Monday, July 30, 2007

Millard Fillmore: 1848 Presidential Candidate?

I have repeatedly expressed my admiration for Millard Fillmore, and so was delighted to see Big Mo’s post outlining the career and character of our 13th president. I wholeheartedly agree, for example, with Big Mo’s bottom-line assessment:
But like many of the forgotten presidents, and many of the so-called failures, Fillmore has gotten a raw deal from history. Although he served 2½ years and his party would not re-nominate him—and he would sink to obscurity following a second failed presidential attempt—Fillmore definitely deserves far better than he’s been treated.

Big Mo’s entries on the presidents are witty, charming and informative, and I urge anyone with even a passing interest in our country to read them.

Writing short biographies is a task that is impossible to execute without mistake – the very nature of the exercise means that the writer is trying to shoehorn an entire life into a short essay. I would never attempt anything so foolish or so creative. It is with this understanding, with thanks to Big Mo for daring the impossible, and cognizant of my own limitations that I will confine myself to posting, from time to time, nit picks about Big Mo’s posts. This is the first. Here goes.

Toward the beginning of Big Mo’s Fillmore post, he states:
A skilled lawyer and a man initially hungry for political power, Fillmore had the unfortunate luck to have lost the nomination to Zachary Taylor then be shoved aside as almost a non-entity for 16 months.

This sentence appears to imply that Fillmore was a leading candidate, or at least a viable candidate, for the Whig presidential nomination in 1848, ultimately secured by Zachary Taylor. After all, Millard presumably could not have “lost the nomination to” Taylor unless he made a reasonable run at that prize. I'm virtually positive Big Mo didn't mean this, because he later states that in 1848, "on the national level, no one knew [Fillmore]."

At all events, to the best of my knowledge, Fillmore was never a candidate for the Whig nomination in 1848, much less a viable one. Elbert B. Smith does not suggest this, so far as I can tell, in his The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. Likewise, in his magnificent and endless The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, Michael F. Holt devotes almost seventy pages (basically, Chapters 9 and 10) to reviewing in microscopic detail the joustings among the plethora of Whig candidates, including Taylor, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Supreme Court Justice John McLean of Ohio, Senator Thomas Corwin (also of Ohio), and General Winfield Scott. No mention of Millard anywhere.

Millard Fillmore was many things; but he does not seem to have been a candidate for the presidential nomination of the Whig party in 1848.


  1. Big Mo4:51 PM

    Hi - You're absolutely right. It's lousy sentence construction on my part, and it definitly creates the wrong impression. I'll need to revise that. Thanks for pointing that out and the correction.

    Those are the hazards of my self-imposed deadlines of two weeks for each prez, though I'm taking a break right now. I sometimes slip up and write something that totally flies in the face of established history, so I appreciate both the correction and the complements.

  2. It's fixed. Changed to: "... had the seemingly unfortunate luck to become vice president under Zachary Taylor..."

    Again, thanks for pointing out my error.


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