Thursday, April 07, 2011

Where's Millard When You Need Him?

now reading: Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President by Robert Rayback

So I'm reading this Millard Fillmore biography, and I'm really into him. He is pretty underrated and I daresay misunderstood. It's really problematic to try to make 20/20 hindsight judgments about any of those guys from the early 1800s, because there is such a temptation to say, "If you weren't trying to end slavery, you were nothing." Obviously, those who were working to end slavery were wise, courageous, sensible and a whole host of other morally right qualities, but the problem comes in defining trying to end. We like to look back from our comfortable vantage point and get all "if-you're-not-with-us-you're-against-us" when there was really quite a lot going on.

Millard Fillmore stated unequivocally that he was against slavery and thought it was reprehensible. As a New York state representative, and later as vice-president and president, he had a problem in that he couldn't figure out a Constitutional way to end it. Basically, my point is that it was really difficult for a lot of politicians during the early 1800s, and we should walk a mile or so in their shoes, or at least read some books about them.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before he even got to his presidency he was already an accomplished, well-liked, talented man who got lots of stuff done. Details, numbers, land/bankruptcy/debt law, state comptroller duties, political party unification and other fun tasks were right up his alley. He also read and had fun. And, he was sensible enough to realize religion was unnecessary in a lot of places the evangelical extremists want it shoved into public life. He was also pretty darn magnificent at effecting compromise. Not just the great compromise of 1850, but other compromises that kept parties from splinterting, brought people eye to eye, built alliances, and more. He did not act in vengeance and he rose above some petty crap hurled at him by the likes of Thurlow Weed and his New York political ilk.

In short, we could definitely use a little Millard right now in our own federal government shutdown nonsense.

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