Zachary Taylor

— 12th President of the United States —

View full portraits at:
National Portrait Gallery or the White House Presidential Portrait Gallery


March 4, 1849 to July 9, 1850

BORN: November 24, 1784
Orange County, Virginia
July 9, 1850, Washington, D.C.
Buried in Springfield, Kentucky
Margaret Smith, 1810
Sarah Knox, Richard, Elizabeth, Ann

Zachary Taylor was just eight months old when his family settled on Beargrass Creek, just east of Louisville. He was a hardy youngster. In the early spring of his 17th year, he swam across the Ohio River to the Indiana shore and back again.

He received only the basics of education, and all his life he was a poor speller. He enjoyed the simple pleasures of life while neither smoking nor drinking alcohol.

Taylor was Collector at the port of Louisville, Kentucky. He was commissioned a first lieutenant in 1808. He fought in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War in 1832, and the Second Seminole War in 1837. His nickname was "Old Rough and Ready."

By then a captain, Taylor defended Fort Harrison during the War of 1812. He temporarily resigned his commission from the Army in 1815 but rejoined in 1816.

After these adventures, he retired to a plantation near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When President Polk sent him with an army to the Rio Grande in 1848, he was attacked by the Mexican army. President Polk then declared war against the Mexican government. Taylor defeated the Mexican army at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma in 1846, then he occupied Monterrey, Mexico.

President Polk sent many of Taylor's troops to the command of General Winfield Scott. However, Taylor's reduced forces defeated the Mexican General Santa Anna at Buena Vista in 1847. Following these victories, Taylor was considered a hero, and he was nominated by the Whig party in the 1848 election.

Taylor defeated Democrat Lewis Cass and the third party candidate, former president Martin Van Buren, for the presidency.

Taylor, although a slave holder himself, supported the movement to have California admitted to the Union as a free state.

During a hot day in Washington on July 4, 1850, Taylor repeatedly exposed himself to the sun. Although reports vary, he is believed to have eaten a large bowl of cherries along with ice milk. This was risky in that time period, when sanitation was not as good as it is today. He became ill, and his health steadily deteriorated until he died five days later, on July 9th.He was 65 years old.

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