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Zachary Taylor: 12th President
Official White House Portrait
Old Rough and Ready: the Military Man
Zachary Taylor was born on November 24, 1784 in Montebello, Orange County, Virginia to a military colonel and his wife. They moved to Kentucky soon after his birth and raised him on a plantation. Following in his father's footsteps, he too joined the military, serving from 1808 to 1848, only ending his career to become President. The only education he received was from a number of tutors. He never attended college.
He joined the Army when he was 18 years old and fought in the War of 1812 as part of the defense of Fort Harrison in Indiana. He was promoted quickly, first to major while serving in the war, and at the end he became colonel.
Taylor was given the nickname "Old Rough and Ready" by the military men he led during the Second Seminole War that lasted between 1835 and 1842. The nickname came, because he rarely dressed in a military uniform, preferring the simple clothes of a farmer. Despite being a very successful career officer in the Army, he preferred talking about cotton raising and missed his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He also owned a plantation in Mississippi where he owned 100 slaves.
During the Second Seminole War, he fought in Florida against Chief Osceola who was fighting against his people migrating west of the Mississippi River and won, but it was the Mexican War that made him well-known. The Mexican War began as a dispute over the border between Mexico and Texas.
President Polk sent Taylor and his men to protect the Rio Grande border. He won despite having fewer men. Taylor's success caused the Mexican's to declare war against the United States. Taylor went against President Polk's desires and gave the Mexican's a two-month armistice. Later, he led 4,600 American volunteers in a fight against Santa Anna, which was a troop that was almost four times larger than his own force. This was known as the Battle of Buena Vista, in which despite his limited number of men, Taylor won this battle securing his title as a war hero.
List of United States Presidents
2. John Adams
5. James Monroe
10. John Tyler
11. James K. Polk
12. Zachary Taylor
13. Millard Fillmore
14. Franklin Pierce
15. James Buchanan
16. Abraham Lincoln
17. Andrew Johnson
18. Ulysses S. Grant
19. Rutherford B. Hayes
20. James Garfield
21. Chester A. Arthur
22. Grover Cleveland
23. Benjamin Harrison
24. Grover Cleveland
25. William McKinley
28. Woodrow Wilson
30. Calvin Coolidge
31. Herbert Hoover
33. Harry S. Truman
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower
35. John F. Kennedy
36. Lyndon B. Johnson
37. Richard M. Nixon
38. Gerald R. Ford
39. James Carter
40. Ronald Reagan
41. George H. W. Bush
42. William J. Clinton
43. George W. Bush
44. Barack Obama
45. Donald Trump
His success in military caught the attention of the Whig party in 1848. They nominated him as president without him being present or even aware of the nomination. They sent him a letter telling of this nomination, but unfortunately did not pay for postage. When the notice arrived, he refused to pay the postage; therefore, did not learn of his nomination until weeks later.
Despite no governmental experience, he appealed to the citizens of the United States for many reasons. Even though he never voiced an opinion on slaves, those who were pro-slavery assumed since he owned over 100 slaves that he would support their cause. He also got many of the northern votes, because of his long military record ane he considered himself a nationalist. Soon he was elected as the 12th United States President.
Unfortunately for those who were pro-slavery, despite his owning of slaves himself, he did not defend the owning of slaves. Southerners threatened secession, but Taylor felt that he was prepared to keep the Union together by armed force if necessary. He refused to compromise on the issue of slavery.
His strong character also caused the Whig leaders in Congress to have trouble controlling him as they hoped. He still held many of the principles of the Whig legislature, but was not easily budged when he felt an idea was not best. Still he was well-liked with his simple way of treating others with respect and even allowing his war horse to graze on the White House lawn.
Still issues of slavery was one of the biggest issues during his presidency. Prior to this time, when a new territory constitution was drawn up, they could decide whether they wanted slavery or not. Taylor did not want to see the slave territory to grow; therefore, urged the settlers of New Mexico and California to apply for statehood and draft a constitution, which would not allow for the territorial stage that allowed for slavery. This upset members of Congress as they felt this was usurping their policy-making prerogatives.
He also ignored many issues regarding slave ownership, like when southerners demanded more stringent fugitive slave laws. This again, in February of 1850, caused southern leaders to threaten secession. His response was, in order to remain united within the states and in order to enforce the laws, he would personally lead the Army to protect our nation from splitting. He was even quoted as saying that any person "taken in rebellion against the Union, he would hang... with less reluctance than he had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico." This war that he was willing to fight would come only 11 years later. His son, Richard Taylor would serve as a general in the Confederate Army.
Unfortunately his presidency did not last long. On the Fourth of July, only 16 months after he became President, he participated in several ceremonies held at the Washington Monument, which was not yet finished. Some believed on that day, he had suffered from sun-stroke due to the broiling hot weather, others believed he contracted cholera due to eating fresh cherries and drinking milk, and then there were others who believed he had been poisoned. Either way, he became very sick and died only four days later. One hundred and forty years after his death, Taylor's body was exhumed to confirm that his death was not due to being poisoned. After careful testing, they decided that he had in fact died of natural causes, since his body did not contain any more arsenic than was normal in a person's body at that time.
Campaign Cartoon: Cock of the Walk
Fun Facts about Zachary Taylor
- He was the first military leader to become president without ever holding a governmental position.
- His heritage can be traced back to the Mayflower. His descendant William Brewster was a leader and preacher in the Plymouth Colony.
- His nickname was 'Old Rough and Ready.'
- In 1848, the Whig Party nominated him for president without his knowledge. He was sent notification of his nomination in an envelope without postage. Since Taylor refused to pay for the postage, he did not learn of his nomination until a few weeks later.
Excerpt from the History Channel
November 24, 1784 - Virginia
United States Army - Major general
War of 1812 • Siege of Fort Harrison Black Hawk War Second Seminole War • Battle of Lake Okeechobee Mexican–American War • Battle of Palo Alto • Battle of Resaca de la Palma • Battle of Monterrey • Battle of Buena Vista
Age at Beginning of Presidency
65 years old
Term of Office
March 4, 1849 - July 9, 1850
How Long President
Age and Year of Death
July 9, 1850 (aged 65)
Cause of Death
Photograph of President Polk
- Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). Zachary Taylor. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/zacharytaylor
- Kelly, M. (2015, September 01). Top 10 Things to Know About Zachary Taylor. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://americanhistory.about.com/od/zacharytaylor/tp/10-Things-To-Know-About-Zachary-Taylor.htm
- Sullivan, G. (2001). Mr. President: A book of U.S. presidents. New York: Scholastic.