POTUS Fact 12: Last President to hold Slaves and the Last to die in the White House
Despite his vague political beliefs, Zachary Taylor (November 24, 1784 – July 9, 1850) was elected the 12th President of the United States, serving from March 1849 until his death in July 1850. He was a career officer in the United States Army who rose to the rank of Major-General and became a national hero as a result of his victories in the Mexican–American War of 1846.
Taylor had a poor handwriting which was always difficult to read. He had little formal education as his mother had taught him to read and write. Though he was a patient and quick learner, he had a weak grasp of spelling and grammar.
He never attended college and was a military hero spending 40 years of his life as a soldier. He joined the military in 1808 at the age of 24 and served till 1848 at the age of 62 when he was elected president.
Zachary Taylor fought in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War of 1832, the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) and the Mexican-American War of 1846 where he became a national hero by defeating Mexico’s General Santa Anna’s 15,000 men with 4,600 men at the Battle of Buena Vista.
As a soldier, Taylor never lost a battle and would always be found where the fighting was thickest.
Taylor married Margaret “Peggy” Mackall Smith (September 21, 1788 – August 14, 1852), on June 21, 1810 at the home of Peggy’s sister, Mary near Louisville, Kentucky. She was a daughter of a soldier who had served in the Revolutionary War. They had six children together within 16 years. Four of them lived to adulthood.
In 1991, Taylor’s body was exhumed to ascertain whether he had been poisoned or not. However, the level of arsenic in his body was consistent with other people at the time. Historians and experts believe that his death was of natural causes as Washington D.C. had open sewers. He spent only 16 months in office (the third shortest after Harrison and Garfield).
Peggy Taylor was a religious woman and with her husband’s rise in politics, she fervently prayed for his defeat, because she feared the personal consequences of his becoming President. When she became First Lady, the hardships of going along with her husband from fort to fort and the birth of six children had effects on her. A weak woman, she remained in seclusion on the second floor of the White House, declining the duties of the First Lady and official hostess of the White House to her last surviving daughter, Mary Elizabeth “Betty” Bliss (1824-1909).
Taylor was not present at the 1848 Whig National Convention when he was nominated as President. In absentia, he defeated Henry Clay and Winfield Scott to receive the Whig nomination for President while Millard Fillmore, a Northerner and prominent Whig from New York, was chosen as the Vice Presidential nominee by the convention chose.
Taylor would be the last Whig to be elected president and the last person elected to the U.S. presidency from neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party.
President Zachary Taylor’s inauguration fell on a Sunday and he refused to be sworn in that day due to religious reasons. He was sworn in the next day, March 5, 1849.
In his inaugural address Taylor advocated military and naval effectiveness; friendly relations with foreign powers; Federal encouragement of agriculture, commerce, and manufacturing; and congressional conciliation of sectional controversy. Four of his seven Cabinet members were Southerners, and the Cabinet contained no men of real ability.
Taylor was given the nickname “Old Rough and Ready” for his bravery in the second Seminole War and the manner of his rough and shabby dressing.
Taylor was the last President to own slaves while in office. He was the third of the four Whig presidents (Harrison, Tyler, Taylor and Fillmore). Taylor was also the second president to die in office and the last to die in the White House, preceded by William Henry Harrison who died while serving as President nine years earlier.
“For more than a quarter of a century on active duty, my house has been my tent, and my home the battlefield.”– Zachary Taylor (1784 – 1850), 12th President of the United States (March 4, 1849 – July 9, 1850).
He remains the only President elected from Louisiana as well as the last Southerner to win a presidential election until Woodrow Wilson’s election in 1912.
Zachary Taylor never voted in a presidential election until 1848, at the age of 64, when he voted himself and was elected. His explanation was that he hadn’t wanted to vote against a potential President and Commander-in-Chief.
Zachary Taylor had an elderly warhorse which he named Whitney, he kept it on the on the lawns of the White House. Most people ride horses by placing their legs on either side of the animal’s body, squeezing their legs together to stay on. However, Zachary Taylor rode sidesaddle (when the rider puts both legs on the same side of the horse) when fighting. Taylor did this because his legs were very short, and he needed help to get on a horse. To save time, he rode sidesaddle, especially useful when he needed to mount quickly.
Taylor died at 10:35pm on July 9, 1850 of cholera, after a meal of raw vegetables and a glass of iced milk, on a hot summer day five days earlier, on an Independence Day celebration, July 4, 1850. In 1991, Taylor’s body was exhumed to ascertain whether he had been poisoned or not. However, the level of arsenic in his body was consistent with other people at the time. Historians and experts believe that his death was of natural causes as Washington D.C. had open sewers. He spent only 16 months in office (the third shortest after Harrison and Garfield).
His last words were, “I regret nothing, but I am sorry to leave my friends.”
Unbowed! Unbent! Unbroken! A Perfect Gentleman…