Sunday, July 15, 2007

Number 13: Millard Fillmore

Years in office: 1850-1853
Pre-service occupations: vice president, lawyer, congressman
Key events during his administration: Compromise of 1850, California admitted to the Union (1850), Fugitive Slave Act (1850), dispatch of Matthew Perry to Japan, Uncle Tom’s Cabin published (1852)

Presidential rating: Successful and somewhat popular


Millard Fillmore was quite possibly the most extraordinary man who’s ever been president. He fought at the Alamo. He discovered gold in California. He ran the Underground Railroad. He wrestled with the emperor of Japan. He even prevented the assassination of Andrew Jackson.

OK, before you scramble for supporting links or simply click away in disbelief, yes, it’s all hooey. Fillmore, of course, never did any of those things; they come from the fertile mind of George Pendle, who this year published the satirical The Remarkable Millard Fillmore: The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President. Pendle takes many incidents that happened during Fillmore’s life and makes the New Yorker out to be a Woody Allen-type hero who always managed to be at the right place at the right time.

And such is the latest popular thinking of the 13th president of the United States, a man usually considered a presidential failure—if he’s ever thought of at all. Aside from having one of the more unusual presidential names (Millard? but not Mallard)
Fillmore bears the distinction of having been the second vice president to assume the presidency after his predecessor died in office. Fillmore is one of the many “forgotten” presidents. He’s like Van Buren, Tyler, Taylor, Pierce and Buchanan, and the presidents of the late 1870s-1890s that people can’t quite place in the right order—if they even remember their names.

But like many of the forgotten presidents, and many of the so-called failures, Fillmore has gotten a raw deal from history. Although he served 2½ years and his party would not re-nominate him—and he would sink to obscurity following a second failed presidential attempt—Fillmore definitely deserves far better than he’s been treated.

A skilled lawyer and a man initially hungry for political power, Fillmore had the seemingly unfortunate luck to become vice president under Zachary Taylor then be shoved aside as almost a non-entity for 16 months. When he suddenly gained the high office, it was to be the leader of a disintegrating party and a country that was picking sides. Fillmore would do his best, but to history, it just wasn’t enough. And that’s what’s really strange, because in those 2½ years, Millard Fillmore served remarkably well. He was a strong president who used the weight of the office to enforce the law—and suffered for it.

History has largely forgotten Millard Fillmore, a “wrong” that a couple of modern historians would like to see corrected.

The lawyer-politician
Millard Fillmore was born in a log cabin, one of the truly authentic “log cabin presidents.” Reared in an extremely poor family, he struggled at an early age to get a decent education, eventually moving to Buffalo to read law. (Back then, you literally read law cases at a firm that was often own by a family member or family friend, and did minor chores and duties until you eventually became a lawyer in your own right by taking the bar exams.) Fillmore was admitted to the New York bar in 1823.

He married Abigail Powers in 1826. Like Taylor’s wife, Abigail would be too ill to serve as White House hostess, so one of his two daughters, Mary, served in that function.

Fillmore and his friend Nathan K. Hall formed a Buffalo law partnership in 1834, later adding Solomon Haven. The firm of Fillmore, Hall and Haven eventually became one of the most prestigious in New York—at one time including among its lawyers another future president, Grover Cleveland—and survives to this day as Hodgson Russ LLP. (No other law firm can boast having two future presidents on its rolls.)

In the 1820s, Fillmore entered the world of politics, serving first in the New York assembly and then the U.S. Congress. At the time, his political mentor was Thurlow Weed, who we’ll meet again. Fillmore served in the House from 1833 to 1843—establishing solid Whig credentials—when he left for an unsuccessful bid for governor of New York. He settled for state comptroller, where his revisions of the state banking system served as a national model.

By 1848, Fillmore was well-respected in New York’s Whig party, although on the national level, no one knew him. He was selected to be Taylor’s running mate specifically because he was from New York, an unknown and seemed like a good balance to the slave-owner Taylor. He also wasn’t a more “dangerous” party broker like Weed or another fellow-New Yorker, William Seward.

Fillmore soon came to regret his role.

A frustrated vice president
Fillmore hated being vice president. True, not many
men relished the job. But Fillmore apparently hated it more because he wanted to be president and because his suggestions on New York appointments were being ignored. Why was Fillmore shut out, and essentially regulated to his duties in the Senate? Fillmore was in complete harmony with Taylor and the rest of the administration on its public views. He announced he would support the compromise if it came down to a split vote in the Senate and his vote would be needed to break the tie.

Fillmore’s problem was that he was in the way. His political enemies in New York—Thurlow Weed and William Seward—were more influential with Taylor (especially Seward). Power-broker Weed particularly wanted to destroy Fillmore, because Seward “needed” to become president. Add to that the fact that Taylor struck up a good friendship with Seward, and you have the makings of a non-entity of a vice president. And that made the 16 months of the Taylor presidency quite frustrating for Millard Fillmore.

In the Senate, he presided over the rancorous debates of Henry Clay’s omnibus bill, which became the Compromise of 1850 after he became president. His duty there was mainly to keep the peace. After Taylor’s death, he still found himself in the peacekeeper’s role, but on a much larger scale.

Now, Mr. President—completing the compromise
Quite unlike the death of Harrison nine years earlier, Taylor’s death didn’t bring the country to a confused, panicky halt. Within days of the hero president’s mourning and burial, work resumed in the nation’s capital on the excitingly divisive and politically charged Henry Clay omnibus bill.

(See the entry on Taylor for the full story. To review: the omnibus bill would eventually become the Compromise of 1850, and would include, among other things, boundaries for Texas and the New Mexico territory, compensation for Texas, the end of the slave trade in D.C., and, in a separate bill, the Fugitive Slave Law. The entire compromise story and battle would take far too much space to relate, but it was a rancorous affair that makes the congressional battles over Iraq or illegal immigration look downright pleasant by comparison.)

Fillmore let it be known that Taylor’s position was his position, too. He was in favor of compromise, but above all else, Texas must stay out of New Mexico. Fillmore told the governor of Texas that New Mexico was now a territory of the United States, with boundaries established even before the treaty with Mexico. At the same time, on Aug. 6, 1850, Fillmore sent a strongly-worded letter to the House and Senate that mirrored Taylor’s stated (and often heated) expressions upholding United States law, especially concerning Texas and New Mexico. He wrote (with his secretary of state’s assistance):

“If the laws of the United States are opposed or obstructed in any State or Territory by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the judicial or civil authorities, … it is the duty of the President either to call out the militia or to employ the military and naval force of the United States or to do both if it is in his judgment the exigency of the occasion shall so require…

If Texas militia, therefore, march into any of the other States or into any territory of the United States, there to execute or enforce any law of Texas, they have become at that moment trespassers; they are no longer under the protection of any lawful authority, and are to be regarded merely as intruders; and if within such State or Territory they obstruct any law of the United States, whether by power of arms or mere power of numbers … the President of the United States is bound to obey the solemn injunction of the Constitution and exercise the high powers invested in him by that instrument and by the acts of Congress.” (Elbert B. Smith, p181)
In short, Fillmore, as did his late boss, said that if Texas tried to take New Mexico, he would hit Texas hard with the full force of the military and government behind him. More on that sentiment later. To back up his words, the president ordered 750 troops to New Mexico.

Fillmore’s New Mexico stance proved crucial, and helped Northern Whigs
accept the compromise. In the end, most sections of the country proved happy with the compromise, except for the deep South fire-eaters, for whom any compromise over anything was an insult to honor, sanity and grounds for secession.

Unionist sentiment reigned throughout the nation and through the next several election cycles, even in deep-South states.

Fillmore was the hero of the hour, and enjoyed a high popularity. It wouldn’t last.

Cleaning house
While the battle over the compromise continued into the fall—Fillmore would sign the bill on Sept. 20—the president began his administration with an entirely new cabinet. He dismissed all of Taylor’s officers and brought in a little star power. Daniel Webster once again assumed the title of secretary of state, bringing some much-needed Whig heft to the Taylor-Fillmore administration. Among his other cabinet officials were his law partner Nathan K. Hall as postmaster general, and from the South, Thomas Corwin as secretary of war and Taylor’s old mentor-friend John Crittenden as attorney general.

His deep South cabinet members are important, because the president, when touring the Northern states months after the Compromise’s passage, took those members along as a sign of unity: administration and national unity.

The president did not, however, seek petty revenge against political enemies Weed and Seward by way of removing their appointments. He kept them on as a gesture of goodwill. But Weed would still prove himself an enemy out to bring down the president, so despite numerous olive branches and attempts at peace within the Whig party, Fillmore had enough and removed Weed’s friends and cronies from federal offices. It would hurt him later on.

The strong Unionist president
Millard Fillmore, having just scored a major political
victory, now had to deal with one very unpleasant aspect of that very victory. The Fugitive Slave Law was a sop to the fire-eaters in the South, and the only real win they got from the compromise. As Elbert Smith explains, the law caused far more angst and aroused more passions than the number of occasions where it was actually enforced.

The Fugitive Slave Law was far stronger and sweeping than any previous one had been. In essence, the act ordered federal marshals or anyone so deputized to assist slave-owners in capturing runaway slaves anywhere in the country. Failure to comply meant a $1,000 fine. What the new law did was made everyone liable for capturing runaway slaves. Regardless if one was an abolitionist, free black, northerner who had never even seen a black, a mountain southerner who never owned slaves and never would, a Northern city-dweller who didn’t care for blacks on way or another—whoever!—all were now responsible. The trouble was, in the deep South escape was nearly impossible, and in the far North, few runaways were ever seen (except New England). But in those areas, passions over the new law were hottest. On the border states, where escape was most likely, sentiments were fairly quiet. Deep South slavers jealously guarded the act, even though the likelihood of one of their slaves escaping north was small; far Northerners, such as people from Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Maine, where blacks were rare and fugitives rarer still, damned the law.

The unintended consequence of the law for the North is that it strengthened the anti-slavery position by forcing people to get involved.

The Fugitive Slave Law presented a terrible quandary for the president. He did not care for slavery, believed it was an obstacle to the nation’s unity and wanted it to die. On the one hand, Fillmore was a New York Whig, where anti-slavery feelings ran hot. On the other hand, he had campaigned hard to gain acceptance for the compromise. He wanted that compromise to stick.

Fillmore was, above all else, a Unionist—a man who believed in the nation. Like Taylor, Tyler and Jackson before him, Fillmore saw his duty as president to rise above sectional and party differences and govern according to the Constitution. Just as he vowed to defend United States territory against the aggressions of another state, President Fillmore would “let he Constitution be [his] guide” and enforce the new law—as distasteful as it was.

He said of slavery (and the fugitive law),

“God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil, for which we are not responsible, and we must endure it, and give it such protection as guaranteed by the Constitution, till we can get rid of it without destroying the last hope of free government in the world.” (Robert J. Scarry, p.181)
Slavery out in the open
Unfortunately for Fillmore and the nation, the Fugitive Slave Law, as stated, wound up making slavery a personal issue for the many millions of Americans who had no financial or emotional interest in slavery. For the average American, it was no longer just a Southern issue, with hard-nosed supporters screaming for their rights, or something those wild-eyed, crazy abolitionists preached about. It was no longer just something the planter class clung to as their base of power. It was becoming a true diving line between the North and the South.

President Fillmore looked to the compromise and the Constitution as ways to hold the country together: satisfy the extremes on both sides and appeal to union. But when necessary, strike down those who threatened disunion.

But Fillmore and the clever men in Washington, as well-intentioned as they were, could not contain the deep passions that they stirred. The compromise itself would prove to be a mere cease-fire for four years until Stephen A. Douglas, one of the compromise’s final architects, destroyed the peace with his popular sovereignty and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Earlier, however, two years after the compromise’s passage, came a different sort of thunderclap: the publication of a novel that did more to advance the cause of abolitionism than a thousand speeches a
nd rallies combined.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin went into print early in 1852 (after being serialized in 1851). Though the publication didn’t much affect the president nor his popularity, it caused outrage throughout the South, where the book was banned. Stowe’s novel centered on the immorality of slavery and proved to be a great boon to the abolitionist cause throughout the North.

The story behind the novel is itself fascinating, but for the purposes of this study, it’s enough to say that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was more powerful as a wedge between North and South than the compromise was as a glue holding them together.

Secession crisis
But even though the president saw to it that the law was enforced during the occasions when it was used—and mildly so—concerning the Fugitive Slave Law, there were still some fire-eaters courting secession. A “Nashville Convention” was called to discuss secession, but unionist sentiment won out—except in South Carolina. In November 1850, the president learned that there were plans to seize the federal forts in Charleston in preparations for the state’s secession.

Several federal officials resigned in South Carolina, effectively rendering the administration temporarily blind. Fillmore had General Scott sit on cabinet meetings (Scott, as the Army’s c-in-c, was also serving as a forerunner of the chief of staff). Scott recommended reinforcing Charleston, which was done. Fillmore also sent more troops to both Carolinas.

When South Carolina’s governor asked the president what in the world was going on, Fillmore simply responded that it was within his purview as president to send the military anywhere he saw fit for the public good. The crisis abated, and whether the secession conspiracy was real or heated talk that got out of control is beside the point.

Fillmore biographer Robert Scarry makes an excellent observation when he writes:

“This was the second time that Fillmore used commendable courage and his power as commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States. Troops were sent into New Mexico, South Carolina, and parts of the South. Also, he threatened to use troops, if necessary, to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

“Yet, it has caused hardly a ripple among historians. Andrew Jackson, who threatened the use of troops in South Carolina, is given wide coverage. In recent years, Zachary Taylor has been credited for his threat in the Texas-New Mexico crisis.

“The common appraisal is that except for the Mexican War, the presidents between Jackson and Lincoln did nothing. Even a historian who wrote a book on the president as commander in chief does not give Fillmore any credit for use of this power." (Scarry, pp.183-184, emphasis in original)
Indeed. Old Hickory gets lots of praise for preparing to slap down the secession crisis of 1831-32. Why does Fillmore get no credit for actually putting troops in place in New Mexico, South Carolina, etc., to stand ready against real threats as well?

Texans were going to take New Mexico. Taylor threatened to stop them, and told them exactly what he would do. Fillmore said as much, then sent troops to prove he wasn’t just talking. And when he got concrete intelligence of a dangerous plot to seize federal forts to start a secession, he acted immediately, and got soldiers and ships in place to counter the move.

Fillmore was a lot stronger a president than “history” says, because he used the might of his office to back up his words.

Foreign policy: neutrality
On the foreign relations front, Millard Fillmore proved to be quite deft. Daniel Webster was less involved as head of State for Fillmore than he was for Tyler, as illness and age were finally catching him. The president, therefore, often took the lead himself.

First up was a revolution in Hungary, which was fighting to win independence from Austria. In late 1850, Lajos Kossuth, the leader of the failed revolution, arrived in New York City and was hailed as a conquering hero with throngs of well-wishers, bands, cannon salutes and massive political fawning. Kossuth and his admirers—and politicians who should have known better, like Seward—wanted the United States to intervene and help Hungary win independence.

But the president, while sympatizing, said he would not chang United Stats policy of non-intervention in foreign affairs, which had stood since George Washington’s time. Even though he was on firm footing, Fillmore lost support of many German and Hungarian immigrants.

Another unwelcome foreign crisis was an actual “American” invasion of Cuba.

Southern slavers had long eyed Cuba and thought it would be a welcome extension of the slave empire, even though Cuban slavery and American slavery were quite different—and the former was disappearing fast. Nevertheless, hundreds of Southern aristocrats—including the nephew of Attorney General Crittenden—joined Narciso Lopez on his third attempt to take over Cuba in August 1851.

Knowing of the plot, President Fillmore issued a proclamation saying that any American who joined Lopez’s plot would be on his own and no longer under the protection of United States law. The Spanish garrisons were ready and easily stopped the “invasion.” Many were hanged or executed by firing squad, including Crittenden. Another 160 were taken to Spain to work in penal mines. The deaths shocked the American public, some even wanted war with Spain, and rioters in New Orleans—where Lopez’s army left—sacked a Spanish newspaper and the Spanish consulate.

Secretary Webster, on Fillmore’s orders, issued formal apologies to the Spanish government for the treatment of the consulate and promised proper treatment for the consul’s replacement. This action probably secured the release of the 160 prisoners, and it was the diplomatic thing to do, but it didn’t do Fillmore any favors. Even though the aristocrats had done this on their own and against the warning from the president, and the administration prevented the crisis from turning into a war with Spain, Fillmore took the heat and lost some support in the South.

Fillmore had no problem with obtaining Cuba should Spain decide to sell it or cede it. But take it by force? No—and definitely not through nonsensical “invasions” such as the Lopez plot.

Probably the one event that modern Americans remember from Millard Fillmore’s presidency is his sending Commodore Matthew Perry to “open” Japan. Credit is sometimes weirdly given to Franklin Pierce, but he doesn’t deserve it, because the mission was conceived and authorized by Fillmore, Webster and Webster’s successor, Edward Everett.

The mission, which included a letter from Fillmore, was designed to force Japan to open trade with the West. Perry was authorized to go to guns if Japanese representatives refused to let him present his letter to the emperor.

Why the bullying? “Opening” Japan was part of the larger game in the Pacific played with the European powers for trade with China, control over Hawaii (which the United States continued to protect and guarantee independence) and more. Forcing Japan to end its isolation was a trade coup, to be sure. But to what end? I actually consider that to be not one of our more shining moments.

Whigs without a party
From a popularity standpoint, Fillmore was probably the best Whig to seek the nomination in 1852. However, Fillmore didn’t want the job.

As Elbert Smith explains, the presidency in those days was quite different than today. A president back then did much of the things himself that today’s massive White House staff handles for the president: everything from researching issues to arranging his calendar to answering his mail to selecting appointments to office to handing diplomatic crisis top dealing with job seekers and even crank letters threatening his life. It was utterly exhausting. Presidents in the 1800s had a private secretary or two and that was it. The presidency wrecked Polk’s health and it probably contributed to Taylor’s early death; now, Fillmore was just plain worn out.
However, the Whig party was in poor shape.
It was badly divided into factions and needed a leader. Fillmore could have filled that role, but he was exhausted. He had let it be known he was not a candidate, but by the summer of 1852, he agreed to be one for the sake of party unity. Daniel Webster was running (he would die in October), and so was Winfield Scott, the latter being the choice of the anti-slavery Seward faction of the party. Simply put, there was no candidate who would satisfy the whole party. At the convention, Fillmore and Webster supporters held the lead through dozens of ballots, but Fillmore written instructions that his candidacy was to be withdrawn when the moment was right. It didn’t happen, and Winfield Scott got the nomination on the 53rd ballot.

Although Southerners didn’t have anything per-say against the general, he was too cozy with Seward, which, according to the politics of the day, was a figurative kiss of death. It meant Scott was unelectable in the South.

The party fractured permanently, and the Whig candidate carried only four states against the Democrats’ unity candidate, Franklin Pierce.

The Whigs never again ran a national campaign, and disappeared forever after the 1856 election.

Know-Nothing and retirement
President Fillmore left the White House in March 1853 in good spirits. He believed he had done a good job and stuck faithfully to the Constitution. He left knowing that his successor had pledged to uphold the compromise.

But his good spirits wouldn’t last. His wife, Abigail, died that spring, devastating the family and leaving it, Smith writes, “without its anchor.” The following year, his favorite daughter, Mary, who had served as White House hostess, also died.

The grieving Fillmore went abroad for a year then came back and fell in with a dubious crowd. The Native American party, also known as the American Party, was the political arm of the Know-Nothing movement. Know-Nothings were anti-Catholic and anti-immigration bigots, but Fillmore was neither of those. He joined the party and became their standard-bearer in 1856 for two reasons.

First, he would not join the new Republican party, where many of his former Whig associates had gone, because it was strictly a sectional party and the election of its candidate, John C. Fremont, would mean secession of the South. He was absolutely right, but four years off. Second, he would not support the Democrat candidate, James Buchanan, because Fillmore was still a Whig at heart, not a Democrat, and Buchanan offered more of the same sectional division, as did Fremont (even though Buchanan was from Pennsylvania).

Fillmore believed he, as a third-party candidate, offered the only real option for national unity. But more people believed that Buchanan was that option, and chose the Democrat over the other two. Fillmore actually won one state—Maryland, with its 8 electoral votes—and took almost 29% of the vote (better than Ross Perot in 1992), but that was all. Fillmore bowed out of politics for good.

Fillmore turned to philanthropy, and during the Civil War, he supported the Union cause by organizing older men to encourage younger men to enlist. He died in 1874.

Final Assessment

Millard Fillmore is, next to Ulysses S. Grant, the most wrongly treated American president. There really is nothing in his record that justifies his treatment as a failure or his regulation to the bottom of the heap. Like Zachary Taylor, it is a mystery.

Let’s look at a couple of facts:
  • Fillmore acted entirely within Constitutional boundaries. He didn’t stretch it, but he not only threatened to enforce it militarily, he actually did it three times! He was not selective in that enforcement, either. He sent troops to New Mexico, South Carolina and other parts South, and stood ready to use federal troops should it have become necessary with the Fugitive Slave Law—regardless of his personal feelings.

  • Fillmore worked to solve problems instead of passing them to the next administration.

  • He was willing to, and did, put country above party.

  • He was skillful with foreign relations, demonstrating a depth of knowledge of the issues, an understanding of international law and an eye for the future—most notably the refusal to interfere in Hungary and sending Perry to Japan.

  • The economy, one of the modern gauges of the successful presidency, was excellent during Fillmore’s 2½ years.

So why is Fillmore so vilified and ridiculed and treated, as Harry Truman did, as someone who merely twiddled his thumbs in office? One reason is that Fillmore sought compromise and union instead of the destruction of slavery, which is a skewed and twisted interpretation viewed through the modern lens and treats the Civil War as inevitable. (But it wasn’t inevitable in 1850, now, was it!)

His seeking compromise and Union by enforcing the law, instead of destroying slavery, is seen as a black mark. But I consider that akin to a Christian conservative president enforcing federal laws concerning abortion, regardless of his personal feelings.

Perhaps it was how the compromise divided the Whigs, but that would ignore the fact that the Whigs were already dividing between North and South.

Another reason is the supposed 180-degree shift between the Taylor and Fillmore administrations—which is totally wrong. Taylor supposedly was an obstacle to the compromise, which we now know is not true (see the entry on Taylor) and Fillmore's stance was the opposite. But both men were, in fact, mostly in agreement.

Another reason could be his association with the distasteful Know-Nothings, which tars Fillmore as a bigot without understanding why he ran as their candidate.

Still another reason is the fact that Fillmore made no real effort to run for re-election, which is usually related by historians as his “failure to win re-nomination.” Had he done so at the height of his popularity, right after the passage of the compromise, he likely would have been nominated and probably would have won. Six and a half years of Millard Fillmore might have considerably changed the “inevitability” of the Civil War.

It depends on the historian or the writer looking back, and whatever "sins" he or she finds with Fillmore. And those supposed sins just don’t fit the facts. This isn’t historical revisionism. This is actually correcting a wrong that has been done to a man who didn’t deserve it.

I agree with Elbert Smith and Robert J. Scarry who also believe that Millard Fillmore is a much-underrated president, and deserves far better from history. In fact, before reading Scarry’s conclusion, I determined that Fillmore deserved to be placed “above average” in the presidential rankings, and not in the “near-failure” or “failure” categories. Scarry mostly agrees:

“It is not this writer’s contention that Fillmore was a great or near-great president. But considering that he served in the office for less than three years he did a remarkable job. He deserves a better ranking by future historians rating presidents of the United States: at least high in the Average category or perhaps near the bottom of the Above Average category.” (Scarry, p.344)

I'm not so naïve to believe Fillmore will be celebrated anytime soon as one of our better presidents. He should be remembered not as a failure, but as a success. History has a lot of catching up to do.

Final rating: Successful and somewhat popular

Two resources served this study well: Elbert Smith’s The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore (1985), part of the University of Kansas’ American Presidency series, and Robert J. Scarry’s Millard Fillmore (2001).

George Pendle’s fictional The Remarkable Millard Fillmore : The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President is worth a look, too, if only to see just how much he’s ridiculed today.


All images are public domain and found in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division unless otherwise noted.

1. Matthew Brady took this, the most recognizable photo of Millard Fillmore.

2. Abigail Fillmore, from an engraving created between 1850 and 1890

3. Grand national Whig banner: press onward, a banner created by N. Currier for the 1848 presidential campaign

4. Millard Fillmore, from an engraving by J. Sartain, between 1850 and 1853

5. Official White House portrait (White House Historical Association)

6. A poster warning free blacks and escaped slaves in Boston to be wary of policemen, who could be pressed into service as slave catchers. Boston was the strongest base for abolitionist sentiment.

7. The cover page of the first edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852. (Image taken from Wikipedia, which altered it so that it would remain in the public domain, but credit could also go to the Department of English at the University of Virginia, which maintains an extensive site on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Wikipedia obtained the original, unaltered image from that site.)

8. Millard Fillmore image engraved by J.C. Buttre

9. The great footrace for the presidential purse (100,000 and picking) over the Union Course 1852. Library of Congress summary: Satire on the presidential election of 1852, showing Winfield Scott, Daniel Webster and Franklin Pierce competing in a footrace before a crowd of onlookers for a $100,000 prize (the four-year salary for a president) and “pickings.” In the lead is Webster, who exclaims, “I can beat you both, and ‘walk in’ at that although you had a hundred yards the start of me!!” Denied the Whig nomination in June, Webster was later persuaded to run as an independent candidate. Directly behind Webster appears Whig nominee Winfield Scott, in military uniform. Scott says, “Confound Webster! what does he want to get right in my way for? if he don’t give out, or Pierce don’t faint I shall be beaten.” Democratic candidate Franklin Pierce trails both of them, yelling, “No! No! old Fuss and Feathers [Scott's nickname], you don’t catch this child fainting now. I’m going in to make good time! whether I win or not, Legs! do your duty.” Onlookers standing behind a fence in the background cheer the contestants on. Their comments include: “Go it Dan! put in the “big licks.” [In an exaggerated Irish brogue], “Arrah be Jabers! an is it ould Dannil, thats to . . . he’ll come out fore nint the whole o’thim.” “I'm fraid the Ex pounder is too old for such a severe race.” “Old! my dear fellow don’t you know that it is the Blood that tells, age dont matter I’d back old Dan against Lady Suffolk herself.” (Lady Suffolk was a premiere race horse of the day). “Scott ought to pass, he’s got a long Stride.” “Yes, but Dan . . . gathers well.” The cartoon must have originated between June 5, when Franklin Pierce won the Democratic nomination, and September, when Webster effectively retired an invalid to his estate at Marshfield.

10. The grand national fight 2 against 1 fought on the 6th of Nov. 1856 for one hundred thousand dollars. Library of Congress summary: The familiar metaphor of the presidential contest as a boxing match is invoked [for 1856]. The scene is set in an open field, roped off behind to make a ring. Republican candidate Fremont (right) squares off against Democrat James Buchanan (left), after the latter has felled American party nominee Millard Fillmore. Buchanan warns Fremont, “Look out now Young Mariposa for that hair on your face I will put in the “Right” when you least expect it!” Fremont replies, “Come to time, Old Buck, I think I can lick a Democrat as old again as you are!” Fremont steps over the fallen Fillmore, who says, “You see, Fremont, I’m down! There must be a good many drops of ‘Democrtic Blood’ in that arm of Old Buck’s to strike such a stunning blow!” Buchanan is seconded by an Irishman (far left) who comments, “By Jabbers but Old Bucky knocks ’em.” Fremont is supported by a Bowery type (crouching at far right) who urges him, “Go in wooly Hoss don’t be afeard.” The print was probably issued in summer 1856 or later in the election campaign, after Fillmore’s prospects for victory had dimmed.

11. A large woodcut proof for a campaign banner or poster for Millard Fillmore's 1856 candidacy for the America Party, or the Know-Nothings.


Jeanette said...

Great post with lots of unknown information learned by me today!

Thank you for taking the time to research and write these posts and for all the excellent photos in them.

BIG MO said...

Thanks much!

Peter L said...

You are doing a great job with these. One comment on layout: Perhpas you are using a wide screen, but on our older, 14" screen, it is hard to read the wording next to the pictures, as there is only room for one or two letters,

Could you fix that problem? Shrinking the text size does not help.

BIG MO said...

Peter - thanks!

I'll take a look at the picture size. It doesn't show up on mine or other computers I've used, but I'll go ahead and decrease picture size on subsequent posts (starting with Pierce). Let me know if that helps.


elektratig said...

Big Mo,

Just found your blog and this post. Great stuff!

BIG MO said...

elektratig - I saw the critique you made on your site and I'll be making the approprite correction a little later. Thanks again for your eagle eye. And welcome and feel free to comment!

Anonymous said...

My friend and I were recently talking about how involved with technology our daily lives have become. Reading this post makes me think back to that discussion we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further innovates, the possibility of transferring our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I dream about almost every day.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4i[/url] DS qqPost)