The Third Act of Millard Fillmore

Presidential History Blog

The First Act being his youth and political rise, the Second Act being his Presidency…

Millard Fillmore: Lame Duck

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President Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore (1800-74) had been elected Vice President on the Whig Ticket led by General Zachary Taylor in 1848. He did not actively seek the election, but when it was offered, he was honored. Then Zachary Taylor died a year and a half later.

Fillmore was a strapping fellow, boy-to-man, and worked very hard for his education and his admission to the New York Bar. But once an attorney, he preferred elected (or appointed) office to the actual practice of law.

But as President, he made efforts to walk the fine line between “leadership” and gravitating to “popular” politics. Unfortunately for the 1850s, popular politics were so badly divided that actual leadership was perceived as a drawback. Millard Fillmore, being a child of his time and upbringing, was…

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Context for Historic Monuments is Subjective

Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington DC has submitted a list of Federal monuments in her city which should be “removed, relocated, or contextualized.” She recently formed a commission to study this highly contentious issue. These recommendations come at a crucial time in our analysis of American remembrance.

Bowser’s commission actually lists the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial along with statues to Franklin, Mason, and Jackson.

The National Park Service provides appropriate context where possible, including exhibits at the Washington and Jefferson sites. Further contextual additions are clearly subjective undertakings, likely not to include proponents of maintaining such sites. Reasonable voices are being disregarded as discourse is thrown out the window. Not all historians support such haphazard attempts at political correctness. They need to be heard.

Our collective ride down the slippery slope of misguided historical revision continues.

Jefferson and the Press

Jefferson was a champion of the free press, but never considered freedom of speech as blanket protection for slander. Throughout his career, he struggled with the contradictory nature of politics and media.

“Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of it’s benefits, than is done by it’s abandoned prostitution to falsehood…Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”

The lack of truth in reporting brought out the melancholy streak that often plagued him.

I deplore with you the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them…A truth now and then projecting into the ocean of newspaper lies, serves like head-lands to correct our course. Indeed, my skepticism as to everything I see in a newspaper, makes me indifferent whether I ever see one.”

Buckland Mills Battlefield in Fauquier County, Virginia

M.A. Kleen

Visit the scene of J.E.B. Stuart’s last decisive victory in Virginia before it is erased forever by suburban sprawl.

The Battle of Buckland Mills was fought on October 19, 1863 between Union cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and Confederate cavalry commanded by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart in Fauquier County, Virginia during the American Civil War. The skirmish, though small, was the last decisive Confederate victory in Virginia, resulting in 230 total casualties and the route of Kilpatrick’s cavalry.

Following the Gettysburg Campaign, both the Union Army of the Potomac and Confederate Army of Northern Virginia were exhausted and needed time to recover, and both Maj. Gen. George G. Meade and Gen. Robert E. Lee sent units to reinforce Tennessee. This resulted in the often overlooked Bristoe Campaign, when Lee decided to go on the offensive against a depleted Union army. After being bruised…

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John Quincy Adams and Mary Frazier

Presidential History Blog

At eighteen, John Quincy Adams returned to Massachusetts after eight years in Europe.

Young Man JQ:

His Harvard education suited him well. Classes were small and elite. Only the best and brightest. John Quincy Adams, who had hobnobbed with the crème de la crème in the great capitals, made new friends and colleagues with his peers and professors.

When he read law with Theophilus Parsons, a Newburyport attorney, he continued those friendships, and periodically joined his pals at the local taverns for wine, brandy, and even a few songs. By twenty-two or -three, he was coming out of his solitary and somewhat cranky persona and began attending the usual parties, card games and local social events.

Perhaps hard to believe, considering 250 years of the acerbic JQA personality known today, he was generally personable and popular. In an Adams fashion.

Mary Frazier, Young Maiden

Mary Frazier was somewhere around…

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The Great Dissent

Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slave owner, issued the only dissent in the 1896 Supreme Court ruling, Plessy v. Ferguson. This case declared the doctrine of “Separate but equal” to be Constitutionally protected.

Harlan’s scathing dissent exposed segregation laws for what they were-

But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is colorblind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.

In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is therefore to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a state to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race.

In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case. It was adjudged in that case that the descendants of Africans who were imported into this country and sold as slaves were not included nor intended to be included under the word “citizens” in the Constitution and could not claim any of the rights and privileges which that instrument provided for and secured to citizens of the United States; that at the time of the adoption of the Constitution they were “considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the government might choose to grant them …

Jefferson’s Birthday

 

Further proof that the trend of combining different commemorations into banker’s holidays… is truly foolish, look no further than Thomas Jefferson.

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Upon entering the executive mansion… citizens began petitioning him for the use of his birthday as a holiday, he gently reminded them, ‘The only birthday I ever commemorate, is that of our Independence, the Fourth of July.’

When a formal request arrived from the Mayor of Boston… Jefferson explained it like this,  “it is clear, disapproving myself of transferring the honors and veneration for the great birthday of our republic to any individual, or of dividing them with individuals, I have declined letting my own birthday be known, and have engaged my family not to communicate it. This has been the uniform answer to every application of the kind.”

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Unintended Consequences

The Senate of the United States was designed… to give equal representation to the States- a more disciplined, stable, and experienced legislative body.  Madison saw the dangers in the popularly elected House, for people were often, “subject to the [periodic] infection of violent passions… that such an institution may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions.” 

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Popular elections are often driven by partisanship, misinformation, and demagoguery.  The States were to choose Senators to insure, “In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind?”

Madison discernibly demonstrates the need for… a portion  of government that can rise above the passions and partisanship that too often sweeps through popular elections.  Federalist 63 uses this reasoning to support the original intent of the election of Senators- State governments deliberately selecting their representatives through  legislatures- the voice of the people held within those bodies…

Today, Americans are less familiar with their state governments than ever… were US Senators still chosen by the legislatures, voters would definitely pay attention to local politics again.

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Current reformers arguing for the repeal of… 17th amendment miss this point entirely.  Conservatives claim the amendment impedes Federalism and limits States rights- but they ignore the more fundamental issue- original intent.  By putting the election of Senators to a popular vote, the body has been subjected to the political passions of any given election cycle.  Partisanship grinds the political process to a halt- the Senate has become an overpaid debating society where grandstanding members play to their bases to insure reelection.  Rank amateurs, never elected to a public office, are foolishly thrust into our most powerful legislative body.   The misguided Progressivism that brought on the 17th amendment is in dire need of reconsideration; the amendment’s repeal being the only logical conclusion.

Retractions and Accuracy

PracticallyHistorical strives for historical accuracy. When proper documentation of primary source material cannot be provided, the blog will remove any unsubstantiated material. The methods and formatting of sources will always be based on the standards set down by the Chicago Manual of Style.

Your continued readership and support of this blog is greatly appreciated.

Historia est magistra vitae.

Electoral Protections

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The Electoral College was designed by…. Madison and Hamilton to help guarantee that Federal cooperation was protected in the election of the President.  Fearing that plurality would bring nationalized power to the executive branch, Madison argued that the mixed authority of Federalism was the best protector of republican virtue:

The executive power will be derived from a very compound source. The immediate election of the President is to be made by the States in their political characters. The votes allotted to them are in a compound ratio, which considers them partly as distinct and coequal societies, partly as unequal members of the same society. The eventual election, again, is to be made by that branch of the legislature which consists of the national representatives; but in this particular act they are to be thrown into the form of individual delegations, from so many distinct and coequal bodies politic.  From this aspect of the government it appears to be of a mixed character, presenting at least as many federal as national features.     Madison, Federalist 39

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Americans enjoy the privilege of voting… yet millions choose not to vote, and many who do take it as seriously as their daily chores.  Uninformed voters squander this important freedom, while single issue voters often trivialize the gravity of elections.  The responsibility of voting was best described by Theodore Roosevelt:

“A vote is like a rifle; its usefulness depends upon the  character of the user.”