In Defense of Millard Fillmore

August 5, 2020
 
 

To the Editor:

I read with incredulity at the absurd announcement that the University at Buffalo, of the State University of New York, has removed the name of Millard Fillmore from one of its campus buildings (the Millard Fillmore Academic Center). In doing so, the university makes itself a laughing stock, that denigrates its history in order to kowtow to the intimidation and revisionism of the currently in vogue "cancel-culture" generation. Fillmore was one of the leading civic figures of his day and played a role in the establishment of most of Buffalo's important institutions which continue to operate today - the hospital, the museum, the library, and the university to name a few. Fillmore was one of the founders of the university and was its chancellor from 1846 to 1874. That is an unalterable fact. He was a champion of the university, volunteered years of his life to its establishment and development, and deserves to be honoured as such.

As president, he was also an opponent of slavery. He outlawed slavery in Washington and admitted California to the Union as a slave free state. These were small steps towards abolition, but they were greater ones than any other president was able to bring about, until Lincoln came to office. Lincoln cast the Union into a Civil War that claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans. Fillmore understably hesitated - who wouldn't? He was a well meaning patriot who sought to keep the Union together at unpalatable cost.

Some argue, however, that when he signed the omnibus legislation known as the Compromise of 1850 into law the North was not then in a position to take on and win a war against the economically superior South. Ten years later, the economic tables had turned, and such a prospect was possible. The university has nothing to say about such historical facts.

It is easy for snowflakes in 2020 like Professor Silverman of the UB Urban Planning Department to throw stones at the actions and legacy of a figure from 170 years prior. They do so without any nuanced understanding of the prevailing political context. And they reduce themselves to the intellectually bereft in the process, their only virtue being that they hold a mega phone and can excite a mob.

A university is meant to be a place of learning where all aspects of history are examined, in their proper context. The university's actions are ahistorical - nay hysterical. The university has denigrated the fine legacy of a man to which Buffalo owes much. It is ironic that Fillmore's leading detractors are the ungrateful dilettantes who hold life tenure and draw their salary due to public educational efforts led by Fillmore himself.

But the university will have to do more than simply remove Fillmore's name from a campus building to denigrate his memory and besmirch his legacy and name. It will have to take a wrecking ball to the place and reduce the whole campus to rubble before they can rewrite and erase the considerable and fine legacy of a man who remains the City of Buffalo's First Son.

Lachlan Williams
 

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