Page images

caused his name to be proclaimed in trumpet-tones all over the land. He was an unpolished, unlettered man, entirely inexperienced in all statesmanlike accomplishments; but he was a man of firmness, of uncompromising integrity, and of sound common sense and practical wisdom. He was an available man; for "Palo Alto" and "Resaca de la Palma " would ring pleasantly upon the popular ear, and catch the popular vote. But it was necessary to associate with him on the same ticket some man of reputation as a statesman, and in whose intellectual powers and varied experience the community might repose confidence.

Under the influence of these considerations, the names of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore became the rallying-cry of the Whigs as their candidates for President and Vice-President. The Whig ticket was signally triumphant. On the 4th of March, 1849, Gen. Taylor was inaugurated President, and Millard Fillmore Vice-President, of the United States. He was admirably adapted for this position. His tall, well-proportioned, manly form, and the natural dignity and grace of his bearing, gave him an imposing presence. His mind, originally of a high order, and disciplined by the laborious culture of years, enabled him promptly and successfully to meet every intellectual emergency. His countenance gave expression to those traits of firmness, gentleness, and conscientiousness, which marked his character.

The stormy days of the Republic were now at hand. The great question of slavery was permeating every subject which was brought before Congress, shaping the whole legislation of the country, arousing fiery debate, arraying parties in hostile lines in the Senate and in the House, and agitating as with earthquake-throes every city and village in the Union. It was evident. that the strength of our institutions was soon to be severely tried. John C. Calhoun, when President of the Senate, had taken the position, that he had no power to call a senator to order for words, however intemperate, when spoken in debate. Vice-President Fillmore, upon taking his chair as presiding officer over that august body, announced to the Senate his determination tion to maintain decorum in that chamber, and that he should promptly call senators to order for any offensive words which might be spoken. The Senate manifested its approval of this decision by unanimously ordering the views thus expressed to be entered upon their journal.

On the 9th of July, 1850, President Taylor, but about one year and four months after his inauguration, was suddenly taken sick, and died. By the Constitution, Vice-President Fillmore thus became President of the United States. He appointed a very able cabinet, of which the illustrious Daniel Webster was Secretary of State. The agitated condition of the country brought questions of very great delicacy before him. He was bound by his oath of office to execute the laws of the United States. One of those laws was understood to be, that if a slave, escaping from

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

bondage, should reach a free State, the United States was bound to help catch him, and return him to his master. Most Christian men loathed this law. President Fillmore felt bound by his oath rigidly to see it enforced. Slavery was organizing armies to invade Cuba, as it had invaded Texas, and annex it to the United States. President Fillmore gave all the influence of his exalted station against the atrocious enterprise. The illustrious Hungarian, Kossuth, visited our shores, and was cordially received by the President; while he frankly informed him that it

was the policy of our Government to avoid all complications in European affairs.

Mr. Fillmore had very serious difficulties to contend with, since the opposition had a majority in both Houses. He did every thing in his power to conciliate the South; but the proslavery party in the South felt the inadequacy of all measures of transient conciliation. The population of the free States was so rapidly increasing over that of the slave States, that it was inevitable that the power of the Government should soon pass into the hands of the free States. The famous compromise-measures were adopted under Mr. Fillmore's administration, and the Japan Expedition was sent out.

On the 4th of March, 1853, Mr. Fillmore, having served one term, retired from office. He then took a long tour throughout the South, where he met with quite an enthusiastic reception. In a speech at Vicksburg, alluding to the rapid growth of the country, he said,

"Canada is knocking for admission, and Mexico would be glad to come in; and, without saying whether it would be right or wrong, we stand with open arms to receive them: for it is the manifest destiny of this Government to embrace the whole NorthAmerican continent."

In 1855, President Fillmore went to Europe, where he was received with those marked attentions which his position and character merited. Returning to this country in 1856, he was nominated for the presidency by the strangely called "KnowNothing" party. Mr. Buchanan, the Democratic candidate, was the successful competitor for the prize. Since then, Mr. Fillmore has lived in retirement. During the terrible conflict of civil war, he was mostly silent. It was generally supposed that his sympa thies were rather with those who were endeavoring to overthrow our institutions. Edward Everett, who had been a candidate for the vice-presidency, left no one in doubt respecting his abhorrence of the Rebellion, and his devotion to his country's flag. Presi dent Fillmore kept aloof from the conflict, without any cordial words of cheer to the one party or the other. He was thus forgotten by both. He is still living in the interior of New York, in the sixty-seventh year of his age.



Character of his Father. His Promise in Boyhood. - College Life. - Political Views.Success as a Lawyer. - Entrance upon Public Life.-Service in the Mexican War.Landing in Mexico.- March through the Country.- Incidents of the March.-Anecdotes.- Nomination for the Presidency. - Election. - Administration. - Retirement.

FRANKLIN PIERCE, the fourteenth President of the United States, was born in Hillsborough, N.H., Nov. 23, 1804. His

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

father was a Revolutionary soldier, who, with his own strong arm, hewed him out a home in the wilderness. He was a man of inflexible integrity; of strong, though uncultivated mind; and an uncompromising Democrat. When, under the administration of

John Adams, an effort was made to draw our country into an alliance with England in her war against the French republic, Major Pierce, as his title then was, was offered a high commission in the army which was proposed to be levied.

"No, gentlemen," was his reply. "Poor as I am, and acceptable as would be the position under other circumstances, I would sooner go to yonder mountains, dig me a cave, and live on roast potatoes, than be instrumental in promoting the objects for which that army is raised."

His energetic and upright character and commanding abilities gave him great influence in the secluded region where he dwelt, and he occupied nearly every post of honor and emolument which his neighbors could confer upon him. He was for several years in the State Legislature; was a member of the governor's council, and a general of the militia. He was an independent farmer; a generous, large-hearted, hospitable man. The mother of Franklin Pierce was all that a son could desire, - an intelligent, prudent, affectionate, Christian woman. Franklin was the sixth of eight


Old Gen. Pierce was a politician, ever ready for argument; and there was ample opportunity for the exercise of his powers in those days of intense political excitement, when, all over the New-England States, Federalists and Democrats were arrayed so fiercely against each other. Franklin, as a boy, listened eagerly to the arguments of his father, enforced by strong and ready utterance and earnest gestures. It was in this school that he was led to ally himself with the Democratic party so closely, as to be ready to follow wherever it might lead.

Franklin was a very bright and handsome boy, generous, warmhearted, and brave. He won alike the love of old and young. The boys on the play-ground loved him. His teachers loved him. The neighbors looked upon him with pride and affection. He was by instinct a gentleman; always speaking kind words, doing kind deeds, with a peculiar unstudied tact which taught him what was agreeable. Without developing any precocity of genius, or any unnatural devotion to books, he was a good scholar; in body, in mind, in affections, a finely-developed boy.

When sixteen years of age, in the year 1820, he entered Bowdoin College, at Brunswick, Me. The writer there became personally acquainted with him. He was one of the most popular

« PreviousContinue »