Monday, May 17, 2010
Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) was President of the United States for only 16 months, but he served his country as a soldier for 40 years previous to becoming President. He became a national hero for his courage and ability during the Mexican War. He showed the same courage as President, but he died before proving his full potential as a politician. Even though President Taylor owned many slaves in the South, he did not oppose admitting California and New Mexico to the Union as free states. When the South talked of states seceding from the Union over slavery, President Taylor replied that he would take his place at the head of the army to put down any such action. Taylor made his greatest contribution to his country as a soldier. He was quiet, friendly and a good leader but not a military genius. He never lost a battle and was known by his troops as "Old Rough and Ready." Taylor was born on November 24, 1784, near Barboursville, Virginia, the third son in a family of six boys and three girls. His parents were from plantation families in Virginia. His father served in the army during the Revolutionary War and received a war bonus of 6000 acres of land near Louisville, Kentucky, in 1783. He moved his family to Kentucky in 1785. Zachary studied under tutors because there were no schools on the Kentucky frontier. He gained practical knowledge working on his father's farm. In 1808 Zachary was appointed a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army and promoted to captain in 1810. Taylor married Margaret Mackall Smith, an orphaned daughter of a Maryland planter, on June 21, 1810. They had one son and five daughters, two of whom died as babies. A third daughter married Jefferson Davis, the future President of the Confederacy, and died three months after the wedding. Taylor was promoted to major during the war of 1812 and served in Indiana Territory. He became a lieutenant colonel in 1819. He received the surrender of Chief Black Hawk in 1832 in Wisconsin. He was sent to Florida in 1837 where he defeated the Seminole Indians. He was given the honorary rank of brigadier general. He fought in the Mexican War and became a national hero after winning a stunning victory over the forces of General Santa Anna in 1847. The presidential election of 1848 was the first held at the same time in all states. Taylor was inaugurated on March 5, 1849, because he refused to be inaugurated on Sunday, March 4. Neither Taylor nor his wife were anxious for him to be President. She was a semi-invalid and took little part in White House social life. Her daughter acted as White House hostess. President Taylor became ill and died on July 9, 1850. He was buried in a family cemetery near Louisville, Kentucky. Mrs. Taylor died in 1852 and was buried beside her husband. A team of experts examined President Taylor's body in 1991 to investigate whether he was poisoned. The team concluded that Taylor died of natural causes. Facts for this post came from an article by Michael F. Holt in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 19, pp 58-60.