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Zachary Taylor

What Number President was He?


Zachary Taylor, a renowned general and national hero of the United States Army, earned his esteemed reputation during the Mexican-American War and the War of 1812. He ascended to the position of the 12th U.S. President, serving from March 1849 until his passing in July 1850.

The question of whether the territories acquired from Mexico should allow slavery sparked intense debates between Northerners and Southerners. Some Southerners even went as far as threatening secession. In the face of these challenges, Zachary Taylor stood resolute, prepared to preserve the Union through military force rather than concessions.

Born in Virginia in 1784, he was transported to Kentucky as an infant and raised on a plantation. Taylor built a career in the Army, although he frequently discussed his passion for cultivating cotton. His primary residence was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he possessed a plantation in Mississippi.

Taylor's allegiance wasn't to slavery or regional factionalism; his extensive 40-year service in the Army had forged him into a staunch nationalist. A significant portion of his career involved maintaining frontier security against Indigenous populations. During the Mexican War, he achieved substantial victories at Monterrey and Buena Vista.

President Polk, uneasy with General Taylor's informal command style and potentially his alignment with the Whig Party, kept him stationed in northern Mexico and dispatched General Winfield Scott to capture Mexico City. This move incensed Taylor, who believed that the "Battle of Buena Vista" had paved the way for others to claim Mexico City and the halls of Montezuma.

Taylor's down-to-earth demeanor became a political asset. His extensive military background resonated with Northerners, while his ownership of around 100 slaves garnered support from the South. He remained non-committal on contentious matters. The Whigs nominated him to run against the Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass, who advocated for allowing residents of territories to decide the slavery question for themselves.

In protest against Taylor's slaveholding and Cass's promotion of "squatter sovereignty," anti-slavery Northerners formed the Free Soil Party and nominated Martin Van Buren. In a closely contested election, the Free Soilers drew enough votes from Cass to secure Taylor's victory.

Although Taylor adhered to Whig principles of legislative leadership, he didn't readily become a puppet for Whig leaders in Congress. At times, he seemed to transcend party lines and politics. Maintaining his trademark disheveled appearance, Taylor sought to administer his presidency much like he had confronted Indian conflicts, relying on practical judgment.

Traditionally, people decided on slavery's presence when drafting new state constitutions. Seeking to quell disputes over slavery in new regions, Taylor urged settlers in New Mexico and California to create constitutions and apply for statehood, bypassing the territorial phase.

Southerners were infuriated, as neither state constitution was likely to endorse slavery. Congressional members were concerned that the President was encroaching on their policy-making authority. Additionally, Taylor's solution disregarded other pressing matters, such as Northern opposition to the slave market in the District of Columbia and Southern demands for a stricter fugitive slave law.

In February 1850, President Taylor held a confrontational meeting with Southern leaders who threatened secession. He declared that, if necessary to uphold the law, he would personally lead the Army. He expressed his willingness to hang "rebels against the Union," with less hesitation than he had demonstrated in executing deserters and spies in Mexico. He remained steadfast in his convictions.

Unexpectedly, events took a different course. After participating in ceremonies at the Washington Monument on a scorching July 4th, Taylor fell ill; within five days, he passed away. Subsequently, compromise prevailed, but the war Taylor was prepared to confront emerged 11 years later. In this war, his only son, Richard, served as a general in the Confederate Army.

Zachary Taylor

I have no private purpose to accomplish, no party objectives to build up, no enemies to punish-nothing to serve but my country.

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