Kauffman, Bill, The American Enterprise
Blessed are the peacemakers? Well, perhaps in the Gospel of Matthew, but not in the Gospel of the Schlesingers. Those surveys in which historians are asked to rank the U.S. Presidents--most notably the polls organized by Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. and later Jr.--consistently place wartime Presidents in the "great" or "near-great" categories while consigning men of peace to the squalid precincts of "below average" and "failure." If only Warren G. Harding had invaded Mexico ...
Who was our most peaceable President? The Quaker Herbert Hoover was a quasi-pacifist, but as a western New Yorker I must award the white dove to none other than Buffalo's Millard Fillmore, 13th President of the United States and a man whose name has become little more than a punch line.
Poor Millard. Queen Victoria is said to have called him the most handsome man she had ever seen, and he is often credited with "amiability," but beyond that all is mockery and scorn.
A former Buffalo Congressman of modest means, the Whig Fillmore assumed the Presidency in 1850 after President Zachary Taylor died as a result of gorging on iced milk and cherries at an Independence Day celebration. (No indignity is too great to heap upon Fillmore, even posthumously. In 1991, Taylor's corpse was exhumed to see if Fillmore partisans had poisoned Old Rough and Ready. Of course they hadn't. The gluttonous Taylor had simply made a pig of himself.)
The black spot marring Fillmore's Presidency was his signing of the odious Fugitive Slave Law as part of the ill-fated Compromise of 1850. He acted as he did because he reverenced "the union" as did so many men of goodwill (if poor judgment) on the eve of war. Ever after the abolitionists despised him for this wretched misstep: William Lloyd Garrison called him "as pliant a piece of dough as was ever handled."
Yet Fillmore was no craven pro-Southern doughface. In the 1830s, Congressman Fillmore had been an ally of John Quincy Adams in defending the right of abolitionists to petition the federal government. But he saw no good way to achieve emancipation without rending the country. …