Zachary Taylor The American Presidents Series: The 12th President, 1849-1850

The American Presidents

John S. D. Eisenhower; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz, General Editors

Times Books




192 Pages


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Zachary Taylor was a soldier’s soldier, a man who lived up to his nickname “Old Rough and Ready.” Having risen through the ranks of the U.S. Army, he achieved his greatest success as a rough-hewn general in the Mexican War, propelling him to the nation’s highest office in the election of 1848. He was the first man to have been elected president without having held a lower political office.

John S. D. Eisenhower, the son of another soldier-president, shows how Taylor rose to the presidency, where he confronted the most contentious political issue of his age: slavery. The political skirmishes reached a crescendo in 1849, when California, newly populated after the Gold Rush, applied for statehood with an anti-slavery constitution, an event that upset the delicate balance of slave and free states and pushed both sides to the brink. As the debate intensified, Taylor stood his ground in favor of California’s admission—despite being a slaveholder himself—but in July 1850 he unexpectedly took ill, and within a week he was dead. During his truncated presidency, the rift that would lead to the Civil War was exposed.


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Chapter One

Early Career

Zachary Taylor was a man whose looks deceived those who met him for the first time. One glance at that rough physiognomy could convince the casual viewer that here was a son of a poor family, a man of the soil. The fact was that Zack Taylor—Old Rough and Ready—was indeed a farmer, but a gentleman farmer. Throughout his life, even when he was in the army, he kept ownership of several plantations, tilled by numerous slaves. His face was weather-beaten, to be sure, but his exposure to the elements came from his time in camp and field, a place where
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  • John S. D. Eisenhower; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz, General Editors

  • John S. D. Eisenhower is a retired brigadier general, a former U.S. ambassador to Belgium, and the author of numerous works of military history and biography, including General Ike: A Personal Reminiscence; They Fought at Anzio; Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I; and So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico, 1846–1848. He lives in Maryland.

  • Sean Wilentz Denise Applewhite
    Sean Wilentz