Our 12th President: 1849-1850
Just the Facts:
Zachary Taylor was one of the few presidents to not have a law degree – he was the first career soldier to be elected President.
When he was young, he swam across the Ohio River and back again.
His nickname was “Old Rough and Ready.”
He wore farm clothes around the White House and often looked a little disheveled.
Zachary Taylor was born in Virginia, but his family moved to Kentucky while he was a child. Back then, Kentucky was considered the “frontier.” Unlike most other presidents, he had very little formal education. He spent his whole career in the army – 40 years! He served in both the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. Soldiers liked and respected him as a commander, even though he usually appeared disheveled (thus his nickname “Old Rough and Ready”). He was very casual and even let his horse graze on the White House lawn.
Taylor spent most of his presidency trying to prevent the north and south from fighting. Most southerners assumed he would allow all the new territory of America to allow slavery. Instead, he believed that there shouldn’t be any expansion of slavery and it should be prohibited in all the new land. He even vowed to personally lead a military attack against any state that decided to secede from the Union. This surprised and angered many Southerners.
He was president for only 16 months when he died unexpectedly. He became sick after a long, hot day of celebrations on July 4th. The doctors assumed he died of cholera, which was always a risk in the hot and humid summers of the south. Back then, sewer systems didn’t exist and people didn’t understand the importance of keeping their food and water completely separate from rotting garbage. The cause of his death has been questioned by some ever since. Was is heat stroke? Was it something he ate or drank – like the famous cherries or iced milk? Others question whether he was poisoned. In 1991, his body was dug up to answer the questions surrounding his death – there were trace amounts of arsenic found in his body (a poison) but not enough to cause his death. Doctors concluded the most likely cause of his death was indeed some disease.
He married Maggie when he was 34 years old and they had six children. She actually hoped that her husband would lose the election because she didn’t want to be the First Lady. Their daughter, Betty, performed her duties as First Lady so Mrs. Taylor could stay home in Kentucky.
“I have no private purpose to accomplish, no party objectives to build up, no enemies to punish – nothing to serve but my country.”
“In the discharge of duties my guide will be the Constitution, which I this day swear to preserve, protect, and defend.”
“I have always done my duty. I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me.”
Want to Learn More?
Take a virtual tour of his estate in Kentucky at: http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/presidents/zachary_taylor_springfield.html
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