Fillmore’s writings on line

Manchester Union Democrat, Dec 8, 1852, with news of Fillmore's SOTU address

Manchester, New Hampshire, Union Democrat,
December 8, 1852 (?); with news of Fillmore’s State of the Union Address

Millard Fillmore was a grade school drop out. He took the path to a career that many in his day did — he apprenticed, and worked his way up. Legal education in his day (circa 1815 to 1825) required that one apprentice in a law office, to “read for the law.” In that way, Fillmore, who didn’t graduate elementary school, became a lawyer.

Lawyering requires words, of course, but Fillmore was no great writer than we know, especially compared to Teddy Roosevelt, who was a newspaper reporter, or John Kennedy, in whose name a Pulitzer Prize-winning book was published (controversy for another time; Profiles in Courage, (Perennial Classics Books, 2000). We might hope that some institution will undertake a collection of Fillmore’s legal arguments as they may be spread across New York court archives, much as the Lincoln Library has scoured Illinois for Lincoln’s writings and oral arguments.

We may assume that Fillmore participated heavily in the writing of his state of the union addresses, in a day when ghost writers were not listed in the staff books of the White House. So they would contain genuine Fillmore ideas and phrases. Fillmore’s three state of the union speeches are available at the Gutenberg Project.

I’ll be mining them for accurate quotes, you may rest assured. (Does he mention bathtubs in any of the speeches? No.)

President Fillmore informs Congress of the expedition to Japan by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, December 6, 1852:

. . . the general prosperity of our States on the Pacific requires that an attempt should be made to open the opposite regions of Asia to a mutually beneficial intercourse. It is obvious that this attempt could be made by no power to so great advantage as by the United States, whose constitutional system excludes every idea of distant colonial dependencies. I have accordingly been led to order an appropriate naval force to Japan, under the command of a discreet and intelligent officer of the highest rank known to our service. He is instructed to endeavor to obtain from the Government of that country some relaxation of the inhospitable and antisocial system which it has pursued for about two centuries. He has been directed particularly to remonstrate in the strongest language against the cruel treatment to which our shipwrecked mariners have often been subjected and to insist that they shall be treated with humanity. He is instructed, however, at the same time, to give that Government the amplest assurances that the objects of the United States are such, and such only, as I have indicated, and that the expedition is friendly and peaceful. Notwithstanding the jealousy with which the Governments of eastern Asia regard all overtures from foreigners, I am not without hopes of a beneficial result of the expedition. Should it be crowned with success, the advantages will not be confined to the United States, but, as in the case of China, will be equally enjoyed by all the other maritime powers. I have much satisfaction in stating that in all the steps preparatory to this expedition the Government of the United States has been materially aided by the good offices of the King of the Netherlands, the only European power having any commercial relations with Japan.

Cmdr Matthew C Perry, U.S. Navy Historical Center Commodore Matthew C. Perry; U.S. Navy Historical Center photo


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