Introduction to Every Leader
Being There: Encountering America's Presidents
MILLARD FILLMORE
13th President of the United States, 1850-1853
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AMERICAN PRESIDENTS

Millard Fillmore House
New York
 

The library at the Millard Fillmore House
The library at the Millard Fillmore House
Town of Aurora

Millard Fillmore, 13th president of the United States, built this simple clapboard one and one-half story house in East Aurora, New York in 1826.  He and his wife Abigail lived there until 1830.  Their only son was born in the home, and here Fillmore began the political career that would lead him to the presidency.  The most important achievement of his single term was the Compromise of 1850, which Congress passed during the first year.  The compromise papered over but did not settle the fierce debates about the extension of slavery, but it did manage to postpone the outbreak of the Civil War for a decade.

Millard Fillmore was born in a log cabin in frontier Cayuga County, New York, in 1800.  Although he had limited opportunity for an education in his youth, he began to study law when he was about 18 and gained admittance to the bar in Buffalo five years later.  Preferring a small town practice to a partnership in the larger city, he soon moved to East Aurora, where he was the only lawyer.  Both he and his wife taught there as well.  He quickly rose in prominence, elected to the State legislature in 1828 on the Anti-Masonic Party ticket.  In East Aurora, he began his 20-year association with Thurlow Weed, boss of the Anti-Masonic and later Whig political machines in New York State.  In 1830, Fillmore moved to Buffalo, which would be his home for the rest of his life.  He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1832 to 1842.  In 1844, he ran for governor and suffered defeat for the first time in his life.

When slaveholder Zachary Taylor became the Whig candidate for president, Weed and other leaders supported northerner Fillmore as vice president to “balance the ticket.”  Fillmore succeeded to the presidency upon President Taylor’s death in July 1850.  Congress was already embroiled in a fierce debate about Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850, which Taylor had opposed.  Fillmore, opposed to slavery but seeking a middle ground between Northern abolitionists and Southern secessionists, strongly supported the measure.

Passed piecemeal in September 1850, the compromise admitted California as a free State; established the territories of Utah and New Mexico, giving residents the right to vote on whether slavery would be legal or not. It also settled a bitter boundary dispute between Texas and New Mexico, abolished the slave trade (but not slavery) in the District of Columbia, and created a strong Federal fugitive slave law.  Both slaveholders and abolitionists had objections to the compromise.  Secessionists in the South threatened insurrection, while Northerners vowed to ignore the Fugitive Slave Law.  The compromise helped postpone for 10 years but did not avert the Civil War.

The Fillmore House features artwork and musical instruments of his daughter
The Millard Fillmore House features artwork and musical instruments of his daughter.
Town of Aurora

President Fillmore believed that by preserving the Union, the Compromise of 1850 would give the nation’s transportation, commerce, and industry an opportunity to develop.  The remainder of his administration was prosperous.  Federal land grants encouraged the construction of new railroads.  Settlement continued to move across the prairies.  In foreign affairs, Fillmore restored some of the good will lost in Latin America because of the Mexican War.  He also sent Matthew Perry to Japan to establish trade and diplomatic relations. 

Angered by Fillmore's support of the Compromise of 1850, northern Whigs blocked his re-nomination in 1852, and he returned to Buffalo.  In 1856, he accepted the presidential nomination of the American, or "Know Nothing," Party, but met overwhelming defeat. Although he never again sought public office, Fillmore continued to play a leading role in philanthropic, civic, and cultural life.

In 1930, Margaret Price purchased the by then deteriorated Fillmore House and moved the front one and one-half story section to its present location.  She made many alterations to convert the house into an artist’s studio, though the original floorboards, plain interior trim, and most of the windows survived.  The Aurora Historical Society bought the house in 1975 and restored it as a historic house museum.  Today, it contains many period pieces from the time President Fillmore lived there, c. 1830, including the president's bed and antique toys.  Visitors can see the original pantry with tin ware and pottery, the restored fireplace, the Presidential Rose Garden with pre-1840 varieties, and the carriage barn.

Plan your visit

The Millard Fillmore House at 24 Shearer Ave., East Aurora, NY, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The museum is open June-October, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 1:00pm to 4:00pm, or by private appointment. Visit the Millard Fillmore House website or call 716-652-8875 for more information.  The Village of East Aurora website provides additional visitor information.

 
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