December 2: Millard Fillmore’s Guano Day!

December 1, 2014

Why December 2?

(You couldn’t make this stuff up if you were Monty Python.)

English: Millard Fillmore White House portrait

Millard Fillmore’s White House portrait, via Wikipedia

President Millard Fillmore, in the State of the Union Address, December 2, 1850

Peruvian guano has become so desirable an article to the agricultural interest of the United States that it is the duty of the Government to employ all the means properly in its power for the purpose of causing that article to be imported into the country at a reasonable price. Nothing will be omitted on my part toward accomplishing this desirable end. I am persuaded that in removing any restraints on this traffic the Peruvian Government will promote its own best interests, while it will afford a proof of a friendly disposition toward this country, which will be duly appreciated.

Did any other U.S. President spend so much time thinking about guano?  Did any president ever mention it in a State of the Union Address?  The curious case of Millard Fillmore, Seer, just grows.

Guano, or bird poop (and its relative, bat poop), contains phosphorus, which is an essential element for life.  Consequently, it turns out to be a key ingredient in effective agricultural fertilizers.  In international competition for supremacy in farming and farm exports, guano became a key resource to fight over, in the 19th century.

It’s almost safe to say the fights were economic; but guano did play a key role in wars in South America (see Andrew Leonard’s article, noted below).

Fillmore figured out that the substance had great importance, coupled that with the rather esoteric knowledge that sea birds tended to deposit guano in great abundance on certain islands, often unoccupied, and ordered the U.S. Navy to claim islands found to contain guano deposits that were not claimed by other nations.

By the American Civil War, the importance of phosphorus to the production of gun powder became an issue for the armies of the North and South.  Millard Fillmore had set the stage for the North to win an important advantage in gun powder production, just one of many that led to the defeat of the South.

It’s one more thing we should thank Millard Fillmore for doing. Our study of history should inform us that it is, indeed, important for politicians to understand the importance of guano.

Fillmore knew his guano.

Take a moment on December 2 to toast Millard Fillmore’s prescience, on Guano Day!

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Millard Fillmore and middle school: Enough for a sit-com set in Buffalo?

October 28, 2014

Buzz in Buffalo, New York, is that there may be a sit-com coming, set in Buffalo, about education — the kids and teachers at Millard Fillmore Middle School.

Potential cast for a potential sitcom situated in Millard Fillmore's hometown, Buffalo, New York

Potential cast for a potential sitcom situated in Millard Fillmore’s hometown, Buffalo, New York

Seriously?   A reporter for Buffalo Rising, Newell Nussbaumer, wrote:

Do you remember the last time that Buffalo had a sitcom “based” here? Do you recall what the name of the show was? It was Jesse – a show that ran for a couple of years (1998-1999). Since that time there has not been a show “set in” the city of Buffalo. But Jordan Imiola wants to change that. Jordan is currently a screenwriter in LA, who lives and breathes Buffalo, as does his girlfriend. They are huge Sabres and Bills backers, and do their part to expound Buffalo’s virtues whenever they are able. Sometimes they do that by frequenting Buffalo backers bars, and sometimes they simply wear it on their sleeves (both of them sport Buffalo tattoos).

Now Jordan wants to put Buffalo back on the map via a new sitcom that takes place in this city. “The new TV comedy is called “Get Educated.” It’s a Feel Good Comedy similar to “Modern Family” and “The Office,” but it takes place in Millard Fillmore Middle School. It focuses on teachers and students. Growing up, my Grandpa took me to Millard Fillmore’s Birthday Party every year at the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora so that’s what inspired the school name. Also, my mom, Uncle Dave, and Aunt Laurie taught in Western NY schools for years. My mom and Aunt were faculty members of the Cheektowaga-Sloan district where I went to school K – 10. And my Uncle Dave taught at the Stanley G. Falk School and now teaches in the city of Buffalo.”

This is the age of the internet:  You may contribute to the production of the series, at IndiGoGo.

At Buffalo Rising, one commenter paid homage to a teacher at the real Millard Fillmore Junior High School in Buffalo, years ago:

buffalorr10 hours ago
“Millard Fillmore Middle School”–It was named Millard Fillmore Jr. High when it opened in the early sixties. Located on Appenheimer St. off Fillmore Ave. next to the now demolished Kensington Heights projects. My Alma Mater class of ’66. There was an amazing teacher there, Mrs. Stallings, a black woman who for many of the white kids that lived in our all white neighborhood at the time, was the first contact we’d ever had with a person of color. She was so strict that no one dared not turn in their homework or disrupt the classroom. We all ended up with a 90 point or higher grade upon leaving her class along with the feeling that she was one of the best educators we’d ever had. I think that could be material for an interesting TV show.

Okay, I’d watch that.

(Hey, is there a photo of the old Millard Fillmore Jr. High on the internet?)


Millard Fillmore resources, from the Library of Congress

August 20, 2014

Found this wonderful page with a list of resources on Millard Fillmore, available on line from the Library of Congress.  The list was compiled by Library of Congress’s Virtual Services, Digital Reference Section.

Completely cribbed from that site:

Millard Fillmore: A Resource Guide

Millard Fillmore: whig candidate for Vice President of the United States
Millard Fillmore: whig candidate for Vice President of the United States.
1 print : lithograph.
New York : Published by N. Currier, c1848.
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:
LC-USZ62-7549

American Memory Historical Collections

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress

The complete Abraham Lincoln Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consist of approximately 20,000 documents. The Lincoln Papers contain more than fifty items to, from, or referring to Millard Fillmore. To find these documents, go to the collection’s search page, and search on the phrase Millard Fillmore (do not put quotation marks around the words).

Among the collection’s Fillmore-related materials are:

An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history. Search the bibliographic records and the full-text option to find items related to Millard Fillmore.

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection contains a large selection of congressional material related to Millard Fillmore’s political career as a member of the House of Representatives, vice president, and president. Search this collection by date and type of publication to find materials related to Fillmore.

From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909

The collection consists of 397 pamphlets, published from 1824 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics, including two items that reference Millard Fillmore.

“I Do Solemnly Swear…”: Presidential Inaugurations

This collection contains approximately 400 items relating to presidential inaugurations, including a lithograph of Millard Fillmore from 1850.

Map Collections

The focus of Map Collections is Americana and the cartographic treasures of the Library of Congress. These images were created from maps and atlases selected from the collections of the Geography and Map Division. Millard Fillmore’s personal collection of printed and manuscript maps is represented by sixteen maps.

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 & 1870-1885

This collection contains more than 62,500 pieces of historical sheet music registered for copyright, including three songs related to Millard Fillmore.

The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals

This collection presents twenty-three popular periodicals digitized by Cornell University Library and the Preservation Reformatting Division of the Library of Congress. Search the bibliographic records and the full-text options to find articles that discuss Millard Fillmore.

Among the collection’s Fillmore-related articles are:

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years

In honor of the Manuscript Division’s centennial, its staff selected approximately ninety representative documents spanning from the fifteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. The following items reference Millard Fillmore:

Happy researching! Teachers, be sure to make your students aware of these sites (I presume other presidents are covered, too).


Millard Fillmore’s term ended, 1853; another shot in 1864?

August 20, 2014

PrintsOldandRare.com had a copy of an 1864 Illustrated News with Millard Fillmore on the cover.

Prints Old and Rare:

Prints Old and Rare: “1853 Portrait of Millard Fillmore. Antique engraved portrait of Fillmore from the May 28, 1853 issue of the Illustrated News, surrounded by text discussing the history of his administration. 11×16 in. SOLD”

What was the contemporary judgment on the last Whig President, whose own party refused to nominate him for a term of his own?

One wonders if there isn’t another copy of that newspaper floating around out there, or whether it might be available at the Library of Congress.

Just about a decade later, some people thought Fillmore might be a good nominee for the Democrats, against Lincoln.  In a look back in history in the Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune, we find this news report out of Fulton, Missouri, repeated by Rudi Keller:

FULTON — Former President Millard Fillmore was a tested leader who would preserve the Union and heal political divisions, Editor John Williams wrote, announcing his preference for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“We have tried him and we know that he will do us justice,” Williams wrote.

The Democratic National Convention was scheduled to begin Aug. 29 at Chicago. Fillmore, 64, was gaining some notice as a potential candidate, but most Democrats were focused on Maj. Gen. George McClellan. Nicknamed “The Young Napoleon,” McClellan was a meticulous officer who thoroughly organized the Army of the Potomac but was relieved of command because of his cautious approach to combat.

Missouri had 22 delegate seats at the convention, with U.S. Rep. William Hall of Randolph County, banker Weston Birch of Howard County and former U.S. Rep. Thomas Price of Cole County included in the delegation.

Williams wrote that while he preferred Fillmore, “McClellan will do — he is a Christian — a soldier and a patriot. Although a war man we believe he would favor peace at once, with the most liberal terms, and on the condition of the Union. If not McClellan, then some other good man…”

Democrats nominated McClellan.  Lincoln won.

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July 10, 1850: Millard Fillmore sworn in as president

July 10, 2014

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.  164 years ago today, Millard Fillmore served his first day as President.

Fillmore became the second person to take the presidency of the U.S. without having been elected.  John Tyler was William Henry Harrison’s vice president when Harrison died of pneumonia a mere 31 days after being sworn in 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

Zachary 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.


July 9, 1850: Death of President Zachary Taylor; cue Millard Fillmore

July 9, 2014

President Zachary Taylor died on July 9, 1850.  The cause is still not fully clear, but poisoning by arsenic has been ruled out.

What would have happened had Taylor lived?

At the blog of the National Constitution Center, we get a few details of his death and life immediately preceding:

President Zachary Taylor’s death on July 9, 1850 shocked a nation that was in a heated debate about issues that eventually led to the Civil War. But his sudden passing also sidestepped two constitutional crises.

zachary-taylorThe details about how and why President Taylor died are still in dispute today. The president attended a ceremony at the site of the Washington Monument on July 4th on a reportedly hot summer day.

He fell ill soon after with a stomach ailment. His doctors gave him relief medication that included opium and later bled the president. Taylor died five days later at the age of 65.

Officially, he died from cholera morbus, and today, the prevalent theory is that Taylor suffered from gastroenteritis, an illness exacerbated by poor sanitary conditions in Washington.

There are other theories, including one where Taylor was poisoned by people who supported the South’s pro-slavery position. (In recent years, Taylor’s body was exhumed and a small, non-lethal amount of arsenic was found in samples taken from his corpse.)

It was Taylor’s unexpected opposition to slavery (he was from the South and was the last president to own slaves) that had caused an immediate crisis in 1850.

Taylor ran as a Whig candidate in 1848 and he wasn’t a professional politician. Taylor was a career military man and a hero in the war with Mexico.

Once he took office in March 1849, it became clear that Taylor, the military man, was more interested in preserving the Union than the art of politics.

Taylor decided to press for statehood for the newly acquitted territories of California and New Mexico, and to let the regions hold their own constitutional conventions. This guaranteed that California and New Mexico would join the Union as anti-slavery states, tipping the balance in the Senate to the North.

[more at the blog site]

In any case, Taylor died on July 9.

And on July 10, 1850, his vice president, Millard Fillmore, was sworn in as president.

No, that doesn’t mean the bathtub tale is true.

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July 8, 1853: Perry anchors U.S. ships in Edo Bay, the beginning of American Imperialism 161 years ago

July 7, 2014

History item:  On July 8,1853 four black ships led by USS Powhatan and commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry, anchored at Edo (Tokyo) Bay. Never before had the Japanese seen ships steaming with smoke. They thought the ships were “giant dragons puffing smoke.” They did not know that steamboats existed and were shocked by the number and size of the guns on board the ships.

President Millard Fillmore, defying H. L. Mencken’s later, crabby, hoax claim of do-little-government, sent Matthew C. Perry to Japan to open Japan as a refuge for shipwrecked sailors, and as a coaling stop for steamships.  For the previous 200 years, Japan had been closed to all but a few Dutch and Chinese traders.   On July 8, 1853, Perry’s small fleet sailed boldly into restricted waters of Japan and anchored.

Delivering the American presents to the Emperor of Japan, at Yokohama.  Nimitz Museum, Annapolis

Delivering the American presents to the Emperor of Japan, at Yokohama. A. O. P. Nicholson image, 1856 publication, “Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan” – artist not identified (Washington, A. O. P. Nicholson, 1856); Nimitz Museum, Annapolis. A list of the presents can be seen at a link near the end of this post; some of the gifts, such as the model of the steam engine, can be identified in this picture.

After some contretemps, which included Japan’s telling Perry to go to Nagasaki instead (where a military party was probably waiting) and Perry’s shelling a few buildings on shore, the Emperor accepted the letter from 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.  Generally unheralded, this may have been one of the more important pieces of U.S. diplomacy in history, especially considering the dramatic rise of Japan as an economic and military power, on the basis of the trade Commodore Perry demanded Japan engage in.

We should make special note of the chain of events over the following 85 or so years, culminating in World War II in the Pacific.  Had Fillmore not sent Perry, had the U.S. not insisted Japan open itself to the world, would there have been an attack on Pearl Harbor, and war in the Pacific?  Alternative histories we’ll never see.  But see the discussion at Salon, in 2014, about this topic (conveniently leaving out Millard Fillmore’s role), “What sparked Japan’s aggression during World War II?”

More:

Documents below the fold 

Steam frigate U.S.S. Susquehanna, Matthew Perry's flagship; the black hull won this small fleet a nickname,

Steam frigate U.S.S. Susquehanna, Matthew Perry’s flagship; the black hull won this small fleet a nickname, “the Black Ships.” Japanese Woodcut, from the University of Indiana

 

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