A Presidency Cut Short
Zachary Taylor, 12th president of the United States, was also the second president to die in office, which happened about 16 months into his first term.
Before Taylor was elected president, he was already a national hero applauded for his actions and victories during the Mexican-American War, the War of 1812, and the Second Seminole War, during which he earned the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.”
The Taylor Family History
Taylor’s American lineage can be traced to the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock and aboard the Mayflower. Additionally, James Madison, fourth president, was Taylor’s second cousin. It seems that politics may have been in Taylor’s blood.
He grew up in Kentucky, where his parents were wealthy land and slave owners. However, because of the lack of formal schooling, Taylor’s education was spotty at best.
Taylor joined the Army in 1808, starting as first lieutenant and being promoted to captain less than two years later. He was commissioned to assist in the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, and he was stationed in New Orleans and the Indiana Territory.
He had many successes and victories during his military career, participating in various wars and being promoted multiple times to major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, and finally major general during the Mexican-American War, before turning his attention to politics. During this time, he also bought land, including his first plantation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Taylor married Margaret Mackall Smith in June 1810. Smith came from a family of wealthy landowners; they had six children.
Zachary Taylor’s Pets
MORE PETS! Check out our photo gallery of selected White House pets
An Independent President
Taylor’s political beliefs did not align directly with any one party. He believed in a national banking system and a strengthening of “states’ rights.”
He owned slaves, but he did not think that slavery should be expanded into the newer western territories, although his beliefs there may have stemmed less from a moral perspective and more from a logical reasoning that the west could not support a plantation system.
During his shortened presidency, Taylor did little in terms of foreign diplomacy. At one point, the United States was forced to confront Narciso López, Venezuela’s leader, over the country’s attempt to take over Cuba. Additionally, Congress was forced to deal with Spain when the country began arresting Americans for allegedly taking part in piracy. The charges were dropped, and the Americans were released and allowed to return to their country.
One of Taylor’s biggest accomplishments was his signing of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, which proposed building a canal in Central America. The treaty, signed with Great Britain, stated that any canal built in Nicaragua would not be controlled by either country.
Did You Know…?
- Taylor met President James K. Polk on his arrival to Washington, as Polk was leaving. However, Polk’s opinion of Taylor was said to be quite low as he did not believe that Taylor was ready to be an effective leader.
- Because of his lack of education, many of Taylor’s letters and personal documents carry misspellings, improper punctuation, and bad grammar.
- Taylor had never cast a vote in presidential elections — and until his own nomination to presidency, he had little interest in politics.