Millard Fillmore: 13th President of the United States


 

   Glezen Fillmore, Western New York pioneer and founding pastor of Williamsville Methodist Church, had an even more famous younger cousin, Millard Fillmore. Born 10 years after Glezen in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State in 1800, Millard Fillmore succeeded to the Presidency of the United States upon the death in 1850 of President Zachary Taylor. For many years Glezen and Millard were frequent visitors at each other's homes in Western New York.

Millard Fillmore's lifelong political reputation as a dispassionate compromiser was not foretold by the stories from his early upbringing. He often said the wrong thing and had a knack for getting in trouble. In his autobiography, with perhaps a twinkle in his eye, Fillmore relates this tale of an early conflict with authority. When he was 15-year-old, Millard was an apprentice to Mr. Hungerford, a notoriously gruff master wool carder. One day when Mr. Hungerford ordered Millard to chop some wood, he muttered something impolite, went outside, and began chopping.

"Mr. Hungerford soon followed me up, and, coming near, asked me if I thought I was abused because I had to chop wood. I told him I did. He said that I must obey his orders. I said, "Yes, if they are right; otherwise I will not; and I have submitted long enough." He said "I will chastise you for your disobedience," and he stepped toward me, as I stood upon the log, ax in hand. I was burning with indignation, and felt keenly the injustice and insult, and said to him, "You will not chastise me"; and, raising my ax, said, "If you approach me I will split you down."  He looked at me a for a minute, and I looked at him; then he turned and walked off."

As a more mature young man, Fillmore studied law and entered the legal profession when his family moved to East Aurora in his early twenties. He went on to become one of the most honored civic leaders in Western New York history, among other things founding the University at Buffalo in 1846. His Presidency, ominously the 13th, still evokes controversy, most notably for his support of the Great Compromise of 1850. In his struggle to hold the Union together against threats of succession by pro-slavery states, Fillmore agreed to support as an element of the Compromise the notorious Fugitive Slave Act. While history has been justly harsh in its judgment of the Fugitive Slave Act, it has also been noted that the additional decade before the Civil War granted by the Great Compromise gave the Union the time it needed to prepare its manufacturing base to prevail in the war to come.