Zachary Taylor

12th president - 1849-1850

 

Taylor's military successes in the Mexican War – and a quarter of a century's previous experience policing the frontiers against Native Americans – made him an attractive candidate to northerners; the fact that he was a slave-owner (he had a plantation in Mississippi) was attractive to southern voters. This mixed appeal allowed the famously dishevelled Taylor to defeat more polished rivals such as Lewis Cass, the Democratic candidate, and Martin Van Buren, who ran for the short-lived Free Soil Party (which opposed slavery).

His presidency was dominated by the issue of slavery, which he attempted to deal with in the same rule-of-thumb fashion that he had used as a soldier.

To end the dispute over slavery in newly acquired areas, he urged settlers in New Mexico and California to draft constitutions and apply for statehood. (Traditionally, people could decide whether they wanted slavery when they drew up new state constitutions.) Southerners were furious, since neither state constitution was likely to permit slavery; Members of Congress were dismayed, since they felt that the President was usurping their policy-making prerogatives. Taylor's rough-and-ready solution ignored several important side issues, such as the northern dislike of the slave market operating in the District of Columbia; and southern demands for a more stringent fugitive slave law.

By February 1850, southern leaders were threatening secession. Taylor held a stormy conference, in which he told them that, if necessary, he would personally lead the Army in order to enforce the law and the Union. 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 from this uncompromising stance for the remainder of his presidency; which did not, however, last long. That summer, he participated in a lengthy 4 July ceremony at the Washington Monument, on a blisteringly hot day. His thirst and exhaustion caused him to accept a snack of cherries and milk (and, possibly, other offerings from onlookers). He fell ill almost immediately, and died five days later.

The tensions over slavery that he had attempted to resolve survived his presidency, but would not explode into civil war for another decade.

In his own words

"For more than half a century, during which kingdoms and empires have fallen, this Union has stood unshaken. The patriots who formed it have long since descended to the grave; yet still it remains the proudest monument to their memory... In my judgement, its dissolution would be the greatest of calamities."

In others' words

"He talks artlessly as a child about affairs of state, and does not pretend to a knowledge of anything of which he is ignorant. He is a remarkable man in some respects and it is remarkable that such a man should be President of the United States."

Congressman Horace Mann

"Few men have ever had a more comfortable, labour-saving contempt for learning of every kind." General Winfield Scott

Minutiae

Actress Lillian Gish claimed to be descended from him.



When he was 17, he swam across the Ohio River and back.

Taylor chewed a lot of tobacco, and was said to be an unusually gifted marksman with a spittoon.

His wife, Peggy, hated the idea of her husband becoming president and prayed every day for his defeat during the 1848 election campaign. Chronic illness prevented her from serving as First Lady. Her daughter Betty took the role instead, while Peggy remained in seclusion on the second floor of the White House.

He was the first president not to have previously held any other elected public office.

His will was deemed inadmissible for probate, as it had been drafted on the assumption that he would die in combat.

Not until Woodrow Wilson, more than 60 years later, would another southerner be elected president.

Conspiracy theorists have suggested that Taylor was assassinated. In 1991, Taylor's remains were exhumed, but the minute traces of arsenic found in tissue samples were considered too insignificant to be attributable to poisoning.

Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices