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Millard Fillmore: The American Presidents Series: The 13th President, 1850-1853 Hardcover – May 10, 2011


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Millard Fillmore: The American Presidents Series: The 13th President, 1850-1853 + Franklin Pierce: The American Presidents Series: The 14th President, 1853-1857 + Zachary Taylor: The American Presidents Series: The 12th President, 1849-1850
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Product Details

  • Series: The American Presidents
  • Hardcover: 171 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books (May 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080508715X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805087154
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #234,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Finkelman has delivered an unvarnished but compelling portrait of one of our least remembered but far from insignificant presidents."—Wall Street Journal

About the Author

Paul Finkelman is the author of Dred Scott v. Sandford: A Brief History and Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson. The author or editor of more than twenty-five books, he is a distinguished professor at Albany Law School and a noted specialist in American legal history, race, and constitutional law. He lives in Slingerlands, New York.


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Customer Reviews

It's a pity I have to rate this book at all.
Dave Baker
Finkelman is quite critical of Fillmore in this book--perhaps a bit too much so.
Steven A. Peterson
It would better be titled "A Denunciation of the Fugitive Slave Law."
pietrzak

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Richard Derham on January 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The American Presidents series provides readers with a good short history of each of our Presidents (40 volumes and counting) Generally, the reader gets a brief biography of the individual up until the time he became President and a concise treatment of the issues he faced as President. I find the series most useful on the "minor" Presidents who are easy to overlook. Fillmore, for example.

Finkleman, a law professor, brings to the task a depth of knowledge and committed opinions on issues of race and slavery, and his material on the politics of the Fugitive Slave Act and how the reaction to it in the North mobilized northern opposition to slavery is perhaps the greatest strength in the book.

Beyond that (and including that) however, his book is hastily written, repetitious and, as others have noted, so hostile to his subject that the reader needs to keep "reading between the lines" to try to get some sense of Fillmore's perspective on the issues he faced.

This book is still, probably, the best short biography of Fillmore available. Regrettably that is extremely faint praise.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The author is antagonistic toward his subject, condescending toward his audience, and writes with the objectivity and authority of a Yahoo comment troll. This book has no place in this series.

Mr. Finkelman starts with opinions, adds his conjecture, and cherry picks his facts and focus. Throughout the mercifully short book, his prose drips with contempt and insults. He writes with a smug look backward, depicting Millard Fillmore from today's perspective as a flat comic book villain - a bad man, not just a bad president. He builds his case with adjectives, not facts, and doesn't trust the readers to judge the man's actions for themselves.

This is not a biography, it is a caricature. Most people are complex and multifaceted. Most presidents are more so. I expect a biography to illuminate that complexity, to explore those facets, to place failures, successes, events, and decisions in the context of their time. There's no need to celebrate the subject, particularly if they were as ineffective or destructive as this one appears to be. However, after reading this biography I find I know far less about Millard Fillmore and his time than I do about the author and his opinions.

Even if the president was bad, it doesn't mean the biography has to be. In fact, for the sake of avoiding similar mistakes, its even more important for students of history to have unbiased evaluations of the failed presidencies. The other books in this series have been good or adequate for their size and scope. This is the first real dud I've encountered. How disappointing.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Barbara A Erion on October 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
One of the problems in reviewing a book about Millard Fillmore is that because he is widely considered the most forgotten of American Presidents, virtually any new work covering his life is welcomed by individuals seeking to learn more about our Chief Executives. Fillmore had been the subject of only one scholarly full scale biography, and that over 50 years ago. It is telling that of this particular series of biographies, Fillmore was the last to "be done" of all presidents save Reagan and Clinton. Thus Finkelman's study of a little known President should have been a welcomed publication.
That said, the book is disappointing. Fillmore will forever be on the wrong side of history for having signed the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the Compromise of 1850. A reading of the Act today leaves one cold with an understanding that morality is without presence. Finkelman recognizes the moral issues but provides little to explain to the reader the conditions which existed as to why this act was signed. Fillmore's "catering to the South" is a catchy phrase but too simple an explanation for a very tense crisis. History can certainly contain the perspective of hindsight - but it should also offer an understanding of events through the eyes of those who lived through those events. It is this lack which flaws the work.
Most historians of the era before the Civil War (many of whom are not included in Finkelman's bibliography) feel the crisis which forced the Compromise of 1850 could have precipitated Civil War. Fillmore chose to sign the Compromise and avoid potential conflict. Did Fillmore understand the passions aroused by slavery? Finkelman says not.
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on May 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Millard Fillmore, our thirteenth president, has long been stationed at the lowest rungs of the American presidency. Unprepared for the highest national office, he nonetheless assumed it upon the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850 and helped propel the country farther down the path toward civil war. Through incredible incompetency, aided by vindictive personal and public decisions, Fillmore couldn't have been a worse "leader" during the two and a half years he served as president.

Author Paul Finkelman captures much of Fillmore's spirit...a natty dresser, well-read and with a fair amount of political experience on the state level. Early on, Finkelman compares Fillmore to Lincoln and the resemblance is anything but close. Both had the most humble beginnings in life, but whereas Lincoln often viewed affairs with a large scope, Fillmore was narrow-minded, stubborn and bigoted. The Compromise of 1850, largely an appeasement to the south with regard to slavery in the new territories, was one Fillmore supported, without much concern for the law's consequences. But it was the Fugitive Slave Act, passed in the same year, that got President Fillmore in real trouble. Vigorously voicing resolve to have runaway slaves returned to their masters, Fillmore abetted more than he solved. It was truly a black mark in the the nation's history and it agitated tensions just a decade before the war.

The American Presidents series has produced some fine short biographies (most of the series is now complete) and Finkelman does an admirable job with Fillmore, though for parts of the book Fillmore is almost totally absent. This occurs during his discussion of the Mexican War.
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