Margaret Mackall Smith (wife)
Mary Elizabeth Bliss (daughter)
Political Party :
Vice President :
Taylor was a career soldier . Starting with a commission as a first lieutenant,
in 1808 , he fought in the War of 1812 , the Black Hawk War , and the Second
Seminole War . President Polk sent an army under his command to the Rio
Grande in 1846 . When the Mexicans attacked Taylor's troops, Taylor defeated
the Mexicans, despite being outnumbered 4-to-1, and Polk declared war.
In the Mexican-American War that followed, Taylor won additional important
victories at Monterrey and Buena Vista and became a national hero. President
Polk, disturbed by General Taylor's informal habits of command and perhaps
his Whig status as well, kept him in northern Mexico and sent an expedition
under General Winfield Scott to capture Mexico City. Taylor, incensed,
thought that "the battle of Buena Vista opened the road to the city of
Mexico and the halls of Montezuma, that others might revel in them."
He received the Whig nomination for President in 1848 , although he
had never even bothered to vote before. His homespun ways were political
assets, his long military record would appeal to northerners, and his ownership
of slaves would attract southern votes. He also had not previously committed
himself on troublesome issues. He ran against the Democratic candidate,
Lewis Cass , who favored letting the residents of territories decide for
themselves whether they wanted slavery. In protest against Taylor, a slaveholder,
and Cass, an advocate of "squatter sovereignty", northerners who opposed
extension of slavery into territories formed the Free Soil Party and nominated
Martin Van Buren . In a close election, the Free Soilers pulled enough
votes away from Cass to elect Taylor.
Taylor earned a footnote in Presidential history before he even took
office. His term of service was scheduled to begin at noon on March 4 ,
1849 , but being a Sunday, Taylor refused to be sworn in until the following
day. Vice President Millard Fillmore also was not sworn on that day. As
a result, the nation technically had no President or Vice President for
one day. Some people later claimed that David Rice Atchison , the previous
President Pro Tempore of the Senate , was technically Acting President,
but this claim is rejected by virtually every constitutional scholar.
Although Taylor had subscribed to Whig principles of legislative leadership,
he was not inclined to be a puppet of Whig leaders in Congress. He acted
at times as though he were above parties and politics. As disheveled as
always, Taylor tried to run his administration in the same rule-of-thumb
fashion with which he had fought Indians.
Traditionally, people could decide whether they wanted slavery when
they drew up new state constitutions. Therefore, to end the dispute over
slavery in new areas, Taylor urged settlers in New Mexico and California
to draft constitutions and apply for statehood, bypassing the territorial
Southerners were furious, since neither state constitution was likely
to permit slavery; Members of Congress were dismayed, since they felt the
President was usurping their policy-making prerogatives. In addition, Taylor's
solution ignored several acute side issues: the northern dislike of the
slave market operating in the District of Columbia; and the southern demands
for a more stringent fugitive slave law.
In February 1850 President Taylor had held a stormy conference with
southern leaders who threatened secession. He told them that if necessary
to enforce the laws, he personally would lead the Army. Persons "taken
in rebellion against the Union, he would hang ... with less reluctance
than he had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico." He never wavered.
After participating in ceremonies at the Washington Monument on a blistering
July 4 , 1850 , Taylor fell ill; he died of acute indigestion five days
later, after just 16 months in office. Taylor was succeeded by his vice
president , Millard Fillmore .