Millard Fillmore was second of eight children born to Nathaniel
and Phoebe Millard Fillmore. He was born in Cayuga County, New York in a humble
frontier cabin. The family was extremely poor. He was a self-made man and
practically taught himself to be educated. His father tried to apprentice him to
During his spare time he managed to attend an academy in New Hope
where he met his future spouse Abigail Powers. At about the same time he got a
post as a clerk in the office of a judge. This gave him the chance to study law.
He took up teaching jobs in schools and finally came to join the bar in 1823. He
married a rich widow, Caroline, after the death of his first wife and slowly
began to expand his law firm. Nathan Kelsey Hall became his partner in the legal
trade and political associate.
Fillmore was kind and modest. He declined an honorary degree from
Oxford because he thought it would not be fair to accept it because he did not
know Latin and would not be able to read it. He was a bookworm but lacked
political skills and foresight. He always took the path of least resistance out
which his rivals took political mileage.
Fillmore was a big built man with a benign nature and dignified
air. His compromising attitude drew attention and he came to be well loved by
many. He was one of the best leaders from western New York.
Fillmore was with the National Republican party. In 1826 the
excitement concerning abduction of Mason William Morgan, drew him into politics
and he joined the anti-Masonic movement. He joined the Whig party but he did not
accept nomination. Fillmore gained a friend in Thomas Foote, the editor of a
Buffalo journal and thus ensured for himself media support.
Fillmore disliked the practice of slavery also disliked
interfering with it. Another issue was the wide scale influx of foreigners into
New York sate. His sympathies were for those who resented the outsiders, while
other leaders in the Whig party wanted to woo them.
When Zachary became President Fillmore was nominated vice
president on the hope that he would mend fences between the pro and anti groups
advocating extension of slavery.
The sudden death of Taylor pushed Millard Fillmore to the forefront although as vice president he had strongly differed with his senior on many matters. Suddenly he found himself President of US. But being tired of compromise he had no wishes to run for a second term.
In foreign affairs he had the foresight to open a trade mission with Japan. He was alert and firm to see that the Hawaii region and Central America did not fall into the hands of either England or France. In Europe although he expressed his sympathies for those struggling against oppressive regimes he did little by way of action.
Fillmore devoted a lot of time to civic activities and was the first chancellor of Buffalo University and founded Buffalo General Hospital as well as Buffalo Historical Society.
His second wife, Caroline was a rich widow and their joint income allowed them to live in style and opulence. She adorned their mansion with various paintings and busts of her husband. She became a chronic invalid in later life but her husband preceded her following two fatal strokes.