US Coins

Medal promotes vote for Millard Fillmore

The Research Desk column from the April 11, 2016, Weekly issue of Coin World:

For Americans of 1830 to 1900, presidential campaigns provided rare entertainment with torch-light parades and marching bands, stump speeches and rallies, barbecues and spirited drinking and the wearing of a host of ribbons and political medals struck in several metals.

Today, even political buttons have largely faded from sight, relegating I LIKE IKE and ALL THE WAY WITH JFK buttons to a seemingly dim past. The 19th century saw the flowering of campaign medals, chronicled by J. Doyle DeWitt and Edmund B. Sullivan in American Political Badges and Medalets, 1789–1892.

Today these fascinating pieces receive remarkably little attention and are largely ignored by American collectors despite their historicity and colorful designs.

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Particularly fascinating are medals of defeated candidates, vanished political parties and, rarer still, medals of former presidents running again under obscure sponsorship. One such is DeWitt MF 1856-1, a 38.3-millimeter White Metal piece signed ODLING.

It portrays Millard Fillmore, last Whig president (1850 to 1853) who took office on the death in office of President Zachary Taylor and was one of many national figures swept up and destroyed by the incessant congressional battling over slavery and preservation of national unity.

Today, Fillmore is numbered among the 10 most ineffective presidents, relegating his several meaningful accomplishments to oblivion. Little known is his attempted comeback in the critical 1856 campaign against Democratic candidate James Buchanan and the new Republican Party’s candidate John C. Fremont.

Fillmore became candidate of the short-lived American Party, which represented the former Know-nothings and other anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic nativists. 

Fillmore’s biographers insist that he did not share the party’s views but wanted to present some alternative to the “make or break” slavery and anti-slavery divide that in four years would trigger the Civil War. He and Vice Presidential candidate Andrew Jackson Donelson finished last.

The medal pictured presents Fillmore’s head facing right, a nine-line biography occupying the reverse within his heartfelt declaration NO NORTH, NO SOUTH BUT THE WHOLE COUNTRY, a noble sentiment rejected four years later. The piece is holed for suspension.

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