Zachary Taylor Biography

Twelfth President of the United States

Years Served as President: 1849-1850

Vice President: Millard Filmore

Party: Whig

Age at Inauguration: 64

Home State: Virginia

Zachary Taylor portrait

Date of Birth: November 24, 1784

Died: July 9, 1850

Married: Margaret Mackall Smith

Children: Anne, Sarah, Mary, Richard

Nickname: Old Rough-and-Ready

What is Zachary Taylor known for?

Before becoming president, Zachary Taylor had never been elected to public office. He is best known for his military career, especially in the Mexican-American War.

He was also the second U.S. president to die in office.

Early Life

Zachary Taylor was born in Orange County, Virginia in 1784. His parents soon moved to Kentucky, where Zachary was raised on a tobacco plantation near Louisville.

On the frontier, he didn’t receive much formal education. He did learn frontier skills like farming, hunting, and riding horses. In 1808, Taylor left home to join the army.

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Family Life

Two years after joining the army, Taylor married Margaret Mackall Smith. The couple had a total of six children.

The family lived on a plantation near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Taylor also had a second plantation in Mississippi.

Military Career

After joining the army as a lieutenant in 1808, Taylor went on to have a successful military career that lasted for 40 years.

He spent many years fighting Native Americans. He commanded troops in the Black Hawk War of 1832 and in the Second Seminole War of Florida from 1837 to 1840.

During the Mexican-American War, Taylor was a brigadier general. He led his men to victory at Palo Alto and Reseca de la Palma. He was then promoted to major general by President James K. Polk.

He then led his men across the Rio Grande, capturing the stronghold of Monterrey. In February 1847, Taylor and his men defeated a Mexican force more than three times their size in Buena Vista.

These victories made Taylor a war hero. People even compared him to George Washington and Andrew Jackson.

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Presidential Election

By the time the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War, Taylor was already a popular candidate for president.

Taylor had no experience in politics, but he soon declared his candidacy and won the Whig nomination. He won the election over Lewis Cass and former president Martin Van Buren.

Presidency

Slavery was one of the major issues of Taylor’s presidency, especially its expansion into new U.S. territories. Taylor was a slaveowner himself, but he was against the creation of new slave states.

From his years in the army, Taylor was a strong nationalist. He wanted the country to stay united and said if necessary, he would use military force to keep Southern states from seceding.

In fact, Taylor famously said that he would personally lead the army himself if that’s what it took to enforce federal laws and preserve the union.

Southerners were angry that Taylor was unwilling to compromise. People in Congress felt that he was taking away their legislative power.

A financial scandal involving several members of Taylor’s administration caused even more tension.

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Death

On July 4, 1850, Taylor went to a Fourth of July ceremony at the Washington Monument, which was still under construction.

While he was there, Taylor ate only raw vegetables, cherries, and milk. The following day he became sick with stomach cramps, and he died of acute gastroenteritis on July 9.

He became the second president to die while in office. (William Henry Harrison was the first.)

At Taylor’s funeral on July 13, an estimated 100,000 people lined the funeral route. The presidential hearse was drawn by eight white horses accompanied by grooms dressed in white.

The procession of Taylor’s family, dignitaries, military units, officials, and common citizens following behind the horses stretched for more than two miles.

Taylor was buried in Louisville, Kentucky, where the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery and Monument is located today.

Fun Facts About Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor’s second daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, went on to marry Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

Taylor’s only son, Richard, was a Confederate Army general during the Civil War.

Before becoming president in 1848, Zachary Taylor had never voted in a presidential election.

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Zachary Taylor earned his nickname “Old Rough and Ready” while serving as a military commander. He was known for his willingness to get his boots dirty and jump into action alongside his men.

Some people suggested that Taylor had been poisoned. However, his remains were tested in 1991 and no evidence of poison was found.

US Presidents