The oddly named president whose shortsightedness and
stubbornness fractured the nation and sowed the seeds of civil
In the summer of 1850, America was at a terrible crossroads.
Congress was in an uproar over slavery, and it was not clear if a
compromise could be found. In the midst of the debate, President
Zachary Taylor suddenly took ill and died. The presidency, and the
crisis, now fell to the little-known vice president from upstate
In this eye-opening biography, the legal scholar and historian
Paul Finkelman reveals how Millard Fillmore's response to the
crisis he inherited set the country on a dangerous path that led to
the Civil War. He shows how Fillmore stubbornly catered to the
South, alienating his fellow Northerners and creating a fatal rift
in the Whig Party, which would soon disappear from American
politics--as would Fillmore himself, after failing to regain the
White House under the banner of the anti-immigrant and
anti-Catholic "Know Nothing" Party.
Though Fillmore did have an eye toward the future, dispatching
Commodore Matthew Perry on the famous voyage that opened Japan to
the West and on the central issues of the age--immigration,
religious toleration, and most of all slavery--his myopic vision
led to the destruction of his presidency, his party, and
ultimately, the Union itself.
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