Posted on 17-02-2010
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

The United States Mint has accomplished an unlikely feat.  The have two cities in upstate NY feuding over the rights to hometown son Millard Fillmore.  The minor dust-up that should cause amusement everywhere else came as a result of the Mint’s choice of Fillmore’s birthplace Moravia to launch the new Presidential dollar bearing his name.  Buffalo where Fillmore spent most of his career, where he founded the University of Buffalo and where he is buried has taken umbrage.  See link.  Most Americans (and almost all non-Americans) will probably respond with “Millard Fillmore, who??”

Its hard to blame them.  History has not been kind to the 13th president of the United States.  As one of the mediocrities between James Polk and Lincoln, he is remembered for his failures rather than any successes.  Fillmore had some successes resolving some prickly foreign policy disputes amicably.  But domestically his desperate desire to appease the South gradually built up the tensions that exploded into the civil war.

It is an irony of history that the one Southerner (and the last President to own slaves while in office) to hold the Presidency in the 19th century, Zachary Taylor, had the gumption to stand up to the South promising to lead the army personally to hang traitors.  In contrast, his three vacillating Northern successors spent their tenure appeasing the South.  Fillmore has attracted the most opprobrium for the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act that forced Federal marshals in free states to arrest fugitive slaves (somehow revisionist Southerners arguing that the Civil War was about federalism and not slavery forget this basic assault on federalism they perpetrated (albeit based on the US Constitution) to protect slavery).

As a Vice President who was unexpectedly elevated to the Presidency, Fillmore also displays the flaw in the American political process in how Vice Presidential candidates are selected (in recent years John Edwards and Sarah Palin provide examples of people chosen by the arbitrary whims of the candidate and who mercifully were not elected).  He was selected to geographically balance out the ticket, for his obscurity that would not generate too much hostility and to deny some New York party bosses a space on the ticket.

As an ultimate indignity, Fillmore is probably remembered most for a hoax, that he was the first President to install a bath tub in the White House.  The hoax was used without correction in the Kia ad below a couple of years back, which cost some ad execs their job.  See link.

Admirers of this much maligned and obscure President can try joining one of the local Millard Fillmore Societies that pops up as a lark every so often.  See link.  Meanwhile, Millard Fillmore has received the honor of two launches of his dollar coin.  A precedent has been set for the battle over Grover Cleveland, born in Caldwell, New Jersey but whose career was largely in Buffalo, best remembered for being the only President with non-consecutive terms and the last man before Al Gore to win the popular vote but lose the electoral college.

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