Lot 23: Fillmore, Millard. Rare autograph letter signed as President, 3 pages (10 x 8 in.; 254 x 203 mm.)
December 18, 2012
Calabasas Hills, CA, USALive Auction
23. Fillmore, Millard. Rare autograph letter signed as President, 3 pages (10 x 8 in.; 254 x 203 mm.), “Washington,” 4 April 1851 to United States Representative Solomon G. Haven, the third member of the law firm of Fillmore and Hall, who later served as Mayor of Buffalo, New York and United States Representative from New York; docketed on verso of third page; second leaf reinforced.
After ordering a general housecleaning of his enemies from federal offices in New York State, President Millard Fillmore declares that vocal opposition to his government and the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech must still be safeguarded.
President Fillmore writes in full: You must excuse me. I owe you two letters and a thousand apologies. But I have been too busy to attend to my private correspondents.
You perceive that I have made some changes in N.Y. The policy may be doubtful; but the course of the canal board, in sweeping every friend of mine from office, seemed to leave me no alternative. I do not mean by this however any general proscription for opinions sake but simply to let these folks know, that a man’s opinion who favors the policy of the administration is as sacred and as much entitled to protection as is his who opposes it, and that when he is attacked for it I will defend him, by retaliation. But we have not seen the end; and I have some doubts whether the more moderate of my friends will sustain me in what I have done, while the office seekers and the more ardent ones will clamor for more. But I think I have vindicated the right to support this administration, and shall rest here except in flagrant cases and for cause.
I think you are altogether mistaken about parson Sprague. If he is not a good Union Whig and does not show himself so, then I will admit I have been inposed upon, and shall take the earliest opportunity to correct the mistake. I enclose you a letter which I received from him yesterday which you can read and return.
I wish something could be done for our friend Thompson, but I do not yet see when or where. I think the P.M. G. will appoint Osborn travelling agent, and employ Dix for collections merely. D. is true blue, but not discreet. Osborn is just the man for that plan - quiet, sensible and discreet.
[John T.] Bush was here yesterday and returned here last night. I presume he will not change Gates at Buffalo. He will make a change at Syracuse and Albany; and should Dr. [Thomas M.] Foote take charge of the Register, as I hope he will, I think he may offer the principal deputyship at Albany to [Jerome] Fuller. Should he not accept I hope you will find a good businessman for that plan.
I supposed the Legislation would now press resolutions - attacking the administration directly or indirectly - and I am prepared for any thing. I prefer open to secret enemies - avowed hostility to hypocritical friendship; and it seems clear that we must have the one or the other.
President Millard Fillmore embraced all aspects of the Compromise of 1850, which was proposed in the Senate by Henry Clay to attempt to solve the North-South differences over the extension of slavery into the territories, specifically the newly annexed Texas and land acquired after the Mexican War. Anti-slavery agitators, who had fought the extension of slavery, now had that issue eliminated from their agendas. However, they turned to a new issue - the Fugitive Slave Act, which placed fugitive slave cases under exclusive Federal jurisdiction, and subjected those who aided and abetted fugitive slaves to stiff and severe criminal and civil penalties.
Fillmore was denounced for signing the measure. Agitators gave the President no rest on the subject, arguing that the law had made it possible for freed, as distinguished from fugitive, slaves to be condemned back into slavery by unscrupulous slave traders. Demands were voiced by anti-slavery Whigs who were being forced into fellowship with slavery by the party’s official endorsement of the Compromise to eliminate the possibility. Fillmore’s primary adversaries were Thurlow Weed, editor of the Albany Evening Journal and the leader of the Whig Party in the political domination of New York State, and William H. Seward, United States Senator from New York both of whom held to the anti-slavery cause, using it for their own political purposes.
Already Weed’s power had been eroded in the election of 1850, weakening his grip on the New York party. He took steps to regain his strength in New York state by making arrangements with Democratic Barnburners, who controlled the state’s canal board, to replace all of Fillmore’s “Silver Greys” among the canal’s officeholders who supported the Compromise of 1850) with his faithful followers. In return, Weed promised that New York state’s Whig Governor, Washington Hunt (1811-1867), would treat the Barnburners generously in other posts. Weed pretended to be reconciled to Fillmore so that he could recapture the major source of real Whig opposition to himself in the state, New York City’s important patronage, dispensing offices. Soon, Fillmore became wise to Weed’s strategy. In late February of 1851, Fillmore informed Governor Hunt that there would have to be some judicious removals of officeholders, and by mid-March, gave the signal to Weed enemy Hugh Maxwell, Collector of Revenue for the port of New York, to clear out the New York custom house; two key Weed men lost their jobs. By the summer of 1851, the administration’s nationwide repression of agitation finally became effective.