January 7 - Remembering Millard Fillmore

Posted on January 7, 2018

Millard Fillmore is one of those lucky born-at-the-beginning-of-a-zero-year babies who never have to struggle to remember how old they are. I have two relatives born in January of zero years - 1950 and 1980 - and it is so so easy for all of us to keep track of their ages. 

Wait a darn minute - Millard Fillmore is one of the very rare born-at-the-beginning-of-a-double-zero-year babies! He was born on January 7, 1800. So, when it was 1819, he was 19 years old, when it was 1855, he was 55 years old, and when he died in 1874, he was 74 years old. It's REALLY a snap to know your age if you are born in January at the "turn of the century"!

Millard Fillmore was born in New York, the oldest son and #2 out of 8 kids being raised in a log cabin. 

During Fillmore's childhood, the family was extremely poor, but eventually Fillmore's father was able to succeed in farming and to become prosperous. By that time, Fillmore himself had already served as apprentice in several trades, had read all the books he could get his hands on from a library (it wasn't a public library - he had to pay membership to borrow the books), and had served as a law clerk. He taught school and studied the law on his own and eventually was admitted to the bar and became a full-fledged lawyer.

From lawyer to politician is a fairly common path - and Fillmore served as a delegate, in the New York State Assembly, and in the U.S. House of Representatives, at first representing the Anti-Masonic Party and later the Whig Party. He lost some elections - vying for Vice President and later Governor - but then was elected to serve as New York State Comptroller.

In 1948, Fillmore was chosen to run as Vice President under President Zachary Taylor, a position in which he was able to do little. But then something happened that made everyone sit up and take notice of Millard Fillmore:

Zachary Taylor got sick - and died!

Suddenly thrust into the much more powerful position of President of the United States, Fillmore tried to get the North and South to compromise on slavery - and he ended up making everyone unhappy. He was unpopular during his presidency, and he couldn't even win his party's nomination for a second term after his first short term ended. As a matter of fact, the Whig party broke up after his presidency, and Fillmore later ran for the presidency as the candidate of one of the new parties, the Know-Nothings' "American Party," but he came in third place.

Even today, historians rate Millard Fillmore as one of the worst presidents. But you may notice that, in historians' rankings, most of the presidents who served in the lead-up to the Civil War were in the bottom fourth of the rankings of presidents. That was a truly hard time to be president. 

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