Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in potus_geeks,

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Happy Birthday Millard Fillmore

Prior to 2021, every year on this day (January 7th) a ceremony was held at the grave of President Millard Fillmore at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo New York. Faculty, staff, students, administrators and friends of the University of Buffalo would gather at Fillmore’s gravesite at Buffalo's Forest Lawn Cemetery to mark the birthday of the university’s first chancellor, who was also the 13th president of the United States and the founder of many Buffalo institutions, like the Buffalo History Museum, the Buffalo Historical Society, Buffalo General Hospital and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. That won't be happening this year, though it's not because of the pandemic. But more on that later, On January 7, 1800 (222 years ago today) Millard Fillmore (no middle name) was born in Moravia, Cayuga County, in the Finger Lakes region of New York State.

Millard Fillmore was the last President to be a member of the Whig Party. As Zachary Taylor's Vice President, he assumed the presidency on July 9, 1850, following Taylor's death. Fillmore was a lawyer from western New York state, and one of the first members of the Whig Party. He served in the state legislature from 1829 to 1831, as a U.S. Representative for two non-consecutive terms (1833–1835 and 1837–1843), and as New York State Comptroller from 1848 to 1849. He was elected Vice President of the United States in 1848 as Taylor's running mate, and served from 1849 until Taylor's death in 1850, at the height of the "Crisis of 1850" over slavery. When the Compromise of 1850 was proposed, it was ironic that Fillmore the northerner supported it, while Taylor, the southerner and slave holder, opposed it.

Fillmore had been an anti-slavery moderate, but not an abolitionist, and he opposed abolitionist demands to exclude slavery from all of the territory gained in the Mexican War. Instead he supported the Compromise of 1850, which briefly ended the crisis, though his critics argue that he merely kicked the problem down the road. In foreign policy, Fillmore supported U.S. Navy expeditions to open up trade with Japan, he opposed French designs on Hawaii, and also opposed Narciso López's "filibuster" expeditions to liberate Cuba from Spain. He sought re-election in 1852, but lost his party's nomination to General Winfield Scott.

When the Whig Party broke up prior to the 1856 election, Fillmore and other conservative Whigs joined the American Party, the political arm of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic "Know-Nothing" movement. He was selected as the American Party candidate for President in 1856, but finished third, with 21.6% of the popular vote and only Maryland's 8 electoral votes.

During the Civil War, Fillmore denounced secession and agreed that the Union must be maintained by force if necessary, but he was also very critical of the war policies of President Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln died, an angry mob splashed ink on Fillmore's house because he did not follow the custom of decorating the home with black bunting. After the war, he supported the Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson. He died at 11:10 pm on March 8, 1874, at his home in Buffalo following a stroke. His last words are alleged to be, "the nourishment is palatable", referring to some soup that he was being fed.

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In 2019 the University of Buffalo and other community partners marked the 219th anniversary of Fillmore's birth in a ceremony held at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo. The program began at Fillmore’s gravesite with brief remarks, a prayer by Rev. Joan Montagnes of the United Universalist Church in Buffalo, and the presentation of wreaths by representatives of the White House, Millard Fillmore legacy organizations and the Forest Lawn Group. Col. Eric L. Laughton, medical group commander for the 107th Attack Wing, New York Air National Guard in Niagara Falls, presented a wreath on behalf of the White House. The program then moved to the cemetery’s Margaret L. Wendt Archive & Resource Center for a reception hosted by Forest Lawn and the Buffalo Club. Bill Parke, a member and historian for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, will spoke about “Millard Fillmore and His Debtor Legislation.”

Subsequently however, Fillmore became a victim of "cancel culture" and in August of 2020, the University of Buffalo (UB) made a decision to remove the names of Millard Fillmore, James O. Putnam and Peter B. Porter from four locations. The decision was made ad part of "the university’s commitment to fight systemic racism and create a welcoming environment for all." The Millard Fillmore Academic Center, which houses academic departments, student residences and other services, changed its name to "Academic Center" with a new name to be determined. UB President Satish Tripathi said: “Clearly, historical namings on our campus — whether academic buildings, residential halls, interior spaces or thoroughfares — carry important symbolic value. We want to ensure that these symbols align with our mission — namely, that we are a diverse, inclusive scholarly community. As we consider some of these symbols, we have no intention of erasing our history. However, we can purposefully determine whom we want to honor in this way.”

Fillmore was a founder and the first chancellor of UB, serving from 1846 until his death in 1874. He also helped establish some of Buffalo’s most enduring institutions. But UB's decision to cease honoring Fillmore is rooted in the 13th president's support of The Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. UB has stopped sponsoring the annual gravesite ceremony. UB previously ran a continuing education program called Millard Fillmore College. That program was folded into existing programs in 2018 and no longer exists.


Rev. Mark Blue of the Buffalo NAACP called the decision the right move. He said, "I commend them for wanting to make sure the disparities and racial inequities are rectified. Even though Millard Fillmore was from here and was president, the north had been one of the racist areas of contention when it comes to systemic racism," says Blue. "I think it's a great equalizer and it's time for racial justice to be ensued."
Tags: abraham lincoln, andrew johnson, millard fillmore, slavery, winfield scott, zachary taylor

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