Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore

As a supporter of progressive causes, I’m certainly chagrined about the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, and I sometimes find myself thinking this thought: If only a UU were president.  Many UUs share my political persuasions, and I wonder wistfully how much better things would be if somebody who shared our values occupied the Oval Office.

Of course, wishing that a UU was president might not have been a good idea for me to entertain during the mid-nineteenth century.   Donald Trump would have been “yuugely” delighted with the fourth Unitarian to hold our highest office.[1]

Millard Fillmore, daguerreotype by Mathew Brady, 1849. Source: Wilkipedia.

Millard Fillmore was an accidental president, reaching the White House upon the death of Zachary Taylor, who left a country fragmented by irreconcilable economic and social differences.  Reconciliation, however, was attempted with Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850, a bill that included the unpalatable Fugitive Slave Act that had stalled in Congress during Taylor’s administration.  But a more receptive Fillmore, now in the Chief Executive’s chair, enabled the passage of the Compromise, hoping to forestall disunion and the inevitable bloody clash a decade later.  In his annual message to Congress he declared the Compromise, “in its character final and irrevocable…a final settlement.”

Fillmore’s acceptance of the Compromise was part of his plan to rid his party of its radical wing, the “conscience Whigs” who opposed slavery.  Like Trump, who has demanded unquestioning loyalty from neutral civil servants, Fillmore began removing federal office holders who opposed the Compromise, a policy that tore the Whig fabric, costing him the 1852 nomination.  In 1856, Fillmore was nominated for president by the nativist Know-Nothings and won one state: Maryland.

For more about the career of Millard Fillmore, and how it relates to the current situation, see my blog post at

[1] The other Unitarian Presidents were John Adams, John Quincy Adams (who worshipped at All Souls in DC), Thomas Jefferson (who held Unitarian beliefs and is acknowledged as one of our own by the UUA) and William Howard Taft who had served as president of the forerunner of our General Assembly.

Editor’s Note: Unitarianism, as a formal religious institution, was founded one year prior to Thomas Jefferson’s death.  Source: Famous UUs, accessed March 30, 2017.


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