By Ken Zurski
On July 10, 1850, Millard Fillmore became the 13th President of the United States.
It didn’t go so well.
The unsuspecting Fillmore, a lawyer and former congressman from New York, had been vice president to Zachery Taylor at the time, a job he sought but ultimately didn’t think he would get. Even Taylor, a popular military general, had reservations about running for the office of president. But duty called. “If my friends deem it good for the country that I be a candidate,” Taylor obliged. “so be it.” Fillmore, who was not known as politically savvy or ambitious, tagged along.
Once in the White House, however, Fillmore had little to do. The job held no great power or influence and only one vice president, John Tyler, had ever assumed the presidency unexpectedly. That changed when only sixteen months after being elected, Taylor was dead. A bad stomachache and poor medical care did him in. A stunned Fillmore took the oath of office and set the stage for what is considered one of the worst presidencies in history.
Here’s why it began so poorly…
Almost immediately after Taylor’s death, the members of his cabinet, in ceremonial unity and respect to the late president, turned in resignation letters. They fully expected Fillmore to deny their requests. Fillmore was unproven and needed their help. Plus, Fillmore and Taylor were teammates, not adversaries. Whether they personally liked the vice president or not, and most did not, a nation’s stability and Taylor’s legacy was at stake. Clearly, they thought, Fillmore could grasp that.
They were wrong.
Fillmore was either intimidated by the experience of others, stubborn, or didn’t care. He accepted their resignation letters and basically told them all to leave. Then in an unexpected and clearly brazen move, he asked them all to stay on another month. So he could appoint a new team, Fillmore told them.
Each one refused.