November 24 - Another Day, Another President!

Posted on November 24, 2017

Happy birthday, President Zachary Taylor!

Yesterday was the 14th U.S. president's birthday; today is the 12th's.

Yesterday was the birthday of one of the bottommost-ranked presidents; today is the birthday of "more a forgettable president than a failed one." 

Why is Taylor so forgettable?

Zachary Taylor quite suddenly - shockingly - died of a stomach ailment just 16 months into his term. His administration hadn't accomplished much at that point - and it's not as if Taylor had busted into the presidency with loads of good ideas and plenty of governing experience. Apparently he is the first president to have had no elected post before the presidency - he was a military hero in the Mexican-American War - and he had only vague ideas about what he could or should do while in office.

Taylor didn't even want to be president. His party - the Whigs - had to convince him to accept the nomination. I guess they thought that, although Taylor had no interest in politics, he could win votes because he was such a national hero.

Here's a conundrum: 

I wrote yesterday about Franklin Pierce being a Northerner who was bummed at abolitionists and who took actions that made it seem as if he wanted to expand slavery.... 

Well, Zachary Taylor was a Southerner - he was from Louisiana and a slaveowner! - but his efforts regarding slavery were in the opposite direction. He could have tried to expand slavery into the regions recently acquired by the Mexican Cession (the U.S. won the Mexican-American War, and was rewarded most of what is now considered the U.S. "Southwest"). Instead, he thought slavery should not be expanded to the Western territories. He helped California to become a free state and worked on the rest of the West being able to choose whether to be free or slave.

Taylor definitely wasn't an abolitionist hero, or anything, but his efforts to save the Union were generally Southern-president-joins-forces-with-the-North, while Pierce's efforts to save the Union were Northern-president-joins-forces-with-the-South. It just goes to show that slavery was dividing the nation, and no amount of compromise was going to heal that divide. 

Slavery - the ownership of humans - is of
course a terrible business. And there's
no way the United States could have
continued to be half-free and half-slave. 
Taylor was so against secession (against the South breaking away to become its own separate nation), he took a very military stance towards those threatening to break away. He let them know that he considered that rebellion, and that he would gladly hang rebels. 

His stance was so anti-South in some ways (again, even though he himself was a Southerner), some people assumed that his death was really an assassination - that he was killed by a pro-slavery Southerner!

(Apparently there is no evidence that this was the case.)

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