Not many Americans know much about Millard Fillmore (January 7, 1800 — March 8, 1874) except that he was the 13th President of the United States (1850-1853), came after Zachary Taylor and before Franklin Pierce, and that he had a ridiculous name. Lots of jokes have been made about this.
President Fillmore was not elected: He ascended from the vice presidency to the presidency upon the death of President Zachary Taylor, making him the fourth president from the Whig Party (third if you exclude John Tyler, who was expelled from the party while in office). A few months into his term, he helped create the "Compromise of 1850," an agreement that was widely considered to have staved off Civil War at the time. In the agreement, California was added as a free state, the slave trade was banned in the District of Columbia (which, not being a state, could still legally trade slaves), and the federal government became required to find and return escaped slaves to their owners (that part was very controversial). Ultimately, though, it may have done more harm than good, as many felt that it legitimized the slave states and allowed them time to build up their militaries. It should be noted that the northern states also gained more army-building time from the compromise, along with a more robust industrial base that made them better-equipped to fight a sustained war, but then again that could just mean it guaranteed the Civil War would be bigger and bloodier for both sides. That being said, Fillmore (along with many other contemporary politicians) had hoped that the compromise would buy enough time for the slavery issue to burn itself out naturally, and though in retrospect this may have been extremely naive, he couldn't feasibly have predicted that this plan would be undermined by the Kansas-Nebraska Act during Pierce's presidency, before being fatally short-circuited by the Dred Scott decision (the end result of which was that slavery advocates switched from merely defending it to actively trying to force its legalization nationwide) at the start of James Buchanan's presidency.
After that, the only really notable thing about Fillmore was that he was the one who sent Matthew Perry (not that one) (yes, that one) to open Japan to trade with threats of violence, though Perry didn't actually arrive there until after Fillmore was out of office. So you have Millard to thank for the entirety of Rurouni Kenshin and that one episode of Samurai Champloo and Axis Powers Hetalia if nothing else. Other than that, he basically kept the seat warm in the White House while the country shuddered closer to civil war. While getting the Compromise of 1850 passed at all in the face of such a hostile political environment was arguably the biggest single achievement of any Whig President (the lion's share of the credit is usually given to Senators Henry Clay and Stephen A. Douglas for pushing the compromise through, albeit Fillmore vetoed an earlier version that gave even more concessions to the slave states), Fillmore is generally regarded as a worse President than Taylor, since today Fillmore's compromise is largely seen as an act of appeasement to the South while Taylor wanted to prevent slavery from expanding. He ultimately proved to be the last President from his party, and is (arguably) considered to be the worst of them. In all, he suffers much the same problem as Neville Chamberlain, as historians are divided over whether he failed to nip a solvable problem in the bud, or took the only viable course of action when dealing with an impossible situation.
After leaving office, Fillmore tried again for the Presidency in his own right in 1856 as part of the "Know Nothing" party. While he did put in one of the best ever performances for a third-party presidential candidate (second only to Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, in fact), he split the vote and helped ensure the election of James Buchanan, under whose watch the country fractured and Civil War became inevitable. Also, his wife died mere weeks after he left office in 1853. Fillmore remarried five years later.
Fillmore died in 1874, and his alleged final words, "The nourishment is palatable," have become infamous for their banality.
Travel writer Bill Bryson did at one stage bemoan the fact that Fillmore had "become so celebrated for his obscurity that he is no longer actually obscure".
Fillmore Street in San Francisco was named after him, which in turn gave name to the Fillmore Auditorium (one of the incubators of the Psychedelic Rock movement of The '60s) and the early 2000s ABC animated series Fillmore!; both of these things would undoubtedly have confused the former President to no end.
Fillmore was not the first president with a running water bathtub, contrary to popular legend. H. L. Mencken made that up for a lark and people believed him.
Examples of Fillmore in Fiction:
- A commercial featuring "unheard of President's Day sales" and Millard Fillmore bath soaps.
- Yorick (yes, that Yorick) mentions "a brilliant Millard Fillmore joke" in The Skull of Truth, a novel by Bruce Coville. People's unfamiliarity with him is even lampshaded, as Yorick comments on how few people would get it today, and protagonist Charlie Eggleston's response of "Who's Millard Fillmore?" earns a reply of "You make my point perfectly."
- Mallard Fillmore is a much-panned political comic strip pitting a reporter duck against Strawman Liberal versions of major politicians despite that fact that he's supposed to be a local reporter. It has nothing to do with Millard Fillmore except for the name and total lack of amusement. Think Doonesbury, but with any jokes or cleverness replaced with right-wing talking points.
- "Mallard Fillmore" is the President of the United Species of America in the short-lived but fondly-remembered '80s animal superhero series Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! from DC Comics. When the Zoo Crew got a revival in 2007, DC apparently didn't want to do the legal tango with the above comic strip, so Mallard was replaced by an Expy: Beneduck Arnold.
- Fillmore Junior High School in the television series The Brady Bunch.
- The 1980s sitcom Head of the Class took place at the fictional "Millard Fillmore High School".
- In an episode of Johnny Bravo, Johnny (in a partially delirious state) speaks to a statue of Millard Filmore.
- The play Pacific Overtures is about the forcible opening of isolationist Edo era Japan to trade in the 1850s (during Fillmore's presidency) by a small fleet of America ships and the after effects. During the scene of negotiation between the Japanese and Americans, the Americans pompously announce that they are there by order of their great leader, President Millard Fillmore. Some productions might play that for comedy.
- One You Don't Know Jack game included a question on Millard Fillmore, calling him the most boring subject they had available.
- There's a book entitled Yo, Millard Fillmore! whose purpose is to provide students with a ridiculously elaborate mnemonic for listing the US Presidents in order. It works for some, but not others.
- According to Jon Stewart's America (The Book), Fillmore had a pair of magical talking cats who advised him on foreign policy.
- In Louis Sachar's book Chicken Trek, one of the main characters listens to a band called "Millard Fillmore and the Dead Presidents", whose music is implied to be terrible.
- Fillmore is a minor character in William Safire's novel Freedom, set in Washington during the Civil War. He's depicted as a former lover of journalist Anna Ella Carroll, the novel's protagonist, and deeply resents how his actions as president are blamed for making the war inevitable.
- Since Fillmore's life and presidency were so spectacularly unimpressive, it is far more interesting to present creative interpretations of history (i.e. lies) to spice up the story. George Pendle's book The Remarkable Millard Fillmore sets the record straight: did you know that Millard Fillmore was friends with Edgar Allan Poe, Alexis de Tocqueville, Davy Crockett, Samuel Morse, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Dorothea Dix? Or that he was present at the battle of the Alamo (in drag) and the assassination of Lincoln (in drag)? Or how about the time he traveled to Japan and defeated the emperor's champion sumo wrestler, discovered the source of the Nile, began the legend of Zorro, or waged a one-man campaign to rescue fugitive slaves? All this while unraveling a Freemason conspiracy with the help of space-faring American Indians.
- One episode of the 1990s series Ghostwriter featuring some Time Travel to the 1930s included a ritter brush salesman who went by the name of Millard Fillmore Smith (in retrospect, one vital detail of his character should have been immediately obvious).
- In a MAD parody "A High School Yearbook for Average Clods" (in issue #216) the school is named after Fillmore, because he "serves as an inspiration for the mediocrity that anyone of us can achive, if we really put our questionable mind to it."
- One of the major powers in The Five Star Stories is known as the Fillmore Empire. Appropriately enough, they often come into indirect conflict with the somewhat Edo-themed Amaterasu Kingdom Demesnes.
- He's credited at the end Airplane! as "Thirteenth President of the United States".
- He is mentioned in the song-and-dance-number "mediocre Presidents" that was performed in Springfield Elementary School
- In the movie Kick-Ass the high school seen is Millard Fillmore H.S.
- In All in the Family the high school Edith went to was named after Fillmore.
- In Superman Secret Files 2009 Pete Ross, in a flashback to when he was president, muses over the important things that previous presidents did and then adds "of the others, Millard Fillmore gave the White House a library".
- In the Alternate History story Decades of Darkness, Fillmore is twice elected Vice-President of the Republic of New England, but his lack of charisma means he loses when he tries for the presidency itself.
- QUILTBAG is set at the University of Millard Fillmore, a school loosely based on the real-world College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
- During the run-up to the 2008 election, he was among those suggested as Obama's running mate. Pros: Overcomes weakness among white males by appealing to slaveholders, adds crossover appeal to Whigs and Know-Nothings, name makes "Barack Obama" sound normal. Cons: Has been dead for 134 years, probably smells pretty bad by now.
- A popular tagline back in the early 1990s: "Don't knock President Fillmore: he kept us out of Vietnam!" (Actually, some historians blame him for the Vietnam War, because of his work for trade with Japan.)
- In the Pinky and the Brain episode "The Pinky Protocol", upon being told that the Brain's plan to use a forged law clause to declare himself ruler of the world requires the signature of a former US president, Pinky immediately asks "But wait, isn't Millard Fillmore dead?"
- American Dragon: Jake Long: The titular character attends Millard Fillmore Middle School. One episode features a descendant of the late President.