Milard Fillmore

Presidential term: July 9, 1850 – March 4, 1853

Several interesting things happened while Fillmore was President. For instance, it was then that the first measures were taken to build a railroad from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean. This road was to make the journey so short and easy that there would be no more need of crossing the continent in emigrant wagons.

Besides, Fillmore soon saw that it would be a fine thing if the Americans living in California could trade with Japan. In those days, however, the Emperor of Japan feared strangers and would not allow any foreign vessels to come into his ports, except a few–Dutch ships. Hoping to make him change his mind, and to get him to sign a treaty which would open his ports for American trade, President Fillmore sent him a letter ‘and several presents, among which were mechanical inventions’ which had never been seen in Japan before.

As there was then no postal–service between the United States and Japan, this letter was given to Commodore Perry, the brother of the hero of Lake Erie. Although told to be very friendly with the Japanese, he was sent out with seven war ships, so that he could hold his own if at tacked. Perry delivered his letter, and after long delays finally got the Emperor of Japan to make a trade treaty with the United States.

The main trouble at home during Fillmore’s rule was the old quarrel between the slavery and antislavery parties. For a time it had slumbered, but the fact that California wished to join the Union as a free state, started it up again with new fury. Men got excited over it, and the Capitol rang with the speeches of Calhoun, Clay, Seward, and Webster. The quarrel raged until Clay, the “peacemaker,” finally suggested the bills forming what is known as the “Compromise of 1850.”

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