Millard Fillmore might just be one of the least known Presidents to ever serve in office in the United States. He was part of the Whigs, which broke apart not long after he served in the White House, and was often remembered even while still alive as someone who didn’t accomplish much of anything – except he did accomplish many great things.
1. A Classic Rags to Riches Story
Fillmore grew up on a poor farm. His father had 130 acres leased to him and Fillmore would work most days to clear the land or raise the crops. By the age of 14, Fillmore’s father decided that he wanted his son to do more than just become a farmer. Eventually he would self-teach himself core subjects, become a schoolteacher without formal schooling, and eventually study law. He was admitted to the bar at the age of 23.
2. 20 Years of Politics
In 1828, Fillmore won his first election. He would serve in the state legislature of New York as part of the Anti-Mason party. In 1832, he was elected to the US House of Representatives, which is where he changed party affiliations to the Whigs. By 1848, he would become the nomination to be the VP candidate on Zachary Taylor’s Presidential ticket.
3. Never Elected
The legacy of Fillmore is tarnished for two specific reasons: he and Taylor only received 47% of the popular vote, but they won the electoral college. Taylor also passed away in July 1850, causing Fillmore to become the country’s second unelected President. He served without appointing a new Vice President throughout the remainder of his term.
4. A Lover of Books
Growing up, Fillmore only owned three books. Two of them were religious: a book of hymns and a Bible. They also owned an almanac. When the Library of Congress caught fire in 1851, Fillmore literally ran to the fire and helped to extinguish it because he cared so much for the value of the books. He would also quickly sign a bill to fund a complete replacement of all that was lost.
It has been joked that to even discuss Millard Fillmore is to give the man more credit than due for his Presidency. For a man that grew up in complete poverty, however, his accomplishments really are quite remarkable and should serve as an example of what anyone can achieve when trying to accomplish their own version of the American dream.