Zachary Taylor, was the 12th president of the United States. He is also my great, great, great, great, great, great uncle. He served as president for 1 year and 4 months (16 months) before his death in July 1850 because of what his doctor diagnosed as cholera morbus, a flexible mid-nineteenth-century term for intestinal ailments as diverse as diarrhea and dysentery but not related to Asiatic cholera. Before his presidency, Taylor was a career officer in the United States Army, rising to the rank of major general. His status as a national hero as a result of his victories in the Mexican-American War won him election to the White House despite his vague political beliefs. Taylor was born to a prominent family of planters who migrated westward from Virginia to Kentucky in his youth. He was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army in 1808 and made a name for himself as a captain in the War of 1812. He climbed the ranks establishing military forts along the Mississippi River and entered the Black Hawk War as a colonel in 1832. His success in the Second Seminole War attracted national attention and earned him the nickname "Old Rough and Ready".
In 1845, as the annexation of Texas was underway, President James K. Polk dispatched Taylor to the Rio Grande area in anticipation of a potential battle with Mexico over the disputed Texas-Mexico border. The Mexican-American War broke out in May 1846, and Taylor led American troops to victory in a series of battles culminating in the Battle of Palo Alto and the Battle of Monterrey. He became a national hero, and political clubs sprang up to draw him into the upcoming 1848 presidential election.
The Whig Party convinced the reluctant Taylor to lead their ticket, despite his unclear platform and lack of interest in politics. He won the election alongside U.S. Representative Millard Fillmore of New York, defeating Democratic candidate Lewis Cass. As president, Taylor kept his distance from Congress and his cabinet, even as partisan tensions threatened to divide the Union. Debate over the slave status of the large territories claimed in the war led to threats of secession from Southerners. Despite being a Southerner and a slaveholder himself, Taylor did not push for the expansion of slavery. To avoid the question, he urged settlers in New Mexico and California to bypass the territorial stage and draft constitutions for statehood, setting the stage for the Compromise of 1850.
In June 1810, Taylor married Margaret Mackall Smith, whom he had met the previous autumn in Louisville. "Peggy" Smith came from a prominent family of Maryland planters; she was the daughter of Major Walter Smith, who had served in the Revolutionary War. The couple had six children:
· Ann Margaret Mackall Taylor (1811-1875), married Robert C. Wood, a U.S. Army surgeon she had met while living Fort Snelling, in 1829.
· Sarah Knox Taylor (1814-1835), married Jefferson Davis in 1835, whom she had met through her father at the end of the Black Hawk War; she died at 21 of malaria in St. Francisville, Louisiana, shortly after her marriage.
· Octavia Pannill Taylor (1816-1820)
· Margaret Smith Taylor (1819-1820), died in infancy along with Octavia when the Taylor family was stricken with a "bilious fever"
· Because of his short tenure, Taylor is not considered to have strongly influenced the office of the Presidency or the U.S. Some historians believe that Taylor was too inexperienced with politics, at a time when officials needed close ties with political operatives. Despite his shortcomings, the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty affecting relations with Great Britain in Central America is "recognized as an important step in scaling down the nation's commitment to Manifest Destiny as a policy."While historical rankings of Presidents of the United States have generally placed Taylor in the bottom quarter of chief executives, most surveys tend to rank him as the most effective of the four Presidents from the Whig Party.
· Taylor was the last President to own slaves while in office. He was the third of four Whig presidents, the last being Fillmore, his successor. Taylor was also the second president to die in office, preceded by William Henry Harrison who died while serving as President nine years earlier, as well as the only President elected from Louisiana.
· In 1883, the Commonwealth of Kentucky placed a fifty-foot monument in his honor near his grave; it is topped by a life-sized statue of Taylor. By the 1920s, the Taylor family initiated the effort to turn the Taylor burial grounds into a national cemetery. The Commonwealth of Kentucky donated two pieces of land for the project, turning the half-acre Taylor family cemetery into 16 acres (65,000 m2). On May 6, 1926, the remains of Taylor and his wife (who died in 1852) were moved to the newly constructed Taylor mausoleum nearby. (It was made of limestone with a granite base, with a marble interior.) The cemetery property has been designated as the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.
· The US Post Office released the first postage stamp issue honoring Zachary Taylor on June 21, 1875, 25 years after his death. In 1938, Taylor would appear again on a US Postage stamp, this time on the 12-cent Presidential Issue of 1938. Taylor's last appearance (to date, 2010) on a US postage stamp occurred in 1986 when he was honored on the AMERIPEX presidential issue. After Washington, Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln, Zachary Taylor was the fifth American president to appear on US postage.