Millard Fillmore “God save us from Whig Vice Presidents”

  • Philip Abbott
Part of the The Evolving American Presidency Series book series (EAP)


When Fillmore assumed the presidency upon the death of Zachary Taylor, the “traumatic specter” of John Tyler was very much on the minds of Whig leaders. A day after Fillmore took office, Thurlow Weed publicly warned Fillmore not to take “the perfidious course and ignominious fate” of Tyler.1 Weed’s concomitant advice to select another exemplar to instruct him, “the inflexible firmness” of Taylor, constituted a demand for an homage strategy. The leader of the New York Whigs raised the standard issue of rex facing an accidental president, arguing that Tyler had ignored homage, which was the only appropriate way to gain acknowledgment as president. The circumstances were, of course, quite different in many respects from 1841. Tyler as accidental president rejected homage and instead pursued an independent strategy in the face of a united Whig Party agenda. When Fillmore assumed office in 1850, he faced a party rife with internal conflict. Fillmore therefore was really being warned by Weed not to abandon the faction supported by the dead president. The situation was even more complex than Weed’s analogy suggested. Tyler was placed on the ticket as an anti-Jackson Democrat.


Republican Party Independent Strategy Fait Accompli Cabinet Member Union Party 
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  1. 1.
    Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the Whig Party (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 523.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., p. 524.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ibid., p, 522; Jean Harvey Baker, “Millard Fillmore” in James M. McPherson, “To the Best of My Ability” (New York: Dorling, Kinderley, 200), p. 102.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    John C. Waugh, On the Brink of Civil War: The Compromise of 1850 and How It Changed the Course of American History (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2003), pp. 168–69.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    W. L. Barre, The Life and Public Services of Millard Fillmore (Buffalo: Wanzee, McKim, 1856), p. 124. Interestingly, the observer later questioned whether the young Fillmore had the “self confidence and assurance” to be a “political chieftain.”Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1990), pp. 210–11.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    See: Glenn A. Phelps’s George Washington and American Constitutionalism (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1993).Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Robert J. Raybick argues that the motion was engineered by Fillmore. Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President (Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Historical Society, 1959), pp. 247–52. Holman Hamilton, however, is skeptical. Prologue to Conflict: The Compromise of 1850 (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1964), p. 113.Google Scholar
  9. 24.
    Michael Holt, Political Parties and American Political Development (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1992), p. 272.Google Scholar
  10. 25.
    Ibid., p. 178.Google Scholar

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© Philip Abbott 2008

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  • Philip Abbott

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