The Thirteenth President of the United States of America
Series on Presidential Slavery
Born of humble origins in New York State, Millard Fillmore was one of the few presidents actually born in a log cabin, in Cayuga County, New York. He received little formal education, apprenticing to a wool carder as a teenager before switching to work in a law office. At 23, he was admitted to the New York bar. Fillmore had fallen in love with Abigail Powers, a teacher, when he was 19, but refused to marry until 1826, when he had established himself as a lawyer.
Fillmore entered politics in 1828 as a member of the Anti-Masonic Party, built on democratic, libertarian principles and an opposition to exclusive societies like Freemasonry. Elected to the state assembly, Fillmore became a close ally of the powerful New York political boss Thurlow Weed, who supported his run for the House of Representatives in 1831. Weed led the Anti-Masons into the new Whig Party in 1834.
Millard Fillmore served four terms in Congress but declined to run for reelection after 1843. At Weed’s urging, he ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York in 1844. Four years later, Fillmore was serving as comptroller of New York when he was chosen as a dark horse pick for vice president under the Mexican War hero Zachary Taylor. As a pro-business northerner, Fillmore served to balance the victorious Whig ticket opposite Taylor, a slaveholder from Louisiana. You cannot be against slavery if you support someone who is a slave owner. President Taylor died in 1850, and Fillmore became the Nation’s 13th president.
The slave trade in Washington, D.C., was soon abolished, while staying strong was a Fugitive Slave Act put federal officers at the disposal of slave owners seeking their runaway slaves. Fillmore, who opposed slavery personally, was unwilling to touch it in states where it already existed for the sake of preserving the Union. Over the next few years, he consistently authorized the use of federal force in carrying out the return of slaves, further enraging northern abolitionists. Again, you cannot be against slavery and support the southern states under an Act that returns runaway slaves, knowing they will be punished, maimed or killed for their actions.
In 1852, the Whigs denied Millard Fillmore their presidential nomination in favor of General Winfield Scott, who lost to Democrat Franklin Pierce in the general election. Fillmore refused to join the new Republican Party and endorse its strong antislavery platform, and in 1856 he accepted the presidential nomination of the short-lived Know-Nothing (or American) Party. After finishing third behind Democrat James Buchanan and Republican John C. Fremont, Fillmore retired from politics. His wife Abigail had died in 1853, and in 1858 he married a wealthy widow, Caroline McIntosh.
Fillmore opposed the policies of Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, throughout the Civil War (1861-1865). Fillmore died in 1874 after suffering a stroke. Fillmore has largely been remembered for his undecided stance on slavery and his failure to prevent growing sectional conflict from erupting into a full-blown civil war.
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