January 21, 2011

he was only one milf


If Milf was known for anything, it was patience. Possibly the happiest years of his life were his 20s and 30s, when he and his two best friends ran a law firm in Buffalo, and also ran Buffalo itself. He was widely known for being a good lawyer, and a good teacher. Many, many young lawyers, including future president Garfield, came to learn from him and then spend evenings seeking his advice.
He was also famous for the political rivalry he had with Thurlow Weed, a newspaper editor, former friend, and champion of William Seward (senator, governor, rival and eventual second fiddle to Lincoln). Weed launched a smear campaign against Milf that lasted decades, and Milf put up with it without ever striking back.
In a particularly poetic string of events, Weed was a big supporter of Milf for vice-president solely so that he would be out of New York, ensuring Seward’s bid for governor, which was thought to be a more powerful position than VP. With Milf as VP and Seward as governor, Weed started manipulating President Taylor to undercut Milf’s authority until surprise! – Taylor died, Fillmore became president, and Weed got burned.
Although he didn’t get too burned. For being the new president’s most vocal antagonist, Milf did almost nothing to shut him down when he took office. He let Weed’s friends keep their appointments, tried to work with Seward, and generally took the high road. He had bigger things to worry about, I guess is the point, than New York politics, which has always been ugly.
And at the time, even more than usual, every politician was mad all the time. Sectional conflict was starting to get pretty real, and they couldn’t even pass a bill about building canals without slavery coming up. So Milf’s main job, and main accomplishment, as a president was making most of the people happy most of the time. It’s not a legacy that forges monuments, but it’s a lot more than many of the leading politicians of the day could have done.
Of course, the flip side of being a compromise president is the argument that compromise wasn’t the noble path. Now that we all know that the compromises of the 1840s and 1850s only delayed war instead of avoiding it, these men look pretty impotent, which is why Milf gets no respect. But he seems like he was a really nice guy.

January 20, 2011

party time


I’m not too interested in talking at length about the evolution of political parties, but it has to be said that things got pretty weird in the 1850s.
The Democratic-Republican party of Jefferson and Monroe started out as ultra-small government, partially due to the remaining distaste for monarchy and the big programs of John Adams. However, as the need for centralized authority in the running of a large country became more apparent, the Democratic-Republicans started putting more and more power into the federal government, to the point that John Quincy Adams, formerly a hated Federalist, became a natural member of their party.
But then Andrew Jackson was like, we need to be EVEN MORE POWERFUL, so although he claimed Jefferson and Monroe as his heroes, he is considered the first Democratic president because he broke with so much of their philosophy (like diplomacy).
So then the anti-Jackson faction kind of didn’t know what to do, because they considered themselves in opposition to him, even though he had kind of come from their party. So the only thing to do was to start a new party that was obviously not his.
The Anti-Masonic party started as a vote-getter for John Quincy Adams. A small group of supporters wanted Adams back in power, and they thought the most effective way to get rid of Jackson was to stoke people’s fear of Freemasons, of whom Jackson was a powerful member.  It didn’t work, so the Anti-Masons mostly all became Whigs, which had a broader political platform.
The Whigs came to power with the presidency of William Henry Harrison, but his successor John Tyler abandoned the party while still president. Then the Whigs coalesced around opposition to the Mexican-American War and James K. Polk, its Jacksonian-protégé leader, and got Zachary Taylor elected as the anti-Polk.
The Whigs, though, had a hard time keeping it together. In order to be a powerful national party, they had to appeal to be North and South, and this was next to impossible, because everyone had a strong view on slavery. Abolitionists kept breaking away from the Whigs and starting their own parties, but they never got strong enough to win anything besides local elections.
Then there was the Native American Party, otherwise known as the Know-Nothing Party, or Nativists. This party was started by the secret society Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, a group of New England white guys who hated immigrants and Catholics. If any of them were ever asked about their secret society, they would say “I know nothing about it,” which is how they got their nickname.
The people in the Know-Nothing Party were valuable to Whigs, though, because they agreed on sectional compromise as a policy, so they eventually got folded back into the Whigs as well.
But, in general, party-hopping was rampant among non-Democrats. There were Free-Soilers, National Whigs, "Silver-Grey" Whigs, Nativists, Anti-Nebraskans, and the Liberty Party. Old Millf started out as an Anti-Mason, then a Whig, and then remained a Whig when the rest of the party became Republicans. It’s hard to keep track of, because everybody keeps switching. As Rayback says in his biography of Millf, a lot of politicians in the 1850s were “experimenting with new political loyalties,” and everything got very unpredictable.

January 05, 2011

we'll call him MilF, shall we?

No better way to start the new year, really, than by reading about Millard Fillmore.

People's responses to learning about At Times Dull has been an accidental sociological study. Most people say, "What are you going to do when you get to Millard Fillmore?" I swear to this, 9 out of 10 times it's Millard Fillmore. The other time it's usually Garfield.

Ol' MillF is the poster boy for forgotten presidents with funny names. Unlucky #13. And biographies of this guy do not grow on trees. But, prosaically, the answer to "What are you going to do when you get to Millard Fillmore" is "read a biography of him and blog about it, just like all the others."

Happy new year from me and MilF!