Millard Fillmore, Our 13th President
Born in a log cabin in the Finger Lakes country of New York in 1800, Millard Fillmore endured the trials of pioneer life on a farm as a boy. At age 15 he was apprenticed to a cloth dresser. At age 17 he fell in love with his 19-year-old redheaded teacher, Abigail Powers. They married in 1826.
Fillmore was admitted to the bar in 1823 and later moved his law office to Buffalo. His law practice flourished and he formed a partnership in 1834 with Nathan K. Hall. This law practice would become one of the most prestigious firms of western New York.
He was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1832 and served in Congress until 1843. From 1847-49 he served as New York State Comptroller, reforming the New York banking system and making it a model for the future National Banking System. In 1848 he was nominated Vice President at the Whig National Convention. The Whigs felt that he would balance the ticket with Zachary Taylor, a slave-owning southerner.
As Vice President, Fillmore presided over the heated debates over slavery taking place in the Senate. Some wanted the new western territories being formed (California and New Mexico) to be free states and others wanted slavery allowed. During one debate, Senator Foote of Mississippi even drew a pistol on Senator Benton from Missouri.
When Fillmore became President in July 1850 because of the sudden death of President Taylor, he supported the Compromise of 1850 as a way to preserve the Union from the intensifying slavery debate. He signed the compromise into law in September 1850. Basic parts of the bill include admitting California as a free state, abolishing slave trade in the District of Columbia and a better enforcing of the Fugitive Slave Act. Another important action taken by Fillmore’s administration was the sending of Commodore Matthew Perry to open Japan to western trade, although Perry didn’t reach Japan until Franklin Pierce had become President.
Fillmore was not nominated for President in 1852, and he returned to Buffalo where he served as chancellor of the University of Buffalo, which had been chartered in 1846. His first wife died in 1853 and five years later he married Caroline McIntosh, a wealthy widow. He died on March 8, 1874, of the effects of a stroke. He was buried in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo.