[00:05.97]VOA Learning English presents America’s Presidents.
[00:12.45]Today we are talking about Millard Fillmore, the 13th president of the United States.
[00:20.13]Fillmore is also likely the least remembered president.
[00:25.96]He has been called “uninspiring” and having only “some competence.”
[00:33.33]But Fillmore provided an example of the American dream come true.
[00:39.88]He rose from a poor family to become a wealthy man.
[00:44.74]He was elected to Congress four times and nominated for vice president under Zachary Taylor.
[00:52.05]When Taylor unexpectedly died in office in 1850, Fillmore took his place.
[01:11.90]Other presidents’ campaigns, such as Andrew Jackson’s, had spoken proudly of their candidates’ modest beginnings.
[01:22.82]William Henry Harrison’s supporters especially linked him with the image of a simple house called a log cabin – even though William Henry Harrison was a wealthy man.
[01:37.21]But Millard Fillmore really was born in a log cabin. His family was poor.
[01:44.06]They raised him and his seven brothers and sisters in a rural part of New York State.
[01:51.32]Fillmore did not receive much education as a child.
[01:56.15]However, he was very interested in learning – so interested that he fell in love with his teacher, Abigail Powers.
[02:07.03]The two married after he launched his career as a lawyer.
[02:11.88]They had two children, a son and a daughter.
[02:16.61]Millard Fillmore soon entered politics.
[02:20.71]He won elections to the New York State Assembly, and then to the U.S. House of Representatives.
[02:28.22]After eight years in Washington, DC, Fillmore returned to New York.
[02:34.45]He failed to be elected governor, but succeeded to become comptroller of New York.
[02:41.67]In other words, he oversaw the state’s finances.
[02:46.72]At that time, Americans were preparing for another presidential election.
[02:54.24]President James Polk was retiring from the White House after only one term, as he had promised.
[03:02.31]The opposition party, the Whigs, nominated Zachary Taylor as their presidential candidate.
[03:10.38]Taylor, a popular war hero from the South, owned slaves.
[03:15.91]But the Whigs realized that many anti-slavery voters in the North would not support Taylor.
[03:24.56]Party leaders were looking for someone to balance the ticket – a Northerner voters would consider a friend of business.
[03:35.29]They found Millard Fillmore.
[03:38.19]In 1847, the Whigs nominated Fillmore as Taylor’s vice president.
[03:45.33]The two men had never met.
[03:48.45]And, when they did meet, they did not like each other very much.
[03:54.05]Taylor was short-legged, poorly educated, and rarely seemed concerned about his physical appearance.
[04:04.13]Fillmore was taller, learned, and elegant.
[04:09.25]Their personalities did not fit together any better than their appearances did.
[04:15.18]But a majority of voters liked them.
[04:18.24]The Whigs won the election, and Fillmore returned to Washington.
[04:35.12]As vice president, Millard Fillmore was the leader of the Senate.
[04:40.71]But President Taylor did not seek his advice on the major political issue of the day.
[04:47.09]At the time, both lawmakers and the public were debating whether the government should – and could – ban slavery in the territories the U.S. had gained after the war with Mexico.
[05:03.33]In general, Northerners did not want to permit slavery in new states.
[05:09.50]But many Southerners did.
[05:12.37]The debate was so heated that one of the Southern states, South Carolina, threatened to leave the Union.
[05:22.02]President Taylor did not want to expand slavery.
[05:26.41]To restrict it, he proposed a change to the rules so California and New Mexico could enter the Union quickly as slave-free states.
[05:38.06]But before Taylor’s idea could get too far, he became sick.
[05:44.03]Fillmore learned the president was not well and prepared for the worst. It came.
[05:51.48]Taylor died after being in office for only 16 months.
[05:56.01]The following day, Fillmore was sworn-in as president.
[06:22.02]One of Fillmore’s first acts as president was to show where he stood on the slavery issue.
[06:29.85]He appointed a man who opposed Taylor to secretary of state.
[06:35.97]That man, Daniel Webster – and others – wanted to pass a compromise bill on slavery.
[06:43.78]With Fillmore’s support, they succeeded.
[06:48.39]The Compromise of 1850 included several measures related to slavery.
[06:56.31]Two measures limited it: California was admitted as a free state, and the slave trade in Washington, DC ended.
[07:08.58]On the other hand, New Mexico and Utah were left open to slavery,
[07:15.78]and both the federal government and ordinary citizens were required to return suspected escaped slaves to their owners.
[07:27.16]That last measure, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, targeted even free African-Americans and enslaved people who had escaped to free states.
[07:41.51]The Compromise aimed to end the conflict between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces.
[07:50.40]But neither side was really satisfied.
[07:54.69]And President Fillmore did not help matters.
[07:59.23]He was personally opposed to slavery.
[08:02.69]However, he did not act on his beliefs.
[08:06.61]Instead, he tried to keep the South in the Union by strongly enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.
[08:16.05]By the end of Fillmore’s three years in the White House, many members of his Whig party were angry with him.
[08:25.77]Party leaders did not nominate him again for the next election.
[08:31.16]But their chosen candidate was not successful either. Fillmore turned out to be the last Whig president.
[08:54.90]The end of Fillmore’s presidency included difficulty in his private life, too.
[09:02.62]His wife, Abigail, became sick on the day the next president was sworn-in.
[09:09.43]She died within a month.
[09:11.88]Soon after, Fillmore’s daughter died, too.
[09:16.79]To help deal with their loss, Fillmore tried to stay active in politics.
[09:24.05]In the presidential election of 1856, Fillmore served as the candidate for a new party -- the Know-Nothing Party.
[09:34.09]The Know-Nothings were strongly opposed to immigration.
[09:39.57]They especially wanted to limit the number of Irish Catholics who could come to the United States.
[09:47.49]Fillmore did not agree with the party’s anti-immigration policies.
[09:53.99]But he did not have a chance to put his opinions into policy.
[09:59.33]Fillmore finished third out of the three major candidates in the election.
[10:05.63]After that loss, he finally retired to the city of Buffalo, New York.
[10:11.74]There, Fillmore married a second time -- to a wealthy widow named Caroline McIntosh.
[10:20.15]He remained an important figure in the city’s charities and other causes.
[10:26.80]But the political situation in the country grew only more intense.
[10:33.21]Americans continued to be divided over the issue of slavery.
[10:37.76]Fillmore’s time in office and his compromise bill may have delayed but did not stop the American Civil War.
[10:53.62]I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.