Zachary Taylor (November 24, 1784 – July 9, 1850) was the 12th
President of the United States, serving from March 1849 until his
death in July 1850. Taylor previously was a career officer in the
United States Army, rose to the rank of major general and became a
national hero as a result of his victories in the Mexican–American
War, which won him election to the
White House despite his vague
political beliefs. His top priority as president was preserving the
Union, but he died sixteen months into his term, before making any
progress on the status of slavery, which had been inflaming tensions
Taylor was born into a prominent family of planters who migrated
Kentucky in his youth. He was commissioned
as an officer in the U.S. Army in 1808 and made a name for himself as
a Captain in the War of 1812. He climbed the ranks establishing
military forts along the
Mississippi River and entered the Black Hawk
War as a Colonel in 1832. His success in the Second Seminole War
attracted national attention and earned him the nickname "Old Rough
and Ready". In 1845, during the annexation of Texas President James K.
Polk dispatched Taylor to the
Rio Grande in anticipation of a battle
with Mexico over the disputed Texas–Mexico border. The
Mexican–American War broke out in April 1846, and Taylor defeated
Mexican troops commanded by General
Mariano Arista at the Battles of
Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma and drove his troops out of Texas.
Taylor then led his troops into Mexico, where they defeated Mexican
troops commanded by
Pedro de Ampudia
Pedro de Ampudia at the Battle of Monterrey.
Defying orders, Taylor moved his troops further south, and despite
being severely outnumbered, dealt a crushing blow to Mexican forces
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Antonio López de Santa Anna at the Battle of Buena Vista.
Taylor's troops were then transferred to the command of Major General
Winfield Scott, but Taylor retained his popularity.
The Whig Party convinced the reluctant Taylor to lead their ticket in
the 1848 presidential election, despite his unclear political tenets
and lack of interest in politics. At the 1848 Whig National
Convention, Taylor defeated Scott and former Senator
Henry Clay to
take the nomination. He won the general election alongside New York
politician Millard Fillmore, defeating Democratic Party candidates
Lewis Cass and William Orlando Butler, as well as a third-party effort
led by former president
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren and Charles Francis Adams,
Sr. of the
Free Soil Party. Taylor became the first president to be
elected with no prior office.
As president, Taylor kept his distance from Congress and his cabinet,
even though partisan tensions threatened to divide the Union. Debate
over the status of slavery in the
Mexican Cession dominated the
political agenda and led to threats of secession from Southerners.
Despite being a Southerner and a slaveholder himself, Taylor did not
push for the expansion of slavery, and sought sectional harmony above
all other concerns. To avoid the issue of slavery, he urged settlers
New Mexico and California to bypass the territorial stage and draft
constitutions for statehood, setting the stage for the Compromise of
1850. Taylor died suddenly of a stomach-related illness in July 1850,
with his administration having accomplished little aside from the
ratification of the Clayton–Bulwer Treaty, and Fillmore served the
remainder of his term. Historians and scholars have ranked Taylor in
the bottom quartile of U.S. presidents, owing in part to his short
term of office (16 months), and he has been called "more a forgettable
president than a failed one."
1 Early life
2 Marriage and family
3 Military career
3.1 Initial commissions
3.2 War of 1812
3.3 Command of Fort Howard
3.4 Black Hawk War
3.5 Second Seminole War
3.6 Mexican–American War
4 Election of 1848
5 Presidency (1849–1850)
5.1 Transition and inauguration
5.2 Sectional crisis
5.3 Foreign affairs
5.4 Compromise attempts and final days
5.6 Judicial appointments
6 Historical reputation and memorials
7 Assassination theories
8 See also
12 External links
Hare Forest Farm, Orange County, VA – Taylor’ purported birthplace
Zachary Taylor was born on November 24, 1784, on a plantation in
Orange County, Virginia, to a prominent family of planters of English
ancestry. He is inconclusively believed to have been born at Hare
Forest Farm, the home of his maternal grandfather William Strother.
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.
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
Isaac Allerton and Fear
Brewster. Taylor's second cousin through that line was James Madison,
the fourth president.
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 km2) 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. His mother taught him to read and write, and he later
attended a school operated by Elisha Ayer, a teacher originally from
Connecticut. 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. Ayer recalled Taylor as a
patient and quick learner, but his early letters showed a weak grasp
of spelling and grammar, as well as poor handwriting, all of which
improved over time, though his handwriting was always difficult to
Marriage and family
Margaret Smith Taylor
In June 1810, Taylor married Margaret Mackall Smith, whom he had met
the previous autumn in Louisville. "Peggy" Smith came from a prominent
Maryland planters—she was the daughter of Major Walter
Smith, who had served in the Revolutionary War. The couple had six
Ann Mackall Taylor (1811–1875), married Robert C. Wood, a U.S.
Army surgeon at Fort Snelling, in 1829.
Sarah Knox "Knoxie" Taylor (1814–1835), married Jefferson Davis
in 1835, 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,
shortly after her marriage.
Octavia Pannell Taylor (1816–1820), died in early
Margaret Smith Taylor (1819–1820), died in infancy along with
Octavia when the Taylor family was stricken with a "bilious
Mary Elizabeth "Betty" Taylor (1824–1909), married William
Wallace Smith Bliss in 1848 (he died 1853), married Philip
Pendleton Dandridge in 1858.
Richard Scott "Dick" Taylor (1826–1879), Confederate Army
general, married Louise Marie Myrthe Bringier in 1851.[citation
On May 3, 1808 Taylor joined the U.S. Army, receiving a commission as
a first lieutenant of the Seventh Infantry Regiment. 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.
Taylor spent much of 1809 in the dilapidated camps of New Orleans and
nearby Terre aux Boeufs. 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. 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. He also bought a
plantation in Louisville for $95,000, as well as the Cypress Grove
Plantation near Rodney, Jefferson County, Mississippi. These
acquisitions included slaves, rising in number to over 200. In
July 1811 he was called to the Indiana Territory, where he assumed
control of Fort Knox after the commandant fled. In only a few weeks,
he was able to restore order in the garrison, for which he was lauded
by Governor William Henry Harrison. 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
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
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
United States history. Later that year, Taylor joined
General Samuel Hopkins as an aide on two expeditions—the first into
Illinois Territory and the second to the Tippecanoe battle site,
where they were forced to retreat in the Battle of Wild Cat Creek.
Taylor moved his growing family to Fort Knox after the violence
subsided. In spring 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, Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri 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. 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.
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. 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. That November he was
transferred to Fort Robertson at Baton Rouge, where he remained until
February 1824 and 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 he acquired his first Louisiana plantation and decided to
move with his family to their new home in Baton Rouge.
Black Hawk War
In May 1828, Taylor was called back to action, commanding Fort
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
Black Hawk War was beginning in the West. 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, and the following years were relatively quiet.
During this period Taylor resisted the courtship of his 17-year-old
Sarah Knox Taylor
Sarah Knox Taylor with Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, the future
President of the Confederate States of America. He respected Davis but
did not approve of his daughter becoming a military wife, as he knew
it was a hard life for families. Davis and Sarah Taylor married in
June 1835, but she died three months later of malaria contracted on a
summer visit to Davis' sister in St. Francisville, Louisiana.
Second Seminole War
By 1837, the
Second Seminole War
Second Seminole War was underway when Taylor was directed
to Florida. He defeated 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." Taylor
was criticized for using bloodhounds in order to track Seminole.
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.
Main article: 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. 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
Andrew Jackson made him the choice of Democratic
President James K. Polk. 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
Zachary Taylor rides his horse at the Battle of Palo Alto, May
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.
Polk, learning of the Thornton Affair, told Congress in May that a war
between Mexico and the U.S. had begun. That same month, Taylor
commanded American forces at the
Battle of Palo Alto
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. Taylor
was later plauded 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 the 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.
These victories made him a popular hero, and within weeks he received
a brevet promotion to major general and a formal commendation from
Congress. 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."
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. 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.
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. Santa Anna attacked Taylor
with 20,000 men at the
Battle of Buena Vista
Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847, leaving
around 700 Americans dead or wounded at a cost of over 1,500
Mexican.[b] Outmatched, the Mexican forces retreated, ensuring a
"far-reaching" victory for the Americans.
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
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.
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 of 1848
Main article: U.S. presidential election, 1848
Taylor/Fillmore 1848 campaign poster
In his capacity as a career officer, Taylor had never publicly
revealed his political beliefs before 1848 nor voted before that
time. 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. 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. 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. Taylor aligned himself with the Whig Party, though he
did not agree with their stand in favor of protective tariffs and
expensive internal improvements; he also disagreed with them on their
other positions—that the president should not be able to veto a law,
unless that law was against the Constitution, that the office should
not interfere with Congress; and as well that the power of collective
decision-making, like the Cabinet, should be strong.
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. Still, he maintained that he would only accept election as
a national, independent figure, rather than a partisan loyalist.
Taylor declared, as the 1848 Whig Party convention approached, that he
had always been a Whig in principle, but he did consider himself a
Jeffersonian-Democrat. 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. 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. Most abolitionists did not
support Taylor, since he was a slave-owner. Many southerners also
knew that Taylor supported states' rights and was opposed to
protective tariffs and government spending for internal
improvements. The Whigs hoped that he put the federal union of the
United States above all else.
1848 electoral vote results
At the 1848 Whig National Convention, Taylor defeated
Henry 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 slaveowning southerner; all factions of the party were
dissatisfied with the final ticket. 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 Senator
John J. Crittenden
John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, a
friend and early political supporter, and bolstered by a late
endorsement from Senator
Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. Taylor
defeated Lewis Cass, the Democratic candidate, and Martin Van Buren,
Free Soil candidate, 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
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.
"Taylor administration" redirects here. For the Liberian government
led by President Charles G. Taylor, see Charles G. Taylor
Transition and inauguration
White House portrait of Zachary Taylor
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.
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
John M. Clayton
John M. Clayton of Delaware, a close associate of
The Taylor Cabinet
Secretary of State
John M. Clayton
Secretary of Treasury
William M. Meredith
Secretary of War
George W. Crawford
Secretary of the Navy
William B. Preston
Secretary of the Interior
Thomas Ewing, Sr.
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
Jacob Collamer of Vermont. 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,
William B. Preston
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
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. The
incumbent Democrat held a low opinion of Taylor, privately deeming him
"without political information" and "wholly unqualified for the
station" of president. 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
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. His speech also
emphasized the importance of following President Washington's
precedent in avoiding entangling alliances. 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.
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.
Daguerreotype of Taylor at the
White House by Mathew Brady, 1849
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. 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.
His major goal was sectional peace, preserving the Union through
legislative compromise. As the threat of Southern secession grew,
he sided increasingly with antislavery northerners such as Senator
William H. Seward
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.
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. The
administration dispatched Rep.
Thomas Butler King
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.
United States states and territories throughout Taylor's presidency
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
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
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". 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.
Zachary Taylor standing in front of his Cabinet, seated from
Reverdy Johnson, Attorney General; William M. Meredith, Secretary of
the Treasury; William B. Preston, Secretary of the Navy; George W.
Crawford, Secretary of War; Jacob Collamer, Postmaster General; Thomas
Ewing, Secretary of the Interior; and John M. Clayton, Secretary of
Lithograph by Francis D'Avignon, published by Mathew Brady,
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. 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. 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. While previous Whig
administrations had emphasized Pacific trade as an economic
imperative, the Taylor administration took no major initiative in the
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
potential new slave state, and López had several prominent Southern
supporters. 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. 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.
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. 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 development of an Anglo-American
alliance; its completion was Taylor's last action as president.
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. 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. Slavery
would be retained in the District of Columbia, but the slave trade
would be banned. Meanwhile, a strict
Fugitive Slave Law
Fugitive Slave Law would be
enacted, bypassing northern legislation which had restricted
Southerners from retrieving runaway slaves. 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."  The omnibus law was a major step forward but ultimately
could not pass, due to extremists on both sides.
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. 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.
Zachary Taylor in 1850
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. 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. 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.
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.
Despite treatment, Taylor died at 10:35 p.m. on July 9, 1850. He
was 65 years old. 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 was interred in the Public Vault of the Congressional Cemetery
in Washington, D.C., from July 13, 1850, to October 25, 1850. (It 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.
Historical reputation and memorials
Taylor's mausoleum at the
Zachary Taylor National Cemetery
Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in
Because of his short tenure, Taylor is not considered to have strongly
influenced the office of the Presidency or the United States. Some
historians believe that Taylor was too inexperienced with politics, at
a time when officials needed close ties with political operatives.
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." While historical rankings of Presidents of
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.
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.
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 m2). On May 6, 1926, the
remains of 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 has been
designated as the
Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.
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
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
Zachary Taylor was the fifth American president to appear
on US postage.
Postage stamp, issue of 1875
Presidential dollar coin, 2009
He is the namesake for several names and places throughout the United
Camp Taylor in
Kentucky and Fort Taylor in Florida.
The SS Zachary Taylor, a World War II Liberty ship
Zachary Taylor Parkway in Louisiana  and in
Zachary Taylor Hall at
Southeastern Louisiana University.
Taylor County in Georgia
Taylor County, Iowa
Kentucky The 100th county established in
was named after Zachary Taylor.
Rough and Ready, California; the historical origin of the town is
depicted in a 1965 episode of the syndicated western television
series, Death Valley Days.
Zachary Taylor Highway in Virginia
Fort Zachary Taylor
Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Fl
He was also the namesake for architect
Zachary Taylor Davis.
BEP Engraved Portrait of Taylor
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. In 1978, Hamilton Smith
based his assassination theory on the timing of drugs, the lack of
confirmed cholera outbreaks, and other material. In the late
1980s, Clara Rising, a former professor at University of Florida,
persuaded Taylor's closest living relative to agree to an exhumation
so that his remains could be tested. 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
Neutron activation analysis
Neutron activation analysis conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
revealed no evidence of poisoning, as arsenic levels were too
low. 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." 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. 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."
Book: Presidents of the
United States (1789–1860)
Historical rankings of Presidents of the United States
List of Presidents of the United States
List of Presidents of the United States, sortable by previous
List of Presidents of the
United States who died in office
List of Presidents of the
United States who owned slaves
U.S. presidents on U.S. postage stamps
^ Taylor's term of service was scheduled to begin 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.
^ Estimates of casualties vary widely. The Encyclopædia
Britannica lists casualties of about 1,500 Mexican to 700
American. Hamilton lists the "killed or wounded" as 673 Americans
to "at least eighteen hundred" Mexicans. 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.
^ 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
^ 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.
^ 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.
^ 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.
^ This numbering includes John Tyler, who served as vice president
under the Whig
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison but was expelled from his party
shortly after becoming president.
^ Tolson, Jay. "Worst Presidents:
Zachary Taylor (1849–1850)". U.S.
News & World Report.
^ Geoffrey Henry (March 1991). "National Register of Historic Places
Inventory/Nomination: Hare Forest Farm" (PDF).
Virginia Department of
^ Bauer, pp. 1–2; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 21–24, 261–262.
^ Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 22, 259.
^ Bauer, K. Jack (1985). Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman
of the Old Southwest. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University
Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-8071-1237-3.
^ Nowlan, Robert A. (2016). The
American Presidents From Polk to
Hayes. Denver, CO: Outskirts Press. p. 79.
^ Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest,
^ Johnston, J. Stoddard (1913). "Sketch of Theodore O'Hara". The
Register of the
Kentucky Historical Society. Frankfort, KY: State
Journal Company. p. 67.
^ a b Bauer, pp. 2–4; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 25–29.
^ Bauer, pp. 8–9; Hamilton, vol. 1, p. 37.
^ a b c d e f "Zachary Taylor: Facts at a Glance". American President:
A Reference Resource. Miller Center (University of Virginia).
^ Bauer, pp. 48–49.
^ Bauer, pp. 69–70.
^ Bauer, p. 38.
^ Bauer, p. 243.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 138–139.
^ Bauer, p. 5; Hamilton, vol. 1, p. 33.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 4–6.
^ Bauer, pp. 5–10; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 35–37.
^ a b ANTI-SLAVERY REPORTER VOL III, NO XXXVI, December 1, 1848, p
^ Stanley Nelson, Taylor's Cypress Grove Plantation, The Ouachita
Citizen, August 6, 2014
^ Bauer, p. 10; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 37–38.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 7–8.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 10–11.
^ Bauer, pp. 13–19; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 39–46.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 13–15.
^ Bauer, pp. 20–30; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 47–59.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 17–19.
^ a b Bauer, pp. 40–47; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 70–77.
^ Bauer, pp. 47–59; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 77–82.
^ Bauer, pp. 59–74; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 83–109.
^ Bauer, pp. 75–95; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 122–141.
^ Bauer, pp. 96–110; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 142–155.
^ Bauer, p. 111; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 156–158.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 30–31.
^ Bauer, pp. 116–123; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 158–165.
^ Bauer, pp. 123–129, 145–149; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 170–177.
^ Bauer, p. 166; Hamilton, vol. 1, p. 195.
^ Bauer, pp. 152–162; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 181–190.
^ Montgomery, 1847, pp. 176-177
^ Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 198–199.
^ Bauer, pp. 166–185; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 207–216.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 62–66.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 66–68.
^ a b "Battle of Buena Vista". Encyclopædia Britannica.
^ Hamilton, p. 241.
^ Bauer, pp. 205–206.
^ Bauer, pp. 186–207; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 217–242.
^ Breithaupt, Jr., Richard Hoag (1998).
Aztec Club of 1847
Aztec Club of 1847 Military
Society of the Mexican War. Universal City, CA: Walika Publishing
Company. p. 3. ISBN 1886085056.
^ Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 248–255.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Zachary Taylor: Campaigns and Elections".
Miller Center of Public Affairs. Archived from the original on July 2,
2015. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
^ Hamilton, vol. 2, pp. 38–44.
^ Bauer, pp. 236–238; Hamilton, vol. 2, pp. 94–97.
^ Bauer, pp. 239–244.
^ Holt, p. 272.
^ a b Bauer, pp. 248–251.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 90–94, 128.
^ Bauer, pp. 251–253.
^ Bauer, pp. 247–248.
^ Bauer, pp. 253–255, 260–262.
^ Klein, Christopher (February 18, 2013). "The 24-Hour President".
History in the Headlines. The History Channel.
^ Bauer, pp. 256–258.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 94–95.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 96–97.
^ Bauer, pp. 268–270.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 101–102.
^ Bauer, pp. 289–290.
^ Bauer, pp. 295–298.
^ Bauer, pp. 290–291.
^ Bauer, pp. 291–292.
^ Bauer, pp. 292–294.
^ Bauer, p. 294.
^ Bauer, p. 298–299.
^ Bauer, p. 299–300.
^ Bauer, 273–274, 288.
^ Bauer, pp. 274–275.
^ Bauer, pp. 275–278.
^ Bauer, pp. 287–288.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 113–114.
^ Bauer, 278–280.
^ Bauer, 280–281.
^ Bauer, p. 281.
^ Bauer, pp. 281–287.
^ Bauer, pp. 301, 307–308.
^ Bauer, p. 301.
^ "Zachary Taylor". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
^ Bauer, pp. 301–312.
^ Bauer, pp. 312–313.
^ (1) Smith, p. 156.
(2) Bauer, p. 314
(3) Perry, John (2010). Lee: A Life of Virtue. Nashville, Tennessee:
Thomas Nelson. pp. 93–94. ISBN 1595550283.
OCLC 456177249. At Google Books.
^ Bauer, pp. 314–316.
^ Eisenhower, p. 133.
^ The American nation: its executive ... – Google Books. Williams
Publishing Co. 1888. Retrieved May 12, 2014.
^ Bauer, p. 316.
^ Eisenhower, pp. 139–140.
^ "Biographical Directory of Federal Judges". History of the Federal
Judiciary. Federal Judicial Center.
^ a b c "Zachary Taylor: Impact and Legacy". Miller Center of Public
Affairs. Archived from the original on December 17, 2010. Retrieved
January 12, 2009.
^ Scotts Identifier of US Definitive Issues
Zachary Taylor Parkway: Louisiana's road to the future, accessed
April 15, 2012.
Zachary Taylor Hall". selu.edu. Archived from the original on April
1, 2011. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
^ Wikimedia Commons photo of Zach Taylor Hall, accessed April 15,
^ Willard and Marion (2010). Killing the President. p. 188.
^ "The Strange Death of Zachary Taylor", by Tony Seybert, The Daily
^ Hamilton Smith, "The Interpretation of the
Arsenic Content of Human
Hair," Journal of the Forensic Science Society, vol. 4,
summarized in Sten Forshufvud and Ben Weider, Assassination at St.
Helena (Vancouver, Canada: Mitchell Press, 1978).
^ McLeod, Michael (July 25, 1993). "Clara Rising, Ex-uf Prof Who Got
Zachary Taylor Exhumed". Orlando Sentinel.
^ a b Marriott, Michel (June 27, 2011). "Verdict In: 12th President
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from the Grave". Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Archived from the
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^ Sampas, Jim (July 4, 1991). "Scandal and the Heat Did Zachary Taylor
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Taylor: A case study in the manufacture of mainstream history". New
Political Science. 20 (2): 141–158.
^ Parenti, Michael (1999). History as Mystery. pp. 209–239.
^ Willard and Marion (2010). Killing the President. p. 189.
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[vol. 1]. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill Company.
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[vol. 2]. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill Company.
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and Times of Zachary Taylor. New York: Vanguard Press.
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with fable alluded to
"Life Portrait of Zachary Taylor", from C-SPAN's American Presidents:
Life Portraits, May 31, 1999
Zachary Taylor[dead link] at A Continent Divided: The U.S.-Mexico War,
Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, the University of Texas at
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See also: Tecumseh's War
United States presidential election, 1848 (1852 →)
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