I have, on more than one occasion, discussed Millard Fillmore's childhood and young manhood, which bear a striking resemblance to those of his Whig successor, Abraham Lincoln. Born and raised in abject poverty, young Millard, like young Abe, pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become a respected member of his community by virtue of native intelligence, hard work and a little luck.
I am pleased to see that in his newly-published work on the Compromise of 1850, America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union, Fergus M. Bordewich recognizes this affinity and, indeed, concisely summarizes the hurdles that Millard navigated far more eloquently than I could:
In an era when many political careers . . . were based on exaggerated, if not faked, log cabin origins, Fillmore was the real thing. Born in 1800 to a hard-luck sharecropper in western New York, he was bred from boyhood to backbreaking labor in a mostly losing struggled to keep his family's farm going. He didn't learn to spell until the age of seven, and at nineteen still had never seen a map or an atlas. Books, as they were for his equally disadvantaged contemporary Abraham Lincoln, were his escape hatch. Once he became literate, Fillmore read with a frightening ferocity. At the carding mill where he worked for a time, he propped a dictionary on his worktable, and looked up a word each time he passed by, and then fixed it in his memory while he changed rolls of wool. When, a few years later, he talked a local judge into taking him on as a law clerk, he was so grateful he burst into tears. Through superhuman perseverance, he eventually became one of the most sought after lawyers in Buffalo.