Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor

  • Ranked #30: Taylors presidency was too short to have any real impact on the nation or the office. He was clear that he wanted to keep the union in tact. Despite being a hard-nosed military commander he avoided difficult decisions as president.
  • Summary: Taylor was genuine and plain-spoken. Although a bit shy at first, he would feel comfortable in front of new people after he had been around them a while. He was a true gentleman. He was gracious, courteous and gallant. He often stood or walked with one hand behind his back. He was also a life long military man.
  • Bio: Taylor was 5’ 8” and was about 200 pounds when he became President. He had a funny, disproportional body, with long arms, a thick chest and short legs. In fact, his legs were so short he needed help getting onto a horse (as a general in the military, he was often required to spend hours on horseback). He had a long face that featured a high forehead and big nose. He was farsighted and often squinted when he was reading something even if he was wearing glasses. He dressed for comfort, or in other words, sloppily. He kind of put on anything he could find. Even his military uniform was a mixed bag of military and civilian clothes. Sometimes, it was difficult to tell if he was a general or a farmer.
    Taylor is best described as a rugged individualist who enjoyed the simple things in life. He belonged to no organizations and mainly enjoyed the company of close friends. He neither drank or smoked but did chew tobacco and was an unusually gifted marksman when it came to spitting into a spittoon. He never joined a church, a political party nor even voted in an election. He had a very basic education and all his life was a poor speller.
    Taylor’s path to the Presidency was based on the fact that he was the most popular man in America and a military hero of the Mexican-American War. He had refused when first approached about becoming President. Every political party at the time wanted him on their ticket. Eventually, he announced that he was a Whig, despite the fact that he disagreed with them on certain issues. Taylor would go on to narrowly win the election of 1848. During this time, America was still confronting the very emotional issue of slavery and electing Taylor may or may not have been the best thing to do, if you consider that he was a wealthy slave owner that owned plantations in three different states.
    During his Presidency, Democrats brought up the idea of secession from the Union. Taylor’s reaction to this was that he would personally hang anybody who tried to disrupt the Union by force or by conspiracy. Because of his inexperience in politics, Taylor carried himself much like the military general he was. He refused to deal directly with Congress or even organize a coalition. He felt that if he made a decision, people should obey his orders, and that was pretty much how much thought he put into it. He was certainly a strong individual, but it can be argued that America needed a strong leader at the time.
    Taylor unfortunately spent only 16 months in office. On the hot and humid day of July 4th in Washington DC in 1850, Taylor had spent the entire day appearing at different celebrations. By the end of the day, he returned to the White House thirsty and hungry. He ate a great number of cherries and drank large amounts of cold water and milk. After dinner, he developed discomfort in the abdomen, which soon turned into cramps and nausea. The next day, a doctor showed up and provided calomel and opium to relieve the pain. Taylor remained thirsty, so he was fed ice. Eventually he developed dysentery and began to regularly vomit. Another round of doctors appeared and being that it was 1850, they bled and blistered him. Taylor finally died on July 9th.
  • Pros: Hero of the Mexican War. Thought Native Americans had the right to their own land. Fought to keep the union together despite the growing strain between the South and North.
  • Cons: Despite his anti-slavery stance, his family owned dozens of slaves. Despite his pro-Native American stance, he had previously secured the notoriety of being an "Indian Fighter."
  • Born: November 24, 1784, near Barboursville, VA
  • Died: July 9, 1850 (aged 65) Washington, D.C.
  • Term: March 4, 1849 to July 9, 1850 ( died during first term )
  • Political Party: Whig
  • Religion: Episcopalian
  • Education: None
  • Marriage: June 21, 1810, to Margaret Mackall Smith (1788–1852)
  • Children: Ann Margaret Mackall (1811–1875), Sarah Knox (1814–1835), Octavia Pannill (1816–1820), Margaret Smith (1819–1820), Mary Elizabeth (1824–1909), Richard (1826–1879)
  • Career: Soldier
  • Vice President: Millard Fillmore