Better Know A President XII: Zachary Taylor

3 03 2009


-Served from 1849-1850. (Only 16 months)

-Elected from Virginia.

-Never served a previous political post. Taylor was the first President to have done so. He gained fame through his 40 year military service. He served in the War of 1812, the Blackhawk War, the 2nd Seminole War, and the Mexican-American War (where he really gained his fame.)

-During the War of 1812, he served in Indiana Territory. He successful defended Fort Harrison (near modern day Terre Haute) against Tecumseh and his confederacy. He then led a group of soldiers as a Captain in the Battle of Wildcat Creek, which eventually led to an American defeat by the hadns of the Native Americans. He resigned after the war, but re-enlisted after one year.

-Taylor led an infantry in the Blackhawk War, and personally received the surrender of Chief Black Hawk. He also served in the Seminole Wars in Florida, and by the end, he was made a General and was the head of all American troops in Florida. Then, prior to the Mexican-American War, he was made a Commander of all American troops in the Southern United States.

-In the Mexican-American War, he won two decisive battles in Palo Alto and Monterrey. In the Battle of Palo Alto, Taylor used a artillery strategy called “Flying Artillery”, in which lighter artillery is used to make a quick, decisive attack and then move somewhere else and attack again. In the Battle of Monterrey, Taylor was outnumbered heavily. After 3 days of attempting to take the city, the American forces were at a stand-still. Taylor devised a plan, with the help of the Texas Rangers, to take nearby hills and fire cannons from those hills into the city to force a surrender. Even though Taylor had won and taken the city from the Mexicans, he was ostracized for allowing the Mexicans to negotiate a cease-fire, eventual two-month armistice, and allowing them to walk away with their full honors and their arms. Still, the battle was a major victory for America.

-The battle that made Taylor a hero, however was Buena Vista. Santa Anna (that guy who killed everyone at The Alamo) escaped from exile and quickly rounded up forces to attack the Americans. Apparently he was still upset about the whole Texas independence thing. Taylor took a strategic position at Buena Vista mountain pass, and prepared for the coming attack. Taylor’s forces were vastly outnumbered by Santa Anna’s troops (4,500 to 16,000) Through strategic battle formations, and much better weapons, Taylor repelled Santa Anna’s attack and he was forced to retreat. His words to Captain Bragg “Give them a little more grape” became legendary and were used as a campaign slogan in his election campaign in 1848. (His real words, however, were “double-shot your guns and give them hell, Bragg”) He earned the nickname, “Old Rough and Ready” through his many military campaigns. The Battle of Buena Vista was his last in the military service.

-He ran as the Whig’s Nomination, but he didn’t really believe in most of their platforms. In fact, Taylor never voted in his life. He lacked a permanent residence, and therefore could not vote. His political views are not completely known, because he never made strong statements about them. Abraham Lincoln said of him, “The people say to Taylor: If you are elected, shall we have a national bank? He answers, Your will, gentlemen. Not mine. […] If you do not desire them, I will not attempt to force them upon you.” He was, however, completely against the seccession of the southern states, even though he was both a slave owner and from a southern state himself. He thought that seccession was pointless and only caused more problems. (Guess he had that one right). He was also against the expansion of slavery into new states.

-As President, his major contribution was the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. The treaty was an agreement between Britain and American that any potential canal in Central America that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific would be non-exclusive toward either side. It marked a change in American policy from Manifest Destiny, and was an important first step in American and British cooperation.

-He died after 16 months in office of gastroenteritis or the stomach flu (although this is still speculated by some historians). On the 4th of July, Taylor had a large celebration and ate many different goods made by many different people who attended the celebration. Some historians believe that he died from poisoning, but an autopsy that was performed on his remains in the 80’s showed no signs of poisoning.

During Zachary Taylor’s presidency, visitors to the White House were invited to collect an unusual souvenir: horse hairs from Whitey, the president’s old Army horse. And where could Whitey usually be found? Grazing on the White House lawn of course.

When he was first mentioned as a possible candidate for Presidency, Taylor said to the man, “Stop your nonsense and drink your whiskey!”

Taylor did not have an ego. One Virgina officer had experience with him that goes as follows: “You feel at once comfortable and easy in his society. He paid me a visit the other day; I was sitting on a trunk writing at the time; I arose and offered him the seat, remarking that I had but a poor seat to offer himl oh, never mind, said he, all I am afraid of is that I will spoil the trunk, and he sat down and conversed in the most sociable and familiar manner for some time.”

He hated wearing his regal military uniform as well. Once, when he was to meet another officer who was always dressed in his full uniform, he decided to be cordial. He went through his things and found an old uniform to wear, and painstakingly fixed it up to please the other officer. When the other officer appeared, he was wearing his civilian clothes to appeal to Taylor’s laid-back style. The meeting was full of apologies. Taylor afterward, threw away the uniform and said he would never do it again.


“For more than half a century, during which kingdoms and empires have fallen, this Union has stood unshaken. The patriots who formed it have long since descended to the grave; yet still it remains, the proudest monument to their memory….”

“The idea that I should become President seems to me too visionary to require a serious answer. It has never entered my head, nor is it likely to enter the head of any other person.”

“Upon its preservation [the United States] must depend our own happiness and that of countless generations to come. Whatever dangers may threaten it, I shall stand by it and maintain it in its integrity to the full extent of the obligations imposed and the power conferred upon me by the Constitution.”




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