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Zachary Taylor - Twelfth President of the United States


Zachary Taylor, Twelfth President of the United States

Zachary Taylor, Twelfth President of the United States, Portrait by Mathew Brady

Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-13012 DLC

Zachary Taylor's Childhood and Education:

Zachary Taylor was born in November 24, 1784 in Orange County, Virginia. He grew up, however, near Louisville, Kentucky. His family was wealthy and had a long history in America having descended from William Brewster who arrived on the Mayflower. He was not well educated and never went to college or continued studying on his own. Instead, he spent his time serving in the military.

Family Ties:

Father: Richard Taylor - Large landowner and planter along with Revolutionary War veteran.
Mother: Sarah Dabney Strother - Well-educated for her time.
Siblings: Four brothers and three sisters.
Wife: Margaret "Peggy" Mackall Smith - Raised in a wealty family in Maryland.
Children: Three daughters - Ann Mackall, Sarah Knox who married Jefferson Davis in 1835, Mary Elizabeth; One son - Richard.

Zachary Taylor's Military Career:

Taylor was in the military from 1808-1848 when he became president. He served in the Army. In the War of 1812, he defended Fort Harrison against Native American forces. He was promoted to major during the war but briefly resigned at the end of the war before rejoining in 1816. By 1832, he was named a colonel. During the Black Hawk War, he constructed Fort Dixon. He took part in the Second Seminole War and was named commander of all U.S. Forces in Florida.

Mexican War - 1846-48:

Zachary Taylor was an important part of the Mexican War. He successfully defeated Mexican forces in September 1846 and allowed them two months armistice upon their retreat. President James K. Polk was angry and ordered General Winfield Scott to take over and lead many of Taylor's troops into immediate action against Mexico. However, Taylor went ahead and fought Santa Anna's forces against Polk's directives. He forced Santa Anna's withdrawal and became a national hero at the same time.

Becoming the President:

In 1848, Taylor was nominated by the Whigs to run for president with Millard Fillmore as Vice President. Taylor did not learn abut his nomination for weeks. He was opposed by Democrat Lewis Cass. The main campaign issue was whether to ban or allow slavery in territories captured during the Mexican War. Taylor did not take sides and Cass came out for allowing the residents to decide. The third party candidate, former President Martin Van Buren, took votes from Cass allowing Taylor to win.

Events and Accomplishments of Zachary Taylor's Presidency:

Taylor seemed as president from March 5, 1849 until July 9, 1850. During his administration, the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was made between the U.S. and Great Britain. This made a rule that canals across Central America were to be neutral and no colonization should occur in Central America. It stood until 1901.

Even though Taylor held lots of slaves and this caused many in the South to support him, he was against extending slavery into the territories. He believed wholeheartedly in preserving the Union. The Compromise of 1850 came about during his time in office and it appeared that Taylor might veto it. However, he died suddenly after eating some fresh cherries and drinking some milk which caused him to contract cholera. He died on July 8, 1850 at the White House.

Historical Significance:

Zachary Taylor was not known for his education and he had no political background. He was elected solely on his reputation as a war hero. As such, his short time in office was not one full of major accomplishments. However, if Taylor had lived and in fact vetoed the Compromise of 1850, the events of the mid-19th century would have been very different indeed.

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