Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore

Fillmore, Millard (1800-1874), 13th president
of the United States (1850-1853) and the second vice president to finish
the term of a deceased president. He succeeded Zachary Taylor at a critical
moment in United States history. The Mexican War (1846-1848) had renewed
the conflict between the Northern and Southern states over slavery, since
it had added new territories to the United States. The debate over whether
these territories should be admitted as free or slave states precipitated
a crisis that threatened civil war. Much to the relief of Northern and

Southern politicians, Fillmore pursued a moderate and conciliatory policy.

He signed into law the Compromise of 1850, which admitted one territory
as a free state and allowed slave owners to settle in the others. This
compromise did not solve the basic problem of slavery but did preserve
peace for nearly eleven years. During that time the North gained the industrial
power that enabled it to defeat the South when civil war eventually came.

Fillmore was born in upstate New York in

1800. He was the second child and eldest son in a family of nine. His parents,

Nathaniel and Phoebe Millard Fillmore, had moved from Vermont to New York
several years before his birth. Young Fillmore did chores on his father\'s
farm, worked as an apprentice in the clothier\'s trade, and attended local
schools irregularly until he was 17. Although the only books in his home
were the Bible, an almanac, and a hymnbook, Fillmore managed to educate
himself with the help of a village schoolteacher, Abigail Powers.

When he was 19, Fillmore began to study
law with Judge Walter Wood of Cayuga County. He supported himself by teaching
school. When his family moved to East Aurora, near Buffalo, New York, Fillmore
continued his study of law and his teaching. In 1823 he opened a law office
in East Aurora. Three years later he married Abigail Powers. The couple
had two children, Mary Abigail and Millard Powers. In the early years of
their marriage, Mrs. Fillmore continued to teach school and to help her
husband with his law studies.

In 1826, the year Fillmore was married,
an incident in western New York set him on the road to the presidency.

When William Morgan, a former member of the Masonic fraternal order who
had written a book that claimed to expose the order\'s secrets, disappeared,
the rumor spread that he had been murdered by avenging Masons. Thurlow

Weed, a newspaper publisher and politician, seized on the incident to arouse
public feeling against all secret organizations and helped to organize
the Anti-Masonic Party. Meanwhile, Millard Fillmore had been winning respect
and popularity in East Aurora. People admired his professional ethics,
temperate habits, careful speech and dress, and good looks. These qualities
caught the attention of the Anti-Masonic politicians, who were looking
for vote-winning candidates. In 1828, Weed and his group ran Fillmore for
a seat in the New York state legislature, and he was elected. Four years
later, again with Weed\'s backing, Fillmore was elected to the House of

Representatives in the Congress of the United States.

When the Anti-Masonic Party merged with
the new Whig Party in the mid-1830s, Fillmore became a Whig. In Congress
he was a strong supporter of Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, the leader
of the Whigs. The two men agreed that compromise on the slavery issue was
necessary to preserve peace between the North and South.

In the important position of chairman of
the House Ways and Means Committee, Fillmore took a leading part in framing
the protective tariff (tax on imports) of 1842. The tariff raised rates
to about the high level of the tariff of 1833. That tariff was opposed
by the South and had provoked the state of South Carolina to pass its Ordinance
of Nullification, declaring the tariff void within its borders.

Fillmore did not run for reelection in

1842. He hoped for the vice presidential nomination on Clay\'s Whig presidential
ticket, but the party\'s national convention of 1844 gave that spot to Theodore

Frelinghuysen of New Jersey. Fillmore then accepted the Whig nomination
for governor of New York. In the election, however, Fillmore was beaten
by his Democratic Party opponent, Silas Wright, and Clay lost the decisive

New York vote.

The Whigs nominated Fillmore for state
comptroller in 1847. This office was second in power after the governor\'s
and supervised public finances and superintended the banks. Fillmore defeated
his Democratic opponent by 30,000 votes, the largest margin ever gained
by any Whig over a Democrat in New York. The victory established Fillmore
as a vote getter and put him in competition with former Governor William

Henry Seward for the position of New