New Years and Millard Fillmore

My daughter is very well educated. Some years back, she managed to get a wonderful scholarship to a fancy private college in Iowa. She did well, graduated and now works as an editor for a company in Vancouver USA. 

She seems to enjoy my writing and out of kindness will sometimes pretend to take an interest in what I am doing.

"What are you going to write about in January?"

"Oh I don't know." I responded. "I might do something about Millard Fillmore's Birthday."

"Oh Dad, no one cares about Millard Fillmore. I think you have already written about him anyway," said daughter.

I stammered: "But, but, no one seems to remember much about him. He was the 13th President of the United States and he would be 210 years old on January 7th if he could have lived that long."

"I know," said my daughter. "He also put cook stoves and toilets inside the White house."

I looked at her wide-eyed "Pretty amazing huh? What he did was considered quite controversial. People seemed to think that he was encouraging people to do things indoors, things that should rightfully be only done outside."

My daughter looked askance at me. "I know he was your idol dad, but I really don't think you need to write about him again. There were a lot of other famous people born in January besides Millard Fillmore."

"Oh yeah?" Challenged I.

"Yeah!" Responded Daughter. "Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, Alexander Hamilton, Martin Luther King, Edgar Allen Poe, President McKinley, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Just to name a few.

"That's nice," I responded; "but did you know that Millard Fillmore was considered one of the best dressed Presidents in US history? Parents named their children after him."
"So? I still don't think that you need to write about him again. There were a lot of other important things that happened in January."

"Like what?" I asked

My daughter opened my laptop. "Let's see… Galileo sighted four of Jupiter's moons, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Jackson fought the Battle of New Orleans, England completed the first subway system in London, Henry Ford introduced the assembly line, the Vietnam peace agreement was signed, Iran released 52 US hostages, Roe vs. Wade was signed, gold was discovered in California, Thomas Edison patented his electric light bulb, the anti-slavery 13th Amendment to the Constitution was submitted…

I nodded my head. "All of those things were important. Did you know that Millard Fillmore sent Admiral Perry to Japan to open them to Western Trade?"

My daughter nodded. "Why don't you write about New Year? You know people used to celebrate New Year in March instead of January."

I grinned. "You know that Millard Fillmore appointed Brigham Young as Governor of the Utah Territory, and in gratitude they named Utah's Territorial Capitol "Fillmore.""

My daughter continued to mutter words of encouragement. "Many people believe that Jesus was born in March instead of December and his birthday would be a good time for the Christian year to begin. The beginning of spring is a logical time to start a new year. It is a season of rebirth, a time to plant crops, and a time when trees start to blossom."

I interrupted. "You know that Millard Fillmore married Abigail Powers. This was lots more controversial than you might think, Millard was a Presbyterian and he married a Baptist; people in those days frowned on mixed marriages."

"Dad," responded my daughter. "Don't you think that people would like to know that we used to celebrate New Years in March instead of December?"

I paused for a moment, "I guess they would, but everyone celebrates New Year. People don't celebrate Millard Fillmore at all. Lots of calendars don't even mention his name; every calendar shows a holiday on January first. People recognize James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan, but most people don't even know that Millard Fillmore was a US President."

"Dad, most people take New Years for granted. People are ignorant of the fact that before 1752, the British and its colonies used to celebrate New Year's Day on March 25th. March 25th was followed by a weeklong celebration ending on April First. One story that I heard (which probably isn't true) was that many rural people didn't believe that January 1st was New Years. These people continued to celebrate from March 25th to April 1st this may have been the reason for April Fools Day."

I looked at my daughter. "I didn't know that story, but I can understand why some people would like the idea of partying for a week…"

My daughter got up and poured us both a cup of tea. "I doubt if the April Fools story is completely true, since the origins of April fools day date well before our present calendar; but it's a good story. The calendar change from a new year in March, to January first, was a gradual process and took several centuries to complete.

I thought about what she said. "I think that a knowledge of history is important, and our calendar is part of our history.  You know Millard Fillmore was never elected President. He came into power because President Zachary Taylor fell ill and died. Fillmore was the last member of the Whig Party to be President. The Whigs didn't want him for a second term. Fillmore ran again as a Presidential candidate in 1856 for the Know-Nothing party. The Know-Nothings were pro Union, anti Catholic and anti Irish. They wanted to deport all the Irish. They thought that the Irish were too different to ever be integrated into American Society."

My daughter is a very smart person and I cherish my times with her. January is the start of a new year and a time for new ideas. Let us not forget our history. We can either learn from it or repeat it.

My family wishes you all a Happy and prosperous new year.


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