Who was Millard Fillmore? No, really?

George Pendle’s hoax biography of Millard Fillmore sells okay — but Amazon lists 365,000 books selling better (July 28, 2007). That’s small solace to people who worry, as H. L. Mencken came too late to worry, about how hoaxes may spread. Mark Twain is reputed to have said that a lie can travel around the world twice before the truth can get its boots on.

So I was interested to find that somebody actually has a biography on Fillmore that ventures beyond the usual encyclopedia article. Big Mo’s Presidents Review featured Fillmore on July 15. According to the site, Big Mo is a journalist now stuck (or happy) in the corporate world. The biography is not so long that junior high (8th grade) U.S. history students will find it incredibly onerous, nor is it so short that it merely repeats the same old material.  It’s a good report.


Appointment of ____ to be ambassador to France; Fillmore and Daniel Webster signatures

The Big Mo report on Fillmore is good enough that other people are copying it wholesale (with attribution).

One gap:  Big Mo leaves out discussion of Fillmore’s boyhood, which is one area that students search on frequently, according to the statistics from this blog.  I think Fillmore’s early life, his change in careers after he threatened to kill the man he was indentured to if the fellow did not allow him to learn the trade, make some interesting discussion points about Fillmore’s character.  Minor quibbles.

On the plus side, he includes just about every image available on the internet, and cartoons about Fillmore, which are deucedly difficult to find in high resolution images.

Fillmore need not be a mystery.  Check it out.

7 Responses to Who was Millard Fillmore? No, really?

  1. […] A note on fairness to Mr. Pendle:  Pendle has argued here before that his book does contain real history, and it’s there despite the embellishments which he says at least get the book sold.  Earlier, in comments he said: […]


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Barbara, George,

    Thank you for dropping by.

    George, I admit I’ve gone back and forth on your book — specifically, how to use it in the classroom. Of course, had I actually held a copy of it, I’m sure your intentions would have been clear. I’ll get one.

    Millard Fillmore is quite a bit of a mystery to me. It’s clear he had character and smarts; it’s unclear why he didn’t go farther with them, or why he didn’t get more involved in calming things leading to the Civil War, during his term. The move to open Japan strikes me as a bit of clear thinking and solid leadership; his wishy-washiness on the Wilmot Proviso, to pick one example, frustrate me a lot. I wonder sometimes if his positions and actions seem so fuzzy simply because no one has really bothered to assemble the solid historical record.

    In support of that thought, that the record on Fillmore has not been kept well, I note that it’s difficult to find mentions of Fillmore’s account of his first apprenticeship, and his threat to kill the man he was apprenticed to if the fellow tried any corporal punishment — in an incident triggered when young Fillmore insisted that the master carry out the master’s end of the bargain and actually teach Fillmore the job, instead of using him as just cheap labor. It’s an Abe Lincoln-as-an-honorable-youth type of event — but I have only found it referenced in one source that claims to be from Fillmore himself. (One reason I worry about that at all is because I see several times a month that school kids have been searching for “Millard Fillmore’s childhood,” or “Millard Fillmore as a boy” — people are curious about this stuff.

    And in further support, take a look at the quotations attributed to Fillmore at Wikiquote — all unsourced. (see here:
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Millard_Fillmore) A few months ago I spent some time trying to track down a citation for “May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not,” and was unable to do so. David Parker, over at Another History Blog, tracked it down to a congressman serving around the time of Fillmore’s presidential term, but we could not pin it to Fillmore at all.

    And you must admit: A spoof book about a guy who is probably most famous for a hoax about his term of office certainly raises the questions about “Oh, no! Not again!”

    So, help us out here: What do you know about Fillmore that really should be spread farther?

    Thanks, again, for dropping by.


  3. Serendipity is indeed a wonderful thing. Two days ago I was analyzing Rocket to the Morgue (Anthony Boucher) with a fine tooth comb for an article. Boucher used real life people as models for some of the people in his book, including rocket scientist John Parsons – whom I confess I’d never heard of until I dejanewsed (yes I know they sold out to Google but it was DejaNews when I first started to use it and it is dejanews to me now!) RTTM and found the list of models he used at the science fiction writers newsgroup. However, and here’s where the serendipity comes in, just an hour or so later I was browsing through the New Books Shelf at my local library and came across the book Strange Angel, by George Pendle, a biography of Parsons. (My library is a small one and the book is 2 years old…yet they’d just acquired it…more serendipty you see).
    And today someone visited my Daily Space blog after having found the link through searching for George Pendle, and now I find this interesting blog through backsearching that link…coo-el.


  4. Dear Sir,
    I am the author of the recently published ‘The Remarkable Millard Fillmore’, which I have just discovered has been mentioned by your website on a couple of occasions. Judging by your website’s wonderful name, and your obvious interest in making people more aware of American history, I was slightly troubled to see that you thought I treated Millard Fillmore unfairly in my book.
    I don’t know if you have had a chance to read ‘TRMF’ yet, but I can assure you that while it is a faux-biography, and does indeed poke fun at Millard Fillmore’s perceived image (or lack of it), its larger target is that of presidential biographies that are unthinkingly reverential of the office of the president. The cynical revision of history, in which one man is placed at the center of the world’s events is a historical fallacy, as you are probably well aware. Yet it is one which – unlike my book – many historians perpetrate with a straight face.
    In ‘TRMF’ I attempted to mock this school of biography by extrapolating the most ridiculous situations from the most basic and inconclusive of historical facts. For instance, I have Millard Fillmore stowing away to Japan, and Sumo-wrestling with the Mikado’s champion, because in real life Fillmore opened up Japan to western trade (albeit from a safe distance in Washington D.C.).
    Lest you think I am playing too fast and loose with the truth (some readers have complained that they did not realize my book was a spoof, despite the picture of Millard Fillmore riding a unicorn on its cover!) my book also includes a large appendix of strange but true historical notes to show that many of the ridiculous situations I place Fillmore in were actually based on fact. By reading them I hope one can discover that even the most staid of human lives can be touched by the fantastic.
    In short I come not to bury Fillmore, but to praise him, and all those forgottens who have not been granted a role as a ‘Great Man of History’ by the Academy. I very much hope that although ‘The Remarkable Millard Fillmore’ is primarily a spoof and designed to make people giggle, readers will, possibly without being aware of it, come away from the book with a better knowledge of American History than when they started it.
    Yours sincerely,
    George Pendle


  5. blacktygrrrr says:

    The reason why more people do not write about him is because although he was President, he was rather peripheral. Nothing of consequence is attached to his Presidency.

    My blog is http://www.blacktygrrrr.wordpress.com

    If you like it, let me know if you are up to a link exchange, since I get some pretty decent traffic.

    Also, I am competing at the bloggers choice awards.




  6. Ed Darrell says:

    Didn’t mean to imply anyone was stealing anything — only noting that it’s good enough that others copy it. Thanks for dropping by.


  7. Jeanette says:

    Just to make things clear. Big Mo sends the text to me so I can put it on my blog, Js Cafenette.com. I am not stealing anything from him and got his full permission to post his Presidents series on my blog before I ever posted the first one.


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