Meet the U.S. presidents from Buffalo
Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland both led the nation
BUFFALO – The former presidents from Buffalo watch over the city, standing confidently by a busy traffic circle.
I’ve driven by the presidents before. Yesterday I took time to stop and see them.
The 9-foot-high statues of Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland are at opposite ends of the city hall in Buffalo in front of Niagara Square. The statues are black bronze, mounted on 6-foot-high blocks of granite.
Buffalo and upstate New York were influential in national politics more than a century ago. Besides the two presidents, William Seward of Auburn was a front-runner for president in 1860, losing to Abraham Lincoln. Seward served as Lincoln’s powerful secretary of state.
Fillmore (Jan. 7, 1800 to March 8, 1874) served as Zachary Taylor’s vice president from 1849 to 1850. When Taylor died suddenly, Fillmore became the country’s 13th president, the last member of the Whig Party to hold the office.
He was president during a turbulent time with the country debating slavery, particularly whether it should be allowed in new territories annexed during the Mexican-American War. Fillmore backed the Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act, requiring northerners to return runaway slaves to their southern owners. Fillmore is often rated in the bottom tier of country’s presidents.
Fillmore, a lawyer, was influential in Western New York. He was co-founder of the University at Buffalo and helped start the Buffalo Historical Society and Buffalo General Hospital. He also served in the State Assembly and U.S. Congress.
Cleveland (March 18, 1837 to June 24, 1908) served as Buffalo’s mayor, Erie County sheriff, and New York governor before being elected as president. He served in the role from 1885-1889 and again from 1893-1897. He was the 22nd and 24th presidents, the only person to serve two nonconsecutive terms.
While president in 1886, he married 21-year-old Frances Folsom of Medina, the only time the ceremony was held in the White House for a president. Cleveland was a friend of Folsom’s father, Oscar. The Clevelands had five children.
Cleveland was the only Democrat elected president during an era of Republican domination, from 1861 to 1913. He fought for political reform and fiscal conservatism. His second term was plagued by the Panic of 1893 that resulted in a national depression.
Cleveland is regarded for his high principles and bold actions. He intervened in the Pullman Strike of 1894, working to keep the railroads moving. That intervention angered the labor unions. Another bit of trivia about Cleveland: He was on the $1,000 bill from 1928 to 1934.
Cleveland’s statue in Buffalo stands on a block by city hall with the inscription: “I have tried so hard to do right.”
An article on Buffalo presidents wouldn’t be complete without talking about William McKinley. He came to Buffalo on Sept. 6, 1901 to speak at the Pan-American Exposition, a World Fair that showcased inventions and innovations. In Buffalo, electricity was the buzz of the event more than a century ago.
McKinley was shaking hands with the public when he was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist who lost his job during the Panic of 1893. McKinley would die eight days later from the wound. Six years later a monument was erected in his memory at Niagara Square.
That 96-foot-high marble monument is in front of city hall and the two presidents from Buffalo.
There is an organization, The Association for a Buffalo Presidential Center, that wants to tell the story of Buffalo’s connection to presidential history and the region’s contribution to national affairs. For more information about that group, click here.