Document Type


Date of Award



Fillmore, Millard, Antimasonic Party.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Walter Hugins

Second Advisor

Richard M. Dalfiume

Third Advisor

Albert V. House


The discovery of the Millard Fillmore Papers at New Haven, New York, in 1966, gave those interested in the study of the country’s thirteenth President a virtual gold mine of new information. These papers, containing the correspondence of Fillmore for his entire adult life, had been thought to have been destroyed after the death of his son in 1866. They shed new light on many aspects of the life of the nation's only true Whig President. This may seem to be a strange statement, considering the fact that four different men elected under the Whig banner sat in the White House. However, Harrison and Taylor were military men who had few political ties, and John Tyler was an unreconstituted states-rights Democrat, who was totally alienated from his superficially adopted party by the end of his term. So, in reality, Millard Fillmore was the only true and dedicated Whig ever to occupy the position of Chief Executive.

Robert J. Rayback’s biography of Fillmore, published in 1959, took into account virtually all available sources. Although his book did much to put the former President in a more favorable light, the New Haven collection, now deposited at the State University College at Oswego, leads one to challenge certain of his interpretations.

I first encountered the Fillmore Papers as an undergraduate student at Oswego. Assisting in cataloguing them, I developed my initial interest in Millard Fillmore. In the seven succeeding years, my own opinion of the nation's thirteenth President has undergone a number of changes.

My first impression was colored by the traditional picture of Fillmore as a nonentity who became President by accident. This idea quickly gave way to a much more favorable one, as I came to learn more about Fillmore both as a man and as a political figure. As is often the case when one studies a historical figure closely, Fillmore became a much greater individual than he had previously seemed. Reading Mr. Rayback’s excellent biography only reaffirmed my growing esteem of the man. However, after more study and considerable reflection, I have developed what I hope is a more objective view.

Millard Fillmore was neither a political nonentity nor a noble, self-sacrificing idealist, as Rayback at times seems to claim. He was an honest man, a successful lawyer, and a tough, smart, and up to a point, highly successful politician. He was a Whig, a basically conservative politician who placed party unity above everything else.

A superficial study of Fillmore’s career does not demonstrate his basic conservatism. He began his political life with the Anti-Masonic Party which was definitely not dedicated to the preservation of the status quo. Nor was the vehicle of his last political adventure, the American or Know-Nothing Party, exactly a stabilizing influence on the American political scene. But Millard Fillmore was at heart a conservative. It might be said, and with only slight exaggeration, that he was a Whig before there was a Whig Party and he definitely remained a Whig long after the party had ceased to exist, right through the Civil War and after.

Millard Fillmore’s political career was a search for a national party and a battle to keep it functioning and flourishing once it was a reality. His search was successful, but he lost the battle to make his Whig Party a lasting fixture in American politics.