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Who is Zachary Taylor?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2016
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Zachary Taylor was the twelfth President of the United States, serving a brief term from 1849-1850. He was the second president to die in office, and the cause of his death is somewhat debated. Some suggest he had cholera or food poisoning, while others argue he died of heat stroke. There has even been some debate that he may have been poisoned on purpose, but little evidence exists to support this theory.

Despite serving a short term as president, Zachary Taylor promoted some important legislation, actively encouraging California to seek state status. By doing so, he enraged his fellow Southerners, because Californians wrote a constitution that disallowed slavery. Zachary Taylor was a slave owner, but he did not necessarily want to see slavery expanded. Members of the Southern US were so angry at Taylor’s actions they threatened secession, to which Taylor responded by threatening to hang anyone who truly rebelled against the US.

This action in the life of President Zachary Taylor is a good example of the type of man he was. He was decidedly tough, with a 40-year military career prior to winning the presidency. He was known by his nickname, “Old Rough and Ready,” and he did appear to have lightning fast actions, sometimes of a violent or at least threatening nature. He actually got the nickname from his somewhat disheveled appearance while serving in the military in the 1830s.

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In the military, a career that began in 1808 when he was 24, he participated in many of the major military engagements against the Indians. These included the War of 1812, The Black Hawk War, and the Second Seminole War. Zachary Taylor made no bones about disliking Native Americans, and supported the right of settlers to take Native American land and the right of the US to force Native Americans away from their land. He was a very active military man, becoming a military hero for feats of bravery and success in battle.

In politics, Zachary Taylor was nominally of the Whig Party, but his presidency disappointed Whig politicians. Zachary Taylor would refuse to be lead by Whig guidance, acting by his own conscience and only passing Whig legislation that he personally agreed with. Due to Taylor’s Whig allegiance, and while he was still serving in the military, President Polk kept him to appointments that were far away from the center of politics. Polk was also disturbed by Taylor’s appearance and unusual manner of governing his men.

In his personal life, Zachary Taylor was married to Margaret Mackall Smith. Together they had one son, and five daughters; two died in infancy. Two of Taylor’s children would definitely ignore their father’s more modest stance on slavery. His daughter Sarah Knox Taylor married Jefferson Davis, the future president of the Southern Confederacy. Sadly she passed away only three months after her marriage. Richard Taylor, President Taylor’s youngest child, would become a well-known Confederate General during the Civil War.

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