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.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
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
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

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home