U.S. #818 – Fillmore married his former teacher, Abigail Powers.

Birth of President Millard Fillmore

America’s 13th president, Millard Fillmore, was born on January 7, 1800, in Moravia, New York.

Born three weeks after the death of George Washington, Millard Fillmore was America’s first President to be born after the death of a former President, and the first born in the 19th Century.  With few opportunities available, at the age of 14 Fillmore’s father apprenticed him to a cloth maker in Sparta, New York.  Tired of working under poor conditions, Fillmore bought his freedom and walked 100 miles to get home.

U.S. #2217d – Neat cover features First Day and Birthday cancellations.

Fillmore began to study law in 1819, and eventually formed his own practice in East Aurora.   He later began a law partnership with his close friend Nathan K. Hall.  The firm quickly became one of western New York’s most respected law offices.

Fillmore entered politics in 1829 with the first of three terms in the state assembly.  He was well-respected and popular among the assembly and his district’s citizens.  Fillmore was elected to Congress in 1832 and again in 1836, and stayed for another three terms.  During this time he also served as the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.  Fillmore later won the election for New York State comptroller by such a large margin that he was immediately considered a top Whig candidate for the 1848 presidential election.  As comptroller, Fillmore revised New York’s banking system, which later became the model for the National Banking System.

Item #81400 – Commemorative cover marks Fillmore’s 185th birthday.

Fillmore was unknown nationally, but was chosen as Zachary Taylor’s vice president because he would help Taylor gain electoral votes in the important state of New York.  This strategy paid off, and Taylor won the election of 1848.  During Taylor’s short tenure as President, issues over slavery complicated admission of lands acquired from Mexico into the Union.  Taylor attempted to make California and New Mexico states before such controversy could erupt, but was unsuccessful.  When Southern states threatened to secede, Taylor threatened to use armed force.  In an attempt to appease both sides while keeping the Union intact, Vice-President Fillmore led the fight for a compromise.  But President Taylor opposed the Compromise of 1850 and died before an agreement could be made.

Item #97724 – Commemorative medal cover cancelled on Fillmore’s 193rd birthday.

Fillmore made the Compromise of 1850 the first item on his agenda upon taking the oath of office.  He believed that Taylor’s cabinet had biased the former President against the Compromise, and accepted each of their resignations.  This was the first and only time such a change had been made by a vice president who had inherited the Presidency.  Finally, on September 20, President Fillmore signed the Compromise of 1850 into law.  Ideologically, Fillmore disliked the Compromise of 1850 because it made concessions to the South concerning slavery.  However, he wished to preserve the Union and avoid war.

Item #CNPRES13D – 2010 Fillmore presidential dollar.

The abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia was of little consolation to the northerners who disagreed with the Fugitive Slave Laws, which put Federal troops at the disposal of owners of escaped slaves.  The underground railroad was developed as a way to help slaves escape to freedom.  Some northerners even attacked Federal marshals in order to free runaway slaves from custody.  Ironically, it was the Compromise of 1850 – a law developed to heal the polarized nation – that prevented Fillmore from being elected in 1853.

Fillmore was unpopular at the time for supporting the Fugitive Slave Act and the Compromise of 1850.  However, these choices helped the U.S. delay civil war for a decade.  In foreign affairs, Fillmore’s greatest achievement was sending Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan to open relations, allowing the U.S. use of ports, supplies, and a future in trading.

On March 8, 1874, Fillmore died in obscurity at his home in Buffalo, New York.

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  1. What a difficult time for Taylor and Fillmore in those years of threatened secession, And it was Fillmore that was responsible for the Missouri Compromise that delayed the war for 10 years. Our difficulties in Congress today are nothing new.

  2. He is probably our most obscure and least known President. When I was a student at Marquette U in the late 60s some of the history grad students created a tongue-in-cheek “Millard Fillmore Society” in his honor. I don’t believe that he was that upset with the pro-Southern provisions of the Compromise of 1850 as this essay indicates. He was a later critic of Lincoln during the Civil War.

  3. I think Fillmore’s actions in delaying the War between the States (Civil War) were of no value to anyone. In fact, there never should have been a Constitution that created the United States that included slavery. It defied the words of the Declaration of Independence. It would be interesting to know how a split United States and Confederate States would have ended up. There are many possibilities. Some things are predictable, but the actions of people are difficult.

  4. Franklin Pierce was actually the first U.S. President born in the nineteenth century; 1800 was the last year of the eighteenth century (there was no year zero). Anyway, Fillmore would have been considered a great President for accomplishing a lot in such a short period if he had led the country at a different time. But, serving in the early 1850s, he needed to do more to limit slavery and keep the country together. He’s considered mediocre not because of what he did but because of what he didn’t do.

  5. Being from Buffalo, New York, I am always drawn to people and events in its history. His presidency is appropriately considered lackluster as were a couple of his predecessors and successors. Having a president from your area of the state is a big deal, regardless, and he is honored there with, among other things a street, school and hospital as namesakes. The legacy of his presidency would rank somewhere in the neighborhood of Adams and Buchanan.

  6. The article on President Fillmore gives a different evaluation of his administration than is generally accepted, even here in Central and Western New York State – “Fillmore Country”. His boyhood home – a log cabin – is preserved at Fillmore Glen State Park near Moravia, and it’s original site is (barely) identified as a small plot of land located in the hills nearby. A letterbox (see http://www.LbNA.org or https://www.atlasquest.com) was located there, or I might never have bothered to find it a few years ago.

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