December 2: Millard Fillmore’s Guano Day! 2017 edition

December 2, 2017

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!

More:  

You can purchase Peruvian guano today, from Amazon, GrowOrganic.com, and other sources. It's roughly $15 per pound in the U.S.

You can purchase Peruvian guano today, from Amazon, GrowOrganic.com, and other sources. It’s roughly $15 per pound in the U.S.

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an edited encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

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Happy 217th birthday, Millard Fillmore! Mo Rocca’s profile, from our archives to yours

January 7, 2017

Millard Fillmore as a younger man? Several sites claim this is a painting of Fillmore, but as with much about our mysterious 13th president, it's difficult to confirm, partly because images of Fillmore really are rather rare.

Millard Fillmore as a younger man? Several sites claim this is a painting of Fillmore, but as with much about our mysterious 13th president, it’s difficult to confirm, partly because images of Fillmore really are rather rare.

Our 13th president, Millard Fillmore, was born January 7, 1800. He’s 217 years old today, though he’s been dead most of that time.

After commemorating Fillmore’s birthday each year for the past several years, I’m running out of ideas to write about him that seem novel, at least to me. [No doubt you’ve noted this is roughly the same post as last year.]  Several years I’ve called the University of Buffalo to try to get copies of the remarks officials make at Fillmore’s gravesite, but those remarks rarely come through — so we don’t get enlightenment from them.

Reality? Few people remember anything about Fillmore even after we feature it here. For Fillmore’s 217th, let’s review what little we really know about him, with some encore posts.

Raconteur Mo Rocca profiled Fillmore for CBS’s Sunday Morning, a while back. That may be as good a place as any to review the highlights of Fillmore’s life, and meaning and place in U.S. history.

Most historians give Fillmore bad marks as a president, despite his having opened Japan for trade, and despite his having procured a steady supply of bird poop for U.S. industry.

I get this eerie feeling Fillmore would fit right in today in the GOP presidential scraps, and would be a serious challenge to fellow New Yorker Donald Trump. Do you agree?

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:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience. Overcoming Mencken’s hoax requires an army, too.

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Millard Fillmore’s letter to Abraham Lincoln, December 16, 1861: The Trent Affair

December 16, 2016

First page of Millard Fillmore's letter to Abraham Lincoln on the Trent Affair, sent December 16, 1861, 155 years ago today. Library of Congress image.

First page of Millard Fillmore’s letter to Abraham Lincoln on the Trent Affair, sent December 16, 1861, 155 years ago today. Library of Congress image.

Sometimes ex-presidents get the bug to offer advice to the person holding the office at the time.

Most of the time they let the urge pass.

But on December 16, 1861, former President Millard Fillmore shot off a letter to Abraham Lincoln, 7 months into the Civil War, warning Lincoln that a breach of relationships with Britain was to be avoided. Britain complained when U.S. warships stopped a British ship and arrested two Confederate diplomats.

It’s known as the Trent Affair, after the name of the British ship that was stopped.

It’s an example of a foreign nation interfering in domestic affairs of the U.S. Do we ever face such circumstances in the 21st century? Do we expect different results today?

Fillmore’s letter, in transcript:

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.

Millard Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln, Monday, December 16, 1861 (Trent Affair)

From Millard Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln, December 16, 1861

Buffalo, Dec. 16. 1861.

Sir,

I have never, under any circumstances, presumed to offer any advice, as to men or measures, to those who have succeeded me in the administration of the Government; and I beg of you to consider the few crude suggestions which I am now about to make, as mere hints from one who will feel no mortification, personally, if they should be wholly disregarded.

I can in some measure appreciate the difficulties with which the administration of the Government is now embarrassed by this unholy rebellion; for I heard the muttering thunder, and viewed the gathering storm at a distance in 1850; and while I approve most cordially of the firm stand which you have taken in support of the constitution, as it is, against insane abolitionism on one side and rebellious secessionism on the other, and hope and trust that you will remain firm; yet, it was not to speak of this that I took up my pen, but of a new danger which threatens more immediately our Northern frontier, but in its consequences, most fatally, the whole country. You of course must anticipate that I refer to a threatened rupture with England;1 for if we are so unfortunate as to be involved in a war with her at this time, the last hope of restoring the Union will vanish, and we shall be overwhelmed with the double calamities of civil and foreign war at the same time, which will utterly exhaust our resources, and may practically change the form of our government and compel us in the end to submit to a dishonorable peace.

I perceive that the telegram of this morning announces the fact from semi-official sources that, the law officers of Great Britain have given it as their opinion that the arrest of Messrs. Mason & Slidell and forcibly taking them from the Trent, a British merchant or transport vessel, was not justified by the law of nations; and that the British Cabinet were united in sending a despatch to Lord Lyon,2 protesting against the act, and demanding satisfaction by the restoration of the prisoners and a suitable apology for the insult to the British Flag. I still cherish the hope, however, that this statement may be greatly exagerated– But suppose it be true– What then? It may be said that one of two things must happen– Either, this Government must submit to the demand thus made upon it by Great Britain, or take the hazards of a war at a most inconvenient time to settle a point of international law by resort to arms. This alternative should be avoided it it can be with honor, and I venture to suggest that it may be, by urging in a firm but conciliatory argument in reply to the demand of Great Britain, our views of the Belligerent right to arrest these men, but conclude by saying that although we feel assured that we are right, yet if Great Britain after weighing our argument still adheres to the opinion that we are wrong, then as this is a purely legal question, where no insult was intended to the flag of Great Britain, nor any intention to invade her rights, and as the point in dispute is one of international law in which all maritime nations are interested, we propose to submit it to one of the crowned heads of Europe for arbitrament, agreeing to abide its award. It seems to me that Great Britain can not refuse so fair a proposition. But if she does, and insists on an unconditional compliance with her demand or war, all Christendom will then hold her responsible for the consequences.

I trust you will pardon these suggestions, which are made on the spur of the moment, without consultation with, or the knowledge of, any one; and may remain in confidence between us if you prefer that they should.

I am with sincere respect &

great haste, Truly yours

Millard Fillmore

[Note 1 On November 8, 1861 Captain Charles Wilkes of the U. S. S. San Jacinto intercepted the Trent, a British ship, and arrested James Mason and John Slidell who were on their way to Europe as representatives of the Confederacy. This violation of Britain’s neutrality nearly led to a war with the United States.]

[Note 2 Lord Lyons was the British minister to the United States.]

Could students today translate that letter, written in cursive? Maybe, for the sake of knowing history, we need to teach students how to read cursive, if not write it. Is it possible to teach reading without the writing?

Page 2, Millard Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln, on the Trent Affair. Library of Congress image.

Page 2, Millard Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln, on the Trent Affair. Library of Congress image.

 

Page 3 of Fillmore letter to Lincoln. Library of Congress image.

Page 3 of Fillmore letter to Lincoln. Library of Congress image.

 

Page 4 of Fillmore's letter to Lincoln. Library of Congress image.

Page 4 of Fillmore’s letter to Lincoln. Library of Congress image.

 

Page 6, the last page of Millard Fillmore's letter to Abraham Lincoln about the Trent Affair. Library of Congress image.

Page 5, the last page of Millard Fillmore’s letter to Abraham Lincoln about the Trent Affair. Page 6 shows only the author and topic.  Library of Congress image.

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Quote of the moment, December 6, 1852: Millard Fillmore explains his legacy; history ignores it

December 6, 2016

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?

On the anniversary of his final State of the Union message, let us ponder what Millard Fillmore bragged about.

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 abolishing 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?

Compare with modern analogs: Donald Trump appears to be working exactly contrary to those things Fillmore said were beneficial to the U.S., then: Friendly relations with foreign powers, the U.S. recognized as a refuge for persecuted people, and domestic prosperity. Any president since Franklin Roosevelt would have loved to have left such a legacy.

Have we underestimated Millard Fillmore?  Discuss.

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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December 2: Happy Guano Day! (Thank you, Millard Fillmore)

December 2, 2016

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!

More:  

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Save

Save


Buffalo News quiz: How well do you know birthday boy Millard Fillmore?

January 7, 2016

Inscription on the statute of Millard Fillmore at Buffalo's City Hall. Fillmore's better qualities crowd out critical elements. Buffalo News file photo.

Inscription on the statute of Millard Fillmore at Buffalo’s City Hall. “Lawyer, Educator, Philanthropist, Statesman.” Fillmore’s better qualities crowd out critical elements. Buffalo News file photo.

The venerable Buffalo News offers a quiz on our 13th president, Millard Fillmore, native son of Buffalo.

Happy birthday, Millard Fillmore, born January 7, 1800.

Nice of the Berkshire-Hathaway owned Buffalo News to make such a great tool for teachers, eh?


Any special activities at the Millard Fillmore Presidential Library for January 7?

January 7, 2016

The Ladies of Mount Vernon maintain George Washington’s home and a couple of farms, and now have an extensive center for teachers, in addition to an extensive library on Washington.

In Springfield, Illinois, a private foundation established the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Neither is part of the National Archives (NARA) presidential libraries programs. NARA operates libraries for Hoover, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George Bush, and NARA will operate the Obama library from the start.

Other presidents are left out in the cold, mostly. There are informal facilities for Teddy Roosevelt, James Garfield, and Woodrow Wilson.

On Millard Fillmore’s birthday, January 7, I am happy to report there is a Millard Fillmore Presidential Library, too.

For some reason, it’s in Cleveland, Ohio.

Photo of the interior of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Library, in Cleveland, Ohio. Motto something like, "This ain't the LBJ Library."

Photo of the interior of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Library, in Cleveland, Ohio. From Facebook page. Motto something like, “This ain’t the LBJ Library.”

A promising place for scholarship on our 13th president, perhaps. Photos of Fillmore, previously unknown, have been published by this establishment.

The new Millard Fillmore Presidential Library casts new light on the 13th president's talents and methods of relaxation.

The new Millard Fillmore Presidential Library casts new light on the 13th president’s talents and methods of relaxation.

Finally, a place to properly celebrate Millard Fillmore’s 216th birthday anniversary, today!


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