Sunday, November 02, 2008

Millard Fillmore, Firm Statesman


Among its many other virtues, Mark J. Stegmaier’s Texas, New Mexico, & The Compromise of 1850: Boundary Dispute & Sectional Crisis contains a detailed and balanced discussion of Millard Fillmore’s contributions toward the resolution of the Crisis of 1850.

Professor Stegmaier puts to bed, for example, the misguided notion that Fillmore was no Andrew Jackson or Zachary Taylor. On July 24, Fillmore – in office just over two weeks – selected General Scott “to serve as secretary of war ad interim.” That day, General Scott sent the president a “Memoranda” indicating that about 750 men were on their way to New Mexico and that there were about 650 more troops available to be sent as reinforcements.

Fillmore promptly directed Scott to send the additional men to New Mexico. This would both provide the territory with additional defense against an attack by Texas and place additional pressure on the south to agree to a compromise:
[T]he “Memoranda” . . . revealed . . . that some units remained that could be ordered to New Mexico. Fillmore wanted those soldiers where the threat was. General Scott saw to it that these wishes were carried out at the beginning of August, just after the defeat of the Omnibus. Besides protecting New Mexico, President Fillmore believed that putting more of the army in motion toward New Mexico might help to influence Congress to act.

The president directed this move even though – or perhaps because – it was clearly provocative to the south. Floridians were “particularly incensed” because some of the troops had been stationed in that state to protect against Seminole attacks. Fillmore was accused of protecting “Mexicans and Mongrels” rather than white southerners.

In short, Fillmore’s military actions showed him to be decisive and prepared to use his powers as commander in chief:
Free-soilers and Southern radicals candidly expressed in letters their belief that Millard Fillmore would prove a timid soul, in contrast to Zachary Taylor, in dealing with Texas. Within a few weeks after assuming office, President Fillmore proved otherwise.

Professor Stegmaier also documents the president’s intimate involvement with the preparation of the document that became the presidential message to Congress of August 6, 1850. Daniel Webster, Fillmore’s newly-appointed Secretary of State, probably conceived the idea on August 1 and proposed it to the president on that day or very shortly after.
The president readily agreed and instructed the secretary of state to prepare a draft of the message . . .. Fillmore and other cabinet members held numerous consultation meetings over the next several days to consider and, if necessary, revise the documents. The documents were a team effort, even though Webster mainly wrote the original drafts. Webster insisted that the president revise them to his liking and take nothing simply out of courtesy . . ..

***

[On the morning of August 6, 1850,] Webster personally carried the [final draft of] the message to Fillmore’s office. At nine o’clock on the morning of August 6 a final reading of the documents to Fillmore commenced. Before 11 a.m. the president signed his name to the message and sent the documents off to Congress. Throughout the proceedings of the previous days, Webster had become very favorably impressed with Fillmore’s qualities as a leader; in a letter to his friend Franklin Haven, Webster wrote, “He is a man of business, a man of intelligence, & wide awake.”

And no wonder Webster was impressed. The Message that Congress received on August 6, 1850 was the epitome of statesmanship, firm yet measured. “What the members of the two houses heard . . . was a clear statement of the executive’s constitutional responsibilities to protect New Mexico if Texans attempted to extend their jurisdiction over it by force”:
By the Constitution of the United States, the President is constituted commander-in-chief of the army and navy; and of the militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the United States. The Constitution declares, also, that he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and that he shall, from time to time, give to the Congress information of the state of the Union.

***

The second section of the twenty-eighth of February, seventeen hundred and ninety-five, declares, that whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed, or their execution obstructed, in any State, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or the power vested in the marshals, the President may call forth the militia, so far as may be necessary, to suppress such combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed.

By the act of March 3, 1807, it is provided that in all cases of obstruction to the laws, either of the United States or any individual State or Territory, where it is lawful for the President to call forth the militia for the purpose of causing the laws to be duly executed, it shall be lawful for him to employ, for the same purposes, such part of the land or naval force of the United States as shall be judged necessary.

These several enactments are now in full force; so that if the laws of the United States are opposed or obstructed, in any State or Territory, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the judicial or civil authorities, it becomes a case in which it is the duty of the President, either to call out the militia or to employ the military and naval force of the United States, or to do both, if in his judgment the exigency of the occasion shall so require, for the purpose of suppressing such combination.

The constitutional duty of the President is plain and peremptory; and the authority vested in him by law, for its performance, is clear and ample.

Texas is a State authorized to maintain her own laws, so far as they are not repugnant to Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States, to suppress insurrections against her authority, and to punish those who may commit treason against the State, according to the forms provided by her own constitution and her own laws.

But all this power is local, and confined entirely within the limits of Texas herself. She can possibly confer no authority, which can be lawfully exercised beyond her own boundaries.

All this is plain, and hardly needs argument or elucidation. If Texan militia, therefore, march into any one of the other States, or into any territory of the United States, there to execute or enforce any law of Texas, they become at that moment trespassers; they are no longer under the protection of any lawful authority, and are to be regarded merely as intruders; and if within such State or Territory they obstruct any law of the United States, either by power of arms or mere power of numbers, constituting such a combination as is too powerful to be suppressed by the civil authority, the President of the United States has no option left to him, but is bound to obey the solemn injunction of the Constitution, and exercise the high powers vested in him by that instrument, and by the Acts of Congress.

Or, if any civil posse, armed or unarmed, enter into any Territory of the United States, under the protection of the laws thereof, with intent to seize individual to be carried elsewhere for trial for alleged offenses, and this posse be too powerful to be resisted by the local and civil authorities, such seizure or attempt to seize, is to be prevented or resisted by the authority of the United States.

So how, then, does Professor Stegmaier rate President Fillmore’s performance?
[T]he Fillmore administration succeeded in getting Congress to enact a compromise . . .. [Zachary] Taylor did not possess a working relationship with Congress that would have permitted the passage of such a program . . .. Millard Fillmore favored compromise, proved flexible about what form Congress chose to give it, and fostered an atmosphere conducive to compromise. Fillmore’s dignified bearing, his tactfulness, and his long experience in dealing with senators and representatives became invaluable assets in winning the close victory for compromise and continued sectional peace.

A larger version of the illustration may be retrieved here It portrays a scene in the Senate in April 1850. Then Vice President Fillmore may be seen in the center rear, shouting, "Order Gentlemen, Order!" I believe Henry Clay is the tall man toward the right, and I'm guessing that Daniel Webster is at the far right. If you can identify other figures, I'd love to know.

Addendum,

In the comments, Ed Darrell of Millard Fillmore's Bathtub provides the following description of the illustration. Thanks, Ed!

A somewhat tongue-in-cheek dramatization of the moment during the heated debate in the Senate over the admission of California as a free state when Mississippi senator Henry S. Foote drew a pistol on Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. In the cartoon Benton (center) throws open his coat and defiantly states, "Get out of the way, and let the assassin fire! let the scoundrel use his weapon! I have no arm's! I did not come here to assassinate!" He is attended by two men, one of them North Carolina senator Willie P. Mangum (on the left). Foote, restrained from behind by South Carolina's Andrew Pickens Butler and calmed by Daniel Stevens Dickinson of New York (to whom he later handed over the pistol), still aims his weapon at Benton saying, "I only meant to defend myself!" In the background Vice President Fillmore, presiding, wields his gavel and calls for order. Behind Foote another senator cries, "For God's sake Gentlemen Order!" To the right of Benton stand Henry Clay and (far right) Daniel Webster. Clay puns, "It's a ridiculous matter, I apprehend there is no danger on foot!" Visitors in the galleries flee in panic.

4 comments:

  1. Identifying some of the people:

    A somewhat tongue-in-cheek dramatization of the moment during the heated debate in the Senate over the admission of California as a free state when Mississippi senator Henry S. Foote drew a pistol on Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. In the cartoon Benton (center) throws open his coat and defiantly states, "Get out of the way, and let the assassin fire! let the scoundrel use his weapon! I have no arm's! I did not come here to assassinate!" He is attended by two men, one of them North Carolina senator Willie P. Mangum (on the left). Foote, restrained from behind by South Carolina's Andrew Pickens Butler and calmed by Daniel Stevens Dickinson of New York (to whom he later handed over the pistol), still aims his weapon at Benton saying, "I only meant to defend myself!" In the background Vice President Fillmore, presiding, wields his gavel and calls for order. Behind Foote another senator cries, "For God's sake Gentlemen Order!" To the right of Benton stand Henry Clay and (far right) Daniel Webster. Clay puns, "It's a ridiculous matter, I apprehend there is no danger on foot!" Visitors in the galleries flee in panic.

    From American Social History Online:
    http://www.dlfaquifer.org/search/item/Scene-in-Uncle-Sams-Senate-17th/oai%253Alcoa1%252Eloc%252Egov%253Aloc%252Epnp%252Fcph%252E3a08181?page=5

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  2. Sean Nalty5:54 PM

    Thanks to both of you. I might only add that a version of the events can also be found in the James Alfred Pearce Papers at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. Both Foote and Benton were offered the findings of Pearce's committee investigating the incident and both (not surprisingly) suggested changes to the draft report.

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  3. I'm going to look up the Congressional Globe for that day and see what if anything that reflects.

    ReplyDelete

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