Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President

Millard Fillmore:  Biography of a President by Robert J. Rayback, is considered one of the best, if not the best, biography of our thirteenth President.  It is published by  It was originally published in 1959 and was formatted into e reader in 2015.  The book has 487 pages but about twenty percent of the pages are pictures, maps, and biographical footnotes.  Rayback is very thorough in citing information from newspapers and personal correspondence.


Rayback, at the time of the writing, was a professor in the department of history at Syracuse University.  Fillmore’s birth and long time residence was the state of New York, particularly the Buffalo area.  After reading the book, I am now interested in visiting Buffalo and seeing the many of his accomplishments.


Fillmore was born to a father who was a tenant farmer who had no great aspirations for any of his children.  It was through a desire for education that Fillmore succeeded in anything.  He first taught school in rural New York, then landed a job as a law clerk.  After reading law with a successful lawyer, Fillmore went on to practice law.  His law practice journeyed him into politics.  Fillmore was influential in the formation and national success of the Whig party.  The book is about half history of the Whig party itself.


It was the Whig party that gave me the interest in the book because I never have understood the underpinnings of the movement.  Fillmore was chosen as Vice President by the Whig party, not President Zachary Taylor.  Running mates selected by the Presidential nominee is practiced now only in the last 100 years.  When Taylor died suddenly after a very short illness, Fillmore was installed as President.  Although Fillmore is little-known, he had a strength of character that I found admirable.  Taylor, to use a modern term, threw Fillmore under the bus.  When Fillmore took office as President, he immediately cleaned the Cabinet posts to men who thought more like his Whig tendencies.  Under Fillmore, the Compromise of 1850 stilled the slavery issue and united the country.  Now I do firmly believe that had Fillmore’s policies been followed, our country would have never suffered a Civil War. His diplomacy was outstanding.


Fillmore left the President’s office when he was but 56 years old and found himself in the social status of forced retirement.  He wanted to work so he took several positions of leadership in the Buffalo area that established hospitals and places of higher learning.  We owe, particularly New York, him a debt of gratitude.


My only complaint in the book is that the layout of the book takes one forward, then goes backward in time.  Politically, Fillmore had harsh, unrelenting, political enemies.  There is almost an overriding theme of how badly Fillmore was treated, but there is also the showing of tenacity of spirit that Fillmore used to overcome the media of his day.  His worst enemy, Thurmond Weed, plagued Fillmore even after he left Washington.  The book shows how very vicious the media is in political realms.  That was in the 1840’s and 18580’s!  News did not travel at the speed of instant as it does now.


For those who feel undereducated in the realm of little known presidents, I heartily recommend this book.  It is not a “page turner” because it is educational.  In my opinion, is would be a must-read for any history teacher.



  1. Thank you. I’m putting together my To Read in 2016 list this week. I’m finishing 41 (GHW Bush) today and plan to read John Adams by McCullough next month. We read/listened to Team of Rival (Lincoln) this past summer. I’m unfamiliar with Fillmore. I’m excited to add this book to my list.

  2. These lesser known Presidents have so much of offer, but we must be open minded as we read. I am having trouble finding something worthwhile to read on Harrison and I live in Indiana. I am somewhat limited due to low vision, but still. . .
    I finally had to settle with a children’s edition, more of a middle school research book, at least the print is large enough. Thank you for commenting, Kathleen, it encouraged me.

  3. Karyl, you’re lighting my fire to read about our Presidents. There is much I know about them, but much more that I don’t!

  4. I didn’t minor in history but I do enjoy American history and read mostly fiction that is historical in some nature or another. This “bug” bit me in the fall and I started and now I can’t stop. I tried on two occasions to tie history and literature together but the history teacher never seemed interested. I usually had both a fiction and non fiction going at the same time and since Fillmore was from the Buffalo, NY area, I found a fiction setting in 1841 in Buffalo. It really adds to the interest. I downloaded my next President bio on my Kindle this week, a bio of Calvin Coolidge. As you can see, I am not reading them in order–rather reading out of curiosity. Thanks for the comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: