Zachary Taylor was born on 25th November 1784 at Barboursville, Virginia. Being born from parents who were ordinary plantation owners, life was not easy for him and had to struggle to rise through the ranks. The many acres of land owned by his family in Kentucky were prosperous with cotton. Millions of black slaves worked as workers in his father’s lands. Taylor realized his dream of being a militia earlier in life and was committed to achieving that dream all through his childhood (Lamb, p.37). In 1808, his dream of serving in the military began materializing when he received his first commission as an officer. Immediately, he became the commander of the garrison in Fort Pickering, currently known as Memphis. In the subsequent years, he was repositioned from one borderline position to another in a vocation that strengthened his professional standing but made his individual life problematic.
At the dawn of 1810, Taylor devoted himself to family life for a while and married Margaret Smith and were blessed with six children; Ann Mackall, Sarah Knox, Octavia Pannill, Margaret Smith, Mary Elizabeth and Richard. Nevertheless, things were not easy for his family that constantly kept on moving from state to state, as their father was transferred. Later, Taylor and his family settled at Louisiana as he assumed command of fort Baton Rouge. As a fighter, Taylor won the pride of Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This came about as he protected the lands of the Native Americans from being invaded by white settlers. “He believed that the best solution for coexistence between settlers and Native Americans was a strong military presence to keep the two sides apart” (Underwood, p.133).
During the Mexican-American war, that erupted after Texas was allowed the statehood in 1845, Taylor portrayed his martial skills by using a troop of 6000 soldiers to defeat 20000 Mexican soldiers. He fully shared in the difficulties that his troop underwent and considered a national hero. He was not done yet. It was just the beginning of his political career.
Consequently, after winning several battles some clubs started supporting his candidature for presidency. Being a rich slave owner, the South believed that Taylor would upkeep slavery and expand it to the new areas taken from Mexico. Taylor perceived himself an independent man and opposed many of the policies that the Democrats perceived as important in solving national issues. In many occasions, he held onto his own ideas (Stephenson & Holman, p.89). For instance, “he passionately opposed secession as a means of resolving the nation's problems" (Stegmaier, p.97). Taylor joined the Whig party and was nominated as a presidential candidate for the party in the 1848 elections.
On 7th November 1848, the first general elections were held and Taylor won the presidency after defeating Democrat’s candidate Michigan's Lewis. His campaign was largely driven by slavery and many who voted supported his campaigns were pursuing their own selfish interests. He was expected to protect the wealth of wealthy slave owners who had supported him to power. However, to the disappointment of many, Taylor did not enforce slavery in all states but allowed the newly acquired states the right to choose whether to allow slavery by writing their own constitutions (Stegmaier, p.77). The Southern was not contented by his move since they feared that the presence of new free states would destabilize the North-South stability in the Congress. A revolution was forthcoming, but Taylor felt prepared to handle any political flux especially from Democrats who had called for a withdrawal convention.
Taylor cautioned that anyone who tried to unsettle the union by sedition or force would be hanged. This aroused fury among some Democrats who pushed for the enactment of another Fugitive Slave Law that required all slave owners to return slaves to their original land. Since Taylor refused to adhere to any of their demands, the Democrats manipulated the senate and the Compromise of 1850 was finally enacted. This act admitted the existence of unrestricted states and territories. This concession cultured a sharp debate over which states are free and which ones were to remain as territories. People from the North were irritated by the concession to the South. They vowed never to allow further extension of slavery. This brought about animosity that later culminated in American Civil Wars as Taylor continued to spread his personal dogmas.
Prior to the commencement of the civil wars, strong governance and party politics were unquestionably vital. Remarkably, Taylor damaged his cause by declining to engage the congress and form a practical coalition at such an important time. Holding onto his beliefs that the President was above political parties is also among his major misdoings. These trivial mistakes costed him power, and the entire world scorned him following the civil wars that adversely damaged America.
As president, Taylor was affected by a high influx of immigrants in the 1830s and the situation raised a matter of concern. The new immigrants preferred to settle at Irish and in the Mid-Atlantic States. He welcomed the German intellectuals and the liberal reformers in his land. The high number of immigrants prompted him to tighten the laws of the country since immigration resulted in social reforms movements that advocated for their rights and freedom. Hence, Taylor option was to oppose the forces of reforms through laws to limit immigration, abolitionism and evangelism.
Taylor supported slavery and oppression of people and owned many slaves. He was against the ideas to abolish the slave trade and labeled those of contrast to his opinion as out-of-touch extremists. Claims made shows how Taylor boasted on how his slaves got the best treatment (Commager, p.36). Among the most fascinating episodes of Taylor encounter with slavery was the rebuttal to seize slaves owned by the Seminole Indians after losing a war in Florida. He went against the Florida whites expectations and allowed the Indians to retain their slaves. These actions marveled support from the Indians and created a big gap with the white settlers.
The presidency of Zachary Taylor was short-lived and there is nothing to celebrate about his achievements. Taylor seemed to be nonpolitical in a critical time where the executive leadership necessitated handy ties with political machinists. He was never in good terms with the Congress due to his “outsider” philosophy (Stephenson & Holman, p.26). He failed to address the legislature with distinctive policies and his influence was not directed to implementation of legislation (Commager, p.56). Taylor had a perception that his role as president could not allow him seeks advice from the Congress and he was never concerned with domestic matters. He came into agreement with England and signed the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty that later on, allowed England to claim political power towards Americans.
Generally, Taylor was something of an incongruity. Despite being a slave owner, he advocated for measures to ban slavery expansion towards the western territories. As a successful military commander, he never saw the significance of instituting the Manifest Destiny policy. As president, Taylor refused to take part in important decisions to help the state. His leadership was too dictatorial and the cabinet was corrupt with full of scandals (Berlin, p43). He was only interested in preserving the union under all means including war against the secessionists. He was always against the Native American and their affairs were out of his heart.
Speculating what may have occurred if Taylor lived is attention-grabbing as the likelihood of him winning a second term remained uncertain. The American population opposed his leadership since he failed to address the matters of interest. During his death, Taylor experienced much pressure to substitute his disliked cabinet, something that could have improved good relations with the Congress. More importantly, if Taylor lived long, the civil war could have been at its worst because of the disunity that resulted from the 1850 secession (Bales et al. p.86) His unwavering support could have signified significant moments in the history of United States. During the battle of Buena Vista, he stunned many after successful defeat of Santa Anna. Controversy arises when we think if he could have stamped out the critical issues of expansion of slavery towards the west.
Taylor finally died from stomach virulence on 9th July 1850 after going to Washington for celebrations. Research indicates that more than a hundred thousand people lined up for his funeral to see their champion laid to rest at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery. He left behind a severely divided country that was struggling to regain its prominence. Apart from being a hero, he left a legacy as the last American president to own slaves while in office.
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Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998. Print.
Commager, Henry S. Documents of American History. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1963. Print.
Doak, Robin S. Zachary Taylor. Minneapolis, Minn: Compass Point Books, 2003. Print.
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Skidmore, Max J. Presidential Performance: A Comprehensive Review. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2004. Print.
Stegmaier, Mark J. "The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore (review)." Civil War History (1989): n. pag. Print.
Stephenson, Wendell H., and Holman Hamilton. "Zachary Taylor: Soldier in the White House." American Historical Review (1952): n. pag. Print.
Underwood, James E. "Studying Individual Presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Carter and Kennedy." Congress & The Presidency (1984): n. pag. Print.