Old Rough and Ready becomes President, then
shrugs his shoulders.
By Bob Simpson (Writer)
It’s time for more fun and forgotten presidents, and this week we highlight the second in our war hero category.
If you’re keeping score, here’s what we’ve featured so far in our forgotten presidents series, leading up to the election in November:
And now, on to another figure that died in office, because that was the cool thing to do in the 19th century, Zachary Taylor.
Taylor is a fascinating historical figure, and perhaps the only factual embodiment of a famous person shoved into the most high-profile job in the country, without wanting it. We’ve heard the old cliché of the reluctant politician, particularly from our Roman brethren with the likes of Cincinnatus and Julius Caesar (seriously, he didn’t want to be supreme ruler…just take his word for it…no, really, put the crown down), but Zachary Taylor may be the only person in the history of this planet that was open and vocal about his lack of desire to be president, only to become president.
Taylor was a soldier. I could end this section there, but I won’t, because that would be lazy.
Born in Virginia, he became a resident of Kentucky and later Louisiana, and served for 40 years in the military, fighting in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole War, and the Mexican-American War. Leading up to his penultimate campaign in the Mexican-American War, Taylor had a reputation as an able and prepared commander, earning the nickname of “Old Rough and Ready.”
Taylor established Fort Jesup in Louisiana, where he was stationed when it became apparent that hostilities between the United States and Mexico over the annexation of Texas were inevitable. When the Thornton Affair occurred, and hostilities between the neighboring countries ensued, Taylor and his army became part of the invading American force.
He won two victories at the Battle of Palo Alto and the Battle of Resaca de la Palmo, despite his forces always being outnumbered (a common theme during the Mexican-American War). After these victories, he was promoted to major general and became a national hero, which prompted the discussion of whether he would run for president after the war. Hearing the rumors, Taylor responded:
"Such an idea never entered my head, nor is it likely to enter the head of any sane person."
Pretty boss, eh?
Taylor then went on to capture the city of Monterrey, despite popular belief that it was impregnable, in 3 days. After the capture of the city, Taylor’s forces were divided up, with half joining General Winfield Scott’s forces to participate in the siege of Veracruz. Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (the state villain of Texas, aka The Alamo Guy), discovered that Taylor’s forces had been weakened, attacked Taylor at the Battle of Buena Vista. Taylor beat the crap out of Santa Anna, which added to the already significant victories American forces won during the conflict.
After the war, the spark named “Taylor for President” ignited into a wildfire, though no one had any understanding of Taylor’s political beliefs. Taylor had never aligned himself with the Whigs or Democrats, and hadn’t even voted before the Election of 1848.
In the end, I suppose the pressure was too great, as Taylor accepted the nomination for president from the Whig party, with Millard Fillmore as his vice-president. In the Election of 1848, Taylor and Fillmore defeated Lewis Cass (Democrat) and Martin Van Buren (Free Soil), and became the 12th President of The United States.
Like William Henry Harrison, Whigs hoped that Taylor would be just another puppet for Congress, but they were soon dismayed as Taylor basically abandoned most of the tenets of the Whig platform.
Slavery was, obviously, the most dominant and fractious issue at the time and, despite owning slaves himself, Taylor had a very pragmatic view regarding the expansion of slavery into the newly acquired territory from Mexico. Instead of California and New Mexico establishing themselves as territories, Taylor encouraged the people of California and New Mexico to write their constitutions and immediately apply for statehood, as he correctly predicted that they would outlaw slavery, and avoid a drawn-out debate in Congress on how to admit the two states – as free or slave states.
Taylor believed that slavery could not exist in the western states, not because of ethical or moral reasons, but because he didn’t see how the western climates would be suitable for plantation-based industries like cotton or sugar.
Taylor’s moderate stance on slavery angered many Southerners, particularly since this stance was coming from a man who owned slaves and was elected from the state of Louisiana. His solution for California and New Mexico directly resulted in the creation of the Compromise of 1850, which dominated Millard Fillmore’s administration.
Unfortunately, Taylor died on July 19, 1850, while the legislation was being debated. Though unconfirmed, many historians believe Taylor died of gastroenteritis. Reportedly, his last words were:
"I have always done my duty, I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me."
Now let’s compare that to his successor:
“The nourishment is palatable.”
Yeah, it’s no contest. Millard Fillmore sucks.
Some additional Taylor Fun Facts:
- Taylor’s daughter, Sarah, married future Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, though she died three months after they were married.
- The last president to own slaves while in office.
- The last southerner to be elected as president until Woodrow Wilson in 1912.
- His was the 3rd shortest administration, behind William Henry Harrison and James Garfield, respectively.
- The only president elected from Louisiana.
- The second president to die while in office, after William Henry Harrison.
- There has been some speculation that Taylor was actually poisoned, though there is little historical evidence for this.
is a writer and lives in Los Angeles, where he works for an
entertainment company that he'd prefer to keep anonymous, should he
accidentally diss something they made. www.bobsimpsonblog.blogspot.com
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