Zachary Taylor served as the 12th president of the United States from the period 1849 to 1850. He was a successful military leader and his contribution as a military leader was immense. He fought the Presidential election as a Whig party candidate in 1848 and went on to win it by defeating his opponent Lewis Cass. He was the last Whig to win the presidential election and hold slaves under him. His military career lasted for a period of forty years while serving in the United States Army. He led the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War and the Second Seminole War as a military leader. He headed the American troops to victory in the Battle of Palo Alto and the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican–American War. He faced criticism for his moderate approach on the issue of slavery. He also urged the settlers of New-Mexico and California to form statehood and hereby set the stage for the Compromise of 1850. He served as President for just sixteen months and died of gastroenteritis. It’s the shortest tenure served by any U.S. President.
Zachary Taylor Childhood & Early Life
Zachary Taylor was born in a well-to-do prominent family of planters on 24th November, 1784 in Orange County Virginia. He was the youngest of all the nine children in the family. He was born to Richard Taylor and Sarah Strother Taylor. His father had served under George Washington during the American Revolution. His father Taylor was a direct descendant of the Elder William Brewster, the Pilgrim colonist leader and spiritual elder of the Plymouth Colony. He was a passenger aboard the Mayflower and one of the persons signing the Mayflower Compact along with Isaac Allerton Jr., the son of Mayflower Pilgrim Isaac Allerton and Fear Brewster.
Education and Early Life
Zachary graduated from the Harvard College became a merchant in Colonial America. It was his first venture in business with his father in New England, and after his father's death he served as a Burgess for Northumberland County and also as a Councillor of Virginia. He was an active member of the Virginia militia and was promoted to the rank of colonel. James Madison was his second cousin, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Robert E. Lee were his kinsmen.
He lived on the frontier in Louisville, Kentucky, in his youth and he stayed there in a small wood cabin during his entire childhood. He later moved to a brick house after his family prospered financially. He lived there with all his seven brothers and sisters. His father was a proud owner of 10,000 acres of land in Louisville and his father owned 10,000 acres (40 km2), town lots in Louisville, and twenty-six slaves by 1800.
Taylor did not attend any school since there was none on the Kentucky frontier. His only source of primary education was his tutors appointed by his father to teach him during his early years. He was not a very bright student when it came to studies. His handwriting, spelling, and grammar were described as "crude and unrefined throughout his life." As he grew up, he decided to join the military.
Taylor joined the U.S. Army on May 3, 1808 after receiving a commission as a first lieutenant of the Seventh Infantry Regiment from his cousin James Madison. He was posted to the Indiana Territory, and was later promoted to the rank of captain in November 1810. He took command of Fort Knox and held it until 1814.
Taylor’s military career started off with a success after he defeated Fort Harrison in Indiana Territory, following an attack by Indians in the War of 1812 under the command of Shawnee chief Tecumseh. Post this victory, Taylor was promoted to the temporary rank of major and led the 7th Infantry in a campaign putting an end to the Battle of Wild Cat Creek. Taylor was also chosen as the commander of Fort Johnson (1814) for a short period and his troops retreated to Fort Cap au Gris. He was then demoted to the rank of captain after the war in 1814. He then resigned from the army and took re-entry only after he was re-commissioned as a major a year later. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1819, and later to a higher position of colonel in 1832.
In 1821 he was stationed along with the remaining of 7th Infantry. In March 1822, Colonel Taylor took command of Fort Jesup originally called Shield's spring. Taylor led the 1st Infantry Regiment during the Black Hawk War in 1832. In 1837, he was sent to Florida where he defeated the Seminole Indians. Hereafter, he was promoted to the position of Brigadier General. He then had the sole command over all the American troops in Florida. He later became the commander of the southern division of the United States Army in 1841.
In 1845, Texas became a U.S state. In order to avoid any dispute and guard against Mexico’s attempt to take it back in 1836, President James K. Polk deployed Taylor and his troops on the Texas-Mexico border. Taylor was vested with the command of American troops on Rio Grande and the Army of Occupation on April 23, 1845. An attack on Taylor’s army by the Mexican forces initiated the start of the American-Mexican war in 1846. The same month, Taylor commanded the American troops in the Battle of Palo Alto and also defeated the Mexican forces at the Battle of Monterrey. Taylor’s army was then asked to join General Winfield Scott’s soldiers after they had seized Veracruz. Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna, with the intention of defeating Taylor’s 6000 men, went with an army of 20,000 men to attack Taylor at the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847. This resulted in 672 American and 1,800 Mexican casualties. Taylor’s success in the Buena Vista war with much lesser military strength turned him to a hero among the mass. He was then compared to the likes of George Washington and Andrew Jackson in the American popular press.
He served as the President from 4th March, 1849 to 9th July, 1850. He went on to become the 12th President of the United States. Taylor defeated his democratic candidate Lewis Cass and the Free Soil candidate Martin Van Buren.
Taylor got married to Margaret Smith in 1810, and together they had six children. Among them their only son Richard, became the Lieutenant General in the Confederate Army. Sarah Knox Taylor was one of Taylor's daughters who decided to marry Jefferson Davis, the future President of the Confederate States of America who was then serving as a lieutenant in 1835. Taylor's another daughter, Margaret Anne, died of liver failure at the age of 33.
It is assumed that Taylor died of gastroenteritis on 9th July, 1850 at the age of 65 in Washington D.C.