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Children's LiteratureAGERANGE: Ages 13 to 16.
The second of six children raised in a hard-working, little-educated family, Millard Fillmore's ascent to the highest title in the U.S. should make him a fascinating, memorable character. Unfortunately, as Gottfried writes in this "Presidents and Their Times" series entry, Fillmore has been all but obscured by the fog of history. Perhaps this is because of the Fugitive Slave Act, which proclaimed that any escaped slave must be returned to his or her owner. Fillmore was on the fence regarding the incendiary issue of slavery, and when he signed this act, abolitionists threatened him for doing too little and slave owners felt it was not enough. As a result, Fillmore's popularity plummeted. He did, however, make some noteworthy contributions during his presidency. One example is the White House library which was created by Millard and his wife, Abigail. Another is a stirring speech he delivered that still resonates today, which stated "the minorities have nothing to protect them but the Constitution and the rules of the House, and if these are broken down, then farewell to freedom." Along with mandatory sidebars that define terms like manifest destiny, the reader receives a thorough account of Fillmore's rather remarkable life, including how he and Abigail waited seven years to marry, how he once maintained order when a gun-wielding Senator took center stage in Congress, and how, with his wife's support, he transformed himself from country bumpkin to President. In the end, the author succeeds in clearing away a lot of the fog which previously obscured this all-but-forgotten man. Reviewer: Naomi Milliner