Better Know A President XVII: Andrew Johnson

22 02 2011

So, it’s been a while. There has been a long emptiness between my last post in the series and this one. Ultimately I forgot what my goal was when I started this series, and that was to give a quick overview without going to in depth. I am so inspired by the Presidency. The job is has been served by a wide range of personalities and backgrounds, and even the bad ones still get their faces on statues. But with renewed vision, I intend to finish what I started. Without further interruptions…


Served from 1865 to 1869

Before serving as President, he served as a Representative and Senator from Tennessee, and also served as its Governor. He was Lincoln’s VP for a mere month before replacing him after his assassination.

Before politics, he served as a tailor in North Carolina and Tennessee. Having no formal education, (he taught himself to read and write, and his wife taught him arithmetic) he became inspired to politics by another famous Tennessean, Andrew Jackson.

In the U.S. Senate, Johnson supported the Homestead Act, allowing any citizen to claim 160 acres of undeveloped land west of the Mississippi River. This act signed in 1862, continued until 1976. Johnson supported the Union over slavery, and consequently was the only Senator from the South not to vacate his seat.

Johnson was chosen to replace Hannibal Hamlin as Lincoln’s VP to help the ticket have wider appeal. Johnson had typhoid when he gave a speech at the inauguration, and to help him fight the pain he experienced, he had been drinking heavily.

Johnson was a target during the Lincoln Assassination, as well as future President Ulysses Grant and Sec. of State William Sewell. His attacker failed to go through with his part of the plan.

The largest issue Johnson faced was Reconstruction. Johnson was elected to the Vice-Presidency as a Republican, but turned his back on them when he became President. His policies changed, to the anger of many Republicans, who thought they would easily be able to pass legislation. At once, Johnson fought for the immediate inclusion of the seceded states in Congress, and also fought against various civil rights bills, including the 14th Amendment. He also worked to pass laws against newly freed slaves.

There were two attempts to impeach Johnson. The first attempt failed, but the second attempt did not. Johnson violated the newly made Tenure of Office Act, when he attempted to remove Republican Edwin Stanton from his post as Sec. of War. The act made it so that anyone who was chosen to a cabinet position by a previous President could not be removed, unless the Senate approved.  The House voted for Impeachment, but the Senate accquited by only one vote. 7 Republicans borke party lines to keep him in office. In later years, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional.

Admitted Nebraska into the Union, and also bought Alaska from Russia at 2 cents an acre, for a total of 7.2 million dollars (108 million today)

While Governor of Tennessee, he made a suit for the Governor of Kentucky, who in turn made Johnson a shovel and tongs (he was a blacksmith)

Because he stayed with the Union, he repeatedly fought back mobs while he was in the South, even pulling a revolver at times to defend himself.


I feel incompetent to perform duties… which have been so unexpectedly thrown upon me.

Outside of the Constitution we have no legal authority more than private citizens, and within it we have only so much as that instrument gives us. This broad principle limits all our functions and applies to all subjects.

The goal to strive for is a poor government but a rich people.


Better Know A President XVI: Abraham Lincoln Part I

8 12 2009

I noticed today, in going over this incomplete history of Lincoln, that it finished at the point of his Presidency. So, I thought that before attempting to finish his overview after finishing my finals this semester, I would post what I have so far. I apologize beforehand for the length of this “summary”, but there is a plethora of interesting Lincoln stories which makes it all the harder to be selective.

It hardly seems adequate to summarize such a great man and great President in only a few words. People could write a million pages on Lincoln (and I suspect that they have) and there would still be more to write. While I will try to give a detailed description of his life, I will also try to keep it short. Lincoln is arguably the greatest President in our history, so I would highly encourage you to really study this man and his life.


-Served from 1861-1865

-Elected from Illinois

-He was actually born in Kentucky, not Illinois as most people believe. In fact, he spent his early childhood there, before his family moved to extreme southern Indiana. They moved because their land was taken away after the family became too poor to pay for it. After continuing financial problems, they moved near present day Decatur, Illinois, and then another move to Coles County, Illinois.

-If there was one word to describe Lincoln’s life, I think it would be “hardships”. Lincoln overcame many of them to become the incredible person and President we know him as. Being the son of two farmers, Lincoln only received a little formal education as a child. Lincoln also grew up in a poor household. While living in Indiana, his mother died of milk sickness. The first serious relationship he had with Ann Rutledge ended with Ann dying of typhoid fever. His marriage proposal to another woman was flat out rejected. Of the four children Lincoln had with Mary Todd, only one, Robert, lived to adulthood. Edward died before he was even 4, Willie famously died while Lincoln was serving as President at 11, and Tad died of tuberculosis in Chicago at 18. Because of the deaths, Mary Todd famously went insane while in the White House.

-Lincoln ran as a Whig to the Illinois House at the age of 23, but he was no elected. Without a job, he enlisted into the Illinois militia.

-Served in the Illinois militia as a Captain during the Black Hawk War. He made political friends during his service, and also received a land-grant in Iowa of over 160 acres (which he never used). He served 3 months (sporadically) before he was honorably discharged. There are conflicting reports of his skill as a military leader. Some called him quite effective, while others saw him as a joke. After his dischargement, he walked back to New Salem, Illinois where he was living at the time. Suffice to say, it was a long walk that took several days to complete.

-After the war, he tried to start various businesses, all of which failed to take off. Lincoln even acquired a liquor license during this time, and sold his own whiskey. When business did not work out for him, he decided to teach himself law. He did this quite successfully, and in 1837 he moved to Springfield and started his own practice. Law practice worked well for Lincoln. In his time as an attorney, he worked 5,100 cases over 23 years of service. The most famous case he was involved in was when he successfully defended William Armstrong against a murder charge. Armstrong was acquitted when Lincoln proved through judicial notice that a previous testimony was actually false.

-Served 4 terms (8 years) in the Illinois House after his early failure to be elected. He represented Sangamon County, which included the eventual state capital Springfield. Lincoln and other politicians in the area were the main reason Springfield became the capital. Through his continually rising prominence as an accomplished lawyer, Lincoln eventually earned a seat in the US House, where he served only one term from 1847-1849. His time there was mostly uneventful, because he was not well respected by others in the House, nor did he have any influence. His most famous moment at the time was when he challenged the then President James K. Polk on where the first American soldier had died. Polk’s argument was that the Mexican soldier had crossed over into US soil and had attacked, but Lincoln demanded that Polk show the exact spot that the soldier was fired upon to prove it. Lincoln even started a Spot Resolution to get Polk to show where the soldier was attacked. (Lincoln was right, in that the soldier had died on disputed lands.) The resolution was ignored entirely, and it made Lincoln look like a fool. Without any support, he decided to not seek reelection to his seat. He then went back to Springfield, and resumed practicing law for many years. During that time, he was a major proponent of Western expansion and fought in defense of many people and businesses that were helping in Western expansion.

-Not coincidentally, Lincoln reentered politics in 1854 with the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. During his time in both the Illinois Senate and the US House, Lincoln fought vehemently against slavery. The KNA created such a vast change in the political landscape of the country that Lincoln felt compelled to speak. His speech in Peoria of that year gave him incentive to try politics again.

-He was central to the foundation of the Republican Party (the same one that exists today). He helped them establish the foundation of their political party. The new party did well in Illinois, and their first major victory was in the election of a US Senator. (At the time, the state legislature chose the Senators, not the public.) Everyone in the state wanted Lincoln to become the Senator, but he declined it. Instead, he focused on delivering more speeches and helping the new Republican party. Four years later, however, the law of Senator election had changed, and Lincoln challenged incumbent Senator Stephen A. Douglas.

-The election between Lincoln and Douglas arguably established Lincoln’s political career toward the Presidency. While he lost the election, the debates that were held in 7 different towns across Illinois attracted masses of people, many of whom were not even from Illinois because they were talking heatedly on the issue of Slavery. Stenographers recorded the debate and printed them in national newspapers. After the election, Lincoln compiled all of the documents, edited them, and then published them in his own book. The media coverage and the popularity of the book (particularly when they addressed slavery) thrust Lincoln into the national political spotlight. The debate format used by the two men (60 minutes for the first speaker, 90 minutes for the second, and a 30 minute rebuttal by the first speaker) established debate as a tradition is modern elections, and has been used popularly since.

-In 1860, Lincoln was chosen as the candidate for the Republican Party for the Presidency in Chicago. He was the only candidate that appealed to the most amount of people, hence why he was chosen. The other candidates (notably Salmon P. Chase and William Seward) had been in politics too long and had many political enemies. Lincoln did not publically campaign for the Presidency, but Republican Party officials shared his story of growing up in poverty and his political beliefs. Essentially, the 1860 boiled down to the split in Northern interests, and Southern interests. Lincoln appealed to most Northerners, and John Breckinridge (running as a Southern Democratic in the newly split party) appealed to most Southerners. Lincoln won the election, without winning a single Southern state. (Lincoln did poorly in the Southern states) This, probably more than anything else was the final straw before South Carolina started the secession trend. It gave the impression that the South’s ideas on the Union (specifically on electing the President) would be mute because the North could unite and elect whoever they wanted without input from the Southern states. Less than a month after Lincoln’s election, South Carolina left the Union followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.

-Lincoln had to arrive in disguise to his own Inauguration, because of the many death threats he received before arriving in Washington. Before his Inauguration, he repeatedly stated that seccesion was illegal, and that there would be no compromise to keep the Southern states in the Union. If there was one major mistake in his Presidency, it was probably that he completely underestimated the anger of the Confederacy. Lincoln thought that they could still preserve the Union without going to war. He also refused to attack the South until they had attacked first, which they did on April 12, at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

-Lincoln had power that no President had before. In the intial stages of the war, he arrested people suspected of instigating rebellions in states bordering Conferderate land and held them without trials in prisons.

Better Know A President XV: James Buchanan

31 03 2009


-Served from 1857-1861

-Elected from Pennsylvania

-Before serving as the President, he also served in the Pennsylvania House, the US House for 10 years, US Ambassador to Russia and then England, US Senator, and Sec. of State. He also served in the War of 1812 as a volunteer, although he was wholly against the war.

-During his time as Sec. of State, he established the Oregon Treaty between Britain and the US, which defined the boundaries between American and Canadian land. Prior to this time, both British and Americans claimed ownership of the area around Puget Sound (which includes modern day Seattle and Tacoma). He also was a major supporting author in the Ostend Manifesto (previous mentioned under Pres. Franklin Pierce) while serving as Ambassador to the United Kingdom. (This makes me wonder why the Democrats nominated him over other politicians with less suspect pasts)

-Buchanan is the only President to have remained a single all through his life. He was once engaged to a woman, Ann Coleman, who was the daughter of a major head of an iron business in Pennsylvania. He never took the engagement seriously, and shortly after Ann broke off the engagement, she died. The doctor who was caring for her said that she was “hysterical”, and probably had died from an overdose of laudanum. Buchanan was devastated and vowed never to seek another wife. He was suspected of being a homosexual, however, as he lived with William Rufus King (VP under Pierce) for a number of years while in Washington.

-Buchanan was nominated for the Presidency by the Democrats for the 1856 Presidential election. They did this primarily because slavery had become such a dominating issue in politics, and Buchanan was away in England while the infamous Kansas-Nebraska act was enacted. In the election, he competed against the Republican Party’s first candidate (the Whig Party was dissolved, after slavery split the party) John C. Fremont, and the Know-Nothing candidate, former Pres. Millard Fillmore. Because the former Whig base was divided between the two new parties, and because Buchanan was pro-slavery, he won the election. The entire south supported Buchanan, which was enough in itself to win him the election. It’s important to note, when looking at Buchanan’s presidency, that while he accepted the nomination, he did not want to be President.

-During his Presidency, he strived for citizens to accept the Supreme Court’s authority over issues like slavery. He was also President during many infamous disasters, including the Dred Scott decision (which stated that Congress could not force new territories to outlaw slavery) Bleeding Kansas (Buchanan tried to get Kansas admitted as a slave state, through his efforts in supporting the Lecompton Constitution, which limited the rights of non-slave holders), the Panic of 1857 (a major economic depression), and the Utah War (A literal war between the state of Utah and the US. Brigham Young revolted against the government, after many people in Utah were tired of anti-Mormon sympathies in Congress and the White House. Buchanan himself slammed polygamy and the Mormons during his campaign). All of these incidents destroyed people’s support of Buchanan. He stated in his inaugural address that he would not seek reelection, but even if he had tried it would have been highly unlikely he would have even been re-nominated.

-By the time he was nearing the end of his Presidency, he was being investigated by a committee to see if he had done anything which would be grounds for impeachment.

-The government was all but halted after Republicans saw a majority in the House after the elections in 1860. The Southern Democrats could not get anything passed, which angered them immensely. The Democrats were completely divided after their convention in 1860. Southern Dems left, and instead nominated their own man for president, current VP under Buchanan John Breckenridge. By this time, many southern states were discussing secession or had already seceded from the Union, which Buchanan did nothing about. He only recognized that they could not be legally stopped.

-Both Buchanan and his predecessor Pierce are consistently ranked among the worst Presidents in history, beause of their failure to address the coming Civil War adequately.


When President James Polk appointed James Buchanan to serve as secretary of state in 1845, ex-President Andrew Jackson was greatly perturbed. “But, you yourself appointed him minister to Russia in your first term,” Polk reminded him. “Yes, I did,” Jackson admitted. “It was as far as I could send him out of my sight, and where he could do the least harm. I would have sent him to the North Pole if we had kept a minister there!”

When some women visited the White House once, they said to Buchanan, “We have looked all through this house-it is very elegant and well kept; but we have noticed one deficiency. That you have no lady of the house.” To which Buchanan responded, “That, madam, is my misfortune, not my fault.”


I like the noise of democracy.

What is right and what is practicable are two different things.

(To Pres. Lincoln): If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed.

The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.

Better Know A President XIV: Franklin Pierce

23 03 2009

Two things:

In order to be academically correct, I want to give credit where credit is due. For many of my Presidential Anecdotes, I have used Paul Boller’s book Presidential Anecdotes. It has been incredibly useful to me, and really enjoyable. I couldn’t be doing this series without that book. Anecdotes bring about a real sense of humanity in a person and are essential to really study someone in my opinion.

I also want to acknowledge that there has been an exponential increase in traffic to my blog because of my Better Know A President series. Google is directing people my way and I really appreciate it.

And, many thanks to you people who have been reading this. I’m not doing it to impress anyone or anything like that, but it’s nice to know people appreciate my current hobby.

Onto number 14…


-Served from 1853-1857

-Elected from New Hampshire

-Prior to the Presidency, he was a US Representative and Senator from New Hampshire. Pierce was only 27 when elected to the House, and was by far the youngest man while serving. He also ran a very profitable private law firm in that state. He seemed destined for politics, as his father served two terms as Governor of New Hampshire.

-He was close friends of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, after meeting them both while attending Bowdoin College.

-Pierce had three children in his lifetime. The first, Franklin Pierce Jr. died days after his birth. While serving as a Senator, his second child Frank Robert died of Typhus. His wife used his death as leverage to get Pierce to leave politics and return home. His wife never like politics, and hated that her husband was serving in the Senate. Finally, his third child Benjamin died in a train accident only two months before Franklin’s inauguration. Franklin and his wife both witnessed the accident. His wife, Jane, was incredibly pious, and saw the incident as a sign that Pierce should not become President. During his Presidency, Jane spent two whole years confined to the living quarters of the White House. During this time, she wrote letters to the deceased son, and suffered deep depression. She rarely performed any social obligations.

-In 1847, a full 10 years after being elected to the House, and 5 years after leaving the Senate, Pierce enlisted in the army to serve in the Mexican-American War. He was quickly promoted to the rank of Colonel. He suffered a major wound to his leg when he fell off his horse in the Battle of Contreras. His pain became so great that he couldn’t fight in later battles.

-When the election of 1852 was started, Pierce was never mentioned seriously as a candidate. However, like James Polk before him, he was chosen as a compromise candidate after 35 ballots without a 2/3rd’s majority. He was chosen mainly because he was a solid Democratic supporter, he was quiet on his slavery views, and he was generally popular among everyone. The campaign slogan of that year was “We Polked you in 1844; we shall Pierce you in 1852!”.

-Pierce won the election handedly. He lost only 4 states. It wasn’t so much that Pierce ran a great campaign as it was that his Whig competitor, General Winfield Scott ran a bad one. He never really separated himself from Pierce, except that he was strongly against slavery. Of course, that killed any chance he might have had in the southern states.

-In his inauguration, he did not swear over the Bible. He affirmed his oath over a law book. He also gave his Inaugural speech from memory.

-While he tried to focus on foreign policy, he made many blunders. He upset Great Britain and Spain when he tried to get them to let go of their holding in Central America, the latter nation being involved in the infamous Ostend Manifesto. The O.M. was an attempt by Pierce to get Spain to sell Cuba to the US for 120 Million or go to war. They claimed that Cuba was rightfully America’s and that war was justified if they would not sell it. The document was eventually made public. The North was upsert because they saw it as a Southern attempt to continue slavery. Pierce let the matter of Cuba go after this. To his credit, he made the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico for 10 million. This small part of land that was bought from Mexico proved to be invaluable for railroad expansion.

-His biggest gaffe, however, was the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Slavery was still a major issue at the time, but this act repealed the Missouri Compromise, which at the time was a barrier to the expansion of slavery. With the Compromise out of the way, slavery expansion became a real possibilty. It led to Bleeding Kansas, an actual war between the state of Kansas and Missouri, and it was a major elevation in the conflict between the North and South.

-His failures during his presidency made the Democrats refuse to nominate him in 1856. He grew even more unpopular when he supported the South in the Civil War, and he placed the blame on Lincoln for the Civil War. He was even called the “archtraitor” by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Even his wife didn’t support him. She still blamed him for the death of their third son.


He claimed that after he left the Presidency that “there’s nothing left to do but get drunk”.

Pierce was hunted down after Lincoln’s death, because he didn’t publicly condemn the act. He would later say that it wasn’t necessary “to show my devotion for the Stars and Stripes by any special exhibition upon the demand of any man or body of men…” After this, the crowd left.


A Republic without parties is a complete anomaly. The histories of all popular governments show absurd is the idea of their attempting to exist without parties.

The dangers of a concentration of all power in the general government of a confederacy so vast as ours are too obvious to be disregarded.

Frequently the more trifling the subject, the more animated and protracted the discussion.

Better Know A President XIII: Millard Fillmore

4 03 2009


-Served from 1850-1853.

-He was not elected as a President. He failed to even get the nomination from the Whig party in 1852, and he did not win as the Know Nothing/Whig candidate in 1854 (Yes, there was a political party called the Know Nothings)

-Prior to the Presidency, he was Vice President (obviously), a US Representative from New York, and New York State Comptroller.

-He became an indentured servant to a cloth maker at 14. He later studied law under a prominent judge in New York state. He was admitted to the bar in 1823 and practiced in the town of East Aurora. He later founded a prominent law firm with Nathan Hall, who would become Postmaster General under Fillmore.

-Founded the University at Buffalo. (SUNY Buffalo)

-He was selected as the VP nomination for the Whig party for two reasons: He was from a free state, and he was from New York and would help the Whig Party carry such a large and important state. The fact that he was unknown also helped him, because the party’s leaders did not see him on either side of the split party.

-While he served as Vice President, a Senator from Mississippi pulled a gun on a Senator from Missouri over the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise of 1850 was a major precursor to the Civil War. It reorganized many of the Western territories, and also passed the Fugitive Slave Act. Zachary Taylor’s death was incredibly important to the passing of the Compromise, because he was against it. Fillmore, who was for the Compromise, helped it get passed. California was admitted as a free state, Utah and New Mexico became territories but they were left to decide on slavery on their own, and Texas dropped claims to certain areas of unorganized territory. It resolved some of the disputes that were diving the North and the South at the time, that were centered around the extension of slavery. Fillmore, was against slavery itself, but allowed that the Constitution did not make it specifically illegal.  Of course, the resolution only held off war for so long. However, delaying the Civil War was probably very important to the North, because it gave them time to develop more infrastructure that would be pivotal to their victory in the Civil War.

-While his Presidency was dominated by the Compromise of 1850, he made an unpopular choice to deny safe haven to Lajos Kossuth, a Hungarian revolutionary. He was seen as a Hungarian version of George Washington, and was also highly respected by many people in America. Fillmroe refused him, because he wanted to continue America’s neutrality in European issues. This was an important, unspoken rule among American Presidents prior to Fillmore and established by Washington himself.

-While serving as President, Fillmroe had no vice-president.

-Fillmore was a constant reader and established the White House Library, as there were no books, or any good books, in the White House when he became President.

-Fillmore suggested the idea of colonizing parts of Africa as a solution to the growing conflict between the North and the South.  Colonization would mean that all African-Americans would be removed and placed back in Africa, except ones who were still slaves. Some blacks, however, supported the idea. They thought that a return to Africa was the easiest, most effective resolution to the issue and maybe the only resolution possible. Most Americans were indifferent on the idea. Fillmore said, “There can be no well grounded hope for the improvement of either their moral or social condition, until they are removed from a humiliating sense of inferiority in the presence of a superior race.”

-Although Fillmroe did not win the election in 1854, he achieved 21.6% of the popular vote, one of the best showings from a 3rd party in election history.

-Fillmore later led a group of militia to help in Reconstruction after the Civil War.


When Fillmore announced his need for a new carriage, a White House attendant, Edward Moran, was enlisted to find one. Moran, having hunted far and wide, finally found a handsome vehicle which was being sold at a reduced rate because its owner was moving. Fillmore was troubled: “How would it do, Edward, for the president of the United States to ride around in a second-hand carriage?” he asked. “But surely,” Moran allegedly replied, “Your Excellency is only a second-hand president!”

President Millard Fillmore was once offered an honorary degree (written in Latin) by Oxford University. He declined to accept. “I have not the advantage of a classical education,” he explained, “and no man should, in my judgement, accept a degree which he cannot read.”


It is not strange… to mistake change for progress.

May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not.

“It is a national disgrace that our Presidents, after having occupied the highest position in the country, should be cast adrift, and, perhaps, be compelled to keep a corner grocery for subsistence.”

“The man who can look upon a crisis without being willing to offer himself upon the altar of his country is not fit for public trust.”

“God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil… and we must endure it and give it such protection as is guaranteed by the Constitution.”

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.”

Better Know A President XI: James K. Polk

26 02 2009

-Served from 1845-1849.

-Elected from Tennessee

-He was 49 at the time of his election, making him the youngest man to serve as President at that point. (Yes, Tyler was previously the youngest President.)

-Previously had served as a US Representative and US Senator from Tennessee, and also as Speaker of the House.

-He was seen as an outside contender for the Presidency in the 1844 Election. Former President Van Buren, future President James Buchanan, and others were seen as much more likely winners in the Democratic Party. However, Polk was supported by Andrew Jackson, which made a tremendous difference. After a deadlocked convention, Polk was picked as a compromise between the various groups.

-He is most notable for his accomplishments in foreign policy. He led the country successfully through the Mexican-American War, and intimidated Britain with war to establish partial ownership of the Pacific Northwest. The Mexican-American War paved the way for American ownership of land all the way to the Pacific. The treaty that ended the war forced Mexico to cede land in California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. Many politicians against the war saw it as America Britain ceded land, which would eventually become Oregon Territory. He also tried to purchase Cuba from Spain in 1848 for $100 Million dollars, but Spain refused because it was such a major financial support for their economy.

-He is seen as one of the most successful Presidents in history, because his plans coming into the White House were all fulfilled. He wanted to annex Texas (Tyler did this before Polk became President, just to spite him. He detested Polk.) and he wanted to establish land ownership out west with California and Oregon Country. These were the issues that secured his election victory in 1844 over Henry Clay (that guy just couldn’t win an election). After the election, he established two more important goals: an independent treasury (just like Andrew Jackson, he was against the Bank of the United States. However, Polk actually succeeded in his efforts to remove the bank), and the removal of many tariffs, which he saw as hurtful to America. Both of these goals were also accomplished.

-His time in the White House weighed heavily on him. The stress of the Presidency made him susceptible to disease, and he caught Cholera shortly after leaving office. He died only 103 days after leaving office (the shortest retirement ever).


Polk was so against a national bank and the use of paper money that he literally carried around sacks of gold and silver wherever he went.

Because of Polk’s surprise nomination, Henry Clay and the Whig’s would often exclaim “Who is Polk?”.

Polk was so “physically undistinguished” that he was often ignored when he entered a room. To increase respect for her short, unkempt husband, First Lady Sarah Childress Polk one day decreed that whenever he entered the room a Marine band would play an old Scottish anthem. It soon became traditional to mark every presidential entrance with the song: Hail to the Chief.


No president who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure

Peace, plenty, and contentment reign throughout our borders, and our beloved country presents a sublime moral spectacle to the world.

There is more selfishness and less principle among members of Congress than I had any conception of, before I became President of the U.S.