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The Lady and the President

The Lady and the President: The Letters of Dorothea Dix and Millard Fillmore

Charles M. Snyder
Copyright Date: 1975
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    The Lady and the President
    Book Description:

    When the private papers of Millard Fillmore, thought to have been destroyed in 1889, were discovered they proved to include a large number of letters to Fillmore from Dorothea Dix, the renowned crusader for the humane treatment of the insane. Almost simultaneously, the letters of Fillmore to Dix, which had lain forgotten in a private collection since 1887, became available.

    Thus overnight a correspondence of more than a hundred and fifty letters, spanning nearly twenty years, opened new perspectives upon two prominent Americans whose friendship was known to few during their lifetimes and had long been forgotten by historians.

    All the extant correspondence between the thirteenth President of the United States and the humanitarian reformer is published here for the first time. Charles M. Snyder provides an illuminating background on the principles and a running commentary on the events that shaped their lives and their relationship.

    TheLady & the Presidentprovides a wealth of raw material for a reinterpretation of these two neglected figures, offering new insights into their warm personal relations, their roles as national leaders, and the perilous times in which they lived.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6457-1
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-8)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 9-12)
  4. 1 Beginnings
    (pp. 13-20)

    American women cast off from traditional moorings in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. With deliberation the ladies began to steer toward an uncertain future.

    Propelling them was a tide of American achievement won by the labor and ingenuity of earlier generations on a virgin continent fabulously rich in natural resources. Material prosperity was liberating women from the heavier burdens of their mothers and grandmothers—but at the price of restricting their activities to the home. Here they were to practice the rites of fragile femininity and live in sublime accordance with the Victorian mystique.

    American women, it came...

  5. 2 Millard Fillmore EARLY YEARS
    (pp. 21-52)

    On July 9, 1850, President Zachary Taylor, the rugged hero of Buena Vista, died after an illness of five days. Physicians attributed his death to “cholera morbus” resulting from an overexposure to sunshine and an overindulgence in cold fruits and drinks. Unwisely, the President had participated too vigorously in prolonged ceremonies commemorating the nation's seventy-third anniversary. The festivities had taken place at the Washington Monument, then a stubby shaft just a few feet high. In accordance with the American system Taylor was replaced at once by Vice President Millard Fillmore.

    In the early years of the republic the Vice Presidency...

  6. 3 Dorothea Dix EARLY YEARS
    (pp. 53-77)

    Seven weeks after Millard Fillmore’s elevation to the Presidency he received a four-page communication with the enigmatic signature, “Y’r. Known Correspondent.”¹ Whether the correspondent was known to him at the time of its receipt remains undetermined, though the chirography, with its high, speedily shaped, and often inscrutable characters, would soon become familiar to him.

    If the signature suggested modesty, the contents contradicted it. The letter was a call for an independent administration, free from the domination of Henry Clay or other politicians of the Whig hierarchy.

    A second missive a day later under the same pseudonym contained a brief apology...

  7. 4 Getting Together 1850–1853
    (pp. 78-142)

    Correspondence in the nineteenth century was almost as indispensable to friendship as to politics or social reform. At a time when travel was limited by the pace of a horse and curtailed by the discomforts and costs of the road, letters substituted for verbal conversation.

    Beyond their utility as purveyors of news and gossip, letters were at once an outlet from routine and a means of sharing thoughts with relatives and friends. Such outlets were rare in the workaday world of the mid-l800s. Letters were also highly valued as records. Frequently they were folded carefully for filing and sometimes even...

  8. 5 Tragedies and Adjustments 1853–1854
    (pp. 143-216)

    The eighteen months following Fillmore’s retirement from office were marked by tragedy for him and disappointments for Dorothea.

    Abigail died a few weeks after moving from the White House, and her sorrowing family muddled through the readjustment in their old homestead in Buffalo. Just over a year later Abby was stricken by cholera, and expired just after her father and brother reached her bedside. Basically a familycentered man, Fillmore reeled under these blows.

    Dorothea shared the tragedies, and on several occasions was virtually reduced to begging for evidence that Fillmore had survived the shock and remained physically well. Meanwhile, she...

  9. 6 Rendezvous in Europe 1854–1856
    (pp. 217-249)

    Seemingly at loose ends after the defeat of her land grant bill in Washington Dorothea was off to Europe—this despite her continuing concern for Fillmore’s melancholy. She left in September of 1854 with the hope that he and Powers would follow her and find peace and renewed hope in the scenes of the Old World. But in this she was disappointed, for a time.

    Despite her previous statements about need for a rest, she did not look upon a European trip as a rest or a sight-seeing excursion for herself. She was searching for new fields of conquest. She...

  10. 7 Rejection and Acceptance 1856–1858
    (pp. 250-300)

    Fillmore returned from Europe in late June of 1856 to become absorbed immediately in the Presidential campaign as the nominee of the American party and a remnant of the Whig party. In the absence of modern techniques to sample public opinion, it would appear that he envisioned a possible victory, either in the Electoral College or the House of Representatives.

    Returning from Europe in October Dorothea found the raucous campaign of the unlettered nativists distasteful, and she regretted Fillmore’s involvement. But out of loyalty to him she hoped for his success.

    Following his defeat Fillmore withdrew from politics, and for...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. 8 Growing Apart 1858–1869
    (pp. 301-355)

    The combination of Fillmore’s marriage and Dorothea’s far-Hung travels and uncertain addresses combined to reduce the volume of their correspondence after 1858. Fillmore’s eyes were improved—one of Dorothea’s perennial worries—and their worlds were physically, professionally, and socially farther removed.

    Even Dorothea’s long-awaited visit to see the Fillmores at home in their splendid mansion on Niagara Square did not come to fruition, and their last personal contact was a brief one in New York, probably in the lobby of the Fifth Avenue Hotel in October, 1860.

    Yet, their interest in each other did not Hag. Her wartime duties left...

  13. 9 Later Years
    (pp. 356-370)

    The termination of his Presidency in 1853 was not a retirement for Fillmore, but a start of waiting to see if lightning might strike again. His defeat in 1856 was a retirement from politics. To occasional calls that he break his silence from the platform, in the press, or through an open letter he gave a consistent refusal. Only when writing in confidence to his old friends did Fillmore rail against extremists, North and South, who were creating a sectional impasse.

    But the Civil War became a nightmare. It shattered his usual composure and momentarily undermined his faith in the...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 371-374)

    History has not been overly kind to either Dorothea Dix or Millard Fillmore. The former’s most recent biographer refers to her as a “Forgotten Samaritan.”¹ Possibly the appellation is an overstatement, but it is obvious that she has been neglected. In fact, she is sometimes confused with Dorothy Dix, a mid-twentieth-century newspaper columnist who wrote advice to the lovelorn. Fillmore noted on several occasions that ministering to the insane created no corps of disciples, and that Dorothea’s reward would have to be the satisfaction of achievement. By contrast, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, and Susan B. Anthony are honored anew each...

  15. Chronology
    (pp. 375-380)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 381-386)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 387-392)
  18. Index
    (pp. 393-400)