Biography of Millard Fillmore: The 13th President of the United States

President Millard Fillmore statue, Buffalo City Hall.
Richard Cummins / Getty Images

Millard Fillmore (January 7, 1800–March 8, 1874) served as America's 13th president from July 1850 to March 1853 having taken over after the death of his predecessor, Zachary Taylor. While he was in office, the Compromise of 1850 was passed, staving off the Civil War for 11 more years. His other major accomplishment while he was president was the opening of Japan to trade through the Treaty of Kanagawa.

Millard Fillmore's Childhood and Education

Millard Fillmore grew up on a small farm in New York to a relatively poor family. He received a basic education. He was then apprenticed to cloth makers while at the same time educating himself until he enrolled at the New Hope Academy in 1819. Over time, Fillmore alternatively studied law and taught school until he was admitted to the bar in 1823.

Family Ties

Fillmore's parents were Nathaniel Fillmore, a New York farmer, and Phoebe Millard Fillmore. He had five brothers and three sisters. On February 5, 1826, Fillmore married Abigail Powers who had been his teacher despite being only one year older than him. Together they had two children, Millard Powers and Mary Abigail. Abigail died in 1853 after fighting pneumonia. In 1858, Fillmore married Caroline Carmichael McIntosh who was a wealthy widow. She died after him on August 11, 1881.

Millard Fillmore's Career Before the Presidency

Fillmore became active in politics soon after being admitted to the bar. He served in the New York State Assembly from 1829–1831. He was then elected to Congress in 1832 as a Whig and served until 1843. In 1848, he became the Comptroller of New York State. He was then elected Vice President under Zachary Taylor and took office in 1849. He succeeded to the presidency upon Taylor's death on July 9, 1850. He was sworn in before a joint session of Congress Chief Justice William Cranch.

Events and Accomplishments of Fillmore's Presidency

Fillmore's administration lasted from July 1850 to March 1853. The most significant event of his time in office was the Compromise of 1850. This consisted of five separate laws:

  1. California was admitted as a free state.
  2. Texas received compensation for giving up claims to western lands.
  3. Utah and New Mexico were established as territories.
  4. Fugitive Slave Act was passed which required the federal government to help return self-liberated individuals.
  5. The trade of enslaved people was abolished in the District of Columbia.

This act temporarily held off the Civil War for a time. The President's support of the Compromise of 1850 cost him his party's nomination in 1852.

Also during Fillmore's time in office, Commodore Matthew Perry created the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854. This treaty with the Japanese allowed America to trade in two Japanese ports and was important for allowing trade with the far east.

Post-Presidential Period

Soon after Fillmore left the Presidency, his wife and daughter died. He took off on a trip to Europe. He ran for the presidency in 1856 for the Know-Nothing Party, an anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant party. He lost to James Buchanan. He no longer was active on the national scene but was still involved in public affairs in Buffalo, New York until his death on March 8, 1874.

Historical Significance

Millard Fillmore was in office for less than three years. However, his acceptance of the Compromise of 1850 averted the Civil War for another 11 years. His support of the Fugitive Slave Act caused the Whig Party to split in two and resulted in the downfall of his national political career.

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Kelly, Martin. "Biography of Millard Fillmore: The 13th President of the United States." ThoughtCo, Dec. 21, 2022, Kelly, Martin. (2022, December 21). Biography of Millard Fillmore: The 13th President of the United States. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Biography of Millard Fillmore: The 13th President of the United States." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).