Remembering Millard Fillmore on his birthday

Millard Fillmore was born January 7, 1800. Had he lived, Millard Fillmore would be 209 years old today, and probably very cranky.

Millard Fillmore, official portrait -; 1857, by George P. A. Healy

Millard Fillmore, official portrait -; 1857, by George P. A. Healy

Would you blame him?  He opened Japan to trade.  He got from Mexico the land necessary to make Los Angeles a great world city and the Southern Pacific a great railroad, without firing a shot.  Fillmore promoted economic development of the Mississippi River.  He managed to keep a fractious nation together despite itself for another three years.  Fillmore let end the practice of presidents using slaves to staff the White House (then called “the President’s Mansion”).

Then in 1852 his own party refused to nominate him for a full term, making him the last Whig to be president.  And to add insult to ignominy, H. L. Mencken falsely accused him of being known only for adding a bathtub to the White House, something he didn’t do.

As Antony said of Caesar, the good was interred with his bones — but Millard Fillmore doesn’t even get credit for whatever evil he might have done:  Fillmore is remembered most for being the butt of a hoax gone awry, committed years after his death.  Or worse, he’s misremembered for what the hoax alleged he did.

Even beneficiaries of his help promoting the Mississippi River have taken his name off their annual celebration of the eventFillmore has been eclipsed, even in mediocrity (is there still a Millard Fillmore Society in Washington?).

Happy birthday, Millard Fillmore.

The Buffalo News, in the town Fillmore loved and worked to make great, said this morning:

Today is Millard Fillmore’s 209th birthday. Every year we vow to join those hardy folks from the University at Buffalo for their birthday observance at the monument to the 13th President on his grave in Section F in Forest Lawn. And every year the weather convinces us to stay inside. If you want to brave it, it starts at 10 a.m. There’s a reception in the chapel after the ceremony.

I’m in Dallas.  You won’t see me there.

All the living presidents meet today in the White House.  Will they toast Fillmore?

Millard Fillmore was a man of great civic spirit, a man who answered the call to serve even when most others couldn’t hear it at all.  He was a successful lawyer, despite having had only six months of formal education (a tribute to non-high school graduates and lifelong learning).  Unable to save the Union, he established the University of Buffalo and the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.  And, it is said of him, that Queen Victoria said he was the most handsome man she had ever met.

A guy like that deserves a toast, don’t you think?


9 Responses to Remembering Millard Fillmore on his birthday

  1. interdental says:

    That you have provided a venue in which I can in a fit of pique make a throwaway comment re: MF & the Know Nothings AND handled it dispassionately and with good humor shines for me as a small light in this dark world. I am admittedly no fan of Fremont. Carry on.


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    But not John Stewart Bell.

    Elektratig, you’re so deep into Fillmore . . . most people are wondering, “Who in tarnation was John Bell?”

    Considering the general depth of ignorance about Fillmore, you’re doing a valuable public service.


  3. elektratig says:


    Glad to see you’re still a fan of our thirteenth president! Interdental, If you want to get more information about Fillmore’s affiliation with the KNs in 1856, I’ve written a number of posts on the subject. The implication that Fillmore was a nativist is unfounded. He was trying to use the Americans to create a pro-Union party that would serve as an alternative to the purely sectional Republicans and increasingly sectional Democrats. Think John Bell.


  4. interdental says:

    Well, he also answered the call when the Know-Nothings needed a candidate in 1856.


  5. Today is my birthday too. Didn’t realize I was in such interesting company. Love your site.


  6. heydave says:

    For what it’s worth, I would like to drown that idiot hack of an scribbler who inks the cartoon in a f—— bathtub.


  7. Onkel Bob says:

    “I’m not fond of that strip, either. The guy tries to be funny, but I think he’s hobbled by a crabby view of America.”
    I disagree there, Tinsley is often vindictive and spiteful (like his goddess Coulter). From that the argument it follows that he not trying to be funny, rather attempts to use humor to disguise his hate. Send the guy an e-mail that corrects his “facts” and you’ll understand my point.
    Los Angeles is a great city? If you’re employing “great” in its proper usage (as a adjective describing relative size) I agree. Otherwise, well…
    Arguably what made SP a great railroad was the citrus groves of southern California. There was no reason to go there after the droughts of 1861-63 as all the cattle died. Wolfskill’s recognition that oranges were innately appealing and that people in St Louis and Chicago would pay a premium for fresh fruit in the winter. His commerce (and the evangelizing of Nordhoff) brought the population west. For the 40 plus years between the Gadsen purchase and the blossoming of SoCal, there was little interest in living that desert.


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    I’m not fond of that strip, either. The guy tries to be funny, but I think he’s hobbled by a crabby view of America.

    I think the strip is drawn in Austin, Texas. Odd for such a conservative strip to be based there, I think.


  9. Liam says:

    Happy Birthday President Fillmore. I think the worst ignominy is having that crumby comic strip with the reactionary duck punning off his name.


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