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Happy Birthday, Millard Fillmore!

Millard Fillmore was born 7 January 1800 in Cayuga County, New York. Happy birthday, Millard! His presidency isn’t memorable, but his final words are.

Millard Fillmore left Congress in 1843 after a decade of politicking, then unsuccessfully sought the Whig vice-presidential nomination in 1844. He was serving as New York’s state comptroller in 1848, when he was selected to be Zachary Taylor‘s vice president.

Then President Taylor went and died while in office. Fillmore took the oath of office for the presidency the next day, on 10 February 1850. He then did something unheard of: he ousted Taylor’s entire cabinet and replaced them all with new guys.

He didn’t get his party’s nomination for the presidency in the election of 1852, and that must have stung. But the Whig party was dying out, and Fillmore’s support of the Compromise of 1850 hadn’t helped his popularity.

But what about his last words, you ask? In a minute.

The Compromise of 1850 was a “kick the can down the road” solution to the problem of slavery. It included the Fugitive Slave Act, which Fillmore signed shortly after taking office. That act allowed slave owners from the South to seize African-Americans in the North and force them into servitude, without requiring any legal process.

Fillmore’s presidency ended badly. The Whigs lost the presidential election and Fillmore had to pack up the White House to make room for newly-elected Franklin Pierce. But the staff had all quit, and in the confusion, the Fillmore belongings got mingled with the Pierce belongings. Finally they get all this straightened out, but at Pierce’s inauguration Abigail caught a cold, which led to pneumonia. She died 26 days later.

A year after that, Fillmore’s only daughter died of cholera.

Fillmore remarried in 1858, to a wealthy widow named Catherine C. McIntosh. Things being what they were in those days, their marriage contract gave Fillmore complete control over Catherine’s money, “without being in any way accountable therefore.” In fact, their marriage contract included the provision that if Fillmore died first, his widow would receive just one third of her own estate!

Fillmore spent his later years living in a giant mansion in Buffalo, New York. On the morning of 13 February 1874, Millard Fillmore suffered a stroke and lost sensation in the left side of his body. He had a second stroke later that month that affected his throat muscles. While trying to eat, Fillmore was asked by his physician how the food was.

Then came Millard Fillmore’s last words: “The nourishment is palatable.”

He fell unconscious and died on 8 March 1874. Fillmore is buried in Buffalo, at Forest Lawn Cemetery. Every year on his birthday, Fillmore fans celebrate his life and/or his place as one of the more obscure U.S. presidents.

Fillmore's obelisk and grave in Buffalo, New York

“The nourishment is palatable” is a tough line to rhyme, as everyone knows who has ever played the childhood game of Presidential Last Word Couplet Writing.

The nourishment is palatable,

The election quite unballotable.

The nourishment is palatable,

The pope not so infallitable.

See? It’s not that easy.

To find out more about Millard Fillmore, read the Who2 biography and follow the links.

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