10 Facts About Zachary Taylor

General Zachary Taylor at Buena Vista
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Zachary Taylor was the 12th president of the United States. He served from March 4, 1849–July 9, 1850. The following are 10 key and interesting facts about him and his time as president.

01
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Descendant of William Brewster

Zachary Taylor's family could trace their roots directly to the English official and Mayflower passenger in 1620, William Brewster (1566–1644). Brewster was a key separatist leader and preacher in the Plymouth Colony. Taylor's father had served in the American Revolution.

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Career Military Officer

Taylor never attended college, having been taught by a number of tutors. He joined the military and served from 1808–1848 when he became president.

03
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Participated in the War of 1812

Taylor was part of the defense of Fort Harrison in Indiana during the War of 1812. During the war, he attained the rank of major. After the war, he was soon promoted up to the rank of colonel.

04
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Black Hawk War

In the summer of 1832, Taylor saw action in the Black Hawk War. Chief Black Hawk (1767–1838) led his force of Sauk and their allies the Fox Indians in the Illinois and Wisconsin territories against the US Army.

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Second Seminole War

Between 1835 and 1842, Taylor fought in the Second Seminole War in Florida. In this conflict, Chief Osceola (1804–1838) led the Seminole Indians in an effort to avoid migrating west of the Mississippi River. While that had been agreed to in the Treaty of Payne's Landing, the Seminoles had not been principal parties in those deliberations. It was during this war that Taylor was given his nickname "Old Rough and Ready" by his men.

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Mexican War Hero

Taylor became a war hero during the Mexican War (1846–1848). This started as a border dispute between Mexico and Texas. General Taylor was sent by President James K. Polk in 1846 to protect the border at the Rio Grande. However, Mexican troops attacked, and Taylor defeated them despite having fewer men. This action led to a declaration of war. Despite successfully attacking the city of Monterrey, Taylor gave the Mexicans a two-month armistice which upset president Polk. Taylor led U.S. forces at the Battle of Buena Vista, defeating Mexican general Santa Anna's 15,000 troops with 4,600. Taylor used his success at this battle as part of his campaign for the presidency in 1848.

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Nominated Without Being Present in 1848

In 1848, the Whig Party nominated Taylor to be president without his knowledge or presence at the nominating convention. They sent him notification of the nomination without postage paid so he had to pay for the letter that told him that he was their nominee. He refused to pay the postage and did not find out about the nomination for weeks.

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Did Not Take Sides About Slavery During the Election

The main issue of the 1848 election was whether the new territories gained in the Mexican War would be free or slave. Although Taylor held slaves himself, he did not state a position during the election. Because of this stance and the fact that he ​owned slaves, he garnered the pro-slavery vote while the anti-slavery vote was divided between candidates for the Free Soil Party and the Democratic Party.

09
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Clayton Bulwer Treaty

The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was an agreement between the U.S. and Great Britain signed in 1850 that related to the status of canals and colonization in Central America that passed while Taylor was president. Both sides agreed that all canals would be neutral and neither side would colonize Central America.

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Death From Cholera

Taylor died on July 8, 1850. Doctors of the day believed his death was caused by cholera contracted after eating fresh cherries and drinking milk on a hot summer day, but there were rumors to the effect that he had been poisoned because of his stance against the spread of slavery.

More than 140 years later, Taylor's body was exhumed to establish that he had not been poisoned. The level of arsenic in his body was consistent with other people of the time, but the level of antimony was not. Experts believe that his death was of natural causes, but some scholars remain unconvinced.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Bauer, K. Jack. "Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest." Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985. 
  • Eisenhower, John S. D. "Zachary Taylor: The American Presidents Series: The 12th President, 1849–1850." New York: Times Books, 2008.
  • Parenti, Michael. "The Strange Death of President Zachary Taylor: A Case Study in the Manufacture of Mainstream History." New Political Science 20.2 (1998): 141–58.
  • Roberts, Jeremy. "Zachary Taylor." Minneapolis MN: Lerner Publications, 2005