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World Class Fillmore ALS as Vice President to Taylor as President, Regarding Taylor’s Mexican War Service, as Detailed in a Letter to Buchanan“no public services, however meritorious; no patriotism, however disinterested; can shield a man from the intrigues and aspersions of ambitious and aspiring demagogues.”

MILLARD FILLMORE, Autograph Letter Signed, to Zachary Taylor, February 23, 1850, Washington, D.C., 2 pp., 8" x 9.875". Some browning; excellent.

Not only is this letter written by a future President of the United States to his immediate predecessor just months before the latter died, it also deals with President Zachary Taylor’s service in the Mexican War, the service that made him a popular candidate for president in 1848. It also involves the presidency of James K. Polk and future president James Buchanan while secretary of state.

Less than a year into their administration, veteran politician Vice President Fillmore writes to President Taylor, a career military man with little taste for politics, about the realities of political intrigue that so disgusted Taylor while leading an army in Mexico.

Complete Transcript

"Washington, Feby. 23. 1850. My Dear Sir, I have the honor to return herewith the copy of your letter addressed to Mr. Buchannan August 29th 1847, with the perusal of which you were so kind as to favor me.I have read and reread it with great interest. It has furnished me much valuable information in reference to your peculiar position in the conduct of the Mexican War of which I was entirely ignorant. It shows also, what my daily experience in political life teaches me is too true, that no public services, however meritorious; no patriotism, however disinterested; can shield a man from the intrigues and aspersions of ambitious and aspiring demagogues. They infest the Camp as well as the Capital. Envy points their malicious shafts, and selfish ambition causes them to fear a rival in every name that the public honors. But thank Heaven, in your case, you had done enough to attract public attention, and the people appreciated your merits, and have rewarded you accordingly. So may it ever be!I return you my thanks for the kind feeling expressed in your note, all of which is fully reciprocated, and beg leave to express my grateful acknowledgments for this distinguished mark of your confidence. I have the honor to be Truly your friend Millard Fillmore His Excellency / Z. Taylor / Prest. U.S."

Historical Background

On August 29, 1847, General Zachary Taylor wrote from his headquarters near Monterrey, Mexico, to Secretary of State (and future president) James Buchanan. Taylor thanked Buchanan for a letter and moved immediately to the point: he has been mistreated by Secretary of War William L. Marcy (1786-1857) and General in Chief Winfield Scott (1786-1866).

Taylor wrote, “I consider I would be acting the hypocrite if I hesitated to say on all proper occasions that I considered I had been most harshly if not cruelly treated during the last nine or ten months; whether intentionally so by the head of the War Department, through the agency of the General in Chief of the Army, aided by the intrigues and misrepresentations of certain subordinates, or from the force of circumstances, I will not pretend to say, but am willing to hope it is attributable to the latter.” Buchanan, Marcy, and Scott all had presidential ambitions, and their actions toward Taylor often reflected those ambitions.

Taylor continued his letter with a detailed summary of his actions since he led an American army into Mexico. He explained to Buchanan that “the Secretary of War commenced a correspondence with one at least of my subordinates on the subject of operations within the limits of my command (which is generally attended with unfortunate results), no doubt drawn into it by the suggestions of those who wished to be actively employed, and who embarked in the campaign, some at least, I regret to say, more with the view of advancing their own personal ends than the interests of the country.” Also, “the friends, or creatures, of Genl Scott in my camp and elsewhere had become very much alarmed at the prospect of his being lost sight of as an aspirant for the presidency, and, to bring about a change in his favor, filled the ears of the Secretary of War with statements which originated in my camp of the great necessity there was that General Scott should be placed at the head of the army in Mexico, that all desired that such should be the case, that the public good required it, and in addition, many other incorrect and ridiculous statements.”

Scott’s supporters urged President James K. Polk to replace Taylor with Scott, but Polk refused to do so.Eventually, Taylor continued, “my enemies ultimately succeeded, not in having me superseded or recalled, but by pursuing a much more objectionable, dishonorable, and disgraceful course, which was to strip me of the greater portion of my command in the most discourteous manner that could be devised, no doubt from the expectation that it would have the effect of breaking me down or driving me from the country, if not from the army, or leaving me at the mercy of the enemy.”

In late November, Taylor “received by express General Scott’s sugared letter of November 25th from New York, which has been published in the ‘Union’ informing me he was on his way to Mexico, not to relieve or supersede me, but only to take from me the greater portion of my command, in order that he might do something for himself, that I had done enough (perhaps too much) and could afford to remain on the defensive until congress could raise an army for me to command; a more contemptible and insidious communication was never written.”

Scott ultimately took many of Taylor’s experienced soldiers for an assault on Veracruz, an important Mexican port city, leaving Taylor at Saltillo with a much smaller and less effective force. Mexican General Santa Anna intercepted a letter from Scott regarding Taylor’s smaller force and decided to attack Taylor before confronting Scott.When Taylor learned of Santa Anna’s advance, he determined not to retreat despite the fact that he had fewer than five hundred regulars. At the Battle of Buena Vista in late February 1847, Taylor’s force of fewer than 5,000 repulsed repeated assaults by Santa Anna’s army that was at least three times larger, while inflicting five times as many casualties on the Mexican forces. Taylor complained to Buchanan, “if I had not been so weakened by the fire in my rear (not being able to improve the victory after gaining it) the greater portion of the Mexican army would have been captured or destroyed, the whole of his artillery and baggage taken and their president made prisoner, had he not been remarkably fortunate.”

Even with the inability to follow up his victory, Taylor insisted, “although I was denied the privilege of travelling it, that the battle of Buena Vista opened the road to the city of Mexico, and the doors of the halls of Montezumas, that others might revel in them.”

Taylor assured Buchanan that he did not recite his successes “with anything like exultation, or from any feelings of vanity, but more from a feeling of sorrow than of anger, for most gladly, if I had the power to do it, would I recall the past and cheerfully retire to the walks of private life unnoticed and unknown, could those who I can but look on as having in a great measure been sacrificed on the field of Buena Vista that I might be broken down, or another made more conspicuous, be restored to their families, friends, and country.” Taylor concluded with a reference to the “subject of my being a candidate for the Presidency,” and added, “I can only say that if I am so, or to be made one at the coming election, it will be by the acts of others, without any agency of mine in the matter, directly or indirectly. I have not now and never have had any aspirations for that situation, nor have I encouraged any one directly or indirectly to bring my humble name before the country for that high office.”

That cautious reticence made him an attractive candidate for the splintering Whig Party in the presidential election of 1848.This remarkable letter, and the story behind it that involves four presidents—Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, and Buchanan—is a fascinating piece of American political history. It illustrates once again that political intrigue, even during wartime, is not a modern phenomenon, and that leaders often place their own political agendas before the nation’s interests.

Fillmore letters of this importance are rarely encountered on the market and can fetch upwards of $30,000. This item has been Auto Graded Mint 9 and this letter is authenticated and encapsulated by Beckett Authentication Services (BAS).

Millard Fillmore Amazing Handwritten Letter to President Zachary Taylor as VP (Beckett/BAS Encapsulated)Millard Fillmore Amazing Handwritten Letter to President Zachary Taylor as VP (Beckett/BAS Encapsulated)Millard Fillmore Amazing Handwritten Letter to President Zachary Taylor as VP (Beckett/BAS Encapsulated)Millard Fillmore Amazing Handwritten Letter to President Zachary Taylor as VP (Beckett/BAS Encapsulated)
Millard Fillmore Amazing Handwritten Letter to President Zachary Taylor as VP (Beckett/BAS Encapsulated)
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Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $2,000.00
Final prices include buyers premium.: $11,318.46
Number Bids: 7
Auction closed on Saturday, October 9, 2021.
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