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President Zachary Taylor - History

President Zachary Taylor - History

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Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor was a military man with little politcal experience. He attempted to have California and New Mexico admitted to the Union without resolving their slave status. He died in office after 16 months. Elected 1848

The Early Years

Zachary Taylor was born in Orange County, Virginia. Taylor received only a rudimentary education. In 1808, he joined the military as a career soldier. Taylor acquitted himself well in the War of 1812, rising to the rank of major. During the Black Hawk War, Taylor rose to the rank of colonel. During the Second Seminole War, Taylor performed successfully and entered the Mexican War in 1846 as a General. He was ordered to advance on or near the Rio Grande and although outnumbered by the Mexicans, he made good use of his superior artillery to defeat the Mexicans. Later in the war, Taylor faced a vastly superior Mexican force led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. Despite his being outnumbered, Taylor led his troops to a decisive victory. As a result of his victory over Santa Ana, he became a national hero.

Accomplishments in Office

Taylor's short Presidency was shadowed by the issue that was then dominating all aspects of American national affairs - that of slavery. The immediate issue was the admission of New Mexico and California as states. Taylor confounded his Southern supporters, who had assumed that since the President owned slaves, he would support the pro-slavery position and refuse entry into the union to two states settled by Northerners and likely to be anti-slavery. Taylor recommended that the two territories develop their own constitutions and then request admission based on those constitutions.

When Southern states threatened secession he warned them that he would use all his resources as commander-in- chief to preserve the union. He stated that if they seceded he would track them down like he had the Mexicans, and handle them in the same manner that he had deserters.

The First Family

Father: Richard Taylor
Mother: Sarah Dabney Strother
Wife: Margaret Mackall Smith
Daughters: Ann Mackall, Sarah Knox, Mary Elizabeth

Major Events

New Mexico & California statehood dilema

The Cabinet

Secretary of State: John Clayton
Secretary of Treasury: William Meredith
Secretary of War: George Crawford
Attorney General: Reverdly Johnson
Secretary of Navy: William Preston
Postmaster General: Jacob Collamer
Secretary of Interior: Thomas Ewing



Did You Know?

First President who had not served in Congress or the Continental Congress.

First President to be elected from a state west of the Mississippi.

When Taylor moved into the White House he brought his mount Whitey with him.

Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor, a general and national hero in the United States Army from the time of the Mexican-American War and the War of 1812, was elected the 12th U.S. President, serving from March 1849 until his death in July 1850.

Northerners and Southerners disputed sharply whether the territories wrested from Mexico should be opened to slavery, and some Southerners even threatened secession. Standing firm, Zachary Taylor was prepared to hold the Union together by armed force rather than by compromise.

Born in Virginia in 1784, he was taken as an infant to Kentucky and raised on a plantation. He was a career officer in the Army, but his talk was most often of cotton raising. His home was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he owned a plantation in Mississippi.

But Taylor did not defend slavery or southern sectionalism 40 years in the Army made him a strong nationalist.

He spent a quarter of a century policing the frontiers against Indians. In the Mexican War he won major victories at Monterrey and Buena Vista.

President Polk, disturbed by General Taylor’s informal habits of command and perhaps his Whiggery as well, kept him in northern Mexico and sent an expedition under Gen. Winfield Scott to capture Mexico City. Taylor, incensed, thought that “the battle of Buena Vista opened the road to the city of Mexico and the halls of Montezuma, that others might revel in them.”

“Old Rough and Ready’s” homespun ways were political assets. His long military record would appeal to northerners his ownership of 100 slaves would lure southern votes. He had not committed himself on troublesome issues. The Whigs nominated him to run against the Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass, who favored letting the residents of territories decide for themselves whether they wanted slavery.

In protest against Taylor the slaveholder and Cass the advocate of “squatter sovereignty,” northerners who opposed extension of slavery into territories formed a Free Soil Party and nominated Martin Van Buren. In a close election, the Free Soilers pulled enough votes away from Cass to elect Taylor.

Although Taylor had subscribed to Whig principles of legislative leadership, he was not inclined to be a puppet of Whig leaders in Congress. He acted at times as though he were above parties and politics. As disheveled as always, Taylor tried to run his administration in the same rule-of-thumb fashion with which he had fought Indians.

Traditionally, people could decide whether they wanted slavery when they drew up new state constitutions. Therefore, to end the dispute over slavery in new areas, Taylor urged settlers in New Mexico and California to draft constitutions and apply for statehood, bypassing the territorial stage.

Southerners were furious, since neither state constitution was likely to permit slavery Members of Congress were dismayed, since they felt the President was usurping their policy-making prerogatives. In addition, Taylor’s solution ignored several acute side issues: the northern dislike of the slave market operating in the District of Columbia and the southern demands for a more stringent fugitive slave law.

In February 1850 President Taylor had held a stormy conference with southern leaders who threatened secession. He told them that if necessary to enforce the laws, he personally would lead the Army. Persons “taken in rebellion against the Union, he would hang … with less reluctance than he had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico.” He never wavered.

Then events took an unexpected turn. After participating in ceremonies at the Washington Monument on a blistering July 4, Taylor fell ill within five days he was dead. After his death, the forces of compromise triumphed, but the war Taylor had been willing to face came 11 years later. In it, his only son Richard served as a general in the Confederate Army.

The Presidential biographies on are from “The Presidents of the United States of America,” by Michael Beschloss and Hugh Sidey. Copyright 2009 by the White House Historical Association.

Learn more about Zachary Taylor’s spouse, Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor.

On This Day: Remains of President Zachary Taylor exhumed

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The Enslaved Households of President Zachary Taylor

It does not speak well, either for the independence of the United States, or for the civic virtues of its leading men, that none by soldiers or slaveholders are deemed worthy of its presidential chair…sometimes they have united them in the same person, as in the cases of George Washington and Zachary Taylor.

— The Anti-Slavery Reporter, Vol. III, No. XXXVI, December 1, 1848

Born in 1784, Zachary Taylor grew up on a plantation in Virginia. His father, Richard Taylor, was an officer in the Continental Army and a southern planter. About six years later, Colonel Taylor purchased a plantation and moved his family to Springfield, Kentucky, and by 1800, Taylor had expanded his slaveholdings to twenty-six enslaved people. 1 Zachary Taylor lived at his father’s plantation until he left to join the military in 1808. Two years later, he married Margaret Mackall Smith, daughter of wealthy tobacco plantation owner Walter Smith, from Calvert County, Maryland. 2

Taylor Home in Springfield, Kentucky—built and maintained by enslaved labor.

The Presidents of the United States, 1789-1914 by James Grant Wilson

When Richard Taylor died in 1829, Zachary inherited two enslaved men, Charles and Tom, who remained with him until his death in 1850. 3 In 1842, Taylor purchased Cypress Grove, a plantation in Rodney, Mississippi, though he already owned plantations farmed by enslaved labor elsewhere in Mississippi, as well as in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 4 In addition to the acreage, crops, and resources deeded to Taylor in his purchase of Cypress Grove, he also bought the following eighty-one enslaved men, women, and children:

Nelson, Milley, Peldea, Mason, Willis, Rachel, Caroline, Lucinda, Ramdall, Wirman, Carson, Little Ann, Winna, Jane, Tom, Sally, Gracia, Big Jane, Louosa, Maria, Charles, Barnard, Mira, Sally, Carson, Paul, Sansford, Mansfield, Harry Oden, Harry Horley, Carter, Henrietta, Ben, Charlotte, Wood, Dick, Harrietta, Clarissa, Ben, Anthony, Jacob, Hamby, Jim, Gabriel, Emeline, Armstead, George, Wilson, Cherry, Peggy, Walker, Jane, Wallace, Bartlett, Martha, Letitia, Barbara, Mathilda, Lucy, John, Sarah Bigg Ann, Allen, Tom, George, John, Dick, Fielding, Nelson or Isom, Winna, Shellod, Lidney, Little Cherry, Puck, Sam, Hannah or Anna, Mary, Ellen, Henrietta, and two small children. 5

Taylor gained national prominence after several key victories in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). He went on to win the election of 1848 and assumed the presidency as the country was heading toward another crisis over the issue of slavery. A slave owner himself, President Taylor adopted some antislavery political positions. He opposed the spread of slavery to new U.S. territories. However, he also vacillated over supporting the Wilmot Proviso, a rider which prohibited slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico following the Mexican-American War. 6 Although he was considered more of an antislavery president by his contemporaries, Taylor had no qualms arguing against slavery’s expansion while owning hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children. 7 He continued to own and manage his Cypress Grove plantation in Mississippi during his short tenure as president, and he is believed to be the last president who brought enslaved men and women to live and work at the White House.

A depiction of one of Zachary Taylor's plantations.

Henry Lewis, Das illustrirte Mississippithal (1857)

Like other slaveowning presidents, Taylor brought enslaved individuals to the White House to provide labor. However, Taylor owned so many individuals, spread across several plantations in the South that it is challenging to discern the exact identities or number of enslaved workers Taylor actually brought with him to the White House. 8 In addition, few of Zachary Taylor’s papers survive. In 1862, his plantation, Fashion, inherited by his son after his death, was confiscated and emptied by Union troops. Almost all of the personal papers and artifacts documenting Taylor’s life were lost during Union occupation. 9 These factors, coupled with Taylor’s relatively short tenure as president, make it difficult to uncover the extent of slavery in the White House during his administration.

Despite these obstacles, records point to some individuals that likely accompanied Taylor to the White House. One confirmed individual was Charles Porter, who was a “body servant” to Taylor. In 1849, newspapers reported that Porter, “who accompanied him during the war with Mexico, died suddenly on Sunday morning at the Executive Mansion.” 10

In his will, Taylor left six enslaved people to First Lady Margaret Taylor, perhaps suggesting these individuals were favored by the couple, and therefore likely to have worked in the White House. These enslaved individuals include Charles Porter, as well as Tom, Dicey, Jane, William and Caroline. 11 Military pay vouchers from the Mexican-American War indicated that Charles, Tom, Jane and William (or Will) also accompanied Taylor during military encampments prior to his presidency. 12 The consistent appearance of their names in these documents suggests that they likely would have accompanied him to the White House.

This is a newspaper clipping from the August 1, 1849 issue of the Alexandria Gazette, detailing the death of Charles, President Taylor's enslaved body servant.

In 1862, Jane is again mentioned alongside two other enslaved individuals named Nancy and Henrietta in petition forms filed by Taylor’s daughter, Ann Wood. These forms, which allowed slave owners to claim compensation for enslaved individuals after the passage of emancipation in Washington, D.C., recorded that Ann Wood: "inherited Jane Webb from her late mother Mrs. Margaret Taylor relict of General Z Taylor…Henrietta Evans under the same circumstances (by inheritance)…she came into possession of Nancy Reed by a deed of gifts and by inheritance from her late father Genl. Zachary Taylor." 13

In this petition, Wood described them as “first class family servants…always having been employed in that capacity in the family of your petitioner…Jane is an excellent cook… all three are good seamstresses.” 14 The domestic nature of these tasks is the type of labor that would have been required in the Taylor White House.

Betty Bliss, Taylor’s daughter, and her husband, William Wallace Smith Bliss, also lived in the White House during the Taylor administration and may have brought their enslaved workers to assist with the household labor. In 1849 and 1850, while Bliss worked for and lived with Taylor, he submitted army pay vouchers for enslaved individuals named Lawrence Smith, Eliza Smith, and Eli. 15 Lawrence, Eliza, and Eli very likely worked and lived at the White House under Bliss’s management.

Taylor is depicted in this political cartoon attempting to balance southern rights and the Wilmot Proviso.

While living in Washington, D.C., Taylor was an absentee but active plantation owner. He frequently visited Cypress Grove in Mississippi and constantly wrote to his hired overseer, Thomas W. Ringgold, to ensure the estate’s smooth operation while he was away. In these letters, Taylor often mentioned enslaved laborers at Cypress Grove. He wrote about the livelihood of what he called his “servants,” once telling Ringgold “Let your first consideration be the health of the servants,” and instructing that $5 be distributed to each enslaved laborer on Christmas Day. 16 These narratives of the “benevolent slaveholder,” repeated in biographies and articles about Taylor since his death, have veiled his striking contribution to and perpetuation of slavery as an institution, and should be interpreted as such—especially because “fair” treatment of enslaved populations ensured smooth plantation operations and men and women better equipped for labor. 17 Feeding the enslaved well or keeping morale high was a shrewd business choice on the part of Taylor, rather than an act of paternalism or compassion.

Zachary Taylor died only sixteen months into his presidency, and as such the American populace celebrated his memory as a military leader and president. However, he also left behind a legacy of plantations maintained by enslaved labor. In fact, Taylor purchased a plantation for his son, Fashion in Louisiana, just before his death in 1850, and bought an additional sixty-four enslaved people to work the land. 18 Maintaining slavery was one of his final acts in life. In his will, approximately 131 enslaved men, women, and children, ranging in age from infants to the elderly, were left to Taylor’s wife Margaret daughters Ann and Betty and his son Richard. Taylor also noted in his will: “I wish the servants only moderately worked and kindly treated and the old men taken good care of and made comfortable, which I hope my children will have attended to.” 19 Despite this paternalistic tone, Zachary Taylor failed to free any of these enslaved individuals after his death. Instead, he prolonged their bondage and suffering, designating in his will that these men, women, and children were to be “slaves for life.” Thankfully, this would not be the case for all of the individuals held in bondage by the Taylor family. Nancy, Henrietta, and Jane are verifiable examples of eventual emancipation, and after the confiscation and ransacking of Taylor’s plantation during the Civil War, many of the men and women held in bondage by Taylor’s descendants escaped to freedom.


Zachary Taylor was born on November 24, 1784, on a plantation in Orange County, Virginia, to a prominent family of planters of English ancestry. His birthplace may have been Hare Forest Farm, the home of his maternal grandfather William Strother, though this has not been determined with certainty. [2] He was the third of five surviving sons in his family (a sixth died in infancy) and had three younger sisters. His mother was Sarah Dabney (Strother) Taylor. His father, Richard Taylor, had served as a lieutenant colonel in the American Revolution. [3]

Taylor was a descendant of Elder William Brewster, a Pilgrim leader of the Plymouth Colony, a Mayflower immigrant, and a signer of the Mayflower Compact and Isaac Allerton Jr., a colonial merchant, colonel, and son of Mayflower Pilgrim Isaac Allerton and Fear Brewster. Taylor's second cousin through that line was James Madison, the fourth president. [4] He was also a member of the famous Lee family of Virginia, and a third cousin once removed of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. [5]

His family forsook their exhausted Virginia land, joined the westward migration and settled near future Louisville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River. Taylor grew up in a small woodland cabin until, with increased prosperity, his family moved to a brick house. The rapid growth of Louisville was a boon for Taylor's father, who by the start of the 19th century had acquired 10,000 acres (40 km 2 ) throughout Kentucky, as well as 26 slaves to cultivate the most developed portion of his holdings. Taylor's formal education was sporadic because Kentucky's education system was just taking shape during his formative years. [6]

His mother taught him to read and write, [7] and he later attended a school operated by Elisha Ayer, a teacher originally from Connecticut. [8] He also attended a Middletown, Kentucky academy run by Kean O'Hara, a classically trained scholar originally from Ireland, and the father of Theodore O'Hara. [9] Ayer recalled Taylor as a patient and quick learner, but his early letters showed a weak grasp of spelling and grammar, [10] as well as poor handwriting. All improved over time, though his handwriting was always difficult to read. [10]

In June 1810, Taylor married Margaret Mackall Smith, whom he had met the previous autumn in Louisville. "Peggy" Smith came from a prominent family of Maryland planters—she was the daughter of Major Walter Smith, who had served in the Revolutionary War. [11] The couple had six children:

  • Ann Mackall Taylor (1811–1875), [12] married Robert C. Wood, a U.S. Army surgeon at Fort Snelling, in 1829. [13] (1814–1835), [12] married Jefferson Davis in 1835, a subordinate officer whom she had met through her father at the end of the Black Hawk War she died at 21 of malaria in St. Francisville, Louisiana, three months after her marriage. [14]
  • Octavia Pannell Taylor (1816–1820), [12] died in early childhood. [15]
  • Margaret Smith Taylor (1819–1820), [12] died in infancy along with Octavia when the Taylor family was stricken with a "bilious fever." [15] (1824–1909), [12] married William Wallace Smith Bliss in 1848 (he died 1853) [16] married Philip Pendleton Dandridge in 1858. [citation needed] (1826–1879), [12] became a Confederate Army general [17] married Louise Marie Myrthe Bringier in 1851. [citation needed]

Initial commissions

On May 3, 1808, Taylor joined the U.S. Army, receiving a commission as a first lieutenant of the Kentuckian Seventh Infantry Regiment. [18] He was among the new officers commissioned by Congress in response to the Chesapeake–Leopard affair, in which an American frigate had been boarded by the crew of a British warship, sparking calls for war. [19] Taylor spent much of 1809 in the dilapidated camps of New Orleans and nearby Terre aux Boeufs, in the Territory of Orleans. Under the command of James Wilkinson, the soldiers at Terre aux Boeufs suffered greatly from disease and lack of supplies, and Taylor was given an extended leave, returning to Louisville to recover. [20]

Taylor was promoted to captain in November 1810. His army duties were limited at this time, and he attended to his personal finances. Over the next several years, he began to purchase a good deal of bank stock in Louisville. [21] He also bought a plantation in Louisville, as well as the Cypress Grove Plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi Territory. These acquisitions included slaves, rising in number to more than 200. [22] [23]

In July 1811 he was called to the Indiana Territory, where he assumed control of Fort Knox after the commandant fled. In a few weeks, he was able to restore order in the garrison, for which he was lauded by Governor William Henry Harrison. [24] Taylor was temporarily called to Washington to testify for Wilkinson as a witness in a court-martial, and so he did not take part in the November 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe against the forces of Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief. [25]

War of 1812

During the War of 1812, in which U.S. forces battled the British Empire and its Indian allies, Taylor successfully defended Fort Harrison in Indiana Territory from an Indian attack commanded by Tecumseh. The September 1812 battle represented the first land victory of the war for the American forces, for which Taylor received wide praise, as well as a brevet (temporary) promotion to the rank of major. According to Eisenhower, this represented the first brevet ever awarded in United States history. [26] Later that year, Taylor joined General Samuel Hopkins as an aide on two expeditions—the first into the Illinois Territory and the second to the Tippecanoe battle site, where they were forced to retreat in the Battle of Wild Cat Creek. [27] Taylor moved his growing family to Fort Knox after the violence subsided. [ citation needed ]

In the spring of 1814, he was called back into action under Brigadier General Benjamin Howard, and after Howard fell sick, Taylor led a 430-man expedition from St. Louis, up the Mississippi River. In the Battle of Credit Island, Taylor defeated Indian forces, but retreated after the Indians were joined by their British allies. [28] That October he supervised the construction of Fort Johnson near present-day Warsaw, Illinois, the last toehold of the U.S. Army in the upper Mississippi River Valley. Upon Howard's death a few weeks later, Taylor was ordered to abandon the fort and retreat to St. Louis. Reduced to the rank of captain when the war ended in 1815, he resigned from the army. He re-entered it a year later after gaining a commission as a major. [29]

Command of Fort Howard

For two years, Taylor commanded Fort Howard at the Green Bay, Michigan Territory settlement, then he returned to Louisville and his family. In April 1819 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and dined with President James Monroe and General Andrew Jackson. [30] In late 1821, Taylor took the 7th Infantry to Natchitoches, Louisiana, on the Red River. On the orders of General Edmund P. Gaines, they set out to locate a new post more convenient to the Sabine River frontier. By the following March, Taylor had established Fort Jesup, at the Shield's Spring site southwest of Natchitoches. [ citation needed ]

That November (1822) he was transferred to Baton Rouge [31] on the Mississippi River in Louisiana, where he remained until February 1824. [32] He spent the next few years on recruiting duty. In late 1826, he was called to Washington, D.C., for work on an Army committee to consolidate and improve military organization. In the meantime Taylor acquired his first Louisiana plantation and decided to move with his family to their new home in Baton Rouge. [32]

Black Hawk War

In May 1828, Taylor was called back to action, commanding Fort Snelling in Michigan Territory (now Minnesota) on the northern Mississippi River for a year, and then nearby Fort Crawford for a year. After some time on furlough, spent expanding his landholdings, Taylor was promoted to colonel of the 1st Infantry Regiment in April 1832, when the Black Hawk War was beginning in the West. [33] Taylor campaigned under General Henry Atkinson to pursue and later defend against Chief Black Hawk's forces throughout the summer. The end of the war in August 1832 signaled the final Indian resistance to U.S. expansion in the area. [ citation needed ]

During this period Taylor opposed the courtship of his 17-year-old daughter Sarah Knox Taylor with Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, the future President of the Confederate States of America. He respected Davis but did not wish his daughter to become a military wife, as he knew it was a hard life for families. Davis and Sarah Taylor married in June 1835 (when she was 21), but she died three months later of malaria contracted on a visit to Davis's sister's home in St. Francisville, Louisiana. [34]

Second Seminole War

By 1837, the Second Seminole War was underway when Taylor was directed to Florida. He built Fort Gardiner and Fort Basinger as supply depots and communication centers in support of Major General Thomas S. Jesup’s campaign to penetrate deep into Seminole territory with large forces and trap the Seminoles and their allies in order to force them to fight or surrender. He engaged in battle with the Seminole Indians in the Christmas Day Battle of Lake Okeechobee, which was among the largest U.S.–Indian battles of the nineteenth century as a result, he was promoted to brigadier general. In May 1838, Brig. Gen. Thomas Jesup stepped down and placed Taylor in command of all American troops in Florida, a position he held for two years—his reputation as a military leader was growing and he became known as "Old Rough and Ready." [35] Taylor was criticized for using bloodhounds in order to track Seminole. [22]

After his long-requested relief was granted, Taylor spent a comfortable year touring the nation with his family and meeting with military leaders. During this period, he began to be interested in politics and corresponded with President William Henry Harrison. He was made commander of the Second Department of the Army's Western Division in May 1841. The sizable territory ran from the Mississippi River westward, south of the 37th parallel north. Stationed in Arkansas, Taylor enjoyed several uneventful years, spending as much time attending to his land speculation as to military matters. [36]

Mexican–American War

In anticipation of the annexation of the Republic of Texas, which had established independence in 1836, Taylor was sent in April 1844 to Fort Jesup in Louisiana, and ordered to guard against attempts by Mexico to reclaim the territory. [37] There were more senior generals in the army who might have taken this important command, such as Winfield Scott and Edmund P. Gaines. But both were known members of the Whig Party, and Taylor's apolitical reputation and friendly relations with Andrew Jackson made him the choice of Democratic President James K. Polk. [38] Polk directed him to deploy into disputed territory in Texas, "on or near the Rio Grande" near Mexico. Taylor chose a spot at Corpus Christi, and his Army of Occupation encamped there until the following spring in anticipation of a Mexican attack. [39]

When Polk's attempts to negotiate with Mexico failed, Taylor's men advanced to the Rio Grande in March 1846, and war appeared imminent. Violence broke out several weeks later, when some of Captain Seth B. Thornton's men were attacked by Mexican forces north of the river. [40] Polk, learning of the Thornton Affair, told Congress in May that a war between Mexico and the U.S. had begun. [41]

That same month, Taylor commanded American forces at the Battle of Palo Alto and the nearby Battle of Resaca de la Palma. Though greatly outnumbered, he defeated the Mexican "Army of the North" commanded by General Mariano Arista, and forced the troops back across the Rio Grande. [42] Taylor was later praised for his humane treatment of the wounded Mexican soldiers prior to the prisoner exchange with General Arista, giving them the same care as was given to American wounded. After tending to the wounded, he performed the last rites for the dead of both the American and Mexican soldiers killed during the battle. [43]

These victories made him a popular hero, and in May 1846 Taylor received a brevet promotion to major general and a formal commendation from Congress. [44] In June, Taylor was promoted to the full rank of major general. [45] The national press compared him to George Washington and Andrew Jackson, both generals who had ascended to the presidency, although Taylor denied any interest in running for office. "Such an idea never entered my head," he remarked in a letter, "nor is it likely to enter the head of any sane person." [46]

After crossing the Rio Grande, in September Taylor inflicted heavy casualties upon the Mexicans at the Battle of Monterrey, and captured that city in three days, despite its impregnable repute. Taylor was criticized for signing a "liberal" truce, rather than pressing for a large-scale surrender. [47] Polk had hoped that the occupation of Northern Mexico would induce the Mexicans to sell Alta California and New Mexico, but the Mexicans remained unwilling to part with so much territory. Polk sent an army under the command of Winfield Scott to besiege Veracruz, an important Mexican port city, while Taylor was ordered to remain near Monterrey. Many of Taylor's experienced soldiers were placed under the command of Scott, leaving Taylor with a smaller and less effective force. Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna intercepted a letter from Scott regarding Taylor's smaller force, and he moved north, intent on destroying Taylor's force before confronting Scott's army. [48]

Learning of Santa Anna's approach, and refusing to retreat despite the Mexican army's greater numbers, Taylor established a strong defensive position near the town of Saltillo. [49] Santa Anna attacked Taylor with 20,000 men at the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847, leaving around 700 Americans dead or wounded at a cost of over 1,500 Mexican casualties. [b] Outmatched, the Mexican forces retreated, ensuring a "far-reaching" victory for the Americans. [53]

In recognition of his victory at Buena Vista, on July 4, 1847, Taylor was elected an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati, the Virginia branch of which included his father as a charter member. Taylor also was made a member of the Aztec Club of 1847, Military Society of the Mexican War. [54] Taylor received three Congressional Gold Medals for his service in the Mexican-American War and remains the only person to have received the medal three times. [55]

Taylor remained at Monterrey until late November 1847, when he set sail for home. While he spent the following year in command of the Army's entire western division, his active military career was effectively over. In December he received a hero's welcome in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which set the stage for the 1848 presidential election. [56]

Ulysses S. Grant served under Taylor in this war and had this to say about his style of leadership: "A better army, man for man, probably never faced an enemy than the one commanded by General Taylor in the earliest two engagements of the Mexican War." [57]

General Taylor was not an officer to trouble the administration much with his demands but was inclined to do the best he could with the means given to him. He felt his responsibility as going no further. If he had thought that he was sent to perform an impossibility with the means given him, he would probably have informed the authorities of his opinion and left them to determine what should be done. If the judgment was against him he would have gone on and done the best he could with the means at hand without parading his grievance before the public. No soldier could face either danger or responsibility more calmly than he. These are qualities more rarely found than genius or physical courage. General Taylor never made any great show or parade, either of uniform or retinue. In dress he was possibly too plain, rarely wearing anything in the field to indicate his rank, or even that he was an officer but he was known to every soldier in his army, and was respected by all. [58]

In his capacity as a career officer, Taylor had never publicly revealed his political beliefs before 1848 nor voted before that time. [59] He thought of himself as an independent, believing in a strong and sound banking system for the country, and thought that President Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, should not have allowed the Second Bank of the United States to collapse in 1836. [59] He believed it was impractical to expand slavery into the western areas of the U.S., as neither cotton nor sugar (both were produced in great quantities as a result of slavery) could be easily grown there through a plantation economy. [59] He was also a firm nationalist, and due to his experience of seeing many people die as a result of warfare, he believed that secession was not a good way to resolve national problems. [59]

Well before the American victory at Buena Vista, political clubs were formed which supported Taylor for president. His support was drawn from an unusually broad assortment of political bands, including Whigs and Democrats, Northerners and Southerners, allies and opponents of national leaders such as Henry Clay and James K. Polk. By late 1846 Taylor's opposition to a presidential run began to weaken, and it became clear that his principles more closely resembled Whig orthodoxy. [60]

As support for Taylor's candidacy grew, he continued to keep his distance from both parties, but made it clear that he would have voted for Whig Henry Clay in 1844 had he voted. In a widely publicized September 1847 letter, Taylor stated his positions on several issues. He did not favor chartering another national bank, favored a low tariff, and believed that the president should play no role in making laws. Taylor did believe that the president could veto laws, but only when they were clearly unconstitutional. [61]

Many southerners believed that Taylor supported slavery and its expansion into the new territory absorbed from Mexico, and some were angered when Taylor suggested that if he were elected president he would not veto the Wilmot Proviso, which proposed against such an expansion. [59] This position did not enhance his support from activist antislavery elements in the Northern U.S., as these wanted Taylor to speak out strongly in support of the Proviso, not simply fail to veto it. [59] Most abolitionists did not support Taylor, since he was a slave-owner. [59]

In February 1848, Taylor again announced that he would not accept either party's presidential nomination. Taylor's reluctance to identify himself as a Whig nearly cost him the party's presidential nomination, but Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky and other supporters finally convinced Taylor to declare himself a Whig. [61] Though Clay retained a strong following among the Whigs, Whig leaders like William H. Seward and Abraham Lincoln were eager to support a war hero who could potentially replicate the success of the party's only other successful presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison. [62]

At the 1848 Whig National Convention, Taylor defeated Clay and Winfield Scott to receive the Whig nomination for president. For his vice presidential nominee the convention chose Millard Fillmore, a prominent New York Whig who had chaired the House Ways and Means Committee and had been a contender for Clay's vice presidential nominee in the 1844 election. Fillmore's selection was largely an attempt at reconciliation with northern Whigs, who were furious at the nomination of a slave-owning southerner all factions of the party were dissatisfied with the final ticket. [63] Taylor continued to minimize his role in the campaign, preferring not to directly meet with voters or correspond regarding his political views. His campaign was skillfully directed by Crittenden, and bolstered by a late endorsement from Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. [64]

Democrats were even less unified than the Whigs, as former Democratic President Martin Van Buren broke from the party and led the anti-slavery Free Soil Party's ticket. Van Buren won the support of many Democrats and Whigs who opposed the extension of slavery into the territories, but he took more votes from Democratic nominee Lewis Cass in the crucial state of New York. [65]

Nationally, Taylor defeated Cass and Van Buren, taking 163 of the 290 electoral votes. In the popular vote, he took 47.3%, while Cass won 42.5% and Van Buren won 10.1%. Taylor would be the last Whig to be elected president and the last person elected to the U.S. presidency from neither the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, as well as the last Southerner to win a presidential election until Woodrow Wilson's election in 1912. [c]

Taylor ignored the Whig platform, as historian Michael F. Holt explains:

Taylor was equally indifferent to programs Whigs had long considered vital. Publicly, he was artfully ambiguous, refusing to answer questions about his views on banking, the tariff, and internal improvements. Privately, he was more forthright. The idea of a national bank "is dead, and will not be revived in my time." In the future the tariff "will be increased only for revenue" in other words, Whig hopes of restoring the protective tariff of 1842 were vain. There would never again be surplus federal funds from public land sales to distribute to the states, and internal improvements "will go on in spite of presidential vetoes." In a few words, that is, Taylor pronounced an epitaph for the entire Whig economic program. [66]


As president-elect, Taylor kept his distance from Washington, not resigning his Western Division command until late January 1849. He spent the months following the election formulating his cabinet selections. He was deliberate and quiet about his decisions, to the frustration of his fellow Whigs. While he despised patronage and political games, he endured a flurry of advances from office-seekers looking to play a role in his administration. [67]

While he would not appoint any Democrats, Taylor wanted his cabinet to reflect the nation's diverse interests, and so apportioned the seats geographically. He also avoided choosing prominent Whigs, sidestepping such obvious selections as Clay. He saw Crittenden as a cornerstone of his administration, offering him the crucial seat of Secretary of State, but Crittenden insisted on serving out the Governorship of Kentucky to which he had just been elected. Taylor settled instead on Senator John M. Clayton of Delaware, a close associate of Crittenden's. [67]

The Taylor Cabinet
PresidentZachary Taylor1849–1850
Vice PresidentMillard Fillmore1849–1850
Secretary of StateJohn M. Clayton1849–1850
Secretary of the TreasuryWilliam M. Meredith1849–1850
Secretary of WarGeorge W. Crawford1849–1850
Attorney GeneralReverdy Johnson1849–1850
Postmaster GeneralJacob Collamer1849–1850
Secretary of the NavyWilliam Ballard Preston1849–1850
Secretary of the InteriorThomas Ewing1849–1850

With Clayton's aid, Taylor chose the six remaining members of his cabinet. One of the incoming Congress's first actions would be to establish the Department of the Interior, so Taylor would be appointing that department's inaugural secretary. Thomas Ewing, who had previously served as a senator from Ohio and as Secretary of the Treasury under William Henry Harrison, accepted the patronage-rich position of Secretary of the Interior. For the position of Postmaster General, which also served as a center of patronage, Taylor chose Congressman Jacob Collamer of Vermont. [68]

After Horace Binney refused appointment as Secretary of the Treasury, Taylor chose another prominent Philadelphian in William M. Meredith. George W. Crawford, a former Governor of Georgia, accepted the position of Secretary of War, while Congressman William B. Preston of Virginia became Secretary of the Navy. Senator Reverdy Johnson of Maryland accepted appointment as Attorney General, and Johnson became one of the most influential members of Taylor's cabinet. Vice President Fillmore was not in favor with Taylor, and Fillmore was largely sidelined throughout Taylor's presidency. [69]

Taylor began his trek to Washington in late January, a journey rife with bad weather, delays, injuries, sickness—and an abduction by a family friend. Taylor finally arrived in the nation's capital on February 24 and soon met with the outgoing President Polk. [70] The incumbent Democrat held a low opinion of Taylor, privately deeming him "without political information" and "wholly unqualified for the station" of president. [71] Taylor spent the following week meeting with political elites, some of whom were unimpressed with his appearance and demeanor. With less than two weeks until his inauguration, he met with Clayton and hastily finalized his cabinet. [72]


Taylor's term as president began Sunday, March 4, but his inauguration was not held until the following day out of religious concerns. [d] His inauguration speech discussed the many tasks facing the nation, but presented a governing style of deference to Congress and sectional compromise instead of assertive executive action. [74] His speech also emphasized the importance of following President Washington's precedent in avoiding entangling alliances. [75]

During the period after his inauguration, Taylor made time to meet with numerous office-seekers and other ordinary citizens who desired his attention. He also attended an unusual number of funerals, including services for former president Polk and Dolley Madison. According to Eisenhower, Taylor coined the phrase "First Lady" in his eulogy for Madison. [76] Throughout the summer of 1849, Taylor toured the northeastern U.S., to familiarize himself with a region of which he had seen little. He spent much of the trip plagued by gastrointestinal illness and returned to Washington by September. [77]

Sectional crisis

As Taylor took office, Congress faced a battery of questions related to the Mexican Cession, acquired by the U.S. after the Mexican War and divided into military districts. It was unclear which districts would be established into states and which would become federal territories, while the question of their slave status threatened to bitterly divide Congress. Additionally, many in the South had grown increasingly angry about the aid that Northerners had given to fugitive slaves. [78]

While a Southern slaveowner himself, Taylor believed that slavery was economically infeasible in the Mexican Cession, and as such he opposed slavery in those territories as a needless source of controversy. [79] His major goal was sectional peace, preserving the Union through legislative compromise. [80] As the threat of Southern secession grew, he sided increasingly with antislavery Northerners such as Senator William H. Seward of New York, even suggesting that he would sign the Wilmot Proviso to ban slavery in federal territories should such a bill reach his desk. [81]

In Taylor's view, the best way forward was to admit California as a state rather than a federal territory, as it would leave the slavery question out of Congress's hands. The timing for statehood was in Taylor's favor, as the Gold Rush was well underway at the time of his inauguration, and California's population was exploding. [82] The administration dispatched Rep. Thomas Butler King to California, to test the waters and advocate on behalf of statehood, knowing that the Californians were certain to adopt an anti-slavery constitution. King found that a constitutional convention was already underway, and by October, 1849, the convention unanimously agreed to join the Union—and to ban slavery within their borders. [83]

The question of the New Mexico–Texas border was unsettled at the time of Taylor's inauguration. The territory newly won from Mexico was under federal jurisdiction, but the Texans claimed a swath of land north of Santa Fe and were determined to include it within their borders, despite having no significant presence there. Taylor sided with the New Mexicans' claim, initially pushing to keep it as a federal territory, but eventually supported statehood so as to further reduce the slavery debate in Congress. The Texas government, under newly instated governor P. Hansborough Bell, tried to ramp up military action in defense of the territory against the federal government, but was unsuccessful. [84]

The Latter Day Saint settlers of modern-day Utah had established a provisional State of Deseret, an enormous swath of territory which had little hope of recognition by Congress. The Taylor administration considered combining the California and Utah territories but instead opted to organize the Utah Territory. To alleviate the Mormon population's concerns over religious freedom, Taylor promised they would have relative independence from Congress despite being a federal territory. [85]

Taylor sent his only State of the Union report to Congress in December 1849. He recapped international events and suggested several adjustments to tariff policy and executive organization, but such issues were overshadowed by the sectional crisis facing Congress. He reported on California's and New Mexico's applications for statehood, and recommended that Congress approve them as written and "should abstain from the introduction of those exciting topics of a sectional character". [86] The policy report was prosaic and unemotional, but ended with a sharp condemnation of secessionists. It had no effect on Southern legislators, who saw the admission of two free states as an existential threat, and Congress remained stalled. [87]

Foreign affairs

Taylor and his Secretary of State, John M. Clayton, both lacked diplomatic experience, and came into office at a relatively uneventful time in American–international politics. Their shared nationalism allowed Taylor to devolve foreign policy matters to Clayton with minimal oversight, although no decisive foreign policy was established under their administration. [88] As opponents of the autocratic European order, they vocally supported German and Hungarian liberals in the revolutions of 1848, although they offered little in the way of aid. [89]

A perceived insult from the French minister Guillaume Tell Poussin nearly led to a break in diplomatic relations until Poussin was replaced, and a reparation dispute with Portugal resulted in harsh words from the Taylor administration. In a more positive effort, the administration arranged for two ships to assist in the United Kingdom's search for a team of British explorers, led by John Franklin, who had gotten lost in the Arctic. [90] While previous Whig administrations had emphasized Pacific trade as an economic imperative, the Taylor administration took no major initiative in the Far East. [91]

Throughout 1849 and 1850, they contended with Narciso López, the Venezuelan radical who led repeated filibustering expeditions in an attempt to conquer the island of Cuba. The annexation of Cuba was the object of fascination among many in the South, who saw in Cuba a potential new slave state, and López had several prominent Southern supporters. [92] López made generous offers to American military leaders to support him, but Taylor and Clayton saw the enterprise as illegal. They issued a blockade, and later, authorized a mass arrest of López and his fellows, although the group would eventually be acquitted. [93] They also confronted Spain, which had arrested several Americans on the charge of piracy, but the Spaniards eventually surrendered them to maintain good relations with the U.S. [94]

Arguably the Taylor administration's definitive accomplishment in foreign policy was the Clayton–Bulwer Treaty of 1850, regarding a proposed inter-oceanic canal through Central America. While the U.S. and Britain were on friendly terms, and the construction of such a canal was decades away from reality, the mere possibility put the two nations in an uneasy position. [95] For several years, Britain had been seizing strategic points, particularly the Mosquito Coast on the eastern coast of present-day Nicaragua. Negotiations were held with Britain that resulted in the landmark Clayton–Bulwer Treaty. Both nations agreed not to claim control of any canal that might be built in Nicaragua. The treaty promoted the development of an Anglo-American alliance its completion was Taylor's last action as president. [96]

Compromise attempts and final days

Clay took a central role as Congress debated the slavery question. While his positions had some overlap with Taylor's, the president always maintained his distance from Clay. Historians disagree on his motivations for doing so. [97] With assistance from Daniel Webster, Clay developed his landmark proposal, the Compromise of 1850. The proposal allowed statehood for California, giving it independence on the slavery question, while the other territories would remain under federal jurisdiction. This would include the disputed parts of New Mexico, although Texas would be reimbursed for the territory. [98]

Slavery would be retained in the District of Columbia, but the slave trade would be banned. Meanwhile, a strict Fugitive Slave Law would be enacted, bypassing northern legislation which had restricted Southerners from retrieving runaway slaves. [99]

Tensions flared as Congress negotiated and secession talks grew, culminating with a threat from Taylor to send troops into New Mexico to protect its border from Texas, with himself leading the army. Taylor also said that anyone "taken in rebellion against the Union, he would hang . with less reluctance than he had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico." [100] The omnibus law was a major step forward but ultimately could not pass, due to extremists on both sides. [101]

No great compromise reached Taylor's desk during his presidency instead, his last days were overshadowed by the Galphin affair. Before joining the Taylor cabinet, Secretary of War Crawford had served as a lawyer. He had been involved in a fifteen-year case, representing the descendants of a colonial trader whose services to the British crown had not been repaid at the time of the American Revolution. The British debt to George Galphin was to be assumed by the federal government, but Galphin's heirs only received payment on the debt's principal after years of litigation, and were unable to win an interest payment from the Polk administration. [102]

Treasury Secretary Meredith, with the support of Attorney General Johnson, finally signed off on the payment in April 1850. To the president's embarrassment, this payment included a legal compensation of nearly $100,000 to Crawford two cabinet members had effectively offered a tremendous chunk of the public treasury to another. A House investigation cleared Crawford of any legal wrongdoing, but nonetheless expressed disapproval of his accepting the payment. Taylor, who had already been sketching out a re-organization of his cabinet, now had an unfolding scandal to complicate the situation. [103]


On July 4, 1850, Taylor reportedly consumed copious amounts of raw fruit and iced milk while attending holiday celebrations during a fund-raising event at the Washington Monument, which was then under construction. [104] Over the course of several days, he became severely ill with an unknown digestive ailment. His doctor "diagnosed the illness as cholera morbus, a flexible mid-nineteenth-century term for intestinal ailments as diverse as diarrhea and dysentery but not related to Asiatic cholera", the latter being a widespread epidemic at the time of Taylor's death. [105] The identity and source of Taylor's illness are the subject of historical speculation (see below) , although it is known that several of his cabinet members had come down with a similar illness. [106]

Fever ensued and Taylor's chance of recovery was small. On July 8, Taylor remarked to a medical attendant:

I should not be surprised if this were to terminate in my death. I did not expect to encounter what has beset me since my elevation to the Presidency. God knows I have endeavored to fulfill what I conceived to be an honest duty. But I have been mistaken. My motives have been misconstrued, and my feelings most grossly outraged. [107]

Taylor died at 10:35 p.m. on July 9, 1850. He was 65 years old. [108] After his death, Vice President Fillmore assumed the presidency and completed Taylor's term, which ended on March 4, 1853. Soon after taking office, Fillmore signed into law the Compromise of 1850, which settled many of the issues faced by the Taylor administration. [109]

Taylor was interred in the Public Vault of the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., from July 13, 1850, to October 25, 1850 (which was built in 1835 to hold remains of notables until either the grave site could be prepared or transportation arranged to another city). His body was transported to the Taylor family plot where his parents were buried on the old Taylor homestead plantation known as "Springfield" in Louisville, Kentucky. [ citation needed ]

Judicial appointments

Because of his short tenure, Taylor is not considered to have strongly influenced the office of the presidency or the United States. [111] Some historians believe that Taylor was too inexperienced with politics, at a time when officials needed close ties with political operatives. [111] Despite his shortcomings, the Clayton–Bulwer Treaty affecting relations with Great Britain in Central America is "recognized as an important step in scaling down the nation's commitment to Manifest Destiny as a policy." [111] While historical rankings of Presidents of the United States have generally placed Taylor in the bottom quarter of chief executives, most surveys tend to rank him as the most effective of the four presidents from the Whig Party. [ citation needed ]

Taylor was the last president to own slaves while in office. He was the third of four Whig presidents, [g] the last being Fillmore, his successor. Taylor was also the second president to die in office, preceded by William Henry Harrison, who died while serving as president nine years earlier. [ citation needed ]

In 1883, the Commonwealth of Kentucky placed a 50-foot monument topped by a life-sized statue of Taylor near his grave. By the 1920s, the Taylor family initiated the effort to turn the Taylor burial grounds into a national cemetery. The Commonwealth of Kentucky donated two adjacent parcels of land for the project, turning the half-acre Taylor family cemetery into 16 acres (65,000 m 2 ). On May 5, 1926, the remains of President Taylor and his wife (who died in 1852) were moved to the newly constructed Taylor mausoleum, made of limestone with a granite base and marble interior, nearby. The cemetery property was designated as the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery by Secretary of War Davis on March 12, 1928. [112]

The US Post Office released the first postage stamp issue honoring Zachary Taylor on June 21, 1875, 25 years after his death. In 1938, Taylor would appear again on a US postage stamp, this time on the 12-cent Presidential Issue of 1938. Taylor's last appearance (to date, 2010) on a US postage stamp occurred in 1986, when he was honored on the AMERIPEX presidential issue. After Washington, Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln, Zachary Taylor was the fifth American president to appear on US postage. [113]

He is the namesake for several entities and places around the United States, including:

    in Kentucky and Fort Zachary Taylor in Florida [114]
  • The SS Zachary Taylor, a World War II Liberty ship
  • Zachary Taylor Parkway in Louisiana [115] and Zachary Taylor Hall at Southeastern Louisiana University[116][117][118][119][120] the historical origin of the town is depicted in a 1965 episode of the syndicatedwesterntelevision series, Death Valley Days. [121] in Virginia [122]

President Taylor was also the namesake for architect Zachary Taylor Davis.

Almost immediately after his death, rumors began to circulate that Taylor was poisoned by pro-slavery Southerners, and similar theories persisted into the 21st century. [123] In 1978, Hamilton Smith based his assassination theory on the timing of drugs, the lack of confirmed cholera outbreaks, and other material. [124] In the late 1980s, Clara Rising, a former professor at the University of Florida, persuaded Taylor's closest living relative to agree to an exhumation so that his remains could be tested. [125] The remains were exhumed and transported to the Office of the Kentucky Chief Medical Examiner on June 17, 1991. Samples of hair, fingernail, and other tissues were removed, and radiological studies were conducted. The remains were returned to the cemetery and reinterred, with appropriate honors, in the mausoleum. [126]

Neutron activation analysis conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed no evidence of poisoning, as arsenic levels were too low. [126] [127] The analysis concluded Taylor had contracted "cholera morbus, or acute gastroenteritis", as Washington had open sewers, and his food or drink may have been contaminated. Any potential for recovery was overwhelmed by his doctors, who treated him with "ipecac, calomel, opium, and quinine" at 40 grains per dose (approximately 2.6 grams), and "bled and blistered him too." [128]

Political scientist Michael Parenti questions the traditional explanation for Taylor's death. Relying on interviews and reports by forensic pathologists, he argues that the procedure used to test for arsenic poisoning was fundamentally flawed. [129] [130] A 2010 review concludes: "there is no definitive proof that Taylor was assassinated, nor would it appear that there is definitive proof that he was not." [131]

  1. ^ Taylor's term of service was scheduled to begin at noon EST on March 4, 1849, but as this day fell on a Sunday, Taylor refused to be sworn in until the following day. Vice President Millard Fillmore was also not sworn in on that day. Most scholars believe that according to the Constitution, Taylor's term began on March 4, regardless of whether he had taken the oath.
  2. ^ Estimates of casualties vary widely. [50] The Encyclopædia Britannica lists casualties of about 1,500 Mexican to 700 American. [50] Hamilton lists the "killed or wounded" as 673 Americans to "at least eighteen hundred" Mexicans. [51] Bauer lists "594 killed, 1039 wounded, and 1,854 missing" on the Mexican side, with "272 killed, 387 wounded, and 6 missing" on the American side. [52]
  3. ^ Taylor was not the last Whig to serve as president, nor was he the last Southerner to serve as president prior to Woodrow Wilson. Taylor was succeeded in office by Fillmore, who was also a member of the Whig Party. Andrew Johnson, a Southerner, served as president from 1865 to 1869. However, neither Fillmore nor Johnson were directly elected to the presidency.
  4. ^ Folklore holds that David Rice Atchison, as president pro tempore of the Senate, unknowingly succeeded to the presidency for this day, but no major sources accept this view. [73]
  5. ^Recess appointment formally nominated on December 21, 1849, confirmed by the United States Senate on August 2, 1850, and received commission on August 2, 1850.
  6. ^ Recess appointment formally nominated on December 21, 1849, confirmed by the United States Senate on June 10, 1850, and received commission on June 10, 1850.
  7. ^ This numbering includes John Tyler, who served as vice president under the Whig William Henry Harrison but was expelled from his party shortly after becoming president.
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  5. ^ Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 22, 259.
  6. ^
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  9. Bauer, K. Jack (1985). Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press. p. 4. ISBN978-0-8071-1237-3 .
  10. ^
  11. Nowlan, Robert A. (2016). The American Presidents From Polk to Hayes. Denver, Colorado: Outskirts Press. p. 79. ISBN978-1-4787-6572-1 .
  12. ^Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest, p. 4.
  13. ^
  14. Johnston, J. Stoddard (1913). "Sketch of Theodore O'Hara". The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. Frankfort, Kentucky: State Journal Company. p. 67.
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  16. ^ Bauer, pp. 8–9 Hamilton, vol. 1, p. 37.
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  20. ^ Bauer, pp. 69–70.
  21. ^ ab Bauer, p. 38.
  22. ^ Bauer, p. 243.
  23. ^Eisenhower, pp. 138–139.
  24. ^
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  27. ^Eisenhower, pp. 4–6.
  28. ^ Bauer, pp. 5–10 Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 35–37.
  29. ^ ab ANTI-SLAVERY REPORTER VOL III, NO XXXVI, December 1, 1848, p 194-5
  30. ^ Stanley Nelson, Taylor's Cypress Grove Plantation, The Ouachita Citizen, August 6, 2014
  31. ^ Bauer, p. 10 Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 37–38.
  32. ^Eisenhower, pp. 7–8.
  33. ^Eisenhower, pp. 10–11.
  34. ^ Bauer, pp. 13–19 Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 39–46.
  35. ^Eisenhower, pp. 13–15.
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  37. ^Eisenhower, pp. 17–19.
  38. ^Baton Rouge Barracks at, accessed June 1, 2018.
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  41. ^ Bauer, pp. 59–74 Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 83–109.
  42. ^ Bauer, pp. 75–95 Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 122–141.
  43. ^ Bauer, pp. 96–110 Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 142–155.
  44. ^ Bauer, p. 111 Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 156–158.
  45. ^Eisenhower, pp. 30–31.
  46. ^ Bauer, pp. 116–123 Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 158–165.
  47. ^ Bauer, pp. 123–129, 145–149 Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 170–177.
  48. ^ Bauer, p. 166 Hamilton, vol. 1, p. 195.
  49. ^ Bauer, pp. 152–162 Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 181–190.
  50. ^Montgomery, 1847, pp. 176–177
  51. ^ Fry, pp. 186-187
  52. ^ Fry, p. 188
  53. ^ Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 198–199.
  54. ^ Bauer, pp. 166–185 Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 207–216.
  55. ^Eisenhower, pp. 62–66.
  56. ^Eisenhower, pp. 66–68.
  57. ^ ab
  58. "Battle of Buena Vista". Encyclopædia Britannica.
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  63. Breithaupt Jr., Richard Hoag (1998). Aztec Club of 1847 Military Society of the Mexican War. Universal City, CA: Walika Publishing Company. p. 3. ISBN1886085056 .
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  67. ^ Smith (2001) p. 83
  68. ^ Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant Vol 1. pg 36 Kindle Android Version, 2012
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  72. ^ abSmith 1988, pp. 40–42.
  73. ^Smith 1988, pp. 20–21.
  74. ^ Bauer, pp. 236–238 Hamilton, vol. 2, pp. 94–97.
  75. ^ Bauer, pp. 239–244.
  76. ^Smith 1988, pp. 21–23.
  77. ^Holt, p. 272.
  78. ^ ab Bauer, pp. 248–251.
  79. ^Eisenhower, pp. 90–94, 128.
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  84. ^
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  90. ^Eisenhower, pp. 101–102.
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  98. ^ Bauer, p. 298–299.
  99. ^ Bauer, p. 299–300.
  100. ^ Bauer, 273–274, 288.
  101. ^ Bauer, pp. 274–275.
  102. ^ Bauer, pp. 275–278.
  103. ^ Bauer, pp. 287–288.
  104. ^Eisenhower, pp. 113–114.
  105. ^ Bauer, 278–280.
  106. ^ Bauer, 280–281.
  107. ^ Bauer, p. 281.
  108. ^ Bauer, pp. 281–287.
  109. ^ Bauer, pp. 301, 307–308.
  110. ^ Bauer, p. 301.
  111. ^ Bauer, p. 301.
  112. ^
  113. "Zachary Taylor". . Retrieved February 21, 2015 .
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  115. ^ Bauer, pp. 312–313.
  116. ^ Bauer, pp. 312–313.
  117. ^ (1) Smith, p. 156.
    (2) Bauer, p. 314
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  120. ^ Eisenhower, p. 133.
  121. ^
  122. The American nation: its executive . – Google Books. Williams Publishing Co. 1888 . Retrieved May 12, 2014 .
  123. ^ Bauer, p. 316.
  124. ^Eisenhower, pp. 139–140.
  125. ^
  126. "Biographical Directory of Federal Judges". History of the Federal Judiciary. Federal Judicial Center.
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  129. ^
  130. "State Gift Accepted As National Cemetery" . Owensboro Inquirer. Owensboro, Kentucky. March 12, 1928. p. 6 . Retrieved March 11, 2021 .
  131. ^ Scotts Identifier of US Definitive Issues
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  • Bauer, K. Jack (1985). Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN0-8071-1237-2 .
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  • Hamilton, Holman (1941). Zachary Taylor: Soldier of the Republic. [vol. 1]. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill Company.
  • Hamilton, Holman (1951). Zachary Taylor: Soldier in the White House. [vol. 2]. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill Company.
  • McKinley, Silas B. Bent, Silas (1946). Old Rough and Ready: The Life and Times of Zachary Taylor. New York: Vanguard Press.
  • Smith, Gustavus, Woodson. (2001) Company "A" Corps of Engineers, U.S.A, 1846–1848, in the Mexican War. Edited by Leonne M. Hudson, Kent State University Press 0-87338-707-4
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  • Lossing, Benson J (1888). The American nation: its executive, legislative, political, financial, judicial and industrial history : embracing sketches of the lives of its chief magistrates, its eminent statesmen, financiers, soldiers and jurists, with monographs on subjects of peculiar historical interest, Volume 2. Williams Publishing Co.
  • Nevins, Allan. Ordeal of the Union, vol. 1: Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847–1852 (1947), covers politics in depth. Online free to borrow
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  • Jones, Emma C. Brewster (1908). The Brewster Genealogy, 1566–1907: a Record of the Descendants of William Brewster of the "Mayflower," ruling elder of the Pilgrim church which founded Plymouth Colony in 1620. New York: Grafton Press. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011 . Retrieved July 18, 2011 .
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The Free Soilers Revolt

The Southerners outmaneuvered the Free Soilers at the 1848 Democratic Convention and nominated U.S. Senator Lewis Cass (D-Michigan) for president. In response, the Free Soilers walked out of the Democratic party.

When the Whigs nominated the slave owner Taylor, some anti-slavery Whigs and members of the abolitionist Liberty Party joined with the renegade Democrats. The three groups formed the Free Soil Party and nominated former President Martin van Buren (D-New York) as their candidate.

The Free Soilers won 10.1% of the popular vote but no Electoral College Votes in the 1848 election. However, the Free Soilers won just enough votes to put Taylor in the White House.

Ironically, the man the Free Soilers helped elect was secretly a staunch Free Soiler. Taylor, who was demonized as a slave-whipping monster during the campaign spent his presidency trying to stop slavery’s spread.

Zachary Taylor Refused Sunday Swearing In

You may remember that in the popular movie Chariots of Fire Olympic contender Eric Liddell refused to run on Sunday because of his religious convictions. Something like that happened with a United States president, too. Zachary Taylor, an Episcopalian, refused to take the presidential oath of office on a Sunday. This led to a curious situation in which the United States was "without" a president for a day.

James K. Polk's term ended on this day, March 4, 1849 , a Sunday. The United States Constitution required of a new president that, "Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation: -- "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Taylor refused to take the constitutional oath until March 5, because he did not want to violate the Lord's Day.

Many sources claim that the President pro tempore of the Senate, David Rice Atchison, became president for a day. However, he was entitled to the position only if the President-elect and vice-president-elect died. He had no more taken the presidential oath of office than Zachary Taylor. Furthermore, his term as President pro tempore of the Senate expired with the 30th Congress on March 3, two days before Taylor took the oath.

Actually, there was no real constitutional crisis. Everyone knew Taylor was president whether he had taken the oath or not, just as surely as a vice-president immediately becomes president if the incumbent dies. Although he could not execute the affairs of the office until he was sworn in, the Senate's billet made him president as of noon March 4 just as truly as if he had taken the oath.

Taylor's story is instructive, because it shows how greatly our perception of Sunday has changed in the intervening years. Of course, more than "Sabbath" observation has changed. United States Presidents no longer leave office in March, but in January. The succession to the land's highest executive office is different now, too, spelled out more clearly and to a greater depth than in Taylor's days.

Taylor, known as "Old Rough and Ready," became president on the strength of his victories in the Mexican-American War. He died sixteen months later.

Exhuming President Taylor

P resident Zachary Taylor died on July 9, 1850, five days after becoming ill at a Fourth of July celebration. He apparently overindulged on raw cherries and iced milk his doctors cited the cause of death as “acute gastroenteritis.” Taylor’s body rested in Washington, D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery until three months later, when it was transported to a family plot in Louisville, Kentucky. At that point, the case of Taylor’s death seemed to be closed.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, however, theories that President Taylor had been poisoned became popular. The most persistent conspiracy theorist was Clara Rising, a humanities professor at the University of Florida who was researching a book on Taylor. Rising wondered how Taylor could have been so suddenly stricken with gastroenteritis when he was in otherwise good health for his age. (Taylor was sixty-five when he died.) She also speculated that powerful contemporaries of Taylor had motives to kill him. These included southern politicians surprised and angered by the slave owning Taylor’s reluctance to support the westward expansion of slavery and Vice President Millard Fillmore, who stood to assume the presidency if Taylor died. “The suspicions are really in the history books,” Rising told The New York Times. “Right after his death, everything he had worked against came forward and was passed by both houses of Congress.”

Rising also argued that it was important to know if Taylor had been murdered, which would make him the nation’s first assassinated president. She convinced Taylor’s descendants that her theory of arsenic poisoning was plausible, and on June 17, 1991, officials of the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office exhumed President Taylor’s body from the family crypt. Rising and several of Taylor’s descendants observed as the crypt was opened and Taylor’s casket removed.

Expecting a cast iron coffin, technicians instead found a wooden one made of black walnut with a deteriorated lead liner. They originally planned to open the casket inside the crypt, take the hair and fingernail samples needed for arsenic tests, and immediately put the coffin back in place. Seeing the poor condition of the casket changed their minds, and they instead placed it into a large protective pouch and removed it to the coroner’s office. After taking the samples, they returned the casket to the crypt later the same day. The samples were transported to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee for testing.

The results came two weeks later: trace amounts of arsenic were indeed found in President Taylor’s remains, but they were far too low to have contributed to his death. Arsenic readings that low are not abnormal in healthy adults and are not even close to lethal. President Zachary Taylor was not poisoned. “It is my opinion,” said Kentucky Medical Examiner George Nichols, “that Zachary Taylor died of one of a myriad of natural diseases which could have produced the symptoms of gastroenteritis.”

Iced milk and cherries did not kill the President, but probably irritated and complicated something already in his system. During Taylor’s time in Washington, the city was notoriously filthy and fetid. Open sewers were common. Those with the means to do so often fled the city during summer to avoid cholera, malaria, and other such diseases. It was likely one of these illnesses that caused the “acute gastroenteritis” cited by Taylor’s doctors.

Those doctors, by the way, did Taylor no favors. Records of the President’s treatment show that his medical team gave him opium and ipecac as well as bleeding and blistering treatments. They likely worsened, not improved, his condition, and for all we know Taylor might have recovered if simply left alone to heal. Nearly everyone now concedes that in 1881 President James A. Garfield died not from assassin’s bullets, but from shoddy medical care. Perhaps President Taylor should be thought of as having suffered the same fate.

So Zachary Taylor was not the first assassinated president. His presidency provides opportunities to expand our knowledge of mid-nineteenth century politics and the North-South sectional crisis. His death gives us reason to consider the evolution of American medical care and the glories of modern sanitation that most of us take for granted and rarely discuss among pleasant company. Exhuming Taylor’s body proved that he died of natural causes, not foul play. He was not the target of some treacherous conspiracy but rather a victim – like so many other Americans of his time – of medical practices and sanitary conditions reminiscent of the Middle Ages. The exhumation showed that the Taylor murder conspiracy, like most conspiracy theories, was simply a figment of someone’s overactive imagination.

Oh, and what of the book Clara Rising was researching when she began her quest to have Taylor’s body exhumed? She finished it in the early 1990s, but it generated no interest from publishers until 2007, when it appeared as The Taylor File: The Mysterious Death of a President. Based on what we now know from the exhumation Rising herself initiated, medical records, and about Washington, D.C.’s sanitary conditions in 1850, President Taylor’s death does not really seem mysterious at all.

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About the Author

Benjamin T. Arrington is a career National Park Service historian, park ranger, and manager. He has worked in national parks in his home state of Pennsylvania and in Nebraska and Ohio. He is currently posted to James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio. (All views expressed here are personal and do not reflect views, opinions, or policies of the National Park Service.) Arrington holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is particularly interested in the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the history of the Republican Party. The University Press of Kansas published his book "The Last Lincoln Republican: The Presidential Election of 1880," in 2020.


R. B. Bernstein says:

This otherwise excellent article omits one of the most visible advocates of the “Taylor was poisoned” story — Helen Marie Taylor, known to historians during the bicentennial era as “Fireball” Taylor. She was related to the Taylors by marriage and was also a conservative activist who used her prominence in the media occasioned by her demands for exhuming Taylor to forge a platform for her political advocacy. It burned out soon after the coroner throw cold water on her and Ms. Riding’s theories.

Don’t you mean “It burned out soon after the coroner threw cold milk on her…”

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Assassination theories

Almost immediately after his death, rumors began to circulate that Taylor was poisoned by pro-slavery Southerners, and similar theories persisted into the 21st century. [123] In 1978, Hamilton Smith based his assassination theory on the timing of drugs, the lack of confirmed cholera outbreaks, and other material. [124] In the late 1980s, Clara Rising, a former professor at the University of Florida, persuaded Taylor's closest living relative to agree to an exhumation so that his remains could be tested. [125] The remains were exhumed and transported to the Office of the Kentucky Chief Medical Examiner on June 17, 1991. Samples of hair, fingernail, and other tissues were removed, and radiological studies were conducted. The remains were returned to the cemetery and reinterred, with appropriate honors, in the mausoleum. [126]

Neutron activation analysis conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed no evidence of poisoning, as arsenic levels were too low. [126] [127] The analysis concluded Taylor had contracted "cholera morbus, or acute gastroenteritis", as Washington had open sewers, and his food or drink may have been contaminated. Any potential for recovery was overwhelmed by his doctors, who treated him with "ipecac, calomel, opium, and quinine" at 40 grains per dose (approximately 2.6 grams), and "bled and blistered him too." [128]

Political scientist Michael Parenti questions the traditional explanation for Taylor's death. Relying on interviews and reports by forensic pathologists, he argues that the procedure used to test for arsenic poisoning was fundamentally flawed. [129] [130] A 2010 review concludes: "there is no definitive proof that Taylor was assassinated, nor would it appear that there is definitive proof that he was not." [131]

Zachary Taylor's body exhumed, June 17, 1991

On this day in 1991, researchers exhumed the body of Zachary Taylor to deal with persistent speculation that Southern politicians had arranged to have the nation’s 12th president poisoned because he opposed extending slavery to the Western territories.

Taylor, who had been in robust health, died at the age of 65 in 1850, five days after attending a Fourth of July groundbreaking ceremony for the Washington Monument. The president had sought refuge from the stifling heat and humidity by consuming a pitcher of iced milk and a bowl of cherries.

On June 26, 1991, George Nichols, Kentucky’s chief medical examiner, reported that Taylor’s death was a result of any of “a myriad of natural diseases which could have produced the symptoms of gastroenteritis.”

Nuclear tests conducted at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory did find traces of arsenic in hair, bone and dried fleshy tissues from Taylor’s remains. But they appeared to be naturally occurring and too low in dosage to be regarded as lethal, Nichols told reporters.

Nichols’s conclusive findings, ruling out any possibility of foul play, may not have satisfied the historian Samuel Eliot Morison. He wrote in his “Oxford History of the American People” that Taylor died of a “combination of official scandals, Washington heat and doctors.”

Morison believed Taylor “would probably have recovered if left alone.” The historian charged that Taylor’s physician, assisted by “a Baltimore quack,” performed what could be regarded as a medical assassination. Morison wrote: They “drugged him with ipecac, calomel, opium and quinine (at 40 grains a whack) and bled and blistered him too. On July 9, he gave up the ghost.”

Taylor’s remains were returned to the Louisville cemetery, where he was reinterred in the mausoleum where his body was placed in 1926.



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