Zachary Taylor

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Taylor, Zachary

Taylor, Zachary (zăkˈərē), 1784–1850, 12th President of the United States (1849–50), b. Orange co., Va. He was raised in Kentucky. Taylor joined the army in 1808, became a captain in 1810, and was promoted to major for his defense of Fort Harrison (1812) in the War of 1812. He became a colonel (1832) and served in the Black Hawk War and in the campaigns against the Seminole in Florida, winning the nickname of “Old Rough and Ready.” Sent to the Southwest to command the army at the Texas border, Taylor began (1845) to prepare for hostilities with Mexico regarding the annexation of Texas, pushing into disputed territory S of the Nueces River. In the Mexican War he defeated the Mexicans at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, drove them across the Rio Grande, and took Matamoros. Later he forced the surrender of the Mexican stronghold at Monterrey. In 1847 he won the decisive battle of Buena Vista in the face of great odds. A popular hero, Taylor was nominated for President on the Whig ticket, was elected, and assumed office in 1849. His nonpartisan tendencies were changed under the influence of Senator William H. Seward, and Taylor was soon a strong supporter of Whig policy. As President, he supported the Wilmot Proviso, which excluded slavery from all the territory acquired as a result of the Mexican War. He favored rapid admission of both California and New Mexico to the Union and strict limitation of Texas boundary claims. His free-soil views put him in opposition to the measures that were to become the Compromise of 1850. After charges of corruption were lodged against members of his cabinet, he promised a reorganization, but was stricken with cholera morbus and died on July 9, 1850. He was succeeded by Millard Fillmore.


See biographies by H. Hamilton (2 vol., 1941–51; repr. 2012), B. Dyer (1946, repr. 1967), S. B. McKinley and S. Bent (1946), and K. J. Bauer (1993); E. J. Nichols, Zach Taylor's Little Army (1963).

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Taylor, Zachary

(1784–1850) twelfth U.S. president; born in Orange County, Va. With little formal education, he volunteered for the army in 1806, was commissioned lieutenant in 1808, and enjoyed a long military career that saw distinguished service in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War (1832), and the Seminole Wars. Already known nationwide as "Old Rough and Ready," he provoked the opening hostilities of the Mexican War (1846–47) and won celebrated victories at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Monterrey, and Buena Vista. The Whigs adopted this politically inexperienced war hero as their presidential candidate in 1848 and he and Millard Fillmore won the election. The main issue facing Taylor and the nation was the question of slavery; he took a position against abolition but also against the spread of slavery into new states—which satisfied no one; meanwhile, Henry Clay proposed the Compromise of 1850, which put the issue on hold for the time being, and Taylor died in office amidst these unresolved controversies.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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