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Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore was born in a log cabin in Locke, New York. In his youth, Fillmore's family lost their home in a title dispute and moved into the Finger Lakes region. Fillmore was able to find a new master, but in 1819 paid $30 to gain his freedom.Fillmore taught schoolchildren and studied law with a local judge. Five years later he was elected to the New York state legislature, aided by the prominent political boss, Thurlow Weed; the two would become political rivals. Fillmore relocated to Buffalo, New York in 1830, which would remain his primary residence for the remainder of his life.In 1832, Fillmore was elected to the House of Representatives. He began his term aligned with the Anti-Masonic Party, but quickly affiliated with the Whigs. Fillmore was a supporter of the American System and in a later Congressional term played a major role in the passage of the Tariff of 1842.Fillmore’s Congressional career revealed his position on slavery. Fillmore believed that the newcomers benefited the Democratic Party and threatened the jobs of existing citizens.In 1844, Fillmore lost a race for the New York governorship, then returned to the practice of law. He became chancellor of the University of Buffalo in 1846 and the following year, state comptroller.Zachary Taylor selected Fillmore as his Whig running mate for the Election of 1848. The Democrats were split on the slavery issue and many deserted to the Free-Soil Party, opening the door for a Whig victory.As vice president, Fillmore presided over the Senate with competence. In July 1850, Taylor died, having served only 16 months in office.As president, Fillmore reversed Taylor’s stand and supported the Compromise of 1850. In his first State of the Union Address on December 2, 1850, he contrasted the warm feelings that Americans might feel towards attempts to overthrow foreign despots with practical American interests:

Among the acknowledged rights of nations is that which each possesses of establishing that form of government which it may deem most conducive to the happiness and prosperity of its own citizens, of changing that form as circumstances may require, and of managing its internal affairs according to its own will. The people of the United States claim this right for themselves, and they readily concede it to others. Hence it becomes an imperative duty not to interfere in the government or internal policy of other nations; and although we may sympathize with the unfortunate or the oppressed everywhere in their struggles for freedom, our principles forbid us from taking any part in such foreign contests. We make no wars to promote or to prevent successions to thrones, to maintain any theory of a balance of power, or to suppress the actual government which any country chooses to establish for itself. We instigate no revolutions, nor suffer any hostile military expeditions to be fitted out in the United States to invade the territory or provinces of a friendly nation.

In the Election of 1852, Millard Fillmore received the backing of the Southern Whigs, but the Northern faction objected to his enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. Winfield Scott received the party’s nomination.In the Election of 1856 Fillmore was nominated by both the Whigs and the Know-Nothing Movement. The new Republican Party siphoned off votes, enabling Democrat James Buchanan to become president. During the Civil War Fillmore was a strong supporter of the Union, but was openly critical of some of Abraham Lincoln's actions. He remained active in civic affairs in Buffalo until the end of his life in 1874.


Millard Fillmore

President Millard Fillmore for Kids: "The American Louis Philippe"
Summary: Millard Fillmore (1800-1874), nicknamed the "American Louis Philippe" , was the 13th American President and served in office from 1850-1853. The Presidency of Millard Fillmore spanned the period in United States history that encompasses the events of the Secession era. President Millard Fillmore represented the Whig political party which influenced the domestic and foreign policies of his presidency.

The major accomplishments and the famous, main events that occurred during the time that Millard Fillmore was president included the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1850 Fugitive Slave Bill and Commodore Perry's Mission to Japan (1852-54) and the Treaty of Kanagawa. Millard Fillmore died of a stroke on March 8, 1874, aged 74. The next president was Franklin Pierce.

Life of Millard Fillmore for kids - Millard Fillmore Fact File
The summary and fact file of Millard Fillmore provides bitesize facts about his life.

The Nickname of Millard Fillmore: The "American Louis Philippe"
The nickname of President Millard Fillmore provides an insight into how the man was viewed by the American public during his presidency. The meaning of the nickname the "American Louis Philippe" refers to the elegant clothes worn by Louis Philippe, King of France (1830 - 1848). The disparaging nickname "Wool Carder" referred to one of his earlier jobs in a wool factory.

Character and Personality Type of Millard Fillmore
The character traits of President Millard Fillmore can be described as genial, practical and logical. It has been speculated that the Myers-Briggs personality type for Millard Fillmore is an ISFP (Introversion, Sensing, Feeling, Perception). A quiet, easygoing character with a a "live and let live" approach to life. A perfectionist, loyal to values and beliefs. Millard Fillmore Personality type: Practical, action-oriented and considerate.

Accomplishments of Millard Fillmore and the Famous Events during his Presidency
The accomplishments of Millard Fillmore and the most famous events during his presidency are provided
in an interesting, short summary format detailed below.

Millard Fillmore for kids - Fugitive Slave Act 1850
Summary of the Fugitive Slave Act 1850: The Fugitive Slave Act 1850 was enacted during the presidency of Millard Fillmore. The law was passed on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 and as a concession to the Southern states, increasing penalties against fugitive slaves and the people who aided them.

Millard Fillmore for kids - Commodore Matthew Perry's Mission to Japan
Summary of Commodore Matthew Perry's Mission to Japan: Commodore Matthew Perry's Mission to Japan used "Gunboat Diplomacy" to open diplomatic and trade relations between the United States and Japan. President Fillmore initiated the mission to Japan by because the annexation of California had created an American port on the Pacific enabling easier access to Asia. The development of steam powered ships allowed faster access to distant ports making the lucrative trade with Japan more viable.

Millard Fillmore for kids - The Treaty of Kanagawa
Summary of the Treaty of Kanagawa: The Treaty of Kanagawa was signed on March 31, 1854 by Commodore Matthew Perry and Shogunate representatives of the Japanese government signaling the end of Japanese isolation.

President Millard Fillmore Video for Kids
The article on the accomplishments of Millard Fillmore provides an overview and summary of some of the most important events during his presidency. The following Millard Fillmore video will give you additional important history, facts and dates about the foreign and domestic political events of his administration.

Accomplishments of President Millard Fillmore

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Early life and career

Fillmore was born in a log cabin to a poor family and was apprenticed to a wool carder at age 15. He received little formal education until he was 18, when he managed to obtain six consecutive months of schooling. Shortly afterward he secured his release from apprenticeship and started work in a law office, and in 1823 he was admitted to the bar. He married his first wife, Abigail Powers (Abigail Fillmore), in 1826.

Fillmore entered politics in 1828 as a member of the democratic and libertarian Anti-Masonic Movement and Anti-Masonic Party. In 1834 he followed his political mentor, Thurlow Weed, to the Whigs and was soon recognized as an outstanding leader of the party’s Northern wing. Following three terms in the New York state assembly (1829–32), he was elected to Congress (1833–35, 1837–43), where he became a devoted follower of Senator Henry Clay. Losing the New York gubernatorial election in 1844, he was easily elected the first state comptroller three years later. At the national Whig convention in 1848, Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War (1846–48), was nominated for president and Fillmore for vice president, largely through Clay’s sponsorship.


Millard Fillmore Presidential Site

2.Roycroft Campus and Fillmore Presidential Site Admission: $20 (value $25)
Basic 1-hour tour of The Roycroft Campus and a 1-hour tour of Millard Fillmore Presidential Site. Must be taken during each sites normally scheduled tours. Purchase tickets at the Power House on the Roycroft Campus

Special tours are available. Call Kathy at 716-652-2621 for more information.

A National Historic Landmark Millard Fillmore, who served as the 13th president of the United States from 1850 and 1853, began his law and political career in East Aurora, New York.

Millard Fillmore built the house in 1826 for his bride Abigail. One of only 10 National Historic Landmarks in Erie County, besides the White House, it is the only remaining house of the 13th President.

The house originally stood on Main Street near the Aurora Theatre building. It stood in disrepair for many years until artist Margaret Evans Price (Mrs. Irving Price of Fisher-Price Toys) became enchanted with the little house and its history. She purchased it in 1930, had it moved to its present location and remodeled it for her studio.

The Aurora Historical Society acquired it in 1975 and began returning it to circa 1826. The house now typifies a small frame dwelling of the Federal Period with much of Millard Fillmore's hand labor in it. The house is furnished with pieces that belonged to the Fillmores from their East Aurora, White House and Buffalo years.

Your tour of the house will include the living-room, kitchen, bedrooms, playroom, Victorian library and the carriage barn. You can also stroll through the beautiful period gardens that surround the house. The tour lasts about one hour.

Millard Fillmore House Garden sign Millard Fillmore House Front view Millard Fillmore House Library

For More Information

Books

Anbinder, Tyler G. Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Grayson, Benson Lee. The Unknown President: The Administration of President Millard Fillmore. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1981.

Scarry, Robert J. Millard Fillmore. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2001.

Smith, Elbert B. The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988.

Periodicals

Holland, Barbara. "Millard Fillmore Was My Kind of Guy." Smithsonian (October 1989): p. 238.

Wernick, Robert. "The Rise, and Fall, of a Fervid Third Party." Smithsonian (November 1996): p. 150.

Web Sites

Holt, Michael F. "Getting the Message Out! National Political Campaign Materials, 1840–1860: The Know Nothing Party." Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project.http://dig.lib.niu.edu/message/ps-knownothing.html (accessed on March 12, 2004).

"Knownothingism." New Advent.http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08677a.htm (accessed on March 12, 2004).

"Millard Fillmore." The White House.http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/mf13.html (accessed on March 12, 2004).

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Fillmore

Fillmore was Utah’s first territorial capital and was named for U. S. President Millard Fillmore in recognition of his courage in appointing Brigham Young Utah’s first territorial governor. On 4 October 1851 the Utah territorial legislature passed a joint resolution creating Millard County from a portion of Iron County known as “Pahvant Valley” they named its county seat Fillmore City. This resolution also relocated the territorial capital to the new community and appropriated $20,000 toward that effort. On 21 October two companies set out from Salt Lake City for the Pahvant Valley. Brigham Young headed a delegation of lawmakers making the site selection of the territorial capital. The other company, under the direction of Anson Call, was chosen to make a settlement. On 28 October territorial lawmakers selected a spot located on the hunting grounds of the Pahvant Indians, 150 miles south of Salt Lake City.

A monumental statehouse was planned to be constructed to house the territorial government. Truman O. Angell, architect of the Salt Lake Temple, designed an elaborate structure of four wings in the form of a cross with a Moorish dome at the center. Local red sandstone and native timber were to be used in its construction. The first wing was completed for the fifth annual session of the Utah territorial legislature which convened in Fillmore on 10 December 1855. The sixth legislative session also met at Fillmore, but soon adjourned to reconvene in Salt Lake City. Because the development of southern Utah was slow and accommodations in Fillmore inadequate, the capital was moved to Salt Lake City. The statehouse was never completed, but the first wing remains Utah’s oldest governmental building and now serves as a state museum.

Anson Call and thirty families began the settlement of Fillmore City. By February 1852, about thirty houses and a log schoolhouse were completed in the form of a fort. In 1852 a post office was established, and by 1853 the population of Fillmore was listed as 304. Farming and stock raising quickly became its principal industries. Because of Indian problems, a fort was constructed in 1853󈞢 of stone and adobe, and all local people were located within its walls for safety. On 26 October 1853 a team of U. S. Army topographical engineers headed by Lieutenant John W. Gunnison was massacred by Pahvant Utes not far from Fillmore. Seven were killed.

The first settlers were principally American, but later an influx of English, Scots, Welsh, and Scandinavians arrived in the area. Today, Fillmore is a community of 1,956 people. It is a tightly knit community which has won numerous beautification awards and is dedicated to community development. It is the home of the Chief Kanosh Pageant as well as one of the largest Fourth of July celebrations in Utah. Its citizens are strong supporters of high school athletics. In 1985 the former Fillmore Hospital was purchased by Fillmore City, and by the fall of 1986 it had been remodeled, with city offices in the east wing and the President Millard Fillmore Library in the west wing. Fillmore is also the home of a multimillion-dollar mushroom plant located in the city’s industrial park where 100,000 pounds of mushrooms are harvested each week. During the 1980s, Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants began to work in the mushroom factory.

See: Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, East and West Millard Chapters, 100 Years of History of Millard County (1951).


Contents

The 1848 Whig National Convention selected Zachary Taylor, a top American general during the Mexican–American War, as the Whig presidential nominee. For Taylor's running mate, John A. Collier convinced his fellow Whigs to nominate Fillmore, a loyal supporter of defeated presidential candidate Henry Clay. [1] During the 1848 presidential election, Fillmore campaigned for the Whig ticket, and he helped put an end to a brief anti-Taylor movement among Northern Whigs that had emerged after Taylor accepted the nomination of a small, breakaway group of pro-slavery Democrats. With the Democrats divided by the Free Soil candidacy of former President Martin Van Buren, the Whigs won the 1848 presidential election. [2]

Despite the Whig presidential victory, Democrats maintained control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, preventing the reversal of outgoing President James K. Polk's policies on the tariff and other issues. [3] Taylor's presidency instead centered the status of slavery in the region ceded by Mexico following the Mexican–American War. After taking office, Vice President Fillmore was quickly sidelined by the efforts of editor Thurlow Weed, who viewed Fillmore as a rival to Weed's close political ally, William H. Seward. [4] Fillmore was unhappy during his vice presidency, partly because his wife, Abigail Fillmore, spent much of her time at their home in New York. [5]

Fillmore received the formal notification of Zachary Taylor's death, signed by the cabinet, on the evening of July 9, 1850 in his residence at the Willard Hotel. Fillmore had spent the previous night in a vigil with the cabinet outside of Taylor's White House bedroom. After acknowledging the letter, [6] Fillmore went to the House of Representatives Chamber in the U.S. Capitol the following day, where he took the presidential oath of office. William Cranch, chief judge of the U.S. Circuit Court, administered the oath to Fillmore. [7] In contrast to John Tyler, whose legitimacy as president had been questioned by many after his accession to the presidency in 1841, Fillmore was widely accepted as the president by members of Congress and the public. [8]

Taylor's widow, Margaret Taylor, left Washington soon after her husband's death, and Fillmore's family took up residence in the White House shortly thereafter. Because Fillmore's wife, Abigail, was often in poor health, his daughter, Mary Abigail Fillmore, frequently served as the White House hostess. [9]

The Fillmore Cabinet
OfficeNameTerm
PresidentMillard Fillmore1850–1853
Vice Presidentnone1850–1853
Secretary of StateJohn M. Clayton1850
Daniel Webster1850–1852
Edward Everett1852–1853
Secretary of the TreasuryWilliam M. Meredith1850
Thomas Corwin1850–1853
Secretary of WarGeorge W. Crawford1850
Charles Magill Conrad1850–1853
Attorney GeneralReverdy Johnson1850
John J. Crittenden1850–1853
Postmaster GeneralJacob Collamer1850
Nathan K. Hall1850–1852
Samuel Dickinson Hubbard1852–1853
Secretary of the NavyWilliam Ballard Preston1850
William Alexander Graham1850–1852
John P. Kennedy1852–1853
Secretary of the InteriorThomas Ewing1850
Thomas McKennan1850
Alexander Stuart1850–1853

Taylor's cabinet appointees submitted their resignation on July 10, and Fillmore accepted the resignations the following day. Fillmore is the only president who succeeded by death or resignation not to retain, at least initially, his predecessor's cabinet. [10] The biggest challenge facing Taylor had been the issue of slavery in the territories, and this issue immediately confronted the Fillmore administration as well. [11] Taylor had opposed a plan, formulated by Henry Clay, which was designed to appeal to both anti-slavery northerners and pro-slavery southerners, but which received the most support from Southerners. During his vice presidency, Fillmore had indicated that he might vote to support the compromise, but he had not publicly committed himself on the issue when he assumed the presidency. [12]

Fillmore hoped to use the process of selecting the cabinet to re-unify the Whig Party, and he sought to balance the cabinet among North and South, pro-compromise and anti-compromise, and pro-Taylor and anti-Taylor. Fillmore offered the position of Secretary of State to Robert Charles Winthrop, an anti-compromise Massachusetts Whig who was widely popular among Whigs in the House of Representatives, but Winthrop declined the post. [13] Fillmore instead chose Daniel Webster, who had previously served as Secretary of State under William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. Webster had outraged his Massachusetts constituents by supporting the compromise, and he was unlikely to win election another term in the Senate in 1851. Webster became Fillmore's most important adviser. Two other prominent Whig Senators, Thomas Corwin of Ohio and John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, also joined Fillmore's cabinet. Fillmore appointed his old law partner, Nathan Hall, as Postmaster General, a cabinet position that controlled many patronage appointments. [14] Charles Magill Conrad of Louisiana became the Secretary of War, William Alexander Graham of North Carolina became Secretary of the Navy, and Alexander Hugh Holmes Stuart of Virginia became Secretary of the Interior. [15] Though Fillmore's cabinet appointments were warmly received by both Northern and Southern Whigs, party unity was shattered soon after Fillmore's accession due to the fight over Clay's compromise. [16]

Fillmore appointed one Supreme Court justice, though two Supreme Court vacancies arose during his presidency. The first vacancy arose due to the death of Associate Justice Levi Woodbury in 1851. Determined to nominate a Whig from New England, Fillmore settled on Benjamin Robbins Curtis. The 41-year-old Curtis had earned notoriety as a leading practitioner of commercial law, and he won the full backing of Secretary of State Webster. Despite some opposition from anti-slavery senators, Curtis ultimately won Senate approval. After the death of Associate Justice John McKinley in mid-1852, Fillmore successively nominated Edward A. Bradford, George Edmund Badger, and William C. Micou. By refusing to act on any of the nominations, Senate Democrats ensured that the vacancy would be filled by Franklin Pierce after Fillmore left office. Curtis would serve on the Supreme Court until 1857, when he resigned in protest of the holding in Dred Scott v. Sandford. [17] Fillmore also made four appointments to United States District Courts, including that of his Postmaster General, Nathan Hall, to the federal district court in Buffalo. [18]

Compromise of 1850 Edit

Background Edit

Before and during Taylor's presidency, a crisis had developed over the land acquired after the Mexican–American War in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. [19] The key issue was the status of slavery in the territories, which, for many leaders, represented a debate over not just slavery but also morality, property rights, and personal honor. Southern extremists like John C. Calhoun viewed any limit on slavery as an attack on the Southern way of life, while many Northerners opposed any further expansion of slavery. [20] Further complicating the issue was the fact that much of the newly-acquired Western lands seemed unsuitable to slavery due to climate and geography. [21] In 1820, Congress had agreed to the Missouri Compromise, which had banned slavery in all lands of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36° 30' parallel, and many Southerners sought to extend this line to the Pacific Ocean. [22] During the Mexican–American War, a Northern member of Congress had put forth the Wilmot Proviso, a legislative proposal that would have banned slavery in all territories acquired in the Mexican–American War. Though not adopted by Congress, the debate over the Wilmot Proviso had contributed to an increasingly tense national debate regarding slavery. [23]

The territorial issues centered on the territories of California and New Mexico, as well the state of Texas, which had been annexed in 1845. Because California lacked an organized territorial government, the federal government faced difficulties in providing adequate governance in the midst of the California Gold Rush, and many sought immediate statehood for California. [24] After the start of the gold rush, hundreds of slaves were imported into California to work the gold mines, provoking a harsh reaction from competing miners. With the approval of military governor Bennet C. Riley, in 1849 Californians held a constitutional convention. In anticipation of imminent statehood, the convention wrote a new constitution that would ban slavery in California. [25] Meanwhile, Texas claimed all of the Mexican Cession east of the Rio Grande, including parts of the former Mexican state of New Mexico that it had never exercised de facto control over. [19] Texan leaders had expected to be granted control of all territory east of the Rio Grande after the Mexican-American War, but the inhabitants of New Mexico had resisted Texan control. [26] New Mexico had long prohibited slavery, a fact that affected the debate over its territorial status, but many New Mexican leaders opposed joining Texas primarily because Texas's capital lay hundreds of miles away [27] and because Texas and New Mexico had a history of conflict dating back to the 1841 Santa Fe Expedition. [28] Outside of Texas, many Southern leaders supported Texas's claims to New Mexico in order to secure as much territory as possible for the expansion of slavery. [29] President Taylor had opposed Texas's ambitions in New Mexico, and he favored quickly granting statehood to both California and New Mexico in order to avoid reigniting the debate over the Wilmot Proviso. [27]

Congress also faced the issue of Utah, which like California and New Mexico, had been ceded by Mexico. Utah was inhabited largely by Mormons, whose practice of polygamy was unpopular in the United States. [30] Aside from the disposition of the territories, other issues had risen to prominence during the Taylor years. [31] The Washington, D.C. slave trade angered many in the North, who viewed the presence of slavery in the capital as a blemish on the nation. Disputes around fugitive slaves had grown since 1830 in part due to improving means of transportation, as escaped slaves used roads, railroads, and ships to escape. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 had granted jurisdiction to all state and federal judges over cases regarding fugitive slaves, but several Northern states, dissatisfied by the lack of due process in these cases, had passed personal liberty laws that made it more difficult to return alleged fugitive slaves to the South. [19] Another issue that would affect the compromise was Texas's debt it had approximately $10 million in debt left over from its time as an independent nation, and that debt would become a factor in the debates over the territories. [32]

Taylor presidency Edit

On January 29, 1850, Senator Henry Clay introduced a plan which combined the major subjects under discussion. His legislative package included the admission of California as a free state, the cession by Texas of some of its northern and western territorial claims in return for debt relief, the establishment of New Mexico and Utah territories, a ban on the importation of slaves into the District of Columbia for sale, and a more stringent fugitive slave law. [33] In the final months of his life, Senator Calhoun attempted to rally Southerners against the compromise, arguing that it was biased against the South because it would lead to the creation of new free states. [34] Anti-slavery Northerners like William Seward and Salmon Chase also opposed the compromise. [35] Clay's proposal did, however, win the backing of many Southern and Northern leaders, many of whom attacked opponents of the compromise as extremists. [36] Fillmore, who presided over the Senate in his role as vice president, privately came to support Clay's position. [37]

Though Clay had originally favored voting on each of his proposals separately, Senator Henry S. Foote of Mississippi convinced him to combine the proposals regarding California's admission and the disposition of Texas's borders into one bill. [38] Clay hoped that this combination of measures would convince congressmen from both North and South to support the overall package of laws even if they objected to specific provisions. [39] Clay's proposal attracted the support of some Northern Democrats and Southern Whigs, but it lacked the backing necessary to win passage, and debate over the bill continued. [39] Foote and other Southern leaders attempted to condition California's statehood either on granting Texas the full extent of its boundary claims on New Mexico, or on the requirement that slavery be allowed in the disputed region if it was not awarded to Texas. [40] Foote also sought to split California into two states, with the division at the 35th parallel north. [41] Taylor opposed the bill, since he favored granting California statehood immediately and denied the legitimacy of Texas's claims over New Mexico. [42] While Congress continued to debate Clay's proposals, Texas Governor Peter Hansborough Bell loudly protested the organization of New Mexico's constitutional convention, which had been proceeded with the approval of Taylor and the military government of New Mexico instigated by General Stephen W. Kearny during the Mexican-American war. [43] Following the New Mexico constitutional convention, Taylor urged that Congress immediately grant statehood to both California and New Mexico, and he prepared for a clash with Texas. [39] When Taylor died in July 1850, none of the major domestic issues facing his presidency had been settled. [44]

Compromise Edit

  • California is admitted free state
  • Texas relinquishes some territorial claims for debt relief and Utah Territory are organized with slavery undecided

The debate over slavery in the territories continued despite Taylor's death. Though Fillmore favored the broad outlines of Clay's compromise, [12] he did not believe that it could pass via a single bill. With Fillmore's support, Senator James Pearce of Maryland helped defeat Clay's compromise bill by proposing to remove a provision related to the Texas-New Mexico boundary. In the ensuing debate, all provisions of the bill were removed except for the organization of Utah Territory. With the apparent collapse of the bill, Clay took a temporary leave from the Senate, and Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois took the lead in advocating for a compromise based largely on Clay's proposals. Rather than passing the proposals as one bill, Douglas would seek to pass each proposal one-by-one. [45]

Upon taking office, Fillmore reinforced federal troops in the disputed New Mexico region, and warned Texas Governor Bell to keep the peace. [46] In an August 6, 1850 message to Congress, Fillmore disclosed a belligerent letter from Governor Bell and his own reply to Bell. In that reply, Fillmore denied Texas's claims to New Mexico, asserting that United States had promised to protect the territorial integrity of New Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In his message to Congress, Fillmore also urged Congress to settle the boundary dispute as quickly as possible, and indicated support for providing monetary compensation to Texas in return for the establishment of New Mexico Territory, which would include all of the land it had controlled prior to the Mexican–American War. [47] Fillmore's forceful response helped convince Texas's U.S. Senators, Sam Houston and Thomas Jefferson Rusk, to support Stephen Douglas's compromise. With their support, a senate bill providing for a final settlement of Texas's borders won passage days after Fillmore delivered his message. Under the terms of the bill, the U.S. would assume Texas's debts, while Texas's northern border was set at the 36° 30' parallel north (the Missouri Compromise line) and much of its western border followed the 103rd meridian. The bill attracted the support of a bipartisan coalition of Whigs and Democrats from both sections, though most opposition to the bill came from the South. [48] The Senate quickly moved onto the other major issues, passing bills that provided for the admission of California, the organization of New Mexico Territory, and the establishment of a new fugitive slave law. [49]

The debate then moved to the House of Representatives, where Fillmore, Webster, Douglas, Congressman Linn Boyd, and Speaker of the House Howell Cobb took the lead in convincing members to support the compromise bills that had been passed in the Senate. [50] The Senate's proposed settlement of the Texas-New Mexico boundary faced intense opposition from many Southerners, as well as from some Northerners who believed that the Texas did not deserve monetary compensation. After a series of close votes that nearly delayed consideration of the issue, the House voted to approve a Texas bill similar to that which had been passed by the Senate. [51] Following that vote, the House and the Senate quickly agreed on each of the major issues, including the banning of the slave trade in Washington. [52] The president quickly signed each bill into law save for the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 he ultimately signed that law as well after Attorney General Crittenden assured him that the law was constitutional. [53] Though some in Texas still favored sending a military expedition into New Mexico, in November 1850 the state legislature voted to accept the compromise. [54]

Passage of the Compromise of 1850, as it became known, caused celebration in Washington and elsewhere, with crowds shouting, "the Union is saved!" Fillmore himself described the Compromise of 1850 as a "final settlement" of sectional issues, though the future of slavery in New Mexico and Utah remained unclear. [55] The admission of new states, or the organization of territories in the remaining unorganized portion of the Louisiana Purchase, could also potentially reopen the polarizing debate over slavery. [56] [57] Not all accepted the Compromise of 1850 a South Carolina newspaper wrote, "the Rubicon is passed . and the Southern States are now vassals in this Confederacy." [58] Many Northerners, meanwhile, were displeased by the fugitive slave law. [59]

Fugitive Slave Act Edit

Fillmore hoped that slavery would one day cease to exist in the United States, but he believed that it was his duty to zealously enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. [60] After 1850, Fillmore's enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act became the central issue of his administration. The Fugitive Slave Act created the first national system of law enforcement by appointing federal commissioner in every county to hear fugitive slave cases and enforce the fugitive slave law. As there were few federal courts operating throughout the country, the appointment of commissioners allowed for the enforcement of a federal law without relying on state courts, many of which were unsympathetic to slave masters or unwilling to even take on fugitive slave cases. The law also penalized commissioners and federal marshals who allowed slaves to escape from their custody, and levied fines against anyone who aided a fugitive slave or interfered with the return of slaves. Fugitive slave proceedings lacked many due process protections such as the right to a jury trial, and defendants were not allowed to testify at their own hearing. Many in the North felt that the Fugitive Slave Act effectively brought slavery into their home states, and while the abolitionist movement remained weak, many Northerners increasingly came to detest slavery. [61]

Though the law was highly offensive to many Northerners, Southerners complained bitterly about perceived slackness in enforcement. Many of the administration's prosecutions or attempts to return slaves ended badly for the government, as in the case of Shadrach Minkins. A major controversy erupted over the fate of Ellen and William Craft, two escaped slaves living in Boston. Fillmore threatened to send federal soldiers into the city in order to compel the return of the Crafts to the South, but the Crafts' escape to England put an end to the controversy. Disputes over fugitive slaves were widely publicized North and South, inflaming passions and undermining the good feeling that had followed the Compromise. [62] Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin in response to the Fugitive Slave Act, and its publication in 1852 further raised sectional tensions. [63]

Stirrings of disunion Edit

The Compromise of 1850 shook up partisan alignments in South, with elections being contested by unionists and extremist "Fire-Eaters" rather than Whigs and Democrats. The Georgia Platform represented the moderate Southern position it opposed secession, but also demanded Northern compromise on the slavery issue. Fire-Eater leaders like Robert Rhett and William Lowndes Yancey urged secession from the United States, and attempted to win control of the states of the Deep South in the 1851 elections. Fillmore took the threat of secession seriously, and on the advice of General Winfield Scott he strengthened the garrisons of federal forts in Charleston and other parts of the South. In the 1851 elections, unionists won victories in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Even in South Carolina, the state most open to talk of secession, voters rejected the possibility of unilateral secession from the United States. The victory of pro-compromise Southern politicians in several elections, along with Fillmore's attempts at diligently enforcing the Fugitive Slave Clause, temporarily quieted Southern calls for secession. There was less support for outright secession in the North than in the South, but in the aftermath of the Compromise politicians such as Seward began contemplating the creation of a new major party explicitly opposed to the extension of slavery. [64] Despite the disruptions caused by the debate over the Compromise, no major long-term partisan realignment occurred during Fillmore's presidency, and both parties remained intact for the 1852 presidential election. [65]

Other issues Edit

A longtime supporter of national infrastructure development, Fillmore called for investments in roads, railroads, and waterways. [66] He signed bills to subsidize the Illinois Central railroad from Chicago to Mobile, and for a canal at Sault Ste. Marie. The 1851 completion of the Erie Railroad in New York prompted Fillmore and his cabinet to ride the first train from New York City to the shores of Lake Erie, in company with many other politicians and dignitaries. Fillmore made many speeches along the way from the train's rear platform, urging acceptance of the Compromise, and afterwards went on a tour of New England with his Southern cabinet members. Although Fillmore urged Congress to authorize a transcontinental railroad, it did not do so until a decade later. Fillmore was a longtime proponent of Clay's American System, which favored a high tariff and federally-supported banks and infrastructure projects, but Congress did not consider major revisions to banking laws or the tariff during Fillmore's presidency. [67] In a period of budget surpluses and economic prosperity, few congressmen saw the need for a higher tariff or economic interventionism. [68]

In September 1850, Fillmore appointed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leader Brigham Young as the first governor of Utah Territory. [69] In gratitude, Young named the first territorial capital "Fillmore" and the surrounding county "Millard". [70]

In August 1850, the social reformer Dorothea Dix wrote to Fillmore, urging support for her proposal in Congress for land grants to finance asylums for the impoverished mentally ill. Though her proposal did not pass, they became friends and continued to correspond well after Fillmore's presidency. [71]

Noting that many miners involved in the California Gold Rush were forced to sell their gold at a discount, Fillmore asked Congress to create a federal mint in California, resulting in the establishment of the San Francisco Mint. [72]

Fillmore oversaw two highly competent Secretaries of State, Webster, and after the New Englander's 1852 death, Edward Everett, looking over their shoulders and making all major decisions. [73] The president was particularly active in Asia and the Pacific, especially with regard to Japan, which at this time still prohibited nearly all foreign contact. American businessmen wanted Japan "opened up" for trade, and businessmen and the navy alike wanted the ability to visit Japan to stock up on provisions such as coal. Many Americans were also concerned by the fate of shipwrecked American sailors, who were treated as criminals in Japan. Fillmore began planning an expedition to Japan in 1850, but the expedition, led by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, did not leave until November 1852. Though the Perry Expedition did not reach Japan until after Fillmore's presidency, it served as the catalyst for the end of Japan's isolationist policy. [74] Fillmore also supported an effort to build a railroad across Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec, but disagreements among the United States, Mexico, and rival companies prevented the railroad's construction. [75]

As part of a broader strategy of establishing U.S. influence in the Pacific, Fillmore and Webster also sought increased influence in Hawaii, which U.S. policymakers saw as an important link between the U.S. and Asia. In 1842, President John Tyler had announced the "Tyler doctrine," which proclaimed that the U.S. would not accept annexation of Hawaii by a European power. [76] France under Napoleon III sought to annex Hawaii, but backed down after Fillmore issued a strongly worded message warning that "the United States would not stand for any such action." [77] The U.S. also signed a secret treaty with King Kamehameha III of Hawaii which stipulated that the U.S. would gain sovereignty over Hawaii in case of war. [76] Although many in Hawaii and the U.S. desired the annexation of Hawaii as U.S. state, the U.S. was unwilling to grant full citizenship to Hawaii's non-white population. [78]

Many Southerners hoped to see Cuba, a Spanish slave-holding colony, annexed to the United States. [77] Venezuelan adventurer Narciso López recruited Americans for three filibustering expeditions to Cuba, in the hope of overthrowing Spanish rule there. After the second attempt in 1850, López and some of his followers were indicted for breach of the Neutrality Act, but were quickly acquitted by friendly Southern juries. [77] Fillmore ordered federal authorities to attempt to prevent López from launching a third expedition, and proclaimed that his administration would not protect anyone captured by Spain. López's third expedition ended in total failure, as the Cuban populace once again refused to rally to their would-be liberator. López and several Americans, including the nephew of Attorney General Crittenden, were executed by the Spanish, while another 160 Americans were forced to work in Spanish mines. Fillmore, Webster and the Spanish government worked out a series of face-saving measures, including the release of the American prisoners, that settled a brewing crisis between the two countries. Following the crisis, Britain and France offered a three-party treaty in which all signatories would agree to uphold Spanish control of Cuba, but Fillmore rejected the offer. Many Southerners, including Whigs, had supported the filibusters, and Fillmore's consistent opposition to the filibusters further divided his party as the 1852 election approached. [79]

A much-publicized event of Fillmore's presidency was the arrival in late 1851 of Lajos Kossuth, the exiled leader of a failed Hungarian revolution against Austria. Kossuth wanted the U.S. to recognize Hungary's independence. Many Americans were sympathetic to the Hungarian rebels, especially recent German immigrants, who were now coming to the U.S. in large numbers and had become a major political force. Kossuth was feted by Congress, and Fillmore allowed a White House meeting after receiving word that Kossuth would not try to politicize it. In spite of his promise, Kossuth made a speech promoting his cause. The American enthusiasm for Kossuth petered out, and he departed for Europe Fillmore refused to change American policy, remaining neutral. [80]

As the election of 1852 approached, Fillmore remained undecided whether to run for a full term as president. Fillmore's enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act had made him unpopular among many in the North, but he retained considerable support from the South, where he was seen as the only candidate capable of uniting the party. Secretary Webster had long coveted the presidency and, though in poor health, planned a final attempt to gain the White House. [81] Webster hoped that his pro-Compromise stance would help him garner support throughout the country, but his reputation as the spokesman for New England limited his appeal outside of his home region, especially in the South. [82] Fillmore was sympathetic to the ambitions of his longtime friend, but was reluctant to rule out accepting the party's 1852 nomination, as he feared doing so would allow Seward to gain control of the party. [81] Yet he also believed that the Whig nominee was likely to lose in 1852, and feared that a loss would bring an end to his political career. Ultimately, he refused to pull out of the race, and allowed his supporters to run his campaign for the Whig nomination. [83] A third candidate emerged in the form of General Winfield Scott, who, like previously successful Whig presidential nominees William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, had earned fame for his martial accomplishments. Though Thurlow Weed advised Seward to accept whoever the Whigs nominated, Seward threw his backing behind Scott. Scott had supported the Compromise of 1850, but his association with Seward made him unacceptable to Southern Whigs. Thus, approaching the June 1852 Whig National Convention in Baltimore, the major candidates were Fillmore, Webster, and General Scott. [81] Supporters of the Compromise of 1850 were split between Fillmore and Webster, while Northern opponents of the Compromise backed Scott. [84]

Stephen Douglas's role in the Compromise of 1850, along with his aggressive rhetoric in foreign policy, had made him a front-runner for the 1852 Democratic nomination. But by the time of the May 1852 Democratic National Convention, former Secretary of State James Buchanan of Pennsylvania had eclipsed Douglas, who had made several enemies in the party and faced rumors about his drinking. The convention deadlocked between 1848 nominee Lewis Cass of Michigan and Buchanan, each of whom led on different ballots. On the 49th ballot, the party nominated former New Hampshire senator Franklin Pierce, who had been out of national politics for nearly a decade before 1852. The nomination of Pierce, a Northerner sympathetic to the Southern view on slavery, united the Democrats and gave the party a decided advantage in the 1852 campaign. [85]

The 1852 Whig National Convention convened on June 16. Two days later, at the urging of Southern delegates, the Whig National Convention passed a party platform endorsing the Compromise as a final settlement of the slavery question. [86] On the convention's first presidential ballot, Fillmore received 133 of the necessary 147 votes, while Scott won 131 and Webster won 29. After the 46th ballot still failed to produce a presidential nominee, the delegates voted to adjourn until the following Monday. Fillmore supporters offered a deal to the delegates backing Webster: if Webster could win 40 votes on one of the next two ballots, then the Fillmore delegates would switch to Webster. If not, then the Webster delegates would back Fillmore. When informed of the proposed arrangement, Fillmore quickly agreed, but Webster refused to consent to the deal until Monday morning. [86] Scott's supporters were also active over the weekend, and they won the commitment of some delegates who preferred Scott as their second choice. [87] On the 48th ballot, Webster delegates began to defect to Scott, and the general gained the nomination on the 53rd ballot. Webster was far more unhappy at the outcome than was Fillmore, and Fillmore rejected Webster's offer to resign as Secretary of State. [86] Many Southern Whigs, including Alexander H. Stephens and Robert Toombs, refused to support Scott. [88]

Scott proved to be a poor candidate who lacked popular appeal, and he suffered the worst defeat in Whig history. Whigs also lost several congressional and state elections. [89] Scott won just four states and 44 percent of the popular vote, while Pierce won just under 51 percent of the popular vote and a large majority of the electoral vote. [90] The party platform's endorsement of the Compromise of 1850 had destroyed Scott's hope of winning the support of the leaders of the Free Soil Party, and the party nominated John P. Hale for president. [91] Hale's candidacy damaged the Whig ticket in the North, while distrust and apathy led many Southern Whigs to vote for Pierce or to sit out the election. [92] The final months of Fillmore's term were uneventful, and Fillmore left office on March 4, 1853. [93]

According to his biographer, Scarry: "No president of the United States . has suffered as much ridicule as Millard Fillmore". [94] He ascribed much of the abuse to a tendency to denigrate the presidents who served in the years just prior to the Civil War as lacking in leadership. For example, later president Harry S. Truman "characterized Fillmore as a weak, trivial thumb-twaddler who would do nothing to offend anyone", responsible in part for the war. [95] Another Fillmore biographer, Finkelman, commented, "on the central issues of the age his vision was myopic and his legacy is worse . in the end, Fillmore was always on the wrong side of the great moral and political issues". [96] Finkelman argues that the central accomplishment of Fillmore's tenure, the Compromise of 1850, should instead be called the "Appeasement of 1850" due to its abandoning of the Wilmot Proviso, thereby opening up all of the territories of the Mexican Cession to slavery. [97]

Although Fillmore has become something of a cult figure as America's most forgettable chief executive, Smith found him to be "a conscientious president" who chose to honor his oath of office and enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, rather than govern based on his personal preferences. [98] According to Smith, the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act has given Fillmore an undeserved pro-southern reputation, and the evaluation of his presidency has also suffered because "even those who give him high marks for his support of the compromise have done so almost grudgingly, probably because of his Know-Nothing candidacy in 1856". [99] Paul G. Calabresi and Christopher S. Yoo, in their study of presidential power, deemed Fillmore "a faithful executor of the laws of the United States—for good and for ill". [100] Rayback applauded "the warmth and wisdom with which he had defended the Union". [101] Benson Lee Grayson suggested that Fillmore's constant attention to Mexico avoided a resumption of the war and laid the groundwork for the Gadsden Treaty during Pierce's presidency. [102] Fred I. Greenstein and Dale Anderson praised Fillmore for his resoluteness in his early months in office, noting that Fillmore "is typically described as stolid, bland, and conventional, but such terms underestimate the forcefulness evinced by his handling of the Texas–New Mexico border crisis, his decision to replace Taylor's entire cabinet, and his effectiveness in advancing the Compromise of 1850". [103]

Polls of historians and political scientists have generally ranked Fillmore in the bottom quartile of presidents. A 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Fillmore as the sixth-worst president. [104] A 2017 C-Span poll of historians ranked Fillmore as the seventh-worst president. [105]

In his profile of Fillmore for the Miller Center of Public Affairs, historian Michael Holt writes:

From the modern perspective, Fillmore seems almost an invisible man among Presidents. Books on him are all but nonexistent. But his accomplishments, while not great, were nonetheless substantial. In addition to the fine legislative engineering that passed the compromise, Fillmore also conducted a disciplined, principled foreign policy. [106]


Millard Powers Fillmore


Millard was born on April 26, 1828, in East Aurora, New York. He served as a private secretary to his father, Millard Fillmore, during his presidency. Millard apprenticed in his father’s law office and attended Harvard University. He was a bachelor and had no children when he died on November 15, 1889.


Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore became president upon the death of Zachary Taylor in July 1850. Born in upstate Cayuga County, New York on January 7, 1800, Fillmore as a youth endured the privations of frontier life. He worked on his father’s farm, and at 15 was apprenticed to a cloth maker. He attended a local school where he met Abigail Powers, who was 19 years old at the time. They later married in 1826 and had two children.

In 1823 he was admitted to the bar seven years later he moved his law practice to Buffalo. As an associate of the Whig politician Thurlow Weed, Fillmore held state office and for eight years was a member of the House of Representatives. In 1848, while comptroller of New York, he was elected vice president.

Fillmore presided over the Senate during the months of nerve-wracking debates over the Compromise of 1850. He made no public comment on the merits of the compromise proposals, but a few days before President Taylor’s death, he intimated to him that if there should be a tie vote on Henry Clay’s omnibus bill, he would vote in favor of it.

Millard Fillmore’s sudden accession to the presidency brought an abrupt political shift in favor of trying to give more ground to the southern advocates of slavery. Taylor’s cabinet resigned, and President Fillmore at once appointed Daniel Webster to be secretary of state, thus demonstrating his alliance with the moderate Whigs who favored the Compromise.

When Clay’s omnibus bill failed, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois broke the legislation into five separate bills, submitting them in piecemeal fashion. At this critical juncture, Fillmore announced his support of the compromise. On August 6, 1850, he sent a message to Congress recommending that Texas be paid to abandon her claims to part of New Mexico.

Douglas’s effective strategy in Congress, combined with Fillmore’s pressure from the White House gave impetus to the Compromise movement. The acts passed both chambers of Congress, and were signed by President Fillmore in September 1850. These pieces of legislation admitted California as a "free state" organized the territorial governments of New Mexico and Utah on the basis of popular sovereignty established a boundary between Texas and New Mexico abolished the slave trade in the nation's capital and strengthened the Fugitive Slave Act.

Fillmore believed that his efforts had averted a major crisis and saved the Union. Instead, this sectional truce left most factions unsatisfied. Fillmore's signing of the Fugitive Slave Act was also heavily criticized by abolitionists. By law, the federal government was now required to assist slave owners in recapturing enslaved people, even if they were found in states where slavery was outlawed. There were also harsh penalties for anyone caught assisting or hiding enslaved people.

As the Whig Party splintered over slavery, Fillmore lost critical support from northern Whigs who opposed the institution. As a result, he lost the 1852 presidential nomination to General Winfield Scott. In 1856, he accepted the nomination for president from the National-American Party (also known as the Know-Nothing Party.) While he was handily defeated, Fillmore captured more than 20% of the popular vote and won the state of Maryland. With this defeat, Fillmore withdrew from politics and focused more on philanthropic endeavors in Buffalo with his second wife Caroline. During the Civil War, he supported the Union and different leaders from both political parties who sought to save it. He suffered a stroke and later died on March 8, 1874.


Millard Fillmore Signs Compromise of 1850

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

In 1850, the United States Congress debated a proposal for an important compromise. The compromise dealt mostly with the national dispute over slavery. That dispute threatened to split the northern and southern parts of the country. There was a danger of civil war. Many leaders supported the compromise. But President Zachary Taylor did not.

This week in our series, Leo Scully and Larry West complete our story of the Compromise of Eighteen Fifty.

Taylor did not think there was a crisis. He did not believe the dispute over slavery was as serious as others did. He had his own plan to settle one part of the dispute. He would make the new territory of California a free state. Slavery there would be banned.

Taylor's plan did not, however, settle other parts of the dispute. It said nothing about laws on escaped slaves. It said nothing about slavery in the nation's capital, the District of Columbia. It said nothing about the border dispute between Texas and New Mexico. The congressional compromise was an attempt to settle all these problems.

Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, who had written the compromise, questioned the president's limited proposal. Clay said: "Now what is the plan of the president? Here are five problems, five wounds that are bleeding and threatening the life of the republic. What is the president's plan? Is it to heal all these wounds? No such thing. It is to heal one of the five and to leave the other four to bleed more than ever."

While the debate continued in Washington, the situation in Texas and New Mexico got worse. Texas claimed a large part of New Mexico, including the capital, Santa Fe. Early in 1850, Texas sent a representative to Santa Fe to take control of the government.

The United States military commander in New Mexico advised the people not to recognize the man. The governor of Texas was furious. He decided to send state soldiers to enforce Texas's claims in New Mexico. He said if trouble broke out, the United States government would be to blame.

President Taylor rejected Texas's claims. He told his secretary of war to send an order to the military commander in New Mexico. The commander was to use force to oppose any attempt by Texas to seize the territory.

The secretary of war said he would not send such an order. He believed that if fighting began, southerners would hurry to the aid of Texas. And that, he thought, might be the start of a southern struggle against the federal government.

In a short time, the North and South would be at war. When the secretary of war refused to sign the order, President Taylor answered sharply. "Then I will sign the order myself!"

Taylor had been a general before becoming president. He said he would take command of the army himself to enforce the law. And he said he was willing to hang anyone who rebelled against the Union.

President Taylor began writing a message to Congress on the situation. He never finished it. On the afternoon of July 4, 1850, Taylor attended an outdoor independence day ceremony. The ceremony was held at the place where a monument to America's first president, George Washington, was being built.

The day was very hot, and Taylor stood for a long time in the burning sun. That night, he became sick with pains in his stomach. Doctors were called to the White House. But none of their treatments worked.

Five days later, President Taylor died. Vice President Millard Fillmore was sworn-in as president.

Fillmore was from New York state. His family was poor. His early education came not from school teachers, but from whatever books he could find. Later, Fillmore was able to study law. He became a successful lawyer. He also served in the United States Congress for eight years.

The Whig Party chose him as its vice presidential candidate in the election of 1848. He served as vice president for about a year and a half before the death of President Taylor.

Fillmore had disagreed with Taylor over the congressional compromise on slavery and the western territories. Unlike Taylor, Fillmore truly believed that the nation was facing a crisis. And he truly believed the compromise would help save the Union.

Now, as president, Fillmore offered his complete support to the bill. Its chances of passing looked better than ever. Fillmore asked the old cabinet to resign. He named his own cabinet members. All were strong supporters of the union. All supported the compromise.

Congress debated the compromise throughout the summer of 1850. There were several proposals in the bill. Supporters decided not to vote on the proposals as one piece of legislation. They saw a better chance of success by trying to pass each proposal separately. Their idea worked.

By the end of September, both the Senate and House of Representatives had approved all parts of the 1850 compromise.

President Fillmore signed them into law. One part of the compromise permitted California to enter the Union as a free state. One established territorial governments in New Mexico and Utah. One settled the dispute between Texas and New Mexico. Another ended the slave trade in the District of Columbia.

Many happy celebrations took place when citizens heard that President Fillmore had signed the 1850 compromise. Many people believed the problem of slavery had been solved. They believed the Union had been saved.

Others, however, believed the problem had only been postponed. They hoped the delay would give reasonable men of the North and South time to find a permanent answer to the issue of slavery. Time was running out.

It was true that the 1850 compromise had ended a national crisis. But both northern and southern extremists remained bitter. Those opposed to slavery believed the compromise law on runaway slaves violated the constitution.

The new law said negroes accused of being runaway slaves could not have a jury trial. It said government officials could send negroes to whoever claimed to own them. It said negroes could not appeal such a decision.

Those who supported slavery had a different idea of the compromise. They did not care about the constitutional rights of negroes. They considered the compromise a simple law for the return of valuable property. No law approved by Congress, and signed by the president, could change these beliefs.

The issue of slavery was linked to the issue of secession. Did states have the right to leave the Union? If southern states rejected all compromises on slavery, did they have the right to secede? The signing of the 1850 compromise cooled the debate for a time. But disagreement on the issues was deep. It would continue to build over the next ten years. Those were difficult years for America's presidents.

Next week, we will tell how the situation affected the administration of President Millard Fillmore.


Learn about the Whig Party's final U.S. president, Millard Fillmore, and the Compromise of 1850

Millard Fillmore became the 13th president of the United States upon the death of President Zachary Taylor in 1850. The country was on the verge of civil war, bitterly divided over slavery. President Fillmore pushed for the Compromise of 1850, which delayed war for a decade but also ended his political career.

Millard Fillmore was born in upstate New York in 1800. He spent much of his childhood working on his family’s struggling farm. When Millard was 15, his father sent him away to apprentice in the wool industry. He worked long, dreary hours for five years before paying his employer $30 for his release.

Fillmore moved to Buffalo, New York, where he studied law. During the 1830s his law firm became one of the best known in the state.

In 1832, Fillmore was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served four terms in Congress, becoming a prominent member of the Whig party. The pressing issue of the time was slavery. Fillmore was against slavery personally – perhaps because of his treatment as an apprentice – but he took a moderate stance on the issue politically. This made him an acceptable vice presidential candidate for both Northern and Southern Whigs in 1848. Zachary Taylor ran as president and the pair won the election.

Taylor served only 16 months of his term before dying suddenly. Fillmore rose to the presidency as Congress was in a fierce fight over slavery. Northern states wanted slavery banned in the territories recently gained from the Mexican-American War, while Southern states wanted slavery to be permitted. Civil war seemed inevitable when Senator Henry Clay devised a compromise. The Compromise of 1850 extended slavery to parts of the newly acquired land while prohibiting it elsewhere. It also included a harsh Fugitive Slave Act, which required the federal government to help capture and return escaped slaves to their owners.

President Fillmore supported the compromise, as he believed it would preserve the Union. The legislation passed and helped delay the outbreak of the American Civil War for another ten years. But it also cost Fillmore the support of anti-slavery Whigs.

In foreign affairs, President Fillmore sent an expedition to Japan in 1852. Led by Commodore Matthew Perry, the expedition opened Japan to trade and diplomatic relations with the United States and the rest of the western world.

As the election of 1852 neared, the Whig party abandoned Fillmore and instead nominated Winfield Scott, who was soundly defeated. Fillmore ended up being the Whig party’s last president.

When Fillmore left office in 1853, his national political career was largely finished. But he did remain highly influential in Buffalo. He helped found a medical center, a historical society, a fine arts center, and an animal welfare organization. Fillmore also served as chancellor of the institution formerly known as the University of Buffalo from 1846 until his death in 1874.


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