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Richard Taylor
(1694-1734)
Dinah
(1696-1752)
Anthony Strother
(1725-)
Frances Eastham
(Abt 1725-)
Richard Taylor
(1741-1821)
Sarah Pannill Dabney Strother
(1760-1822)

President Zachary Taylor
(1784-1850)

 

Family Links

Spouses/Children:
First Lady Margaret Mackall "Peggy" Smith

President Zachary Taylor

  • Born: 24 Nov 1784, Montebello, Orange, Virginia
  • Marriage: First Lady Margaret Mackall "Peggy" Smith on 18 Jun 1810 in Louisville, Jefferson Co., Kentucky
  • Died: 9 Jul 1850, Washington, D.C. at age 65
  • Buried: Jul 1850, National Cemetery, Louisville, Jefferson Co., Kentucky

  General Notes:

November 24, 1784 - July 9, 1850), also known as "Old Rough and Ready," was the twelfth President of the United States, serving from 1849 to 1850. Taylor was noted for his extensive military career and for becoming the first president not previously elected to any other public office. He was the second president to die in office.

Early life and military career

Taylor was born in a log cabin to Richard Taylor and Sarah Strother, near Barboursville, Virginia, though his family was aristocratic. James Madison was a 2nd cousin. Robert E. Lee was a 4th cousin-once removed. As an infant he and his family moved to Kentucky, where Taylor grew up on a plantation and was known as "Little Zack." Taylor and Margaret Mackall Smith met in early 1810 and were married on June 21, 1810. They had one son and five daughters, two of whom died in infancy, and one of whom, Sarah Knox Taylor, died young after having married Jefferson Davis.

In 1808, Taylor joined the U.S. Army and was commissioned as a first lieutenant. Soon afterward he was ordered west into Indiana Territory, taking command of Fort Harrison. In the War of 1812 (1812-1815), he became known as an excellent military commander. Taylor was also noted for standing 5'8" or 5'9" tall and weighing between 170 and 200 pounds, with long arms, short, stubby legs and a thick torso. It is believed that Taylor sometimes needed to be boosted into his saddle.

Taylor also served in the Black Hawk War (1832) and the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). During the Seminole War he gained the nickname "Old Rough and Ready" after the Battle of Lake Okeechobee because he wore strange clothings with a wide brimed straw hat.

President James K. Polk sent an army under his command to the Rio Grande in 1846. When the Mexicans attacked Taylor's troops, Taylor defeated them despite being outnumbered 4-to-1. Polk later declared war; in the Mexican-American War that followed, Taylor won additional important victories at Monterrey and Buena Vista and became a national hero.

Polk kept Taylor in northern Mexico, disturbed by his informal habits of command and his affiliation with the Whig Party. He sent an expedition under General 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."

He received the Whig nomination for President in 1848, although he had never even bothered to vote before. In fact, he had never even bothered to register, and didn't vote in his own election. His homespun ways were political assets, his long military record would appeal to northerners, and his ownership of slaves would attract southern votes. He also had not previously committed himself on troublesome issues. He ran against the Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass, who favored letting the residents of territories decide for themselves whether they wanted slavery. In protest against Taylor, a slaveholder, and Cass, an advocate of "squatter sovereignty," northerners who opposed extension of slavery into territories formed the Free Soil Party and nominated Martin Van Buren. In a close election, the Free Soilers pulled enough votes away from Cass to elect Taylor.

To the astonishment of Whigs, Taylor virtually repudiated their platform, As historian Michael Holt explains:

Taylor was equally indifferent to programs Whigs had long considered vital. Publicly, he was artfully ambiguous, refusing to answer queries about his views on banking, the tariff, and internal improvements. Privately, he was more forthright. The idea of a national bank "is dead, & 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. [Holt 1999 p 272]

Presidency 1849-1850

Policies

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.

Under Taylor´s administration the United States Department of the Interior was organized, although the Department had been activated under President Polk´s last day in office.

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.

Administration and Cabinet
OFFICE NAME TERM
President Zachary Taylor 1849-1850
Vice President Millard Fillmore 1849-1850
Secretary of State John M. Clayton 1849-1850
Secretary of the Treasury William Meredith 1849-1850
Secretary of War George Crawford 1849-1850
Attorney General Reverdy Johnson 1849-1850
Postmaster General Jacob Collamer 1849-1850
Secretary of the Navy William Preston 1849-1850
Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ewing 1849-1850

Supreme Court appointments:
none

States admitted to the Union:
none

His death

After participating in ceremonies at the Washington Monument on a blistering July 4, 1850, Taylor fell ill with acute indigestion and was diagnosed by his physicians with cholera morbus - a catchall term that included diarrhea and dysentery but not true cholera. He died five days later, after just 16 months in office. He is buried in Louisville, Kentucky in the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery. Taylor was succeeded by his Vice President, Millard Fillmore.

Surviving family

Taylor's son Richard became a Confederate Lieutenant-General, while his late daughter Sarah Knox Taylor (1814-1835) had married future President of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis three months before her death of malaria. Taylor's brother, Joseph Pannill Taylor, was a Brigadier General in the Grand Army of the Republic during the Civil War. Taylor's niece Emily Ellison Taylor was the wife of Confederate General Lafayette McLaws.

Trivia

* Taylor earned a footnote in Presidential history before he even took office. His term of service was scheduled to begin on March 4, 1849, but it being a Sunday, Taylor refused to be sworn in until the following day. Vice President Millard Fillmore was also not sworn in on that day. As a result, it is claimed that the nation technically had no President or Vice President for one day. Some people postulate that David Rice Atchison, the previous President Pro Tempore of the Senate, was technically Acting President, but this statement is rejected by most constitutional scholars. Constitutionally, Taylor's term began on March 4, regardless of whether he had taken the oath or not.

* It is widely held that the cause of Taylor's death was put to rest in the early 1990s when Taylor's remains were exhumed and examined for arsenic poisoning. A medical examiner then concluded that the amount of arsenic found in the hair and nail samples was not sufficient to be fatal. Taylor had eaten a large quantity of iced milk and cherries on the hot day prior to falling ill, one of which may have been contaminated.

Zachary married First Lady Margaret Mackall "Peggy" Smith on 18 Jun 1810 in Louisville, Jefferson Co., Kentucky. (First Lady Margaret Mackall "Peggy" Smith was born on 21 Sep 1788 in St. Leonard's, Calvert, Cecil Co., Maryland, died on 18 Aug 1852 in Louisville, Jefferson Co., Kentucky and was buried in 1852 in National Cemetery, Louisville, Jefferson Co., Kentucky.)



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