Millard Fillmore was born January 7, 1800. Had he lived, Millard Fillmore would be 211 years old today, very cranky, and looking for a good book to read.
Would you blame him for being cranky? He opened Japan to trade. He got from Mexico the land necessary to make Los Angeles a great world city and the Southern Pacific a great railroad, without firing a shot. Fillmore promoted economic development of the Mississippi River. He managed to keep a fractious nation together despite itself for another three years. Fillmore let end the practice of presidents using slaves to staff the White House, then called “the President’s Mansion,” eight years before the election of Abraham Lincoln.
Then in 1852 his own party refused to nominate him for a full term, making him the last Whig to be president. And to add insult to ignominy, H. L. Mencken falsely accused him of being known only for adding a bathtub to the White House, something he didn’t do.
As Antony said of Caesar, the good was interred with his bones — but Millard Fillmore doesn’t even get credit for whatever evil he might have done: Fillmore is remembered most for being the butt of a hoax gone awry, committed years after his death. Or worse, he’s misremembered for what the hoax alleged he did.
Even beneficiaries of his help promoting the Mississippi River have taken his name off their annual celebration of the event. Fillmore has been eclipsed, even in mediocrity (is there still a Millard Fillmore Society in Washington?).
Happy birthday, Millard Fillmore.
Millard Fillmore was a man of great civic spirit, a man who answered the call to serve even when most others couldn’t hear it at all. He was a successful lawyer, despite having had only six months of formal education (a tribute to non-high school graduates and lifelong learning). Unable to save the Union, he established the University of Buffalo and the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. During the Civil War, he led the local militia in support of the war effort, many rungs down from his role of Commander-in-Chief. And, it is said of him that Queen Victoria said he was the most handsome man she had ever met.
A guy like that deserves a toast, don’t you think?
- Gateway to Millard Fillmore history at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub
- Millard Fillmore Papers, volume 1, edited by Frank H. Severance, secretary of the Buffalo Historical Society, 1907. Also, the index to both volumes; Table of contents. From Cornell University Library’s collection, New York State Historical Literature. This volume contains the autobiography Millard Fillmore did not finish, but which contains the only serious treatment of his youth, including the story of how he threatened to kill the first man to whom he was apprenticed as a wool carder. Particularly for those elementary and junior high school students looking for stories of presidents’ youth, this is the most authoritative account.
- Millard Fillmore Papers, volume 2, edited by Frank H. Severance, secretary of the Buffalo Historical Society, 1907. Also, the index to both volumes; Table of contents. From Cornell University Library’s collection, New York State Historical Literature.
- The Gospel of Millard Fillmore, a sermon by a Unitarian minister with a solid narrative and a view to redeem the reputation of Fillmore
- Looking for Millard Fillmore, a post at American President’s Blog, listing resources on Fillmore.
- Gateway to Fillmore sources at Electratig
- Resources on Millard Fillmore from the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia
- Fillmore entry at WhiteHouse.gov
- MFB entry on Fillmore’s Birthday, 2008; also here; 2007 entry here
- Did Fillmore actually say that?
- Even William Federer, that great distorter of history, gets some things right about Fillmore — but he leaves out the important stuff, and the best stuff.