Fillmore, Millard (1800–74), 13th president of the United States. Fillmore served only 2 years in office, stepping into the executive post from the vice presidency after the death of President Zachary Taylor. As president, Fillmore preferred to take the role of moderator in the fierce debates raging throughout the country and the Congress in the turbulent pre-Civil War years.
At age 15 Fillmore was apprenticed to a clothmaker. Two years before the apprenticeship term was to end, he bought his freedom and took up the study of law, supporting himself by teaching school. In 1823 he was admitted to the bar and opened a law office. In 1826 he married Abigail Powers.
Fillmore, a political moderate, was elected to the New York House of Representatives in 1828 with the support of Albany publisher Thurlow Weed, who helped found the Whig Party. In 1832 Fillmore was elected to The U.S. House of Representatives, where he served 1833–35 and 1837–43. As a member of Congress he opposed the annexation of Texas as a slave territory, approved protective tariffs, and advocated the right to petition against slavery. In 1844 he ran unsuccessfully as the Whig candidate for governor of New York. He served briefly as chancellor of the University of Buffalo (N.Y.) but returned to public service 3 years later, when he became state controller. He was nominated for vice president on the 1848 Whig ticket and elected to office under President Zachary Taylor.
When Taylor died on July 9, 1850, Fillmore became president. One of his first, and most important, acts in office was to approve the Compromise of 1850, a complicated legislative package concerning slavery that probably held the Union together for another decade but included provisions odious to both North and South. It included the Fugitive Slave Law, providing for stiff penalties for anyone who aided an escaped slave. In signing this law, designed to placate the South in exchange for concessions to the North that excluded some territories from slavery, Fillmore performed the most unpopular act of his career. It severely harmed his reelection campaign. In foreign affairs, the Fillmore administration's main accomplishment was to send Admiral Matthew C. Perry to Japan. Perry's successful mission to open trade with that country was a major diplomatic step in U.S. relations with the East.
In 1852 Fillmore ran for renomination by the Whigs and lost. In 1856 the short-lived Know-Nothing Party nominated him for president. He came in third, winning electoral votes from Maryland only. Fillmore took no further part in public life. His wife had died less than a month after he left office; in 1858 he remarried. He retired at Buffalo and died there in 1874.