Born in extreme poverty, he worked his way up through the Whig party, eventually being selected as Zachary Taylor's running mate. It was thought that the obscure, self-made candidate from New York would complement Taylor, a slave-holding military man from the south. Nevertheless, the two men came to a head on the slavery issue in the new western territories taken from Mexico in the Mexican-American War. Taylor wanted the new states to be free states, while Fillmore supported slavery in those states in order to appease the South. In his own words: "God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil ... and we must endure it and give it such protection as is guaranteed by the Constitution." When the vote in the Senate was tied, Fillmore, as vice president, voted against Taylor. Then, Taylor died in office after only 16 months, and Fillmore ascended to the presidency.
Upon completing his presidency, Fillmore returned to Buffalo, where he served as rector of the local university. Fillmore's last words, upon being fed some soup on his deathbed, were "The nourishment is palatable."