Zachary Taylor, the twelfth president, was born in 1784 in Virginia. Soon after his birth, his family moved to a plantation near Louisville, Kentucky, where he then grew up.
Taylor began a long career in the Army when he was 23, soon after Lewis and Clark returned from their explorations. Over the following 30 years, he served in many frontier outposts from Louisiana to northern Wisconsin. The way he led forces to victories in the Mexican-American War earned him the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.”
Taylor became a national hero and an obvious choice as a candidate for the presidency. In 1848, he won the general election in a three-candidate race, as a Whig. He had much military experience, but little as a holder of public office. The Whigs were dismayed to find him an independent thinker, not dedicated to only the party’s ideas.
The debate over slavery in western territories was already dividing the country, but Taylor was determined to keep the Union together. He warned Southern leaders that he would command the Army himself, if necessary, to enforce the law.
On the fourth of July in 1850, Taylor attended the ceremony where the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was laid. Becoming ill, he died five days later, having served as president for only 16 months. He was the second president to die while in office (the first being William Henry Harrison).
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