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Zachary Taylor: 12th President: The War Hero

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else we're destined to repeat it.

Old Rough and Ready the War Hero

Zachary Taylor was born on November 24, 1784, in Montebello, Orange County, Virginia. His father was a military colonel who moved to Kentucky soon after Zachary was born and then raised him on a plantation. Following in his father's footsteps, he too joined the military, serving from 1808 to 1848, only ending his career to become president. The only education that Taylor received was from several tutors. He never attended college.

He joined the Army when he was 18 years old and fought in the War of 1812 as part of the defense of Fort Harrison in Indiana. He was promoted quickly, first to major while serving in the war, and he became a colonel at the end.

Taylor was given the nickname "Old Rough and Ready" by the military men he led during the Second Seminole War that lasted between 1835 and 1842. He got the nickname because he rarely dressed in a military uniform, preferring the simple clothes of a farmer. Despite being a very successful career officer in the Army, Taylor preferred talking about cotton raising and missed his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He also owned a plantation in Mississippi, where he owned 100 slaves.

During the Second Seminole War, he fought in Florida against Chief Osceola, who was fighting against his people migrating west of the Mississippi River and won. Still, it was the Mexican War that made him well-known. The Mexican War began as a dispute over the border between Mexico and Texas.

President Polk sent Taylor and his men to protect the Rio Grande border. He won despite having fewer men. Taylor's success caused the Mexicans to declare war against the United States. Taylor went against President Polk's desires and gave the Mexicans a two-month armistice. Later, he led 4,600 American volunteers in a fight against Santa Anna, a troop that was almost four times larger than his own force, which was known as the Battle of Buena Vista. Despite his limited number of men, Taylor won this battle, securing his title as a war hero.

Because Polk was believed to be the front-runner, this cartoon was created showing that he was going to be a victorious fighting cock.

Because Polk was believed to be the front-runner, this cartoon was created showing that he was going to be a victorious fighting cock.

What Is Zachary Taylor Best Known For?

His success in the military caught the attention of the Whig party in 1848. They nominated him as president without him being present or even aware of the nomination. They sent him a letter telling of this nomination but unfortunately did not pay for postage. When the notice arrived, he refused to pay the postage; therefore, he did not learn of his nomination until weeks later.

Despite no governmental experience, he appealed to the citizens of the United States for many reasons. Even though he never voiced an opinion on slaves, those who were pro-slavery assumed since he owned over 100 slaves that he would support their cause. He also got many of the northern votes because of his long military record, plus he considered himself a nationalist. Soon he was elected as the 12th United States President.

Unfortunately for those who were pro-slavery, despite owning slaves himself, he did not defend the owning of slaves. Southerners threatened secession, but Taylor felt that he could keep the Union together by armed force if necessary. He refused to compromise on the issue of slavery.

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His strong character also caused the Whig leaders in Congress to have trouble controlling him as they hoped. He still held many of the principles of the Whig legislature but was not easily budged when he felt an idea was not best. Still, he was well-liked for his simple way of treating others with respect and even allowing his warhorse to graze on the White House lawn.

Still, the issue of slavery was one of the most significant issues during his presidency. Before this time, when a new territory constitution was drawn up, they could decide whether they wanted slavery or not. Taylor did not want to see the slave territory grow; therefore, he urged the settlers of New Mexico and California to apply for statehood and draft a constitution, which would not allow for slavery. This upset members of Congress as they felt this was usurping their policy-making prerogatives.

He also ignored many issues regarding slave ownership, like when southerners demanded more stringent fugitive slave laws, which again, in February of 1850, caused southern leaders to threaten secession. His response was to remain united within the states and to enforce the laws, he would personally lead the Army to protect our nation from splitting. He stated that any person "taken in rebellion against the Union, he would hang... with less reluctance than he had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico." This war that he was willing to fight would come only 11 years later. His son Richard Taylor would serve as a general in the Confederate Army.

How Did President Taylor Die?

Unfortunately, his presidency did not last long. On the Fourth of July, only 16 months after he became president, he participated in several ceremonies held at the not-yet-finished Washington Monument. Some believed on that day he had suffered from sun-stroke due to the scorching weather; others thought he contracted cholera due to eating fresh cherries and drinking milk; then others believed he was poisoned. Either way, he became very sick and died only four days later.

One hundred and forty years after his death, Taylor's body was exhumed to confirm that his death was not due to being poisoned. After careful testing, they decided that he had died of natural causes since his body did not contain any more arsenic than was typical in a person's body at that time.

Which Presidents Died While In Office?

Year of DeathPresident


William Henry Harrison


Zachary Taylor


Abraham Lincoln


James A Garfield


William McKinley


Warren G. Harding


Franklin D. Roosevelt


John F. Kennedy

Fun Facts

  • He was the first military leader to become president without ever holding a governmental position.
  • His heritage can be traced back to the Mayflower. His descendant William Brewster was a leader and preacher in the Plymouth Colony.
  • His nickname was 'Old Rough and Ready.'
  • In 1848, the Whig Party nominated him for president without his knowledge. He was sent notification of his nomination in an envelope without postage. Since Taylor refused to pay for the postage, he did not learn of his nomination until a few weeks later.

Basic Facts

Question Answer


November 24, 1784 - Virginia

President Number




Military Service

United States Army - Major general

Wars Served

War of 1812 • Siege of Fort Harrison Black Hawk War Second Seminole War • Battle of Lake Okeechobee Mexican–American War • Battle of Palo Alto • Battle of Resaca de la Palma • Battle of Monterrey • Battle of Buena Vista

Age at Beginning of Presidency

65 years old

Term of Office

March 4, 1849 - July 9, 1850

How Long President

16 Months


Millard Fillmore

Age and Year of Death

July 9, 1850 (aged 65)

Cause of Death

Intestinal Ailments

List of American Presidents

1. George Washington16. Abraham Lincoln31. Herbert Hoover

2. John Adams

17. Andrew Johnson

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt

3. Thomas Jefferson

18. Ulysses S. Grant

33. Harry S. Truman

4. James Madison

19. Rutherford B. Hayes

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower

5. James Monroe

20. James Garfield

35. John F. Kennedy

6. John Quincy Adams

21. Chester A. Arthur

36. Lyndon B. Johnson

7. Andrew Jackson

22. Grover Cleveland

37. Richard M. Nixon

8. Martin Van Buren

23. Benjamin Harrison

38. Gerald R. Ford

9. William Henry Harrison

24. Grover Cleveland

39. James Carter

10. John Tyler

25. William McKinley

40. Ronald Reagan

11. James K. Polk

26. Theodore Roosevelt

41. George H. W. Bush

12. Zachary Taylor

27. William Howard Taft

42. William J. Clinton

13. Millard Fillmore

28. Woodrow Wilson

43. George W. Bush

14. Franklin Pierce

29. Warren G. Harding

44. Barack Obama

15. James Buchanan

30. Calvin Coolidge

45. Donald Trump

46. Joe Biden


  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). Zachary Taylor. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
  • Kelly, M. (2015, September 01). Top 10 Things to Know About Zachary Taylor. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from
  • Sullivan, G. (2001). Mr. President: A book of U.S. presidents. New York: Scholastic.

© 2016 Angela Michelle Schultz

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