Zachary Taylor was born in Virginia. He belonged to a family of
planters and slave owners, and spent his childhood in a log cabin in the
forests. With prosperity the house became a brick mansion and Zachary lived here
with his seven siblings. Zachary was poor in his studies and from the very
beginning wanted a career in the armed forces.
From his first posting in 1808 as an officer, he continued to
retain frontier postings until he became president. In 1810 he married Margaret
Mackall Smith who belonged to a renowned family of Maryland. She frequently
accompanied him on his postings – moving from one wilderness to another.
His salary was modest but the land he got from his father brought him
substantial returns as its value increased. However Taylor never supported
Taylor became famous for his combats against the native
Indians – especially the Sacs and Seminoles during the 1830’s. He
was loved by his colleagues and subordinates for he shared the travails of field
duty with them. Although Taylor fought against the Native Americans he was
sympathetic towards them and often protected them from white settlers. He
admired their guerilla tactics greatly.
Taylor shot to fame for his role in the Mexican war –
1846-1848. Texas was made a state in 1845. There was dispute over land
demarcation with Mexico and President Polk ordered Taylor to move into the
disputed land. Provocation from Mexico caused war to erupt. The Mexicans were
easily defeated by the superior forces of Taylor. Taylor became vastly popular
when everyone came to know how he had fought hand in hand with his troops. He
became a hero with his informal dress, tattered hat of straw and his love for
his horse, Whitey.
After the Mexican war dispute broke out between Northerners and
Southerners as to whether slavery should continue in the newly acquired
territories. Some southern states threatened to secede but Taylor remained firm
to the national cause of holding the Union together. For this he was willing to
take up the sword rather than compromise.
Taylor’s informal behaviour made him popular with the North
while the Southerners were lured to him because he himself owned 100 slaves.
Taylor however remained uncommitted although he got the Whig nomination. But
Taylor was too strong minded to remain a puppet of the party. He ran the
administration as he had handled the army – by rule of thumb. He declared
that the people could decide on the slavery issue when they drew up new
constitutions for the state.
The Southerners were furious while the Congress felt that the
President was riding rough shod over them. Taylor considered himself to be
independent. He disliked the stand of the Democrats on the financial matters and
wanted a strong and sound banking system. On the other side although he owned
slaves he did not want further extension of the system. He allied with the Whigs
on governing issues. Taylor was a strong nationalist.
Without warning, before Taylor could take strong action against
the secessionists he fell ill. A stormy session with southern leaders as well as
the attending of the July 4th celebrations in blistering weather suddenly told
on his health and he died within five days of illness. Years later war broke out
and his only son fought in the Confederate army. The victor of many battles, he
finally succumbed to cholera leaving the nation devastated.