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Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President

Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President - Robert J. Rayback President 1850-1853Millard Fillmore, when he is remembered at all, usually gets a passing mention as one of the "caretaker" Presidents from the mid-1800's... an era characterized by a much weaker Executive Branch than we have today. Since he is one of two Presidents hailing from Buffalo, NY (the other being Grover Cleveland), I had some hopes that maybe I would discover some little-known nugget to make him more interesting. Sorry...history's meek judgement of him seems to be about right. He wasn't even elected; in a political compromise, his party (the now-defunct Whigs) made him the Vice Presidential candidate to Pres. Zachary Taylor. When Taylor died unexpectedly, Fillmore took office. After an uninspiring term in the White House, he didn't seek re-election, and by many accounts, it looks like he wouldn't have been re-elected anyhow. It seems odd, but may be an indication of his tepid appeal, that Fillmore - a President of the United States spent so much time and anguish fighting an arch-nemesis (Mr.Weed) who was little more than the editor of a regional Albany,NY newspaper.Most of the 440 pages here comprise dry descriptions of the political maneuvering, party in-fighting, and administrative wrangling that pass for "highlights" of his tenure. Fillmore was an able political functionary, and a loyal Party Man to his beloved Whigs, but from what I can tell, he was completely lacking in passion or charisma. To give the President his due, he spent a good deal of time trying to maintain the uneasy peace between Northern and Southern states. Even in the 1840's, "hot" issues (e.g. the slave-vs.-free status of California) were starting to escalate the North/South acrimony which would eventually culminate in the American Civil War. On the global stage, the only tidbit of interest was that Fillmore sent Admiral Perry on his legendary errand to the Emperor of Japan. The appearance of Perry's imposing fleet of black, coal-fueled warships intimidated the Japanese to reverse their age-old policy of isolationism.. partly out of fear, but also out of admiration... the sophisticated design of Perry's ships impressed the Japanese, and fueled their ambitions to modernize. It was a seminal moment in Japanese history: the spiritual beginning of the Meiji Era, in which Japan transformed from an aloof kingdom to a major regional player in East Asia. The Japanese themselves recognize the significance of Perry's "visit", and in Enoshima (the little village on Tokyo Bay where Perry touched down) they still celebrate "Kurofune" ("black ship" [day:]) with fireworks and festival.Books about Fillmore are few, so if you have some special interest in him, or in his role as a local figure in Buffalo, then by all means consider this book. If you are looking for a good read, a fascinating new perspective on history, or a tantilizing look at life in the mid 19th century... keep looking. If you happen to find yourself in East Aurora, NY outside of Buffalo, consider touring the Millard Fillmore House: