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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