?

If other news doesn’t interfere, Millard Fillmore is scheduled to get a Presidents Day treatment from reporter and humorist Mo Rocca, on CBS’s “Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood,” on February 16.

What a fine collision!  Fillmore’s story is really pretty good.  Osgood and Sunday Morning are top of the genre.  Rocca is smart, and often funny.  Even if they perform below their par, the segment should be enlightening.

Blogging for the venerable Buffalo News, TV writer and critic Alan Pergament gives more details:

If you’re tired of me telling you how wonderful “CBS Sunday Morning” with Charles Osgood is, better look away now.

Correspondent Mo Rocca — whose chicken wing piece ran on Super Bowl Sunday — is back again this Sunday with a piece on President Millard Fillmore.

Rocca visited the Fillmore home in East Aurora on the same week he was here to sample chicken wings.

According to a CBS spokesperson, Rocca explains in the piece “why Fillmore should be remembered for more than just his unusual name.”

The spokesperson added that University at Buffalo professor Claude Welch is one of the experts that Rocca spoke to “about what made the 13th president stand out.”

“Sunday Morning” airs at 9 a.m. Sundays on Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate.

The timing of the Fillmore piece makes sense since this is President’s Day weekend.

Prof. Welch delivered the annual address at Fillmore’s grave this year, on Fillmore’s birthday, January 7 (delayed a couple of days this year because of cold and snow).

“Sunday Morning” runs from 8:00 to 9:30 a.m. on KTVT, Channel 11, in Dallas.  I’ll be ringing bells, and I’ll have to record the show.  Check your local schedule. 

You could do worse on Presidents Day Eve than to learn something more about Fillmore, arguably the man who set up World War II in the Pacific.

That’s something even H. L. Mencken didn’t blame Fillmore for.


If you’re not remembered as much as Millard Fillmore . . .

January 10, 2014

The University of Buffalo honored Millard Fillmore today in a graveside ceremony on Thursdaypostponed from Fillmore’s birthday on January 7 due to cold and icy weather.

Is Fillmore forgotten as much as many claim?

Compare to notes on the births of other presidents.

Richard Nixon was born on January 9, 1913 (same year as my mother!)  He’d be 101 today, and still not a crook in his view.

US Senate History tweeted:

Not quite so good as a graveside ceremony.  Funnier picture, perhaps.

But consider Andrew Johnson.  His birthday was a couple of weeks ago, on December 29.

Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth president of the United States, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on December 29, 1808. His father’s death when the boy was three left the family in poverty. From age fourteen to age seventeen, young Johnson was apprenticed to a tailor. He then moved with his mother and stepfather to Greeneville, Tennessee, where he established himself as a tailor. Johnson never attended school but taught himself to read and write—he all but memorized the U.S. Constitution—and after his 1827 marriage to Eliza McCardle, a shoemaker’s daughter, acquired a good common education under her tutelage.

A gifted orator, Johnson quickly ascended the political ladder. In 1829, he won his first office, as an alderman. In steady succession he became mayor of Greeneville, a member of the Tennessee state legislature (1835-37, 1839-43), U.S. congressman (1843-53), governor of Tennessee (1853-57), and U.S. senator (1857-62). In Congress, Johnson supported the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War, and sponsored a homestead bill that anticipated the 1862 Homestead Act. He also was the only Southern senator who firmly supported the Union and remained in the Senate throughout both the secession crisis and the Civil War. In the spring of 1862, after federal forces captured portions of Tennessee, President Lincoln appointed him military governor of the state, an office he held despite constant danger to his life.

Two years later, influential moderates such as William Seward worked to secure Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as Lincoln’s running mate on the Republican Party ticket. According to a May 20, 1865, editorial in Harper’s Weekly, Seward had seen in Johnson “that his fellow-Senator, a land-reformer, a stern Union man, a trusted representative of the people of the South as distinguished from the planting aristocracy, was the very kind of leader by whom the political power of the aristocracy was ultimately to be overthrown in its own section.”

After Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, little more than a month after their inauguration, Johnson assumed the presidency. His administration ran more smoothly in the foreign than the domestic arena: in 1867, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska and helped negotiate France’s withdrawal of troops from Mexico.

If nothing else, Johnson is notorious for having been the first president to be impeached (he was acquitted at trial by the Senate; best account probably in John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage).

Was there much of a peep in popular media on his birthday?

Any note?  I didn’t find it except in a very few of the “Today in History” columns.

Johnson may be forgettable, though — not considered a good president (who could be following Lincoln!).

What about Woodrow Wilson?  His birthday also cropped up a couple of weeks ago, on December 28, the day before Johnson’s.

It is not needful or possible at this time, whilst yet he lives, to say that Wilson is a Washington or another Lincoln, but he is a great American. He is one of the great presidents of American history.

Rabbi Stephen A. Wise in a tribute to Woodrow Wilson.
American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election, 1918-1920

Anyone notice?  I mean, anyone outside of Staunton, Virginia, his birthplace?  (Well, yeah — see below.)

What is a fair measure of ignominy? If the world forgets the great man’s birthday, is that a sign?

Photo by Michael Bupp, The Carlisle Sentinel:

Photo by Michael Bupp, The Carlisle Sentinel: “For 88 years, there has been a Woodrow Wilson Birthday Association of Cumberland County that organized an annual observance around Dec. 28 to remember Wilson. Pat Stumbaugh is the current treasurer and has been involved in the association since she was a little girl.”

More:


Stretching celebration of Millard Fillmore’s birthday through the week

January 7, 2014

Summerhill, New York, got a jump on celebrating Millard Fillmore’s birthday with a Sunday ceremony; today’s scheduled graveside commemoration is postponed due to weather, to Thursday — nearly a full week of Millard Fillmore!

Summerhill’s annual birthday party continued a tradition of uncertain age.  Fillmore was born in a log cabin in Summerhill.

Details come from the Auburn, New York, Citizen:

Three members of Flock of Free Range Children John Davis, from left, Ron Van Nostrand and Don Watkins perform at the birthday party for former President Millard Fillmore Sunday in the Summerhill Town Hall.   (Photo by Jessica Soule)

Music for the Summerhill, New York, celebration of Millard Fillmore’s 214th birthday was provided, again, by Flock of Free Range Children. Caption from the Auburn Citizen: Three members of Flock of Free Range Children John Davis, from left, Ron Van Nostrand and Don Watkins perform at the birthday party for former President Millard Fillmore Sunday in the Summerhill Town Hall. (Photo by Jessica Soule)

SUMMERHILL | Summerhill’s town hall was taken over Sunday with the delights of a birthday party – cake, live music and community members coming together in celebration. Millard Fillmore was born 214 years ago, on Jan. 7, 1800, in a log cabin there.

In honor of his birthday, the Cayuga Owasco Lakes Historical Society partnered with the town of Summerhill to put on a party for the 13th president of the United States of America. This annual celebration has happened for years, society President Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore said.

Three members of the Flock of Free Range Children performed in the hall, as people munched on food and chatted. A banner with Fillmore’s birth year hung from the wall above a birthday cake.

“This is our opportunity for the town and our members to keep the memory of Fillmore alive,” Smith-Moore said. “After all, there’s not a lot of counties that have a president from there. There is a lot of history, but there’s so much more.”

The historical society also hosts an annual fundraiser in August. This year, the money gathered will benefit the pavilion that commemorates Fillmore’s birthplace. Specifically, the society wants to install bathrooms. The path that connects his birthplace and Fillmore Glen State Park was recently cleared, giving walkers another trail to learn more about the president who was responsible for adding indoor plumbing to the White House.

Commemorating the president with origins in Cayuga County is especially important, as he hasn’t gotten his due from national historians.

“All presidents have a library or museum, except Fillmore. We’re the only executive of his effects,” Smith-Moore said.

Fillmore only recently became the subject of his first biography, completed by a former Moravia teacher. The birthday celebration is an effort to raise awareness of his accomplishments and the many positive effects of his work on the nation, Smith-Moore said.

The historical society presented the town a frame that contained coins, one bearing Fillmore’s image and another of his wife, a photo of the deputy director of the United States Mint dedicating the Fillmore coin in 2010 and a flier of the coin dedication.

In an effort to remind the community of their local treasure, fifth-graders will be treated to a sit down between Fillmore and Abraham Lincoln in their curriculum.

“People just don’t know anything about Millard Fillmore,” Smith-Moore said.

She said one of his biggest accomplishments was to order the military to start surveying in preparation for what would become the Transcontinental Railroad. Meanwhile, town historian Florence Lansdowne said Fillmore opening up trade with Japan led to major benefits.

“We want to instill in people how important he was,” Lansdowne said.

Lansdowne is retiring, and will work with her replacement Patricia McCloy this year. McCloy lauded Lansdowne for her work in gaining recognition for the 13th president.

McCloy said she is excited to take over as local historian. She’s going to try to encourage more use of the pavilion that commemorates Fillmore’s birthplace.

“Is it amazing,” she said. “There aren’t many towns in American that can say they had a president.”

From the Auburn Citizen:  New Summerhill town historian Patricia McCloy, right, smiles during a presentation by the Cayuga Owasco Lakes Historical Society as retiring town historian Florence Lansdowne, left, and society President Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore look on. (Photo by Jessica Soule)

From the Auburn Citizen: New Summerhill town historian Patricia McCloy, right, smiles during a presentation by the Cayuga Owasco Lakes Historical Society as retiring town historian Florence Lansdowne, left, and society President Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore look on. (Photo by Jessica Soule)

What other celebrations might there be out there?  Does anyone race bathtubs anymore?

More, perhaps related:


Happy birthday, Millard Fillmore! 214 today, not looking a day over 117

January 7, 2014

Campaign poster from the 1856 presidential election, when Fillmore ran on the American Party ticket. The American Party is better known as the Know-Nothing Party. Library of Congress image. Fillmore failed to win the nomination of the Whig Party in 1852; he lost in 1856 with the Know-Nothings, too.  Image from the Library of Congress, American Memory Collections

Campaign poster from the 1856 presidential election, when Fillmore ran on the American Party ticket. The American Party is better known as the Know-Nothing Party. Library of Congress image. Fillmore failed to win the nomination of the Whig Party in 1852; he lost in 1856 with the Know-Nothings, too. Image from the Library of Congress, American Memory Collections

Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of the United States, came into this world on January 7, 1800.

Until Barack Obama, Fillmore held the title of Most Unjustly Maligned President Ever.  (Who should be Most Justly Maligned? Comments are open.)

We awake to news that the cold weather in Buffalo, New York, led to the postponement of the annual graveside commemoration, now set to be held Thursday, when the cold isn’t quite so life-threatening.

How should we remember Fillmore?  Accurately, of course.

Check out past commemorations of Fillmore’s birthday here, at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.  Generally dealing with Fillmore and history, there are a total of 82 posts on this site.  Watch this site today — there will be more.

The long arc of history bends toward justice, some famously say.  How long will it take for justice to be done to the reputation of Millard Fillmore?

More, a small sampling:

Post Script:  Why 117 in the headline?  Mencken’s hoax on Fillmore, the bathtub story, was published in 1917; we date Fillmore’s reputation troubles from that time.


Millard Fillmore nominates the government of the Utah Territory

September 9, 2013

Interesting exercise, probably for an undergraduate college history student:  What became of these men during their service in the Utah Territory, and afterward?  What effect did they have on Utah’s history, and Utah on them?

In September 1850, Millard Fillmore sent the Senate, for confirmation, his nominations of officers to run the Utah Territory, three years after Brigham Young had led the first band of Latter-day Saints into the Salt Lake Valley to settle:

Letter from President Millard Fillmore to the U.S. Senate, nominating people (all men) to govern the Utah Territory, September 26, 1850 - U.S. National Archives image

Letter from President Millard Fillmore to the U.S. Senate, nominating people (all men) to govern the Utah Territory, September 26, 1850 – U.S. National Archives image

Page 2:

Page 2 of President Fillmore's letter to the U.S. Senate, nominating officers to govern the Utah Territory , in 1850.  National Archives image

Page 2 of President Fillmore’s letter to the U.S. Senate, nominating officers to govern the Utah Territory , in 1850. National Archives image

National Archives notes:  Executive Nominations for the First Session of the 31st Congress, 12/03/1849 – 09/30/1850

Production Dates: 09/26/1850

Notes in red ink indicate that confirmation dates for each of these nominees — all but one done two days later.  Fillmore’s nominee to be U.S. marshall in the territory wasn’t confirmed until the following February.

Amazing to think of the speed with which these confirmations occurred, compared to today’s U.S. Senate — and remembering that Congress was not particularly friendly to Fillmore.

An animated GIF of the as it evolved from 1850...

An animated GIF of the Utah Territory as it evolved from 1850 to 1896, when statehood was granted. (Territory boundaries not exact, especially in the west, where early proposals took in parts of California) Wikipedia image

Nominations were:

  • Brigham Young, of Utah, to be governor of the Utah territory
  • Broughton Davis Harris, of Vermont, to be Secretary of the territory
  • Joseph Buffington, of Pennsylvania, to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Utah Territory
  • Perry E. Brocchus, of Alabama, to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Utah Territory
  • Zerubabbel Snow, of Ohio, to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Utah Territory
  • Seth Blain, of Utah, to be U.S. Attorney
  • Joseph L. Haywood, of Utah, to be U.S. Marshall.

What other odd little delights are hidden away in the on-line holdings of the National Archives?  What sort of DBQ exercise can history teachers make out of this stuff?

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Brigham Young in 1851; photo from LDS archives

Brigham Young in 1851; photo from LDS archives


July 10, 1850, Millard Fillmore succeeds to the presidency

July 10, 2013

Millard Fillmore was elected vice president largely because he was on the ticket with the very popular Gen. Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War.

About 15 months into his presidency, President Taylor took ill  after presiding over July 4 festivities in blazing heat.  He died on July 9, 1850; Vice President Millard Fillmore took the oath as president the next day, and served out the term.  163 years ago today, Millard Fillmore served his first day as President.

Millard Fillmore in an 1850 lithograph by Francis DAvignon after a photograph by Matthew Brady (unclear if this was before or after his ascending to the presidency) - Library of Congress image

Millard Fillmore in an 1850 lithograph by Francis D’Avignon after a photograph by Matthew Brady (unclear if this was before or after his ascending to the presidency) – Library of Congress image

Taylor had encouraged New Mexico and California to draw up state constitutions, which would have disallowed slavery in those states.  To southern leaders who threatened secession, Taylor promised to personally lead the army that would hold the union together by force, and personally hang those who had proposed rebellion.

Fillmore had presided over the Senate during months of furious debate on issues that always seemed to come down to slavery.  Because he didn’t hold to the views of the Whig Party which had elected the Taylor-Fillmore ticket, even more than Taylor had strayed, the cabinet resigned.  Fillmore appointed Daniel Webster as Secretary of State, and proceeded to push for compromise on issues to avoid war.  His machinations helped get California admitted as a free state, but left New Mexico as a territory.  His support of the Fugitive Slave Act alienated even more Whigs, and by 1852 the Whigs refused to nominate Fillmore for a term of his own.  He left office in 1853, succeeded by Franklin Pierce.

Fillmore’s greatest accomplishment as president, perhaps, was his sending a fleet of ships to Japan to force that nation to open up to trade from the U.S.  The political furor over the Fugitive Slave Act, the Missouri Compromise, and other issues around slavery, tend to eclipse the memory of the good that Fillmore did.

Nota bene:  Controversy surrounded the death of Taylor.  Because he had threatened southern secessionists and incurred anger from several other groups, from the time of his death there were rumors he had been poisoned with arsenic.  Officially, the cause of death was gastroenteritis; popular accounts note that he had, in the heat of July, drunk milk and eaten cherries and cucumbers.  Certainly strep, staph or other bacteria in the milk could have created a problem.  In 1991 a team led by George Washington University Law Professor James Starrs exhumed Taylor’s body from his Louisville, Kentucky burial plot, and tested his remains for arsenic at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  Analysis presented to the Kentucky medical examiner indicated arsenic levels way too low for a poisoning victim.

[This is an encore post, in parts.]

More:

"An Available Candidate: The One Qualific...

“An Available Candidate: The One Qualification for a Whig President”. Political cartoon about the 1848 presidential election which refers to Zachary Taylor or Winfield Scott, the two leading contenders for the Whig Party nomination in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. Published by Nathaniel Currier in 1848, digitally restored. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  Despite the cynicism of many , Zachary Taylor won the Whig Party nomination, and the presidency.  Taylor died just over a year after his inauguration.


May 23, 1926: Mencken confessed the Millard Fillmore bathtub hoax, “any facts . . . got there accidentally”

May 23, 2013

Reasons for my annual observance of a moment of silence, here on May 23, for the failed confession of Mr. Mencken should be obvious to even a sleepy reader.  Alas, annually the need grows to call attention to the dangers of hoaxing, as hoaxes particularly in the political life of the U.S. grow in number, in viciousness, and in the numbers of gullibles suckered.  Here, again, is our annual reading of the confession with a few photographs and new links thrown in for easy learning:

May 23, 1926, H. L. Mencken‘s newspaper column confessed his hoax of nine years earlier — he had made up whole cloth the story of Millard Fillmore‘s only accomplishment being the installation of a plumbed bathtub in the White House (in the 1850s known as the Executive Mansion).

Alas, the hoax cat was out of the bag, and the hoax information still pollutes the pool of history today.

Text of the confession, from the Museum of Hoaxes:

Melancholy Reflections

On Dec. 28, 1917, I printed in the New York Evening Mail, a paper now extinct, an article purporting to give the history of the bathtub. This article, I may say at once, was a tissue of absurdities, all of them deliberate and most of them obvious…

This article, as I say, was planned as a piece of spoofing to relieve the strain of war days, and I confess that I regarded it, when it came out, with considerable satisfaction. It was reprinted by various great organs of the enlightenment, and after a while the usual letters began to reach me from readers. Then, suddenly, my satisfaction turned to consternation. For these readers, it appeared, all took my idle jocosities with complete seriousness. Some of them, of antiquarian tastes, asked for further light on this or that phase of the subject. Others actually offered me corroboration!

But the worst was to come. Pretty soon I began to encounter my preposterous “facts” in the writings of other men. They began to be used by chiropractors and other such quacks as evidence of the stupidity of medical men. They began to be cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene. They got into learned journals. They were alluded to on the floor of congress. They crossed the ocean, and were discussed solemnly in England and on the continent. Finally, I began to find them in standard works of reference. Today, I believe, they are accepted as gospel everywhere on earth. To question them becomes as hazardous as to question the Norman invasion.

* * *

And as rare. This is the first time, indeed, that they have ever been questioned, and I confess at once that even I myself, their author, feel a certain hesitancy about doing it. Once more, I suppose, I’ll be accused of taking the wrong side for the mere pleasure of standing in opposition. The Cincinnati boomers, who have made much of the boast that the bathtub industry, now running to $200,000,000 a year, was started in their town, will charge me with spreading lies against them. The chiropractors will damn me for blowing up their ammunition. The medical gents, having swallowed my quackery, will now denounce me as a quack for exposing them. And in the end, no doubt, the thing will simmer down to a general feeling that I have once more committed some vague and sinister crime against the United States, and there will be a renewal of the demand that I be deported to Russia.

I recite this history, not because it is singular, but because it is typical. It is out of just such frauds, I believe, that most of the so-called knowledge of humanity flows. What begins as a guess — or, perhaps, not infrequently, as a downright and deliberate lie — ends as a fact and is embalmed in the history books. One recalls the gaudy days of 1914-1918. How much that was then devoured by the newspaper readers of the world was actually true? Probably not 1 per cent. Ever since the war ended learned and laborious men have been at work examining and exposing its fictions. But every one of these fictions retains full faith and credit today. To question even the most palpably absurd of them, in most parts of the United States, is to invite denunciation as a bolshevik.

So with all other wars. For example, the revolution. For years past American historians have been investigating the orthodox legends. Almost all of them turn out to be blowsy nonsense. Yet they remain in the school history books and every effort to get them out causes a dreadful row, and those who make it are accused of all sorts of treasons and spoils. The truth, indeed, is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel.

* * *

As a practicing journalist for many years, I have often had close contact with history in the making. I can recall no time or place when what actually occurred was afterward generally known and believed. Sometimes a part of the truth got out, but never all. And what actually got out was seldom clearly understood. Consider, for example, the legends that follow every national convention. A thousand newspaper correspondents are on the scene, all of them theoretically competent to see accurately and report honestly, but it is seldom that two of them agree perfectly, and after a month after the convention adjourns the accepted version of what occurred usually differs from the accounts of all of them.

Political boss Harry M. Daugherty (later Attor...

Political boss Harry M. Daugherty (later Attorney General of the United States), left, with Senator Warren G. Harding (later President of the United States) at Harding’s home in Marion, Ohio during the 1920 presidential campaign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I point to the Republican convention of 1920, which nominated the eminent and lamented Harding. A week after the delegates adjourned the whole country believed that Harding had been put through by Col. George Harvey: Harvey himself admitted it. Then other claimants to the honor arose, and after a year or two it was generally held that the trick had been turned by the distinguished Harry M. Daugherty, by that time a salient light of the Harding cabinet. The story began to acquire corroborative detail. Delegates and correspondents began to remember things that they had not noticed on the spot. What the orthodox tale is today with Daugherty in eclipse, I don’t know, but you may be sure that it is full of mysterious intrigue and bold adventure.

Ambassador Myron T. Herrick was part of the U....

Ambassador Myron T. Herrick was part of the U.S. delegation to the International Chamber of Commerce which sailed on Kroonland in 1920. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are the facts? The facts are that Harvey had little more to do with the nomination of Harding than I did, and that Daugherty was immensely surprised when good Warren won. The nomination was really due to the intense heat, and to that alone. The delegates, torn by the savage three cornered fight between Lowden, Johnson, and Wood, came to Saturday morning in despair. The temperature in the convention hall was at least 120 degrees. They were eager to get home. When it became apparent that the leaders could not break the deadlock they ran amuck and nominated Harding, as the one aspirant who had no enemies. If any individual managed the business it was not Harvey or Daugherty, but Myron T. Herrick. But so far as I know Herrick’s hand in it has never been mentioned.

* * *

English: Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier i...

Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier in arena before fight at Boyle’s Thirty Acres. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I turn to a more pleasant field — that of sport in the grand manner. On July 2, 1921, in the great bowl at Jersey City, the Hon. Jack Dempsey met M. Carpentier, the gallant frog. The sympathy of the crowd was overwhelmingly with M. Carpentier and every time he struck a blow he got a round of applause, even if it didn’t land. I had an excellent seat, very near the ring, and saw every move of the two men. From the first moment Dr. Dempsey had it all his own way. He could have knocked out M. Carpentier in the first half of the first round. After that first half he simply waited his chance to do it politely and humanely.

Yet certain great newspapers reported the next morning that M. Carpentier had delivered an appalling wallop in the second round and that Dr. Dempsey had narrowly escaped going out. Others told the truth, but what chance had the truth against that romantic lie? It is believed in to this day by at least 99.99 per cent of all the boxing fans in Christendom. Carpentier himself, when he recovered from his beating, admitted categorically that it was nonsense, but even Carpentier could make no headway against the almost universal human tendency to cherish what is not true. A thousand years hence schoolboys will be taught that the frog had Dempsey going. It may become in time a religious dogma, like the doctrine that Jonah swallowed the whale. Scoffers who doubt it will be damned to hell.

The moral, if any, I leave to psycho-pathologists, if competent ones can be found. All I care to do today is to reiterate, in the most solemn and awful terms, that my history of the bathtub, printed on Dec. 28, 1917, was pure buncombe. If there were any facts in it they got there accidentally and against my design. But today the tale is in the encyclopedias. History, said a great American soothsayer, is bunk.

Mencken’s confession gets much less attention than it deserves.  In a just world, this essay would be part of every AP U.S. history text, and would be available for printing for students to read individually in class and to discuss, debate and ponder.  Quite to the contrary, state legislatures today debate whether to require teaching of the hoax that disastrous climate change is not occurring, only 45% of Americans claim to know better for certain; more legislatures work hard to devise ways to insert hoaxes against biology (evolution and human reproduction, notably), astronomy and physics (Big Bang), history and even education (Islam is a root of socialist thought, President Obama is not Christian, weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, teachers are socialists).

In 2013, the governing body of the Boy Scouts of America votes today on whether to allow homosexual boys to be Scouts — as if an 8-year-old kid joining Cub Scouts knows enough about sex and love, and sex predation, to threaten the Constitution of the U.S. if we allow him to learn how to put alphabet macaroni onto a board spelling out “Mom,” or to learn how to carve an automobile out of a block of wood and race it on a closed-course track.  The so-called Family Research Council (FRC) has conducted a campaign of vicious hoaxes against the measure, even going so far as to purloin official logos of the Boy Scouts to suggest they speak for BSA.  The hoax has millions of victims, they claim.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., GOP Members of Congress call for investigations into wrongdoing evidenced in e-mails between the White House and State Department and CIA, over the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens.  To hear the GOP describe it, you’d never know that the GOP opposed President Obama’s actions to save the city of Benghazi from destruction by dictator Muammar Gadhafy a few months before, that the GOP slashed the security budget for all U.S. diplomatic missions, leaving Ambassador Stevens underprotected, that the GOP was opposed to much of the work of Ambassador Stevens, or that the incriminating e-mails were hoaxed up by GOP Congressional staff.

If you see pale faces among the GOP Congressional staff or the FRC this morning, it may be because the ghost of H. L. Mencken appeared to them last night to give them hell.  We could hope.

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Former President Millard Fillmore writes to open door to President Abraham Lincoln

May 4, 2013

An encore post:

May 4, 1861:  Millard Fillmore wrote:

May 4, 1861, letter from Fillmore to Lincoln, introducing a friend - Library of Congress

May 4, 1861, letter from Millard Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln – Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress

Transcription of the letter:

From Millard Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln, May 4, 1861

Buffalo May 4, 1861.

July 9: Vice President Millard Fillmore become...

Vice President Millard Fillmore became President upon the death of President Zachary Taylor, in July 1850. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Dear Sir,

The bearer, Dr. Martin Mayer, a Stranger to me, has asked of me a letter of Introduction to your Excellency, and produced such high proofs of character, that I do not feel at liberty to refuse it; and therefore while I decline any interference, in any appointment he may desire, (which is my uniform practice) I desire simple to ask that he may be heard.

Respectfully yours

Millard Fillmore

One must wonder whether this letter convinced President Lincoln to meet with Dr. Mayer, and what the conversation was if they did.  Surely there is some record of who met with Lincoln, no?

Update:  Be sure to see the comments of J. A. Higginbotham, below; he’s found a book that refers to the career of Dr. Mayer during the Civil War and after.  Heckuva a sleuthing job.

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Millard Fillmore waxes on

April 5, 2013

Millard Fillmore at Madame Tussaud's, D.C.

President Millard Fillmore, as displayed at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, Washington, D.C.; photo from About.com

Ever on the lookout for images of Millard Fillmore, I found this photo at About.com.  This is the “wax” sculpture of Fillmore displayed at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum – D.C.

Is it art?

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Millard Fillmore: Still dead, still misquoted, 139 years later

March 8, 2013

Millard Fillmore wax head

A wax likeness of Millard Fillmore’s head, appearing to be for sale for $950.00 back in 2007. Did anyone ever buy it? Yes, it does bear an unusual resemblance to Tom Peters.

March 8, 2013, is the 139th anniversary of Millard Fillmore’s death.  Famous lore claims Fillmore’s last words were, “The nourishment is palatable.”

What a crock!

Manus reprints the text from the New York Times obituary that appeared on March 9:

Buffalo, N.Y., March 8 — 12 o’clock, midnight. — Ex-President Millard Fillmore died at his residence in this city at 11:10 to-night. He was conscious up to the time. At 8 o’clock, in reply to a question by his physician, he said the nourishment was palatable; these were his last words. His death was painless.

First, I wonder how the devil the writer could possibly know whether Fillmore’s death was painless?

And second, accuracy obsessed as I am, I wonder whether this is the source of the often-attributed to Fillmore quote, “The nourishment is palatable.” Several sources that one might hope would be more careful attribute the quote to Fillmore as accurate — none with any citation that I can find. Thinkexist charges ahead full speed; Brainyquote removed the quote after I complained in 2007. Wikipedia lists it. Snopes.com says the quote is “alleged,” in a discussion thread.

I’ll wager no one can offer a citation for the quote. I’ll wager Fillmore didn’t say it.

Let’s be more stolid:  The quote alleged to be Fillmore’s last words, isn’t.  No one says “palatable” when they’re dying, not even the man about whom it is claimed that Queen Victoria pronounced him the hansomest man she ever met (just try tracking that one down), and whose strongest legacy is a hoax about a bathtub, started 43 years after he died.  No one calls soup “sustenance.”

The alleged quote, the misquote, the distortion of history, was stolen from the obituary in the New York Times.  Millard Fillmore did not say, “The sustenance is palatable.”

What were Millard Fillmore’s last words?  They may be buried in the notebook of one of his doctors.  They may be recorded in some odd notebook held in the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, or in the Library of SUNY Buffalo, or in the New York State Library‘s dusty archives.

But the dying President Fillmore did not say, “The sustenance is palatable.”

Millard Fillmore: We’d protect his legacy, if only anyone could figure out what it is.

This is partly an encore post, based on a post from 2007.

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

March 8, 2013

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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Quote of the moment: Should we reconsider Millard Fillmore?

February 23, 2013

For an accidental president, a man who no one expected to take the office; for a guy whose term was marked by his party’s rejection of his policies so much that they did not even entertain the idea he might be the nominee in the next election; for the last Whig president, an obvious dinosaur of a dying political view; for a guy so obscure that a hoax more than a half-century later remains his greatest acknowledged point of reference, Millard Fillmore left the U.S. in good shape.

Should that be his real legacy?

Millard Fillmore for President, campaign poster from 1856 (American Party)

Campaign poster for Millard Fillmore, running for president in 1856 on the American Party ticket. He carried Maryland, which is probably ironic, considering Maryland’s Catholic roots, and the American Party’s anti-Catholic views, views probably not entirely shared by Fillmore; the American Party is more often known as the “Know-Nothings.”  Image from the Library of Congress American Memory files.

These are the last two paragraphs of his final State of the Union message, delivered on paper on December 6, 1852.  Perhaps establishing a tradition, he made the message a listing of current zeitgeist, starting out mourning the recent passing of Daniel Webster, and the abatement of epidemics of mosquito-borne plagues in several cities.  He recited activities of the government, including the abolishment of corporal punishment in the Navy and improvements in the Naval Academy; he mentioned U.S. exploration around the world, in the Pacific, in the Amazon River, in Africa, and especially his project to send a fleet to Japan to open trade there.  He noted great opportunities for trade, domestically across an expanded, Atlantic-to-Pacific United States, and in foreign markets reachable through both oceans.

The last two paragraphs would be considered greatly exaggerated had any president in the 20th century delivered them; but from Millard Fillmore, they were not.  He gave credit for these achievements to others, not himself.

In closing this my last annual communication, permit me, fellow-citizens, to congratulate you on the prosperous condition of our beloved country. Abroad its relations with all foreign powers are friendly, its rights are respected, and its high place in the family of nations cheerfully recognized. At home we enjoy an amount of happiness, public and private, which has probably never fallen to the lot of any other people. Besides affording to our own citizens a degree of prosperity of which on so large a scale I know of no other instance, our country is annually affording a refuge and a home to multitudes, altogether without example, from the Old World.

We owe these blessings, under Heaven, to the happy Constitution and Government which were bequeathed to us by our fathers, and which it is our sacred duty to transmit in all their integrity to our children. We must all consider it a great distinction and privilege to have been chosen by the people to bear a part in the administration of such a Government. Called by an unexpected dispensation to its highest trust at a season of embarrassment and alarm, I entered upon its arduous duties with extreme diffidence. I claim only to have discharged them to the best of an humble ability, with a single eye to the public good, and it is with devout gratitude in retiring from office that I leave the country in a state of peace and prosperity.

What president would not have been happy to have been able to claim as much?  Historians often offer back-handed criticism to Fillmore for the Compromise of 1850; in retrospect it did not prevent the Civil War.  In the circumstances of 1850, in the circumstances of Fillmore’s presidential career, should we expect more?  Compared to Buchanan’s presidency and the events accelerating toward war, did Fillmore do so badly?

Have we underestimated Millard Fillmore?  Discuss.

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