Millard Fillmore (1800 – 1874) was the 13th president of the United States and the last to hold office that was not either a Democrat or Republican. In 1848, at the national Whig convention, Mexican War hero Zachary Taylor was nominated as president with Fillmore on the ticket as vice president. Taylor was wanted to end slavery, but his term was cut short when he died just months into his presidency. Fillmore took office after his death in 1850.
Fillmore walked away from the former president’s desired policy of ending slavery. Generally speaking, the North wanted to end slavery and the South wanted to keep it. Fillmore thought a compromise could work, and he signed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 into law. It required the federal government help capture and return runaway slaves to their owners. He publicly announced that, if necessary, he would call on the military to aid in the enforcement.
Those who wanted to keep slavery were happy with this law. Fillmore wasn’t completely on their side, but at least they didn’t feel abandoned by their president. Fillmore’s compromise probably delayed the Civil War, but those who wanted to end slavery – mostly in the North – were very unhappy about this. Fillmore ran in the next presidential election in 1852, but he and the other two Whigs running for office that year all lost. He tried again in 1856, this time as the candidate of the Know-Nothing Party, also known as the American Party. He finished in third behind Democrat James Buchanan and Republican John C. Fremont. Fillmore retired to Buffalo after the loss and became a leader in the city’s civic and cultural life.