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Fillmore, Millard,1800–1874, 13th President of the United States (July, 1850–Mar., 1853), b. Locke (now Summer Hill), N.Y. Because he was compelled to work at odd jobs at an early age to earn a living his education was irregular and incomplete. He read law in his spare time and was admitted (1823) to the bar. After practicing law in East Aurora, N.Y., until 1830, he settled in Buffalo. Thurlow Weed made Fillmore a lieutenant in the Anti-Masonic party, and with Weed's support he served in the New York state assembly (1829–31) and in the U.S. House of Representatives (1833–35). In 1834 he joined the Whig partyWhig party,
one of the two major political parties of the United States in the second quarter of the 19th cent. Origins
As a party it did not exist before 1834, but its nucleus was formed in 1824 when the adherents of John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay joined forces
..... Click the link for more information. and was reelected three times (1836, 1838, 1840) to the House. When the Whigs came into national power in 1840, Fillmore became prominent in his party. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he promoted the high tariff of 1842. He was considered (1844) for the vice presidential candidacy, but instead became Whig candidate for the governorship of New York. His defeat by Silas WrightWright, Silas,
1795–1847, American political leader, b. Amherst, Mass. He was admitted (1819) to the bar and began practicing law at Canton, N.Y. Becoming involved in state politics, in the 1820s he opposed the faction headed by De Witt Clinton and became one of the
..... Click the link for more information. in a close contest was caused by the split between proslavery and antislavery Whigs. With Henry Clay's backing, Fillmore was nominated (1848) for Vice President on the Whig ticket with Zachary TaylorTaylor, Zachary
, 1784–1850, 12th President of the United States (1849–50), b. Orange co., Va. He was raised in Kentucky. Taylor joined the army in 1808, became a captain in 1810, and was promoted to major for his defense of Fort Harrison (1812) in the War of 1812.
..... Click the link for more information. . As Vice President, Fillmore presided with notable fairness over the Senate during the turbulent debates of 1850. Succeeding to the presidency upon Taylor's death, he encouraged and then signed the Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act. He tried to enforce the measures despite the criticism his course evoked from the North. Cheaper postal rates were introduced during his administration. He appointed Daniel WebsterWebster, Daniel,
1782–1852, American statesman, lawyer, and orator, b. Salisbury (now in Franklin), N.H. Early Career
He graduated (1801) from Dartmouth College, studied law, and, after an interval as a schoolmaster, was admitted (1805) to the bar.
..... Click the link for more information. Secretary of State, emphasized nonintervention in foreign disputes, and approved the treaty that opened Japan to Western commerce. He unsuccessfully tried to make the Whigs a national party that, by occupying middle ground on the issue of slavery, could conciliate North and South and prevent extremists from gaining power. Neither he nor Webster could win the support of the Whig convention in 1852, and the nomination went to Gen. Winfield ScottScott, Winfield,
1786–1866, American general, b. near Petersburg, Va. Military Career
He briefly attended the College of William and Mary, studied law at Petersburg, and joined the military.
..... Click the link for more information. , representative of the more radical antislavery element. With the division of the Whigs over the slavery issue and the party's consequent rapid decline, Fillmore's political career came to an end. He joined the Know-Nothing movementKnow-Nothing movement,
in U.S. history. The increasing rate of immigration in the 1840s encouraged nativism. In Eastern cities where Roman Catholic immigrants especially had concentrated and were welcomed by the Democrats, local nativistic societies were formed to combat
..... Click the link for more information. in the vain hope that it might unite North and South, and he accepted (1856) the nomination of that group for the presidency, being endorsed also by the small remnant of the Whigs. He opposed Lincoln's election and his Civil War administration and supported Andrew Johnson's stand against radical Reconstruction measures, but he took no active part in the controversies over these issues.
See biographies by W. L. Barre (1856, repr. 1971), R. J. Rayback (1959, repr. 1992), and R. Scarry (1965, repr. 1970).
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Fillmore, Millard(1800–74) thirteenth U.S. president; born in Cayuga County, N.Y. Largely self-educated, he read law in an office and was admitted to the bar (1832). He became comptroller of New York State (1847) and served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1833–35, 1837–43) as a Whig. Elected vice-president in 1848, he ascended to the presidency on the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850. As president, he sent Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan and tried with little popular success to steer a moderate course through the threatening slavery issue. His support of the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the Compromise of 1850 cost him the Whig nomination in 1852. He ran for president on the Know-Nothing (American) Party in 1856, then retired to Buffalo, N.Y., where he devoted himself to local affairs.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.