John Fagant - Table of Contents ................... Millard Fillmore - Table of Contents
Fillmore & The Compromise of 1850
By John Fagant
Background to the Crisis of 1850
Fillmore & the Compromise of 1850
Fugitive Slave Law
July 9, 1850
The Presiding officer took his seat in the Senate chamber of the United States Congress to oversee their activities, as he did on a regular basis while it was in session. Listening intently to the Senators and the debates presented, he was keenly aware of the issues that were tearing the country apart.
The first session of the 31st Congress was a fireball waiting to explode. Since the opening of the session in December of 1849, salvos had been fired back and forth across the floor while speeches and arguments were offered in a sometimes logical but more often emotional state. The exchange of angry & insulting words seemed to be the norm, which in at least one case brought forth the challenge of a duel and in another came close to a violent confrontation on the Senate floor itself. Carrying a concealed weapon, ostensibly for defensive purposes, was not an uncommon act. Indeed, this may very well have been one of the most ardent, torrid & impassioned sessions ever known to these hallowed halls. The 31st Congress was a combination of the old and the new; the young and the venerable. It was a time of transition as the established and esteemed statesmen and politicians were not yet ready to give up their place on the national stage. However, the energetic and youthful generation of freshmen and inexperienced congressmen had no patience and jumped wholeheartedly into the crisis now engulfing the nation.
That crisis involved the lands just recently gained from Mexico. Should the California and New Mexico Cessions be allowed to become territories or states? And if so, and more importantly, should those states or territories be open to free labor or to slave labor? An addendum to these two questions was whether Texas should be allowed to claim up to half of the New Mexico Cession as their own. The country was splitting along sectional lines as party affiliations and loyalties were disintegrating. By June of 1850 a crisis had been reached on the Texas boundary dispute. President Taylor insisted Texas had no right to the New Mexico land and sent federal troops to Santa Fe. A collision with Texas forces seemed certain and that would ignite a civil war. The South backed Texas. Many in the North backed the President. A compromise was needed but the voice of the moderates in both sections was struggling to be heard. Was civil war at hand? Was secession inevitable? Could a compromise be achieved that would keep the country together?
It was against this background of national crisis that Vice-President Millard Fillmore took his seat in the Senate chamber to oversee its deliberations. July 9th was a typical hot and sultry summer day for Washington. Senators Pearce of Maryland & Berrien of Georgia, both Whig party members as was the vice-president, spoke of their concerns. They were followed by Senators Dickinson, Badger, Pratt and Hale. John P. Hale of New Hampshire was unique in that he was one of only two senators representing a new political party, the Free Soil Party.
Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina was only minutes into his speech deriding the President's Plan when murmuring began to ripple through the crowd. A messenger approached Fillmore, who immediately huddled with Webster, Clay & others before leaving the room. Webster announced that he had just received news that a "very great misfortune is now immediately impending over our country." President Taylor had become ill a week earlier and had taken a turn for the worse. He suggested that the Senate adjourn for the day, which it did.
Fillmore rushed over to the White House; spoke with the Cabinet members, reviewed the situation and then sat with the President for awhile. He then went back to his room at Willard's Hotel. Later that evening, he received the expected news. President Taylor had died. Fillmore spent a sleepless night wondering if he was up to the task that lay ahead of him.
And that task that lay ahead of Fillmore was arguably the greatest crisis any President up to that time ever experienced upon entering office, and may have been, with the exception of Lincoln in 1861, the greatest crisis ever for a new President.
Fillmore's presidency has often been overlooked by scholars & historians. When it has been noticed, it is generally done so in an unfavorable light and commonly described as a pro-southern and pro-slavery administration. Presidential polls have listed him near or in the bottom ten and only rarely has he escaped that distinction.
Fillmore himself has been described as an obscure & forgettable politician who was weak and pompous; vain & naïve; limited powers of the mind; and a fence sitter who could not make a decision until trapped in a corner. He has been the butt of presidential jokes and represented as a silly, naïve and spineless individual who aimlessly bumbled his way to success.
So who was the real Millard Fillmore? More specific to this paper is the question of who was President Millard Fillmore? What were his views on the crisis as he entered the presidency and how did he respond to it? How much responsibility for the Compromise of 1850 can be placed at his feet? History has condemned the Fugitive Slave Law. Is it fair to condemn the man who signed it into law? Why did he sign it? Could the Compromise have survived without it? Our 21st century morals & principles judge harshly on anyone who could approve of it. But how did the America of 1850 view it?
This paper will take a look at Fillmore's presidency as it concerns the Compromise of 1850 with a specific look at the role the Fugitive Slave Law played in it. Did Fillmore do all he could possibly have done at that time to quell the crisis or did he come up short? What were the consequences of his actions?
In 1828, Millard Fillmore arrived in Albany ready to serve his first term in the state assembly as a representative of the Buffalo and Erie County district. At 28 years of age, this young man had done well to take advantage of the opportunities that life offered him. Born in a log cabin in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, his early life took on the shape of so many others of his time period. Growing up on the American frontier was not an uncommon experience. In his own words, he described his childhood as"spent, as it were, in the forest." In essence, his formative years could be described as those of the"short & simple annals of the poor."
In his early teen years, he was apprenticed out for a few months. The foreman of his work group later described his first impressions of him."I met young Fillmore the morning after his arrival, and at once took a liking to him· His demeanor was that of a bright, intelligent, good-natured lad, quite sedate, rather slow in his motions, with an air of thoughtfulness that gained my respect."
By the 1820's, he had moved into the western New York area, opening up a law practice first in East Aurora and later in Buffalo. His interest in politics was sparked by an incident that captivated the imagination of much of the United States. William Morgan of Batavia, N.Y., had written a book exposing the secret rituals of the Masonic Order. In September of 1826, he was reported as missing. Rumors spread that he had been kidnapped & imprisoned in Fort Niagara. His body was never found. Outrage erupted as claims were made that the Masons had infiltrated every level of the government - local, state and federal.
Out of this incident, Fillmore joined the Antimasonic Party & began to meet some of the individuals who would play a significant part in his later life. William Seward described him as"popular and honest and · a lawyer of good reputation and talents." Thurlow Weed, who himself was just beginning a long political career as a state party leader, recounted his first meeting with Fillmore: "I first met Millard Fillmore in a convention at Buffalo in 1828·Although passing but a few hours with him, I was so favorably impressed as in the following year to suggest his nomination for the Assembly" and"while serving in the Assembly, my favorable impressions of his ability& fitness for public life were much strengthened· He soon acquired the reputation· of being able in debate, wise in council, and inflexible in his political sentiments."
By the early 1830's, the Whig Party had formed in opposition to Andrew Jackson & his policies. Fillmore joined the Whigs and was elected to Congress in the House of Representatives (1833-35; 1837-43) where he opposed the entrance of Texas as a slave territory. In 1841, he came in second in the voting for the Speakership of the House and was instead given the chairmanship of the powerful Ways & Means Committee. He was the driving force behind the Tariff of 1842, which was eventually vetoed by President Tyler. Fillmore was by no means an obscure figure in the Whig Party. He had, in fact, become a major player in national Whig politics. And just when he seemed to have a lifelong career in Washington set, he shockingly retired from Congress & moved back to Buffalo. John Quincy Adams, the former President and congressman from Massachusetts, visited Buffalo and in his comments to the local citizens expressed his hope that Mr. Fillmore would once again join him in Congress. Praise from Adams was a rare compliment indeed.
Within New York State, the Whig Party was beginning to split. Thurlow Weed's backing of William Seward for the governorship in 1838 ruffled many feathers in the Whig ranks. Fillmore, who up to this time had generally backed Weed's decisions, felt that Francis Granger was the better candidate. The break had begun between the two. In the 1844 presidential election, Fillmore was the vice-presidential favorite going into the Whig national convention. However, Weed favored Seward and attempted to draw Fillmore into a run for governor. With New York State split over candidates, the convention went in another direction. He was elected New York State Comptroller in 1847. A year later, much to the chagrin of Weed & Seward, he was placed on the national ticket as the vice-presidential candidate.
Background to the Crisis of 1850
In 1845, the annexation of Texas, followed by the War with Mexico, increased greatly the sectional tensions of the country. What was to be done with the new lands gained from Mexico? Should they be free, or would the property of slavery be allowed? Many in the North believed that President Polk had started the Mexican War in order to gain more land for the extension of slavery.
During the evening session in the House on August 6, 1846, an appropriations bill for the acquisition of California & New Mexico was admitted for debate. Democrat David Wilmot of Pennsylvania was recognized and gave a brief speech. In his conclusion, he endorsed the President's request for funds provided that"neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory." Shock and shouts of anger permeated the House. By the end of the night, however, the proviso had passed. The significance of this moment was not in the passing of the amendment but in the voting of it. Congressmen from the North & the Northwest voted for it while the Southern members voted against it. Party lines were non- existent as Whigs and Democrats from the same geographic area voted together. Whatever reason that Wilmot and his group of Democrats had for introducing this amendment - whether for sincere disgust with slavery, or for concern in the free workers of America or as a ploy to hit back at the southern domination of their own party - the result of their action was politically startling and shocking. The lines between the parties were now unraveling and the rise of sectionalism over nationalism now began to mount. The crisis had begun.
The election of 1848 was a mirror to the dramatic changes taking place within the American political landscape. The Democrats nominated the Senator from Michigan, Lewis Cass. Cass was one of the first to bring forth the policy of popular sovereignty. Since the settlers of a territory were just as capable as the citizens of a state at self-government, they should be able to decide for themselves whether they wanted slavery. This was a wonderfully vague policy that left open the question of when in the territorial process would this decision be made. The candidate for the Whig Party was Zachary Taylor, the military commander from the recent war that most Whigs had vehemently opposed. In an effort not to upset the voters, the Whigs offered no platform. They had a General and his patriotism and valiant deeds as a warrior were their rallying cry.
There was another political force in this race and that was the Free Soil Party. Its appearance at this time was significant in that it was able to bring together previously divergent groups - pro-Wilmot Proviso Democrats, antislavery extension Whigs & the Liberty Party. The argument of the abolitionists generally revolved around the moral evil of slavery and a demand for its immediate demise, neither argument of which worked in the practical world of politics. The Liberty Party was the first major attempt at an abolition party but its appeal was limited due to the domination of the abolitionist argument within it. Getting away from the immorality of the issue and instead concentrating on limiting its extension into new territories, the Free Soil Party was able to expand and greatly enlarge the antislavery base from more than just the abolitionists. Their convention in Buffalo nominated Martin Van Buren, the former Democrat and President. Although the party had performed an almost miraculous achievement for blending in such diverse political enemies, the nomination of Van Buren for President was just too much for former members of the Liberty & Whig parties to handle. The party, however, did well as several were elected to the House of Representatives in November.
The discovery of gold in California produced a mass migration westward. The quick influx of some 80,000 immigrants forced the issue of statehood much sooner than expected on the newly acquired land from Mexico. Arriving first in a trickle and then in a flood, the great majority of those entering the California territory were from the non-slaveholding states in the north and northwest. President Taylor, observing the phenomenon taking place on the West Coast, realized that a potential threat to the peace of the Union was at hand. As a slaveholder, he stood by the South in defending their rights. However, it was obvious to him that California was going to be a free state. Taking what he perceived to be a common sense approach to the situation, he recommended that California skip the disruptive territorial phase and apply directly for statehood. Thus the new state's constitution would decide for or against the slavery question and Congress, rather than debating the slavery issue, would have to abide by that decision. A crisis would then be bypassed, or at least that's how he saw it. A very competent military commander, Taylor was obviously a novice at this political game. And most amazingly, his closest advisor outside of his cabinet was William Seward, Whig Senator from New York State, who was despised by the South as an abolitionist and not trusted by many of the northern Congressional members due to his extreme antislavery views.
Taylor submitted his proposal to Congress in January of 1850. In it, he strongly advised the acceptance of California as a state and also the acceptance of New Mexico as a state. New Mexico was an issue all on its own as Texas had claims on their land east of the Rio Grande.
In the early winter months of 1850, the"Great Triumvirate" of the Senate made their final appeals to the American people. Since the second decade of the 19th century, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun had stood head & shoulders above the congressmen and politicians of the day. And now, at the end of their illustrious careers, they again took center stage to put their talents and arguments behind that most mystical and honorable themes to the country - the Preservation of the Union. Shortly after Taylor submitted his proposal for the newly acquired lands of California & New Mexico, the seventy-three year old Clay stood before the Senate, with a full and enthusiastic gallery in attendance, and in taking the initiative away from Taylor, offered his solution in the form of a compromise:
- California was to be admitted with its Free State constitution.
- Since it was very unlikely that slavery would ever be admitted to the New Mexico Cession, the government for that territory should be drawn up without any"condition or restriction as to the institution."
- The size of Texas was to be reduced but their debt was to be absorbed by the federal government.
- A more effective fugitive slave law
- The abolition of the slave trade within Washington, D.C.
While the congressional debates were raging on and while Clay attempted to get his Omnibus bill passed, the crisis shifted dramatically to Texas and New Mexico. Eager to bring New Mexico in as a state, President Taylor sent an emissary to Santa Fe to push for a constitutional convention. The implication in all this was that New Mexico would receive the disputed land rather than Texas - that land east of the Rio Grande. Upon receiving information on Taylor's plan, the governor of Texas exploded with indignation. The Governor took steps to send troops into Santa Fe and remove the federals. Conflict seemed imminent.
Hearing of the Texas plan, Taylor countered by threatening to send more federal troops to New Mexico. Several southern Whigs, including Robert Toombs and Alexander Stephens both of Georgia, visited the President and attempted to convince him of the error of his ways. Taylor was inflexible and stated that he would use force if necessary"to suppress any resistance" that might result due to his decision. Toombs & Stephens were thought of as moderates and Unionists, but even they came away from their meeting frustrated. Afterwards, they concluded that there was"no longer any hope" for a peaceful resolution to the issue.
By the end of June, 1850, word had spread that New Mexico had approved a state constitution that was on its journey to Washington, D.C. In July, a letter written by Alexander Stephens appeared in the National Intelligencer stating that if the people of Texas were fired upon by federal troops,"freemen from the Delaware to the Rio Grande" would rally to their defense. The South was ready to defend the rights of Texas. President Taylor was ready to commit the U. S. military to save New Mexico from a Texan invasion. The crisis to the nation was now heading to its breaking point as the long awaited conflict seemed to be at hand. There seemed to be no turning back now. Seemingly, only a twist of fate could save the country from splitting.
On the fourth of July, President Taylor attended a ceremony by the Washington monument. After listening to several speeches in the sweltering heat, he eventually made it back to the White House. That night he fell ill, lingered for several days and died on the ninth of July. Fate had intervened.
Fillmore & the Compromise of 1850
Fillmore's time as vice-President had been a very trying period for him. Naturally assuming that this position would give him the inside track to patronage jobs in New York State, he found himself on the outside looking in. Thurlow Weed and William Seward outmaneuvered him in getting close to the new President, Zachary Taylor, causing him quite a bit of grief and more than enough embarrassment. The Fillmorite Whigs in New York were very upset that he was not getting his own into the prime state positions. Nathan K. Hall, his law partner in Buffalo, wrote that they needed to counterattack the Weed & Seward faction of the state's party or"submit like whipped spaniels to Weed's dictation." By May of 1849 it was so bad that Weed was able to have his own candidate appointed over Fillmore's in Buffalo. The Weed press bragged that"we could put up a cow against a Fillmore nominee and defeat him." Fillmore fought back. He had to or else risk losing his backers in the state party. The New York City merchants & businessmen, fearful of the possible consequences of southern secession and the resulting loss of business, urged Congress to back the Compromise plan, which was a step toward Fillmore and away from Weed. Thus, Fillmore gained back some state leverage by a combination of three groups: His own upstate faction, the New York City Whig Party which was dominated by an anti-Weed group, and the New York City merchants who decided profits were much more meaningful to their daily life than the abstract question of slavery in the territories.
Fillmore was well informed on the issues confronting the country. In fact, he had a front row seat for the debates taking place in Congress. Article I section 3 of the Constitution states that"The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate". In this position, Fillmore heard the arguments & debates in the Senate. He was present when Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Seward, Douglas and others presented their views. He became familiar with the arguments for and against compromise; both the North & South positions. Concerning Webster's"Seventh of March" speech, the Vice President commented that"Webster made a truly statesman-like speech in the Senate today."
As the crisis reached into July and debate on the Omnibus began to peak, concern surfaced as to how the vice president would vote in case of a tie in the Senate, a possibility which was moving into the realm of probable. Fillmore had been a loyal Whig Party man since 1834. In the past, he had gravitated toward decisions that the Whig Party in general would support. But now party lines were obliterated. Which way would he lean? As President of the Senate, he was aware and convinced of the seriousness of the situation facing the country. Some kind of settlement needed to be reached. However, as an administration man, he felt obligated to abide by the President's Plan, which by July, very few were supporting.
Reliable rumors of a cabinet shakeup were prevalent in Washington as July approached. Thurlow Weed met with Taylor to discuss the situation, convincing Fillmore that, beyond a doubt, he would have no influence at all in this administration. His position on the Compromise measures was not publicly known at this time. However, a couple of years later Fillmore described his thinking prior to becoming President in answer to a letter requesting his views. His vote, if needed,"will be for what I think right upon the whole, regardless of all personal consequences." He also met with then-President Taylor and suggested that"it was not out of any hostility to him (Taylor) or his administration, but the vote would be given, because I deemed it for the interests of the country." In both cases, he was vague yet his answers implied leaning toward a compromise measure of some sort.
On July 10th, 1850, Millard Fillmore became the 13th President of the United States, a little over 16 months after his election as Vice-President. Unlike the election of a President, who at the time had four months to prepare for the job, a Vice-President has very little preparation time in ascending to the Presidency. Overnight, Fillmore had moved from a position of obscurity & anonymity to becoming the central figure in one of the greatest crisis ever to affect the nation. William Seward wrote to his wife that"Providence has at last led the man of hesitation and double opinions, to the crisis, where decision and singleness are indispensible." Seward may have been right based on his past experience or he may have been just a bit jealous of his rival's good fortune (if it can be called that), but he was wrong as Fillmore was anything but indecisive & unsure as he stepped into the role of President.
Fillmore's goals were two-fold:
1. The preservation of the Union, which meant that a swift resolution to the crisis at hand was necessary.
2. The preservation of the Whig Party, which was swiftly and dangerously coming apart at the seams. Interestingly, it was just a few years earlier when then President Polk expressed concern over the lack of unity in his own Democratic Party due to the introduction of the Wilmot Proviso. Now it was the Whig Party whose continued existence was in doubt.
In essence, Fillmore's goals were simple yet not easily attained: the survival of his country and the survival of his party.
Fillmore's hope to restore party harmony began with the acceptance of the resignations of all of Taylor's scandal ridden and unpopular cabinet."I saw that the executive power of the government and the legislative were in opposition to each other, and that, while this state of things continued, peace could never be restored." Even to this day, Fillmore is still the only vice-President to change out all the cabinet members of his predecessors' administration. His hope was to replace them with men of a more moderate outlook and a more national, rather than sectional, character; with those that favored a peace to the sectional crisis at hand. His cabinet turned out as follows:
Attorney General: John J. Crittenden of Kentucky
Secretary of the Navy: William A. Graham of North Carolina
Secretary of the Treasury: Thomas Corwin of Ohio
Secretary of War: Charles M. Conrad of Louisiana
Secretary of the Interior: Alexander H. H. Stuart of Virginia
Postmaster General: Nathan K. Hall, Fillmore's law partner from Buffalo
Secretary of State: Daniel Webster of Massachusetts
Fillmore's first choice for Secretary of State was not Webster, but Robert C. Winthrop, the former Speaker of the House. Winthrop, who had opposed the omnibus bill, declined and instead took Webster's seat in the Senate. The Cabinet was balanced between North and South members with only Conrad of Louisiana from the Deep South. Michael F. Holt suggests that Fillmore's decision on cabinet members was based on"not whether they favored Taylor's plan or the Omnibus, but whether they opposed imposition of the Wilmot Proviso on the Mexican Cession."
It was this"opposition to the Proviso" that had been"the issue that separated all of Fillmore's New York supporters from their Sewardite rivals." If this really was the basis upon which Fillmore made his choices, then it showed just how he was able to attack the problem and go right to the core of the crisis. His time as presiding officer in the Senate had been well spent. The Wilmot Proviso was the key to any possible compromise. California entering the Union as a Free State was ultimately acceptable to many in the South as it was an obvious event. It would even be acceptable if the Utah & New Mexico territories eventually came in as Free States, as long as the people and the natural geography of the areas decided so. But to attach the offending amendment to any territories was such an affront to southern honor that it was a completely unacceptable answer to any compromise measures. Alexander Stephens, Whig congressman from Georgia, told Clay that he would"support the compromise in almost any form · as long as the proviso got squelched." Andrew Pickens Butler of South Carolina admitted that"slavery probably would not be expanded" into the new territories but vehemently spoke out against those that insisted"upon a Wilmot Proviso to prevent it." Southern newspapers were convinced that the new President would abandon them by supporting the Proviso once the Texas boundary and California bills were passed and signed into law.
If the President and the Cabinet were against the imposition of the Wilmot Proviso, did that make them pro-slavery? Not necessarily. Certainly, the southern members of the cabinet were pro-slavery. Not so the northern members. Thomas Corwin of Ohio was against any concessions to the South; the Wilmot Proviso being the one exception. He later became a Republican and served in Lincoln's administration as Minister to Mexico.
Webster believed that not only was the Proviso insulting to the South, but it was also unnecessary for halting the extension of slavery. Many in the North agreed, including Francis Granger of Canandaigua County in New York State, who pointed out that New Mexico's recently passed state constitution forbidding slavery was proof of that. The Wilmot Proviso was an amendment that was attempted to be added to the lands of the Mexican Cession. How many lands did that entail? In 1850, that meant California, Utah and New Mexico. By July, the South had virtually conceded that California would come in as a free state. Utah had been settled by the Mormons and the chance of slavery making inroads there was slim to none. That left the dry and desert lands of New Mexico as the one possible slave state out of the Cession; not exactly prime plantation possibilities. If slavery would ever exist there, it would be present in the most minimal condition. Overall, the Mexican Cession looked like a bleak area indeed for slavery to flourish. Webster was right as slavery never did take root in those lands. The insult to the South was unnecessary.
Soon after entering office, Fillmore let it be known that he would sign any compromise measure reaching his desk, as long as it was constitutional and legal. In late July, Clay's Omnibus bill began its last journey through the Senate. Amendments added to the measure first removed anything concerning New Mexico from the bill, then Texas and finally California. By the end of July Clay's bill had become a shell of its original design and thus destroyed. The wreck of the Omnibus was complete. Henry Clay, tired & frustrated, gave an angry speech and then departed Washington for some rest and relaxation in Newport. R.I. However, the compromise measures were not yet done. Senator Stephen A. Douglas took over with the intention of offering the measures on an individual basis rather than in one comprehensive bill. At this point, President Fillmore jumped into the fray.
On July 27th, a delegation of Texas congressmen visited Fillmore and was adamant in demanding that the President should not stand in the way of Texas and her rights to Santa Fe. Undeterred by this attempt at bullying him into submission, Fillmore sent a message to both houses of Congress on August 6th. In it, he emphasized that as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. armed forces it will be his duty to enforce the laws if"Texas militia· march into any one of the other States· to execute or enforce any law of Texas" and will be considered as intruders & trespassers. In other words, Fillmore would call up the militia and use the army to repel Texas aggression. However, he also called on Congress to settle this issue by saying that an"immediate settlement of the question· Domestic tranquility calls for this."
Congress must solve it; not the Supreme Court or a Congressional commission which would take months, even years to resolve. Historian Michael J. Holt called the message a"political masterstroke" by Fillmore as he stood up to Texas belligerency on one hand yet insisted on a peaceful settlement through the workings of Congress on the other. David A. Potter commented that"Fillmore settled a very inflamed crisis· and settled it with such adroitness and seeming ease that history has scarcely recognized the magnitude of his achievement." Unlike Taylor who offered only a defiant stance to Texas, Fillmore used his political skills to not only come across as tough if necessary, but, more importantly, displayed a desire for, or more to the point, insisted on a diplomatic resolution of the issue. Fillmore showed himself to be a strong and authoritative executive who would not be bullied yet preferred and recommended a conciliatory and persuasive approach as the wisest course. Even William Seward agreed with Fillmore's approach as"it seems that the policy of Mr. F. on the boundary question is one we cannot quarrel with about."
The presidential message shifted the priorities of the Senate from the California bill to the Texas question, as Fillmore desired. This was the crisis that desperately needed resolution. California could wait. Within three days, on August 9th, the Texas boundary bill was passed with both the North and South taking hits on it. Texas was given an additional 33,000 square miles of land in the panhandle, formerly free territory, while New Mexico was given its claim to all the land east of the Rio Grande. In addition, Texas was paid $10 million for its debts and bond holders.
After the passage of the Texas/New Mexico boundary issue and the California state bill, the rest of the package was anticlimactic. By mid-September all the individual measures had been signed into law striking off a celebration throughout much of the nation. All seemed well as the country appeared to have averted a national crisis. There were, of course, pockets of discontent. The Charleston Mercury expressed its displeasure with the compromise by addressing its representatives in Congress:"Tamely you submit to the advances of northern aggression, and humbly kiss the hand that strikes · Remember you are defending your altars, your homes and your sacred honor · Let the watchword be the South and her rights or do or die!"
However, one of the measures - one that had set off very little debate while in Congress - was just beginning a life of its own in the public eye. The new Fugitive Slave Bill was now ready to set off in anguish and indignation many in the North, keeping the topic of slavery on the front pages of the news.
Fugitive Slave Law
Article IV, section 2, paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution stated that:
"No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law, or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service, or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service may be due."
Implicit in this statement was that it would be the State who would deliver up the fugitive to the aggrieved party. However, the constitutional clause was quite vague. How would the fugitives be delivered up? Would they be allowed a trial with a judge; or a trial by jury? What kind of proof was needed to determine whether the accused was indeed a slave and not a free person?
Due to these hazy issues and also due to a kidnapping charge laid upon a Maryland slave catcher by the state of Pennsylvania, a new and improved Fugitive Slave Law was passed by Congress in 1793. A slave catcher could now get a certificate for a fugitive's return from a federal official, by- passing state procedures and could capture the fugitive without state help. It was a federal crime to assist the runaway, who was now considered a fugitive for life, as well as any children born of the mother. A trial by jury was not guaranteed and the decision of a judge was considered final.
Many of the Free States, insulted over the legislation and the subordination of their own laws to those of another state, responded with what became known as personal liberty laws. The Pennsylvania state legislature enacted its version of a personal liberty law- the Fugitive Slave Act of 1826 - by allowing only a sheriff or other proper officials to arrest a fugitive. All others would be charged with kidnapping.
Prigg v. Pennsylvania, known at the time as the Fugitive Slave Case, was decided by the Supreme Court in 1842. Edward Prigg was hired by a Maryland slave-owner to bring back a fugitive who had been living in Pennsylvania for several years. Prigg captured the mother and her children and took them back to Maryland without obtaining the proper certificate or following state procedures. Pennsylvania sued for kidnapping. Prigg was convicted in the lower courts, but the decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Associate Justice Joseph Story, writing for the majority opinion, claimed that:
1. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was constitutional.
2. Any state law that interfered with the recovery of a fugitive slave, such as Pennsylvania's Fugitive Slave Act of 1826, was unconstitutional, as it was federal law that had exclusive jurisdiction over runaways.
3. It was unnecessary for an owner to use state or federal officials to recover his slave property.
4. Since the Fugitive Slave Act was a federal law, state officials did not have to help in the recovery of fugitives.
What did all this confusion mean?
It meant that the federal government was now mainly on the side of the slave-owners whenever an issue arose with a free state, and it was interpreted by many as open season for legal kidnapping of any blacks - whether free or slave - in the northern states. However, the Court decision also meant that state officials could, but were not required to, help in the hunt for the fugitive. In fact, the decision gave the state the ability to not help in any way. And that is the direction many of the Free states took. State laws appeared prohibiting local officials from helping in the hunt for the runaway and in some cases, they even denied the use of their government buildings, such as jails, for locking up the recovered runaway. This action, in turn, convinced the South of the need for yet another more stringent and severe Fugitive Slave law.
Virginia Senator James Mason, grandson of George Mason of Revolutionary fame, introduced a new Fugitive Slave measure into Congress on the 4th of January, 1850.Mason, who is known more for his role in the Trent Affair during the Civil War (Mason & Slidell), argued for the law's necessity based on Virginia's $100,000 annual loss of slave property due to runaways. He described the futility in attempting to retrieve a runaway in Pennsylvania or Ohio as virtually impossible."You may as well go down to the sea, and recover a fish which has escaped, as expect to recover such fugitives." Over the next several months, various amendments to the bill were debated. Efforts to give the captured fugitive a trial by jury or have the right to habeas corpus were voted down or tabled. Senator Thomas Pratt of Maryland offered an amendment to Mason's bill which would have given federal compensation for any runaways that were not recovered. This motion was denied not only by many northerners but also from members of the Deep South. The Fugitive Slave Law meant little to the Deep South as their slaves rarely escaped. The fugitives escaped from the Border States. The Deep South distrusted those states and their commitment to the continuation of slavery. If compensation were allowed, it was feared that the Border States would let many of their slaves escape just to collect the money, and eventually become a free state.
The Fugitive Slave Bill again came up for discussion on August 19th and this time it stayed in the Senate until a version of it was finally passed. More severe than any previous one, it provided for, among other things, the following:
- Anyone aiding the fugitive could be fined and imprisoned up to $1000 & 6 months in prison
- A fugitive's testimony was never to be accepted
- A fugitive was denied the right of habeas corpus
- The commissioner deciding the runaway's fate would be paid $10 for conviction and $5 for release.
Fifteen northern senators were absent for this vote and arguably could have voted down this measure had they been present. Salmon P. Chase, the Free Soil Senator from Ohio, made the comment that"if the most ordinary controversy involving a contested claim to twenty dollars must be decided by a jury, surely a controversy which involves the right of a man to his liberty should have a similar trial."
What were Fillmore's views on slavery and why did he sign this bill into law?
He did not have the passion or zeal of the abolitionist, but Fillmore was definitely in the anti-slavery camp. He"had cherished from his youth up a feeling, even a prejudice, against slavery." He had a"sound reputation among abolitionists" as he defended the right of petition in the Congress of 1837-38, opposed the annexation of Texas to the United States, and even answered correctly all the questions put forth on a survey of politicians by the Anti-Slavery Society of the County of Erie. This reputation of his was partially responsible for him not being put on the 1844 national Whig party ticket as the convention eventually settled for Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey in the VP slot. When he finally did make the national ticket - in 1848 - the southern members of the Whig party were concerned and quite suspicious of his potential future actions. Even after becoming President and signing the Fugitive Slave law into existence, he wrote"God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil · and we must endure it · till we can get rid of it without destroying the last hope of free government in the world." John Quincy Adams spoke very highly of Fillmore; Thurlow Weed referred to him as aggressive on slavery; an abolitionist society gave him an acceptable grade and Southern members of his own party had reservations about him. So how did this man with such a positive press in the antislavery camp come to sign one of the most unpopular laws in American history?
Unlike the other measures of the compromise, Fillmore did not immediately sign the Fugitive Slave Bill when it arrived at his desk. He expressed regret that this type of bill would ever be necessary and objected to some of the provisions within it, having doubts to its constitutionality, particularly as it concerned the denial of"the right of Habeus Corpus to the fugitive slave." He therefore delayed in signing it until his Attorney General, John J. Crittenden, could review it. Crittenden assured the President"that the law was not a violation of the Constitution." Reluctantly, Fillmore signed the bill knowing full well that he would receive"the vials of wrath from abolitionism and free-soilism."
So back to the original question - why did he sign it?
He signed it because he took"the Constitution and the laws as his only guide."
He signed it because upon entering the office of the Presidency, he had taken the view"to look upon this whole country, from the farthest corner of Maine to the utmost limit of Texas, as but one country." He signed it because he knew that he now no longer represented any one county of New York State or any specific state at all. As President, he represented the United States, the whole country; north as well as south, west as well as east. Unlike the Congressmen and Senators who represented a specific section of the country, he now had to take into account the issues of each section and worked to settle the crisis as fairly to each section as possible. Finally, and most importantly, he signed it because he was certain that without this law, southern secession was not only possible, but probable. Whether or not this would actually have happened is debatable, but the important point here is that Fillmore (and many others) felt that the Union was in jeopardy.
Reaction to the law was immediate in the North, although much of the criticism & agitation was confined to a small yet very vocal group, consisting mainly of the abolitionists. Contrary to what is generally believed, most of the North, while against the law and its provisions, accepted it as a necessary evil in order to maintain the good will of the South. Fillmore took seriously his duty as President to"take care that the Laws be faithfully executed" and knew full well that keeping the South in the Union required him to fulfill this charge.
It did not take long before the first incident involving the return of a fugitive took place and needed the power of the executive office to resolve it. The first challenge to the law occurred in October of 1850 when Pennsylvania citizens rescued a fugitive from a local jail. Two judges from Pennsylvania asked the President for federal troops to quell the disturbance. Fillmore was reluctant to use troops against the citizens of the North stating that he was"particularly anxious that no State should be disgraced, by being compelled to resort to the army to support the laws of the Union, if it could be avoided." However, he also said that when necessary, he would"bring the whole force of the government to sustain the law."
He feared that refusal to enforce it would weaken the southern Unionists position and strengthen the secessionists and that he would"admit no right of nullification North or South."If the South was not allowed to nullify a tariff law in the 1830's during Jackson's administration, then Fillmore would follow that same policy and not allow the North to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act.
Over the next year, there were occasional challenges to the law where Fillmore had to step in with the use of force. Southerners responded favorably to Fillmore's efforts but it put the northern members of the Whig party in a dilemma as many just could not justify backing the administration due to the conflicting views of their antislavery constituents. In short, Fillmore's efforts to hold the country together did much to tear apart his beloved Whig Party.
In October of 1850, Fillmore wrote to Daniel Webster, the Secretary of State, and expressed his views on the new law commenting that it should not be repealed but "if there be any provision in it endangering the liberty of those who are free, it should be so modified as to secure the free blacks from such abuse of the object of the law." Two months later, in his first annual address to Congress, Fillmore left open the possibility of repeal if the majority of the country preferred by suggesting that since"representatives are chosen for such short periods" of time so that"any injurious or obnoxious law can very soon be repealed." which was a thinly veiled reference to the Fugitive Slave Law. Two years later, in July of 1852, Charles Sumner, the abolitionist Senator from Massachusetts, did introduce a bill calling for the repeal of the law. It failed to pass the Senate as only four voted in favor. Interestingly enough, William Seward was not one of the senators voting for repeal. Seward, who had been a thorn in Fillmore's side for years and had offered continual criticism of the Administration, refused to vote against the Compromise when given the opportunity.
If he was so concerned about the law, why did Fillmore not take the initiative and offer legislation to improve it and make it palatable to Northern sensitivities, specifically something involving trial by jury or right of habeas corpus? Fillmore's view of executive power did not include the right to initiate legislation. Constitutionally, that was the domain of Congress. He could exert Congress to act, as he did in his August 6th message, but did not believe that he could direct their specific path to legislation. Essentially, this style represents not only Fillmore's preferred way of developing a consensus for action, but it also demonstrates his Whig Party affiliation. The Party formed its ideological mission in opposition to President Andrew Jackson's perceived misuse of executive power. Fillmore represented well the Whig view of the limited powers of the executive branch, preferring conciliation over coercion.
The role of the Fugitive Slave law as a contributing cause of the Civil War was very minor. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the rise of the Republican Party, the Dred Scott Decision of 1857, the John Brown raid on Harper's Ferry, the election of 1860 followed by the secession of the lower South all played a much greater role in the coming of the Civil War. The power or strength of the Fugitive Slave Law resided not in its part as a contributing cause of the war, but in its emotional force to stir the human heart. Most northerners accepted the constitutional fact of southern slavery. However, when certain communities experienced the actual capture of a runaway and witnessed the return to the master, then slavery ceased to be just an abstract question and became real. In our own day, from the late 20th to the early 21st century, that emotion concerning slavery is still there. Finally and rightly so, the African-American saga has now been incorporated into the study of American history as an essential component of that story. Historical tourism has been strong for years and within that context, the Underground Railroad sites and stories have gained immensely in popularity. In the telling of the account of the runaway slave, the Fugitive Slave Law becomes an essential part of it. As the narrative is told over and over by trained docents to a new generation of history lovers, it is Fillmore who plays the part of one of the villains. His side of the story, his reasons and actions are not defended and thus his name is still linked to such an emotional law that it does not enhance one's attempt to reclaim his reputation.
How effective was the law? The census data for 1850 indicates that 1,011 slaves attempted to escape; in 1860, the number was 803.If we make the assumption that the years in between had a similar number of attempted escapes, we can round the number off to roughly 1,000 attempts per year. Out of these attempts, many fugitives made it to the North and even Canada, while others were captured and brought back to the South without the intervention or help of the Fugitive Slave Law. The total number of cases that did require the law over that same period of time was only 332. Of that 332, only 11 (or 3%) were released into freedom and 23 (or 7%) escaped from custody. The rest of the fugitives (about 90%) were remanded to their masters.
So what does all this mean?
There is reason to believe that the census numbers may be too high based on the increase, or lack thereof, in black populations, in the North and in Ontario. However, the actual cases that came before the Federal Tribunal seem to be significantly lower than the attempted escapes. Apparently, the fugitive had a reasonable chance of avoiding recapture. Nonetheless, if a fugitive were captured, it was fairly certain that the sentence would be a return to slavery. In short, the South should have been pleased with this response by the northerners as the law was about as effective as could be hoped for.
There seemed to be a universal agreement among friend and foe alike that Fillmore was a man of honesty, integrity and intelligence. His Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, referred to Fillmore as"a good-tempered, cautious, intelligent man, with whom it is pleasant to transact business. He is very diligent and what he does not know he quickly learns." Alexander H.H. Stuart, the Secretary of the Interior, took Webster's comment a step further and described Fillmore's thought process as" a man of decided opinion, but he was always open to conviction· When he had carefully examined a question and had satisfied himself that he was right, no power on earth could induce him to swerve him from what he believed to be the line of duty." Alexander Stephens, in describing the luster and brilliance of the composition of the 1850 Senate, saved his greatest praise for Fillmore."The crowning halo was imparted by Millard Fillmore, who presided over the whole as Vice President of the United States. He was of most imperturbable temper, and of a personal appearance, in every respect, exceedingly impressive. There was a dignity in (him) which fully accorded with all the surroundings. Order and decorum · were stamped upon his brow. Of him, taken altogether, it might be said with as much truth as of any other public character I ever met with: There, Îindeed', is a man Îin whom is no guile!'"
Fillmore seems to have impressed almost all who met or knew him. So what happened? How did he become this footnote of history, an obscure and forgotten President? Or if he is remembered at all, it is toward a failed presidency with pro-southern sympathies. In 1907, Frank Severance, the long time secretary & treasurer of the Buffalo Historical Society, stated of Fillmore that"no President has been more maligned in his time, or in some respects more misrepresented, both in his own day and in after years." Severance believed that much of that reputation was tainted due to the memoirs of Thurlow Weed, published a few years after Fillmore's death.
However, there do seem to be other factors involved in this loss of reputation:
1. As Fillmore himself predicted, he paid a price for signing the enhanced Fugitive Slave Law into existence. Despite the apparent acceptance of this law, albeit reluctantly, by most of the north as a fair settlement for peace with the southern states, it has hung like an albatross over Fillmore since then. Even though Fillmore agonized over signing it into law, and that Seward did not vote for repeal of it in 1852, or that Thurlow Weed suggested an even more severe version of it in 1860-61, or that Lincoln himself pledged to enforce it, the verdict of history to this point has placed primary blame for it squarely on the 13th President.
2. Fillmore was on the losing side of history. One decision after another placed him on the wrong side of the issues of the day starting with the signing of the Fugitive Slave Law and the attempt at enforcement of it, followed by a foolish & naïve acceptance of the Presidential candidacy for the American (Know-Nothing ) Party in 1856. However, the self-destruction does not end there. He rejected the Republicans as a sectional and war mongering party whose tendencies affected the fragile hold on the Union. Fillmore castigated Lincoln throughout the Civil War and even referred to the country as under a"military despotism." He was unable to see the trends and changes that were taking place on the American political landscape. Since it is generally the winners in history who write the stories, Fillmore has been one of the individuals whose reputation has suffered.
3. Fillmore's failure to write his own memoirs has made it difficult for historians to evaluate his reasons and thought process in his decision making. Although there are letters written and even a very brief autobiography (discussing only his youth), Fillmore passed on a historical opportunity to present himself in the light he desired to be remembered, thus giving the initiative to political enemies such as Weed and Seward.
4. Fillmore suffers from the short length of his Presidency, roughly 2 and half years. Had he been elected in his own right, he may have been able to produce a significant body of work that historians would be forced to analyze in more detail. Most disappointing of all was that he had it in his power to obtain the 1852 Whig nomination, had he only attempted to. Despite Seward's attempt to dislodge him, Fillmore needed only those delegates committed to Webster to win on the first ballot. Had he been firm and committed to another term in office, Webster would more than likely have backed down, giving his delegates to the President. Unfortunately for his future reputation, Fillmore either did not really desire the nomination or he did not think it was his duty to aggressively pursue it.
Was Fillmore pro-slavery because he signed the Fugitive Slave Bill into law? Was his administration slanted toward pro-southern positions as some historians claim? Based solely on this single issue, one might come to that conclusion. However, if other aspects of the Compromise are included, then the question can be expanded.
Was Fillmore pro-southern because Texas received not only federal payment for their debt but also 33,000 square miles of land that had previously been non-slave territory?
Or was he pro-northern because Texas was not allowed their claim to the New Mexico Cession?
Was he anti-slavery because he brought California in as a Free State?
Or maybe he was an abolitionist because he signed into law the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia.
So it seems that Fillmore was pro-slavery, pro-southern, pro-northern, anti-slavery and even an abolitionist based on the compromise measures. He was all things to all people or could be anything based on the argument one wished to develop. However, it is now only the pro-slavery & pro-southern positions that seem to be developed.
So was Fillmore pro-slavery? Not according to one of his contemporaries. Alexander H. Stephens was a Whig congressman from Georgia in 1850 who later became the vice-president under Jefferson Davis in the Confederacy. In his memoirs written well after the Civil War, Stephens wrote that"In 1850· what greater injustice could be done anyone, or what greater violence could be done the truth of History, than to charge· Clay, Webster and Fillmore, to say nothing of others, with being advocates of slavery, or following in the lead of the Pro-Slavery Party." Stephens, who was of that pro slavery party, did not consider Fillmore to be part of it.
So what might be an acceptable way to describe Fillmore and his administration? One way would be to say he was a nationalist. Describing himself in later years, Fillmore said he"endeavored to look upon this whole country, from the farthest corner of Maine to the utmost limit of Texas, as but one country." He"took the Constitution and the laws as his only guide" realizing that in doing so, he most likely would"lose the friendship of many prominent men of the country, especially in his own State, and encounter their reproaches, but · to me this is nothing. The man who can look upon a crisis without being willing to offer himself upon the altar of his country is not fit for the public trust." Despite these words coming across as idealistic and a bit melodramatic, Fillmore seemed to have honestly viewed himself in this way. Yet, even in our day, that view of the Presidency would be looked upon in a very positive light; that is, one who is led only by the Constitution and the laws of the land while representing the nation as a whole rather than a section.
Fillmore was a conscientious politician who was of that generation in American history that believed deeply in an intense devotion to the Union. This"Preservation of the Union" was not just a mindless phrase regarding a mystical or religious devotion to the country; it was a real and genuine desire by many in the pre-Civil War period. Henry Clay and Daniel Webster are two examples of the second-generation statesmen with this core principle.
There were three great crises in the mid 19th century that challenged this "Preservation of the Union":
1. The Nullification Crisis of the early 1830's, where President Andrew Jackson gave his dramatic Jefferson Day dinner toast of"Our Federal Union, it must be preserved," while staring at John C. Calhoun.
2. The Secession Crisis of 1860- 61 which preceded the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln insisted throughout that the Preservation of the Union was his primary, if only, goal. All else, including his actions on slavery, were done as a means towards attaining that primary goal.
3. Located between these two crises was Fillmore's effort to preserve the Union in 1850 during the first session of the 31st Congress, in which he was convinced of the necessity of an enhanced Fugitive Slave Law.
The Compromise of 1850 was an immediate success that had the potential for a lasting peace. Calmness and relief were a welcome respite for the nation after years of anger, discord and threats of secession. There still were pockets of discontent in both sections. However, the secessionists in the South were in the minority as Unionist feeling prevailed at the state and local levels. Abolitionists and the aggressive anti-slavery advocates took advantage of any opportunity to publicize their cause, but overall, most of the North willingly accepted the Compromise. Peace had come and the future was looking bright. Sectional harmony introduced a period of national prosperity as the economy produced a profitable growth for most sections of the country. The South experienced record profits on cotton while in the North, transportation and industry grew at exponential rates. The completion of the Erie Railroad became a celebrated demonstration of harmony and good will as Fillmore and his entire cabinet rode the inaugural trip from New York to Dunkirk. In summary, the peace obtained by the Compromise of 1850 was followed by an economy in which most sections of the country were experiencing growth and profits. As Fillmore left office, he handed to his successor a country with no major sectional obstacles and a thriving economy. Accepted solutions to the territorial lands of the country had been settled. What lands were left that could possibly cause a disruption to this armistice or truce? There were still possible states to be carved out of the Louisiana Purchase, but they were to be guided by the Missouri Compromise and the 360 30' line. There was a chance that Texas might be carved up into smaller states, but that possibility would not bring on a crisis. What could possibly happen?
In 1854, it happened. Stephen A. Douglas introduced his Kansas-Nebraska Act, replacing the respected and almost sacred text of the Missouri Compromise with a version of popular sovereignty. The wounds of sectional strife had been reopened as Douglas was vilified by the North as a Judas and traitor; selling his soul to the southern slavocrats for their support in his presidential bid. Congress once again was filled with intense and emotional debates spiced with acts of violence while Kansas itself produced a civil war of its own, a precursor of events to come. It was this act, the 1854 legislation, and not the 1850 compromise, that sent the country spiraling towards the climactic end of the decade and Civil War. Had 1854 not happened, it is possible that eventually a gradual and peaceful solution to the slavery question could have taken place.
In November of 1852, Fillmore presented to his Cabinet his views on how to solve the evil of slavery. The Cabinet was initially impressed with the idea to include this in the annual message to Congress, but eventually convinced the lame duck President to remove it. However, this suppressed portion of Fillmore's final address to the nation is worth taking a look at."There is one subject vitally affecting the perpetuity of our institutions, and the prosperity of our common country, upon which ·I feel it my duty briefly to express my sentiments." He continues his introduction by stating that"I owe it to myself" and"that I owe it to the country which gave me birth" to state"my position by placing on record, now and forever, my views on the subject of slavery." Fillmore offers a logical, rather than a moral, approach to the question of slavery. As the slave population in the South increases, so also the probability of a servile insurrection increases along the lines of the Santo Domingo uprising of several decades earlier. The need to address the ending of slavery is essential but the policy of the abolitionists will"but aggravate the evil" and produce only"resentment" from the southern states."Whatever, therefore, is done to rid the country of this evil must be done chiefly by the slave states themselves." Then, and only then, could"the free states and the General Government · aid them." Fillmore sees the freed slaves as in competition with whites for jobs. The southern states would not want their freed slaves to remain in the state while the northern states would reject their entrance. "I confess that I see no remedy but by colonizing the free blacks, either in Africa or the West Indies, or both. This· is all that Congress can do. It cannot abolish slavery, it can only invite emancipation." He then asks"Is it practicable?" He then reviews the population size of the free blacks and the birth rate of the slaves and suggests"that if emigration could take place at the rate of 100,000 per annum, that would soon remove the present free population." At the present day, it would cost $3,000,000 to remove 100,000"and $2,000,000 will subsist them for six months after their arrival in Liberia." Fillmore admits that this work would take many years to accomplish but"it cannot be expected that a social evil like this, which has been accumulating for more than two hundred years · can be eradicated in a day." In closing, Fillmore emphasizes that the work"cannot be commenced too soon for the good of the country" and that its gradual accomplishment is a"sure mode of relieving the country from this increasing evil without violence and bloodshed." He ends the paper with the view that this is only one idea put forth for the eradication of slavery in America and that other thoughts about it would be useful in an ongoing dialogue.
Colonization, of course, was not an original idea with Fillmore as many, even Lincoln himself, could not imagine any other peaceful possibilities. The key point here is that a President of the United States, and one that had gained the respect and admiration of the South, was attempting to begin a dialogue on the eradication of slavery. Although this essay did eventually makes its way known to the general public, it is most unfortunate for Fillmore and his legacy that it did not become part of his last official annual address to Congress. His Cabinet had convinced him that since the country was at peace and the economy was prospering, this address might spark yet another round of controversies and that would not be a fair issue to give to the incoming administration. 148It is easy for the historian to view in hindsight that this advice was useless as it took only another year before the Kansas-Nebraska Act blew any peaceful settings to pieces.
Was Fillmore relevant and is his administration worthy of serious discussion and study? I will give two reasons why I think the answer is yes.
First, Fillmore was only one of four U.S. Presidents from the American Whig Party. Out of those four, two were military men - William Henry Harrison & Zachary Taylor - who had no connection to the party prior to being elected. John Tyler as President quickly took his administration toward a decidedly non- Whig emphasis becoming, in short, a man without a party. Fillmore is the only one of the four to have been a party man from the beginning to the end. His political beliefs were classic Whig ideology - government intervention for internal improvements such as road construction, canal & railroad building and tariffs for protection of home grown industry that will bring about economic growth through improvements in transportation, industry and commerce. In this sense, Fillmore's was the only real Whig administration in American history.
Secondly, honesty, integrity and intelligence are strong qualities for a President to have. Yet, is that enough to proclaim a call to re-evaluate his Presidency? Of course not, but if the ranking of a President is based on, among other factors, one's performance during a time of crisis and the decision making skills used in that critical period, then , yes, the Fillmore administration should be under serious consideration for study.
Amar, Akhil Reed, America's Constitution, a Biography (Random House New York 2005)
Blair, Francis Preston; Rives, John C.; Rives, Franklin; Bailey, George A; The Congressional Globe (Blair & Rives, Washington 1833-1873)
Bordewich, Fergus M., Bound for Canaan, The Underground Railroad & the War for the Soul of America (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. New York 2005)
Campbell, Stanley W., The Slave Catchers, Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law 1850-1860 (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. , New York 1970)
Carman, Harry J. & Luthin, Reinhard H.,"The Seward-Fillmore Feud and the Disruption of the Whig Party" in Clifford L. Lord, editor, New York HistoryVolume XXIV, Proceedings of the New York StateHistorical Association Volume XLI (State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York 1943) p. 335-357
Carman, Harry J. & Luthin, Reinhard H.,"The Seward-Fillmore Feud and the Crisis of 1850" in Clifford L. Lord, editor, New York HistoryVolume XXIV, Proceedings of the New York StateHistorical Association Volume XLI (State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York 1943) p. 163-184
Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln, (Simon & Schuster, New York 1995)
Earle, Jonathan H., Jacksonian Antislavery & the Politics of Free Soil, 1824-1854 (The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hills & London, 2004)
Eisenhower, John S. D., Zachary Taylor, (Times Books, Henry Holt & Company, New York, 2008
Fehrenbacher, Don E., editor, Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Writings 1859-1865 (The Library of America, New York 1989)
Fillmore, Millard, Millard Fillmore Papers, Frank A. Severance, editor (Buffalo Historical Society, Buffalo 1907) Volume 1& 2
Finkelman, Paul, Articles on American Slavery (Garland Publishing, Inc. New York 1989)
Freehling, William W., Prelude to Civil War, The Nullification Crisis in South Carolina, 1816-1836 (Harper & Row Publishers, New York 1965)
Freehling, William W., The Road to Disunion, Secessionists at Bay 1776-1854, Volume 1 (Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford, 1990)
Guelzo, Allen C., The History of the United States, The Great Compromise (The Teaching Company, Chantilly, VA; Lecture 36, 2003)
Hall, Kermit L. editor; The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions (Oxford University Press, New York 1999)
Hamilton, Holman, Prologue to Conflict, the Crisis & Compromise of 1850 (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York 1964)
Henderson, Timothy J., A Glorious Defeat, Mexico & its War with the United States (Mill & Wang, New York 2007)
Holt, Michael F., The Rise & Fall of the American Whig Party (Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford, 1999)
Johnson, Paul, A History of the American People (HarperCollins Publishers, New York 1997)
Mayer, Henry; All on Fire, William Lloyd Garrison & the Abolition of Slavery (St. Martin's Press, New York 1998)
McPherson, James M.; Battle Cry of Freedom (Oxford University Press, New York 1988)
Miller, Nathan, Star-Spangled Men, America's Ten Worst Presidents (Simon & Schuster, New York 1999)
Monk, Linda R., The Words We Live By (A Stonesong Press Book, Hyperion, New York 2003)
Nevins, Allan, Ordeal of the Union, Fruits of Manifest Destiny 1847-1852 Volume 1(Charles Scribner's Sons, New York & London, 1947)
Oates, Stephen B., With Malice Toward None, the Life of Abraham Lincoln (The New American Library, Inc, New York 1977)
Pendle, George, The Remarkable Millard Fillmore, the Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President (Random House, Inc. New York, 2007)
Peterson, Merrill D., editor, Thomas Jefferson Writings, (Library of America, New York 1984)
Potter, David M., The Impending Crisis 1848-1861 (Harper & Row Publishers, Inc, New York 1976)
Rayback, Robert J., Millard Fillmore, Biography of a President (The Easton Press, Norwalk, Connecticut 1959)
Remini, Robert V., The House, The History of the House of Representatives (Smithsonian Books with HarperCollins Publishers, New York 2006)
Scarry, Robert J.; Millard Fillmore (McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina & London 2001)
Schott, Thomas E., Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia (Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge & London, 1988)
Seward, Frederick W., The Life of William H. Seward (D. Appleton & Company, New York 1877)
Seward, William H. & Seward, Frederick W., William H. Seward, an Autobiography from 1801 to 1834 with a Memoir of his Life, and Selections from his letters 1831-1846(Derby & Miller, New York 1891)
Sibert, Jacquelyn S., editor, The Presidents (The Curtiss Publishing Company, Indianapolis 1989)
Silbey, Joel H., Storm Over Texas, The Annexation Controversy and the Road to Civil War (Oxford University Press, Oxford & New York, 2005)
Smith, Elbert B., The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor & Millard Fillmore (University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 1988)
Spaulding, Matthew, director, The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States (The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C. 2003)
Stephens, Alexander H., A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States (National Publishing Company, Philadelphia 1868-1870) two volumes
Stoddard, William O., The Lives of the Presidents, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce & James Buchanan (Frederick A. Stokes & Brother, New York 1888)
Van Deusen, Glyndon G., Thurlow Weed: Wizard of the Lobby (Little, Brown & Company, Boston 1947)
Van Deusen, Glyndon G., William Henry Seward (Oxford University Press, New York 1967)
Weed, Thurlow, The Autobiography of Thurlow Weed, 1797-1882, Harriet A., editor (Houghton, Mifflin & Company, New York, Boston 1883)
Wilentz, Sean, The Rise of American Democracy, Jefferson to Lincoln ( W.W. Norton & Company, New York 2005)
Young, Robert W., Senator James Murray Mason (The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville 1998)
Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2009
| ...Home Page ...| ..Buffalo Architecture Index...| ..Buffalo History Index... |.....E-Mail ...| .
web site consulting by ingenious, inc.