13 - Millard Fillmore

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13 - Millard Fillmore

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Editado: Jul 26, 2012, 4:57 pm

Millard Fillmore, 13th president by Robert Scarry
Millard Fillmore:Biography of a President by Robert Rayback
Millard Fillmore: American President Series P Finkelman
Little Taiko
Remarkable Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore was one of two presidents to have double letters in his first and last names.
Fillmore established the first permanent library in the White House.
Fillmore didn't make an Inaugural Address.
Fillmore refused an honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law from Oxford. He said, "No man should accept a degree that he cannot read."
After his term, he became the chancellor of the University of Buffalo.
Fillmore's wife had the first "running-water bathtub" installed in the White House.
He was named after his mother, Phoebe Millard Fillmore.
Fillmore was the last president born in the 18th century.

Dez 17, 2008, 1:55 pm

Was just researching books available for this president. Saw one titled the Remarkable Millard Fillmore Just thought I'd warn everyone - this is not a real biography. When I read the summary I became aware that this book is a mixture of fictional satire and historical events.


Dez 17, 2008, 1:55 pm

Mensagem removida pelo autor.

Jan 14, 2010, 1:26 pm

Millard Fillmore by Robert J. Scarry

Robert Scarry's Millard Fillmore tries to convince the reader that Fillmore was a more interesting and more significant US President than commonly thought. Unfortunately, he just doesn't quite do it on either count. Fillmore was unable to affect the major problem facing the day - the ever increasing split between North and South - and also wasn't able to lead in other issues. Yes, his representative open up trade with Japan and he made some progress in projects such as rail expansion and a potential canal across Central America. But Scarry is hard pressed to find significant contributions to talk about, especially as he tries to balance these with Fillmore's involvement in the Know Nothing party and the worse aspects of the Compromise of 1850, like the Fugitive Slave Act. Bottom line, even with a very strong advocate writing the book, Millard Fillmore comes across as a functional, but uninspired, leader of the US. He wasn't a disaster for the country, but he doesn't merit much admiration either.

Part of the problem here might be the book itself. Scarry had access to a large number of letters and documents from the Buffalo Historical Society and other archives that hadn't been studied before. I had hopes that a clearer picture of the man might come through. Unfortunately, Scarry's approach was to give a blow-by-blow retelling of the documents. So the book became this happened, then Fillmore did this, then so-and-so did that...It's really not what I was looking for. There's very little analysis here to try to get under the surface of events.

Recommendation: Scarry's Millard Fillmore is a functional, if dry, introduction to the events of Fillmore's life, but for actual understanding, look elsewhere.

Jan 14, 2010, 11:54 pm

You are just rolling along; I'm glad for the warning about this book.

Mar 11, 2010, 6:09 pm

After reading Jim's review above, I was not looking forward to Millard, but I was terribly surprised by this book b ecasue he came across as a completely different man than what was in the Robert Scarry book.

Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President

Author: Robert J. Rayback
Read: Mar 2 - Mar 11
Format: hardback, 447 pages
Source: Public Library
Subject: Biography
Category: Who/What/When/Where/How/Why? - Bios/history
Genre: History
Challenges: 101020, 75 Book, SYLL, USPC
Stars: 3½-4

Okay, I'm a little bit stunned. I thought when I got this book that I would be a tad bit bored because I had never pictured President Millard Fillmore as particularly interesting (maybe it’s the name) but that was my pre-conceived impression even after I had read a brief biography. Read on and see all that this man did in his lifetime and then tell me he was boring.

During the recession times of the Tyler Administration, Fillmore (a self-taught lawyer) was runner-up for Speaker of the House and became chairman of Ways and Means Committee. At this time he put forth some unusual ideas, i.e. If incomes fell 25% due to government policies, government salaries should be reduced by 25%; he also took responsibility for a law which when enacted caused hardship for settlers and fought to represent their rights for fairer treatment by landlords. (Interesting to say the least.)

He became a national expert on public economy and banking needs. "What businessmen needed, declared a businessman, was a national bankruptcy act to free them of the shackles of past poor judgment." It was also "claimed that old debts dampened their enthusiasm for new ventures and delayed recovery." (Does this sound familiar?) Fillmore shrewdly devised a way to pass a new tariff bill, kill President Tyler politically while smashing the Compromise Tariff of 1833 which was in part the cause of the economic woes of the time.

At the same time, the North/South issues were escalating and Fillmore's actions showed how the North felt they were oppressed by the Southern legislators and Southern President who were causing manufacturing and commerce difficulties.

After his Washington experience, he was appointed to the Comptrollership of New York state and during that time he worked to have the Erie canal and canal basin enlarged, revised the banking code (which was adopted nationally 16 years later) and established a more stable currency based on NY state and Federal bonds.

He was sent back to Washington as the Vice President under Zachary Taylor. His political enemies from NY did everything in their power to make him completely useless as a politician while VP but he maintained himself as a man of principle notifying President Taylor that he would vote against him in the Senate on the Compromise of 1850 if the vote came to a tie and his vote was taken. Fortunately, Taylor never had the chance to veto the bill because of his sudden death, and Fillmore work to pass the legislation to calm the political firestorm of the time. Fillmore's belief was that the compromise bills were an "equality of dissatisfaction" which give the nation time to calm down. He took a great deal of criticism for his part in the Compromise but said "The man who can look upon a crisis without being willing to offer himself upon the altar of his country is not fit for public trust." His first 10 weeks in office passed the needed legislation which calm the storm clouds and reduced the threats of secession and disunion.

During the remainder of his administration, he worked to maintain the equilibrium of the situation surrounding the Compromise of 1850. Though he had the power as President to crush his enemies who had belittled him when he was VP, he was not a vengeful man, and felt that it was more important as President to be a statesman rather than a politician. Because of his policies the South was unable to take any action and prosperity and industrial development increased.

Millard Fillmore was recognized by both the North and South for holding the union together by honoring the rights of both sections even though they were contrary to his personal beliefs. Unfortunately, all the work that he did to balance the issues during his administration were undone by the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1853 after he left office. Upon retirement, he returned alone to his home in Buffalo (his wife died 3 weeks after he left office) , where he was the Chancellor of the University of Buffalo and the President of the Historical Society and started the second chapter of the SPCA. In 1856 he ran again for President as a member of the Know Nothing Party but was defeated.

I had a hard time putting this book down once I got into the political career of this self-taught, intelligent, and dedicated statesman. To say the least, IMHO, it was fascinating. What sadden me most about this book was that I got it as an Interlibrary loan from a library that still has the little cards in the back to show when it was checked out, and this book had been sitting on the shelf for the last 37 years. It had not been read since 1973. How sad that such a well-written book, should sit unread for so long. I highly recommend this book for those looking to learn something about the obscure Presidents of our nation.

Editado: Mar 11, 2010, 6:20 pm

TO Cyderry (2):

I didn't know about Fillmore's establishment of a WHite House Library; nor his declining of a degree written in Latin; nor his U. of Buffalo. As a classicist, I can respect him for his noting that the recipient should at least be able to read that much Latin. But I don't respect him so much that I can respect the Buffalo trustees, or whoever hired him.

But thanks for bringing out those points.

Mar 17, 2010, 5:36 pm

I read the Rayback biography and had a similar reflective response to Cheli (Note 6 above).
I found that I liked the Mr. Fillmore that he presented and I liked the way he put the book together as a biographer.
I did not, however, like Thurlow Weed. That person of questionable political values turns up a lot in political reporting of the period and he doesn't appear to have been a very nice person. I have found that many of the congressmen, senators, reporters and commentators of the day were obstructionist - much like a large number in current legislative branch and the current fourth estate. I find myself glossing over the passages in the books which point out the rudeness and the lying just as I turn the TV off today.
Mr. Fillmore, himself, seems to have been better than all that and The last chapter of this book, titled "First Citizen of Buffalo", was enlightening as to that assertion. It was impressive the way he got himself involved in the community. He was instrumental in improving local education institutions, animal rights groups, scientific endeavour and the Buffalo Historical Society. His was definitely not a wasted or squandered life.

Maio 18, 2010, 10:18 am

Millard Fillmore by Robert J. Scarry - finished 4/11/2010

Ago 12, 2010, 9:22 pm

I just finished reading Millard Fillmore by Robert J. Scarry. I actually enjoyed the book. I thought it was well written and it really held my attention. Scarry tries to make the case that Fillmore was a better president than history gives him credit for. Even after reading this pro-Fillmore book, I still do not know what Fillmore did that was so great. Once I read that Fillmore ran for president as the Know-Nothing Party candidate, that pretty much turned me off.

Ago 14, 2010, 2:36 pm

Finished Millard Fillmore by Robert Rayback. I enjoyed it quite a bit. It seems like the New York political world, whether it be through the eyes of Van Buren, Marcy, Fillmore, Weed, or Seward, is a twisted thicket. The book brings that to light. It is somewhat worshipful of Fillmore, but it creates the perception that he was a level headed guy, and that running as a Know Nothing was more use the party's existing apparatus than to spread hatred, although there is still fault in that.

Also read the The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor & Millard Fillmore by Elbert R. Smith. This book is part of the Kansas University Series that delves deep into the Presidencies. For the most part, I have found these books to be excellent, although I would add that you learn more about each President's policies and the politics of the time than you learn about the men themselves. Smith's theme is that other treatments of these two treat them as following a different policy path, while Smith believes that Fillmore's presidency was a natural extension of Taylor's. It challenges the assumption by other historians that Taylor would have vetoed the Compromise of 1850, and posits that the reason that he didn't support Clay's Omnibus bill is that he didn't think it could pass (which it did not). Also a great in depth look at the foreign policies of each men, mostly dealing with Central America and prospective canal sites.

Editado: Out 30, 2010, 7:23 pm

Millard Fillmore
by Robert J. Scarry

Who would have expected a book about Millard Fillmore to have an agenda? I mean, you can expect a book about Lincoln or FDR to take sides in a controversy. But A bio of Millard Fillmore? How could there even be a controversy about him? Isn't it common knowledge that he's one of those dull one-termers who merely kept the presidential chair warm until Lincoln got elected? Well, that's the stereotype that Mr. Scarry hoped to dispel with his book. Rather than a weak, ineffectual leader, Mr. Scarry makes the case for Fillmore as a principaled man who made the hard choices to put aside his own popularity and preferences on slavery to preserve the Union and obey the Constitution. While his accomplishments were overshadowed by the Civil War, Mr. Scarry maintains that Fillmore truly made an impact on the course of American history. For me, the book revealed a generational shift in American politics. Millard Fillmore appeared to be at the tail of the the Clay-Calhoun-Webster generation, who were willing to maintain the nation's slave-free compromise for the greater "good". After 1850 that system crumbled as younger politicians started pushing for their ideals. All in all, Mr. Scarry did a good job of presenting Fillmore's life and times. His writing is a bit uneven at times--the flow of Fillmore's story is now and then broken up with paragraphs of simple facts. But really, that's the only complaint I have with the book.

Editado: Jun 18, 2012, 4:44 pm

Fillmore did have a definite polltical stance, agreee with it or not (and I don't). To my mind he even got
worse as he went along. In contrast to Martin Van Buren who became a 3rd Party candidate for a good cause, whereas M. F. joined an execrable "American" (nick-named 'Know-Nothing") Party.
It's hard to vindicate Van Buren's one term presidency, and a much less qualified candidate, Harrison (W, IN) was able to beat him. But as a politician, Van Buren was of greeaat importance, since he raised the Jeffersonian/Jacksonians* from the status of not much more than a Southern, regional party, to a national party.
It may be arguable that Fillmore's presiding over the admission of California to the Union (1850) makes him important, but it's likely that another Whig president would have done the same. A Democrat might have become involved in Southern protests about the Free State status of CA, and even have led to an earlier civil war.
Fillmore's predecessor, Zachary Taylor** (W, La), though a Southerner and a slave owner was, to his credit, a great disappointment to the incipient secession movement among his fellow slave owners, not giving the proto-Rebels much comfort in their constant demands.

**Modern historians have ruled that Taylor was NOT assassinated, but his death was questionable at
the time and for long after -- like the later deaths of:
Warren G. Harding (R, O.), Rep. Hale Boggs (D, LA), ( a dissenting member of the Warren Commission of the 1960s) John Heinz (R, PA) and John Tower {R, TX).

*Confusingly, the early Jeffersonians are usually called "Republicans" by historians. But they have historical continuity with the Democrats of today, not with the GOP of today.
Republicans of today, who date back to 1856.
The presidency, in general didn't have the prestige that it has had since Theodore Roosevelt's time. Mediocrity in a president was the rule rather than the exception. Jefferson and Jackson, though were strong presidents, and Polk and even Tyler may be under-rated for strength of operation in the presidency -- again "agree with them or not" (and I don't).

Jan 18, 2011, 9:29 pm

I'm in a bind. I'm trying to read the presidents in order, but Fillmore has got me stumped. The Amazon.com prices for the Scarry Bio are outrageous and the Rayback one is not much better. The Schlesinger edition is not coming out until May!

Does anyone have one they would be willing to sell me at a lower price? thanks

Editado: Jan 19, 2011, 7:38 am

Sometimes www.apbpress.com has good copies of bios that generally accepted as definitive and are often not wildly expensive. But, you will definitely find something on this site - www.abebooks.com - just type his name into the "keyword" line. There is often something readable there for as low as a buck.

Editado: Jun 18, 2011, 7:31 am

Millard Fillmore: The American Presidents Series: The 13th President, 1850-1853 by Paul Finkelman **** 6/17/11

Well!!! This turned out to be one of the most interesting presidential biographies I've read so far.

Finkelman vehemently disagrees with Robert Rayback about Fillmore's philosophy, intentions, and political successes (or not). Simply put, this is a scathing 137-page indictment of a man the author sees as the day's ultimate doughface (Northerner with Southern sympathies) and future Copperhead (Northerner with Confederate sympathies).

I don't know enough about Fillmore or the time period to make a judgment on which author sees Fillmore more clearly, but Finkelman is certainly convincing. First, there is a lengthy and informative summary of the personal, historical and political background leading up to Fillmore's nomination for Vice President. Then comes a vivid dissection of his political ineptness, moral failings (he hated and acted against pretty much everyone who wasn't white, Protestant, and a citizen, as well as abolitionists of all creeds), and collaboration with Daniel Webster to push through the Compromise of 1850 and the beefed up Fugitive Slave Act. Finkelman discusses Fillmore's intense effort to appease extreme Southerners and the dramatic imbalance between what the Northerners and Southerners received in the final Compromise, with the South receiving pretty much everything it wanted and the North receiving nothing it wouldn't have had anyway, including a free California. There is an extended discussion of the damage done to the black community with the suspension of habeas corpus for people claimed as runaways (including kidnapped free blacks and fugitives with free spouses and children) and various court cases in which people of both races were charged with treason for aiding escaped slaves. Meanwhile, cases involving actual treason and threats to national security and international relations (private invasions of Cuba, threats of war by the new state of Texas) were smoothed over with little ado. Finkelman, a specialist in American legal history, race, and constitutional law, clearly sees the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as Fillmore's chief claim to ignominy, while recognizing the resultant increase in Northern anti-slavery efforts.

Finkelman does give Fillmore credit for several "visionary" ideas (for example, movements towards a transcontinental railroad and towards the opening of Japan to American diplomacy and trade). But the lasting impression is of a man with little pity and few values besides maintenance of business and property rights. What a stinker.

Jul 21, 2011, 5:21 pm

The Remarkable Millard Fillmore is worth a few chuckles, however. Anyone who has read a few historical biographies should get a laugh out of some of the cliches the author skewers.

Jun 18, 2012, 4:37 pm

Wow, I don't know if I've ever read a biography where the author disliked his subject so much. Millard Fillmore by Paul Finkelman is more of a synopsis of a portion of Fillmore's life than a biography. In fact, much of the beginning is more of a history lesson and a recap of previous presidential terms. That said, I did find the book to be pretty informative, though maybe a bit repetitive. Fillmore by all accounts was a pretty weak president and his signing of the Fugitive Slave Act is appalling. His anti-foreigner attitude is disturbing as well. However, he did have his good points. He was a life-long learner and made quite the effort to educate himself as a young man. He also started the White House library. Additionally he authorized Commodore Perry's trip to Japan.

Jul 26, 2012, 4:51 pm

Little Taiko,

Isn't funny that the bio that I read on Fillmore brought out none of the negative items/viewpoint that you indicate. I guess even historians can be biased.

Editado: Nov 3, 2012, 1:57 pm

I tried to read Millard Fillmore by Robert J. Scarry but it was really too dull for words, so I abandoned it less than halfway through and picked up Millard Fillmore: American President Series by Paul Finkelman. It was a quick read, concentrating mostly on the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slaves Act. I agree with LittleTaiko: it was blatantly obvious that Finkelman is NOT a Fillmore fan! But it was fairly interesting, and I probably learned as much about Millard Fillmore as I care to know. I do have a copy of The Remarkable Millard Fillmore, and I'm going to read it as a lark, with tongue firmly in cheek!

ETA: I didn't even make it through the first page of The Remarkable Millard Fillmore. Bleah!

Mar 1, 2014, 7:50 am

Hmm. . . .well, I'd like to avoid the American President Series one because it sounds like it has an agenda, but my library system doesn't have the other books. I guess I will have to ask a librarian - I love them!

Mar 2, 2014, 12:06 am

Try a Used Book search on AddAll.com with his name on the subject line. Sometimes you can get your hands on good bios for a good price. AddAll searches a lot of databases world wide.

Mar 3, 2014, 12:18 pm


I am reading Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President by Robert J. Rayback as an ebook, downloaded from archive.org. The book is free, and I am reading it on my iPhone with the Readmill app, which does a great job of displaying the epub versions of the books. (Kindle versions are usually very hard to read from that site.) I also have a cheap tablet that I use Readmill on as well.

http://www.archive.org/details/millardfillmoreb006143mbp is the link to the book.


Bill Masom

Mar 16, 2014, 8:49 pm

Thanks for the ideas, friends!

I ended up getting the Scarry biography through inter-library loan. There are benefits to living at a boarding school! :)

Oh yeah, and I'm loving the book! I find the author very engaging. His notes are great and everything is well-documented.

Mar 24, 2014, 3:37 am

Millard Fillmore by Richard Scarry

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Just the look of it appeared daunting but it was one of the more engaging presidential biographies that I have read. The author is able to illuminate Mill-Fill's life and tell a compelling narrative. It is clear that Mill-Fill was not just another "forgettable" president as most historians claim, but that he held much sway in the decade leading up to the Civil War. He was not quite an abolitionist but not pro-slavery; he walked the fine line of a strict constructionist of the Constitution at a difficult time. While he certainly was not a fan of slavery, he believed there was nothing in the Constitution prohibiting it and relied heavily on the belief that if the right was not expressly given to the Federal government than it belonged to the states. I learned a great deal about the political maneuvering that was going on in Congress during this time and the role, however hamstrung he was, that Mill-Fill played. It is clear that he played a large part in the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Although he was vilified by many for signing the Fugitive Slave Act into law, he saw that as the best he could do to prevent a Civil War; the preservation of the Union was his greatest goal throughout his presidency and if one looks at his presidency through that role, it is clear he accomplished it. I have never really been interested in the history of the Civil War, but this book did more to pique my interest in it than anything I have read up to this point. I would highly recommend this book.

Mar 24, 2014, 10:36 am


Though we read different books, it seems that we both came to very similar views of Fillmore. He is usually vilified for not doing enough, and for contributing to the start of the Civil War. Although he could not "fix" the issues that lead to the start of the war, he was able to delay it for as long as he could. He was a non-sectional politician in an era of increasing sectionalism in politics. He had a national outlook, not regional.

My estimation of him as a president rose greatly after reading the book I did.


Bill Masom