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.
Within 50 years Japan would come to dominate the seas of the the Western Pacific, and would become a major world power.
Then, 20 years later, on March 8, 1874, Millard Fillmore died in Buffalo, New York.
The Perry expedition to Japan was the most famous, and perhaps the greatest recognized achievement of Fillmore’s presidency. Fillmore had started the U.S. on a course of imperialistic exploitation and exploration of the world, with other expeditions of much less success to Africa and South America, according to the story of his death in The New York Times:
The general policy of his Administration was wise and liberal, and he left the country at peace with all the world and enjoying a high degree of prosperity. His Administration was distinguished by the Lopez fillibustering expeditions to Cuba, which were discountenanced by the Government, and by several important expeditions to distant lands. The expedition to Japan under Commodore Perry resulted in a favorable treaty with that country, but that dispatched under Lieut. Lynch, in search of gold in the interior of Africa, failed of its object. Exploring expeditions were also sent to the Chinese seas, and to the Valley of the Amazon.
Here we are in 2013, 160 years after the end of Millard Fillmore’s presidency, 159 years after Commodore Perry’s success on the mission to Japan Fillmore sent him on, 139 years after Millard Fillmore’s death, and not yet have we come to grips with Fillmore’s real legacy in U.S. history. Most of that legacy, we don’t even acknowledge in public. Santayana’s Ghost paces nervously.