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The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President

by George Pendle

Pub Date: April 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-307-33962-9
Publisher: Three Rivers/Crown

According to this less-than-authoritative history, there was once an American president named Millard Fillmore. Who knew such a clueless, forgettable chief executive could have had such epic adventures?

If we remember anything at all about Millard Fillmore, it is that he is credited with the invention of the rubber band. So asserts Pendle, an inventive biographer in the grand slapstick tradition of Bill Nye, Elbert Hubbard and other forgotten wits. As he tells it, Fillmore’s life was quite remarkable indeed, and very much the archetype for that of an equally powerful intellectual force, the extraordinary Forrest Gump. Based on the recently unearthed first 53 volumes of Fillmore’s journals, the present book fills more pages of Millardian history than any other text properly could. It traces the ascent of the United States’ largely ignored 13th president from back-country primitive and congressional yokel to White House rube and beyond. Throughout, whether under the Whig banner or that of the Know-Nothings, Fillmore never wavered in pursuit of the ephemeral Masonic menace. It’s an addled story, well suited to today’s needs, as we follow the accidental president’s encounters with the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel F.B. Morse and Ralph Waldo Emerson. From New York to the Alamo, from California to Egypt, feckless Fillmore took part in all the signal events of the 19th century, we discover in this landmark salute to anti-factual historiography. Like a real history, the text is adorned with footnotes of significant dubiety. Appended, though, is a guide to actual factoids upon which the silliness is constructed. Happily, it’s all consistently funny, although like any strong purgative, the comedy might best be taken in small doses. We await Pendle’s next—perhaps a biography of Thurlow Weed, the forgotten Whig wag.

Droll, almost instructive and quite entertaining.