Zachary Taylor:

He was the 12th President of the United States of America and served part of one term – from 1849 until his death in 1850.

Nickname:  Old Rough and Ready

Quote: “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 sane person.”

I read the book “Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old West” by K. Jack Bauer.  Yes, Jack Bauer.

  • born on November 24, 1784 on his father’s cousin’s plantation in Virginia – the plantation was named Montebello
  • grew up on a 400 acre farm outside Louisville, KY
  • did terrible in his first school years
  • was commissioned into the army on May 3, 1808
  • his older brother was killed fighting Native Americans
  • he married Margaret Mackall Smith on June 21, 1810; she was from Maryland
  • he worked as a part-time land surveyor
  • served in the military under W.H. Harrison, but he missed the battle of Tippecanoe
  • successfully led 40 men, only 16 of them healthy, to repel 450 Native American warriors from attacking Fort Harrison; the only building lost was their blockhouse
  • refused a military position in New York and returned to Louisville to farm
  • then rejoined the military in 1816
  • was head of a regiment who built a road from Tennessee to Louisiana
  • his 2 youngest daughters died in 1820 from a fever
  • he owned several Louisiana plantations
  • in 1828, his family moved to Fort Snelling, Minnesota
  • his daughter, Sarah Knox, married Jefferson Davis without her father’s consent.  She died three months later.
  • when he was the commanding officer, any man needing punishment would receive a “wooling” – grabbed by both ears and being shaken
  • was given the responsibility of driving the Seminoles out of Florida, where he was given the nickname “Old Rough and Ready” because of his willingness to stay alongside his troops in the same conditions
  • he came up with the “squares” program – a fighting tactic used in the Mexican War, in the Philippines and Vietnam
  • was a semi-successful real estate investor
  • was a big supporter of soil conservation and crop rotation
  • put in command of the army asked to hold the line against a Mexican invasion across the Rio Grande
  • he offered Mexican separatist forces aid in making an independent North Mexican Republic  (obviously, that didn’t work out)
  • gained control of the northern bank of the Rio Grande river for the United States as the national boundary
  • while in a standoff with Mexican forces, the Mexican troops would send their women to bathe naked in the river and then use sharpshooters to try and take out any American forces who tried to join the women
  • the leader of the Mexican forces offered sanctuary, and a homestead of 320 acres of land to any American troops who would desert
  • after taking the Mexican town of Matamoros, Taylor made a point to treat the enemy wounded and spent several hundred dollars from his own pocket to provide supplies for that purpose
  • was promoted to Major General by President Polk on May 30, 1846
  • left Mexico in October 1847
  • when approached by the Whig party for candidacy for their Presidential nomination, he had never voted
  • was staunchly supported by Abraham Lincoln
  • began suffering from rheumatism in 1848
  • was reluctant to take the Whig nomination because he wanted to be a President “independent of party”
  • didn’t do any campaign canvassing because he didn’t care if he won or not, he was also still on active military duty
  • his youngest daughter married William Bliss in 1848 – he was called “Perfect Bliss” by the Taylor family
  • the 1848 election was the first election in which the entire nation went to the polls on the same day – November 7
  • a cholera outbreak in New York and New Orleans began in December of 1848 and lasted through the next August; over 5,000 people died in New York
  • one of the first days of national Thanksgiving and prayer was declared by Taylor for August 3, 1849
  • favorite foods (via The Awl) – Deviled crabmeat, hominy, and Cajun food
  • Taylor was struck with dysentery during a tour of the country, he nearly collapsed from exhaustion
  • he attended the laying the cornerstone of the Washington monument in 1850
  • threatened any states who seceded from the Union with a trade embargo, and blockaded harbors
  • had the editor of a major newspaper fired when he refused to print an article attacking Taylor’s nemesis, Henry Clay
  • contracted some digestive infection on July 5, 1850 – some think it was b/c he ate a large meal of iced milk and cherries on a hot day
  • predicted his own death by saying on July 7th “in two days I shall be a dead man.”
  • died soon after 10:30 pm on July 9th, 1850
  • Fillmore declared six months of official mourning in government offices in response to the President’s death
  • Taylor was not buried until November 1st, since his wife requested his body be buried in the family cemetery outside Louisville
  • one of the few early presidents to die a rich man (over $3 million when adjusted to 1980’s inflation – the time this book was written)
  • his papers and personal items of value were stored at one of his plantations until it was sacked during the Civil War in 1863.  Very little has been recovered.

<— James Polk                                           Millard Fillmore –>

Post title taken from Jonathan Coulton’s Song “The Presidents”.