On This Date in History: Zachary Taylor was in interesting president. He had been a very successful general in the Mexican War and “Old Rough and Ready,” as his soliders called him, became a national war hero. As a career military man, he had never been involved in politics, though some thought he was most associated with the Whigs. I”m not sure that there is any record of his ever voting. So, no one knew with certainty which political party he as aligned. Northerners liked him because of his military background while Southerners loved the fact that he owned about 100 slaves. In the 1848 election, the Free Soil Party arose with their pure anti-slavery position and they nominated former President Martin Van Buren whose nicknames were “The Little Magician” and “Old Kinderhook.” The Democrats nominated Lewis Cass while Taylor was the choice of the Whig Party. Taylor won the 3 way race as his battlefield prowess proved sufficient to propel him to the Presidency. Taylor’s came a few months after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican War and he assumed the Presidency by taking the role as Commander in Chief very seriously and literally.
During the Mexican War, he consistently showed aggressiveness of command. The objective of the United States in the Mexican War was simply to get the Mexican government to negotiate a resolution to the question over the border of Texas. So, when Taylor was victorious at Matamoras, he waited for the Mexicans to back off. They didn’t so he invaded Mexico. Then he occupied Monterrey and negotiated a truce. That truce was rejected by Washington. A new truce was not consumated, but instead, Taylor went on the offensive again resulting in more victories. President Polk realized that Taylor was getting pretty popular at home and did not want him getting any more glory because Polk feared Taylor as a potential Whig candidate for President. So, he took away Taylor’s best soldiers and ordered them redeployed to General Winfield Scott’s Army. With a force of just 5000, Polk figured Taylor would be unable to foray deeper into Mexico, thus denying him more publicity at home. But, Mexican President Santa Anna got wind of Taylor’s weakened force and attacked him with 20,000 men a Buena Vista. Old Rough and Ready guided his men to another big victory. Polk had made Taylor an even bigger hero than he had been before.
When Taylor took office in March 1849, the slavery issue was getting pretty serious. There was talk of secession in several Southern States. By February 1850, many Southern leaders called for a convention of secession. Taylor responded by telling many of those Southern leaders that he would personally lead an army to put down any rebellion and that anyone “taken in rebellion against the Union, he would hang … with less reluctance than he had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico.” Seems he liked the Union more than he liked the radical approach to slavery which seems at odds with his position as a slaveholder. Around the same time, there was a border dispute between New Mexico and Texas in which Texas claimed a chunk of New Mexico was Texas territory, including the capital of Santa Fe. By early summer, the dispute got so heated that the governor of Texas ordered state soldiers be sent to gain control of Santa Fe. Taylor did not agree with the claims of the Lone Star State and ordered his military commander in New Mexico to order troops to resist any Texas troops. The commander refused. So, he told the Secretary of War to sign such an order. He too refused. Taylor responded by saying, “then I’ll sign the order myself!” Once again, he threatened to personally lead an army to the region and hang anyone he found to be in rebellion against the Union. Taylor decided to advise Congress of the situation, but he never got around to it.
On July 4, 1850 President Taylor attended Independence Day festivities on a hot day in Washington DC and for some reason ate a bunch of cherries and washed them down with milk. He returned to the White House and drank a bunch of water. On This Date In History President Taylor promptly died. The cartoon at the top suggests it was from lemonade which I cannot find suggested anywhere else. I had read that he died from eating too many sweet potatoes but that story seems to have gone by the wayside. There was talk in modern times, though surprisingly not in his day, that he was poisoned because he was a staunch unionist and threatened to personally lead a military attack against any state that tried to secede. In 1991, some of these conspiracy theorists convinced the Taylor family that they needed to dig up the former President from his resting place in Louisville to solve a crime. The DNA results were negative. Imagine that.
So, scholars were back to the original cause of death, which was described as gastroenteritis, which sounds like one of those general terms that doctors assign to cases in which they really have no answer. Some official websites simply assign the cause of death of the 12th President of the United States as illness. While Taylor is a rather obscure figure to most Americans today, some folks have posted postulations regarding the death of Zachary Taylor. Many say that Taylor succumbed to Cholera, probably ingested through the milk or water. Speculation also leads to a typhoid hypothesis which is associated to the cherries that he ate. Then there is the argument that Taylor suffered from heat stroke that led to other complications. Regardless, he died on this date in 1850 and you can visit him in Louisville at the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery. Snow White and I have done so a few times. If he had not passed away as President, we may never have heard of his successor, Millard Fillmore. Well…maybe it made no difference because not too many people have heard of Millard Fillmore. As it was, after Taylor’s death, cooler heads prevailed and Congress did what it had always done regarding slavery: it kicked the can. Fillmore signed the Compromise of 1850 that brought California into the Union as a free state and settled the border dispute between Texas and New Mexico by awarding New Mexico the land while Texas the federal government agreed to pay some of Texas’ debt. Hostilities were delayed and the war that Taylor had threatened against anyone in rebellion became a reality 11 years later. Had Taylor not died of a stomachache, the Civil War may have taken place before it actually did and how it would have concluded with “Old Rough and Ready” agressively and personally leading the armed forces of the United States is left to speculation.
Weather Bottom Line: Thursday afternoon produced a lot of noise at my house but not much rain. Those scattered thunderstorms were in advance of a frontal system that by Friday will produce more general rainfall. We need the rain and we could use some heat relief. We will get both but probably not as much of either as most of us would like. Saturday’s highs will be in the upper 80’s and will probably push 90 on Sunday. Overnight lows will be running generally in the upper 60’s so a decrease in humidity will at least make summer heat more bearable. Maybe the most significant aspect of this front is that it represents a change in the long wave pattern in which a big fat ridge in the East will break down to allow more activity to get going in the afternoons. So, while it will remain fairly hot, the prospects for rain will most likely be higher for next week on a daily basis more than we’ve seen for the last few weeks.