Born in the Finger Lakes country of New York in 1800, Fillmore as a youth endured the privations of frontier life. He worked on his father’s farm, and at 15 was apprenticed to a cloth dresser. He attended one-room schools, and fell in love with the redheaded teacher, Abigail Powers, who later became his wife.
In 1823, he was admitted to the bar; seven years later he moved his law practice to Buffalo. As an associate of the Whig politician Thurlow Weed, Fillmore held state office and for eight years was a member of the House of Representatives. In 1848 while comptroller of New York, he was elected vice president.
Fillmore presided over the Senate during the months of nerve-wracking debates over the Compromise of 1850. He made no public comment on the merits of the compromise proposals, but a few days before President Zachary Taylor’s death, he intimated to him that if there should be a tie vote on Henry Clay’s bill, he would vote in favor of it.
Thus the sudden accession of Fillmore to the presidency in July 1850 brought an abrupt political shift in the administration. Taylor’s Cabinet resigned and President Fillmore at once appointed Daniel Webster to be secretary of state, thus proclaiming his alliance with the moderate Whigs who favored the Compromise.