September 12, 1856

Fillmore on the Fugitive Slave and Kansas-Nebraska Acts: You Can Not Reason with Fanaticism

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“You can not reason with fanaticism,” the 1856 Know-Nothing candidate for the presidency states here, quite correctly. Where Fillmore seems mistaken, however, is in proposing that the best way to meet the attacks upon him “for signing the Fugitive Slave act is to show that the Republicans voted to extend the same act over Kansas & Nebraska.” Inasmuch as the Republican Party was formed in reaction to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, it would seem likely that Fillmore was confusing individual northern Whigs, now turned Republican, with the Republican Party itself.

In any case, he has sent the editor-in-chief of the Know-Nothing friendly New York Express a list of those who condemned him for the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, but who voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act four years later. The Fugitive Slave Act, which mandated the return of runaway slaves, regardless of where in the Union they might be situated at the time of their discovery or capture, applied of course to Kansas and Nebraska.
 
Fillmore had always said he detested slavery, but that it was something to be endured – until, that is, a logical, practical, civil and polite way might be devised to eradicate it.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page, octavo, Buffalo, September 12, 1856. To James Brooks.

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Transcript

Private

Buffalo, Sept. 12, 1856

Hon. Jas. Brooks.

My Dear Sir,

I am sorry to see by the papers that you were ill; but I hope nothing serious as we can not spare you now.

You can not reason with fanaticism, and therefore the best mode of meeting the attacks upon me for signing the Fugitive Slave act is to show that the Republicans voted to extend the same act over Kansas & Nebraska.  I sent you this vote on the 8th under my frank but do not see it published. What is the objection?  I send another copy.

In haste,
Truly yours.

MILLARD FILLMORE