July 10, 1850, Millard Fillmore succeeds to the presidency

Millard Fillmore was elected vice president largely because he was on the ticket with the very popular Gen. Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War.

About 15 months into his presidency, President Taylor took ill  after presiding over July 4 festivities in blazing heat.  He died on July 9, 1850; Vice President Millard Fillmore took the oath as president the next day, and served out the term.  163 years ago today, Millard Fillmore served his first day as President.

Millard Fillmore in an 1850 lithograph by Francis DAvignon after a photograph by Matthew Brady (unclear if this was before or after his ascending to the presidency) - Library of Congress image

Millard Fillmore in an 1850 lithograph by Francis D’Avignon after a photograph by Matthew Brady (unclear if this was before or after his ascending to the presidency) – Library of Congress image

Taylor had encouraged New Mexico and California to draw up state constitutions, which would have disallowed slavery in those states.  To southern leaders who threatened secession, Taylor promised to personally lead the army that would hold the union together by force, and personally hang those who had proposed rebellion.

Fillmore had presided over the Senate during months of furious debate on issues that always seemed to come down to slavery.  Because he didn’t hold to the views of the Whig Party which had elected the Taylor-Fillmore ticket, even more than Taylor had strayed, the cabinet resigned.  Fillmore appointed Daniel Webster as Secretary of State, and proceeded to push for compromise on issues to avoid war.  His machinations helped get California admitted as a free state, but left New Mexico as a territory.  His support of the Fugitive Slave Act alienated even more Whigs, and by 1852 the Whigs refused to nominate Fillmore for a term of his own.  He left office in 1853, succeeded by Franklin Pierce.

Fillmore’s greatest accomplishment as president, perhaps, was his sending a fleet of ships to Japan to force that nation to open up to trade from the U.S.  The political furor over the Fugitive Slave Act, the Missouri Compromise, and other issues around slavery, tend to eclipse the memory of the good that Fillmore did.

Nota bene:  Controversy surrounded the death of Taylor.  Because he had threatened southern secessionists and incurred anger from several other groups, from the time of his death there were rumors he had been poisoned with arsenic.  Officially, the cause of death was gastroenteritis; popular accounts note that he had, in the heat of July, drunk milk and eaten cherries and cucumbers.  Certainly strep, staph or other bacteria in the milk could have created a problem.  In 1991 a team led by George Washington University Law Professor James Starrs exhumed Taylor’s body from his Louisville, Kentucky burial plot, and tested his remains for arsenic at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  Analysis presented to the Kentucky medical examiner indicated arsenic levels way too low for a poisoning victim.

[This is an encore post, in parts.]


"An Available Candidate: The One Qualific...

“An Available Candidate: The One Qualification for a Whig President”. Political cartoon about the 1848 presidential election which refers to Zachary Taylor or Winfield Scott, the two leading contenders for the Whig Party nomination in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. Published by Nathaniel Currier in 1848, digitally restored. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  Despite the cynicism of many , Zachary Taylor won the Whig Party nomination, and the presidency.  Taylor died just over a year after his inauguration.

3 Responses to July 10, 1850, Millard Fillmore succeeds to the presidency

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Also: You know, of course, that the Supreme Court used to meet in the Capitol. When Webster was a senator, he also frequently took cases to argue before the Court. One of the Capitol guides gave the press secretaries a Daniel Webster tour, from his desk on the floor of the Senate — from which he would occasionally give a thundering speech on the case he was about to argue — then continuing down the stairway Webster and his fans from the public gallery would take to the Supreme Court chamber (which was being restored at the time).

    Among other things, one got the idea that Webster was very much a politician who could and often did play to the masses. He loved public adulation.

    Near the end of the session she asked for questions. One of my colleagues asked, “Can you imagine a senator today arguing a case at the Supreme Court?” (This dates me) The guide didn’t miss a beat, and said “Ted Kennedy did exactly that a couple of years ago.” The 18-year-old vote case, which tested the law Kennedy sponsored. He argued the case, and won.


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Love the story, and I worked for years to find a good way to slip it into U.S. history (without success to my satisfaction).

    We got the story in American literature class, but Texas doesn’t have anything equivalent.

    There’s a lot in that story that speaks to the better view of American exceptionalism — that we can be exceptional, when we do the right thing, but it’s hard work.

    Anyone know, is this story in any of the standard anthologies today?

    How does it fare under the Common Core School Standards?


  3. Ed, Seeing that Daniel Webster was Sec. of State made me remember the wonderful short story (and later short play) “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Stephen Vincent Benet. Are you familiar with it? If not, it is a fun read.


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