Millard Fillmore (January 7, 1800 – March 8, 1874) was the thirteenth president of the United States, serving from 1850 until 1853, and the last member of the Whig Party to hold the nation's highest office. He succeeded from the vice presidency on the death of President Zachary Taylor, becoming the second U.S. president to gain the office in this manner. Fillmore was instrumental in the passing of the Compromise of 1850, a bargain that led to a brief truce in the battle over the expansion of slavery.
- An honorable defeat is better than a dishonorable victory.
- Speech (13 September 1844), Buffalo, New York, quoted in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser (14 September 1844). Fillmore had lost the Whig nomination for governor of New York. The newspaper summary was: "He entreated them to enter the contest with zeal and enthusiasm; but as they valued the sacredness of their cause, and the stability of their principles, to resort to no unfair means: that an honorable defeat was better than a dishonorable victory."
- May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not.
- Letter to Henry Clay (11 November 1844), as quoted in Presidential Wit from Washington to Johnson (1966) edited by Bill Adler
- God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil, for which we are not responsible, and we must endure it, and give it such protection as is guaranteed by the constitution, till we can get rid of it without destroying the last hope of free government in the world.
- Regarding enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), as quoted in Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President (1959), by Robert J. Rayback, p. 252 and p. 271
Third Annual Message to Congress (1852)
- Third Annual Message to Congress (6 December 1852)
- The whole country is full of enterprise. Our common schools are diffusing intelligence among the people and our industry is fast accumulating the comforts and luxuries of life. This is in part owing to our peculiar position, to our fertile soil and comparatively sparse population; but much of it is also owing to the popular institutions under which we live, to the freedom which every man feels to engage in any useful pursuit according to his taste or inclination, and to the entire confidence that his person and property will be protected by the laws. But whatever may be the cause of this unparalleled growth in population, intelligence, and wealth, one thing is clear — that the Government must keep pace with the progress of the people. It must participate in their spirit of enterprise, and while it exacts obedience to the laws and restrains all unauthorized invasions of the rights of neighboring states, it should foster and protect home industry and lend its powerful strength to the improvement of such means of intercommunication as are necessary to promote our internal commerce and strengthen the ties which bind us together as a people.
It is not strange, however much it may be regretted, that such an exuberance of enterprise should cause some individuals to mistake change for progress and the invasion of the rights of others for national prowess and glory. The former are constantly agitating for some change in the organic law, or urging new and untried theories of human rights. The latter are ever ready to engage in any wild crusade against a neighboring people, regardless of the justice of the enterprise and without looking at the fatal consequences to ourselves and to the cause of popular government. Such expeditions, however, are often stimulated by mercenary individuals, who expect to share the plunder or profit of the enterprise without exposing themselves to danger, and are led on by some irresponsible foreigner, who abuses the hospitality of our own Government by seducing the young and ignorant to join in his scheme of personal ambition or revenge under the false and delusive pretense of extending the area of freedom. These reprehensible aggressions but retard the true progress of our nation and tarnish its fair fame. They should therefore receive the indignant frowns of every good citizen who sincerely loves his country and takes a pride in its prosperity and honor.
- In less than ten years her Government was changed from a republic to an empire, and finally, after shedding rivers of blood, foreign powers restored her exiled dynasty and exhausted Europe sought peace and repose in the unquestioned ascendency of monarchical principles. Let us learn wisdom from her example. Let us remember that revolutions do not always establish freedom. Our own free institutions were not the offspring of our Revolution. They existed before. They were planted in the free charters of self-government under which the English colonies grew up, and our Revolution only freed us from the dominion of a foreign power whose government was at variance with those institutions. But European nations have had no such training for self-government, and every effort to establish it by bloody revolutions has been, and must, without that preparation, continue to be a failure. Liberty, unregulated by law, degenerates into anarchy, which soon becomes the most horrid of all despotisms. Our policy is wisely to govern ourselves, and thereby to set such an example of national justice, prosperity, and true glory, as shall teach to all nations the blessings of self-government, and the unparalleled enterprise and success of a free people.
- Referring to the French Revolution
Quotes about Fillmore
- Fillmore fought for compromise, but took no principled position on any of his positions. Never expecting to be president, he was thrust into battle without a plan. After firing his cabinet, he was left without advisors just as he began his administration. He relied on Clay, Douglas, and others to orchestrate a compromise that would stem the threat of secession and even war. He took a backseat to their leadership and would have likely signed almost anything that passed both chambers of Congress.
- Jared Cohen, Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America (2019), p. 81
- Fillmore was a likeable fellow. He mixed readily. He was most persuasive in small groups; his stolid style did not play well before large audiences. He spoke slowly, deliberately, using simple expressions and short sentences. His speeches lacked the flourish typical of the great orators of the day. A practical, unemotional man, he relied on logic and common sense to make a point in argument. He appealed to the mind rather than to the heart. Although basically a pragmatist, he was capable of genuine idealism if the cause struck his sense of righteousness. "A spark of idealism smouldered in his mind," biographer Robert J. Rayback has written. "Because his whole training had been aimed toward making or improving his livelihood, nothing could ever ignite the spark that would place him in that class of complete idealists who steadfastly cling to their visions no matter how inimical their interests. But the trait was there, seldom dominating, yet always helping to shape his values."
- William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents (1984), p. 187
- White House Biography
- Millard Fillmore at Encyclopedia American: The American Presidency
- Biography by Appleton's and Stanley L. Klos
- Millard Fillmore: A Resource Guide at the Library of Congress
- Works by Millard Fillmore at Project Gutenberg
- Essays on Fillmore and each member of his cabinet and First Lady
- "Life Portrait of Millard Fillmore", from C-SPAN's American Presidents: Life Portraits (11 June 1999)