Friday, July 9, 2010

On this day after 160 years, President Zachary Taylor dies

Zachary Taylor: thank you general for serving as the nation's 12th president 1849-1850. thank you also for being a interging general in the Mexican War, remembering you after 160 years, may you rest in peace!
One of the only know photos of President Zachary Taylor prior to his death on this day in history!

Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor (November 24, 1784 – July 9, 1850) was the 12th President of the United States and an American military leader. Initially uninterested in politics, Taylor nonetheless ran as a Whig in the 1848 presidential election, defeating Lewis Cass and becoming the first President never to have held any previous elected office. Taylor was the last President to hold slaves while in office, and the last Whig to win a presidential election.
Known as "Old Rough and Ready," Taylor had a forty-year military career in the United States Army, serving in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and the Second Seminole War. He achieved fame leading American troops to victory in the Battle of Palo Alto and the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican–American War. As president, Taylor angered many Southerners by taking a moderate stance on the issue of slavery. He urged settlers in New Mexico and California to bypass the territorial stage and draft constitutions for statehood, setting the stage for the Compromise of 1850. Taylor is thought to have died of gastroenteritis just 16 months into his term, the third shortest tenure of any President. Only Presidents William Henry Harrison and James Garfield served less time. Taylor was succeeded by his Vice President, Millard Fillmore.


The true cause of Zachary Taylor's premature death is not fully established. On July 4, 1850, Taylor consumed a snack of milk and cherries at an Independence Day celebration. On this day, he also sampled several dishes presented to him by well-wishing citizens.

At about 10:00 in the morning on July 9, 1850, very ill, Taylor called his wife to him and asked her not to weep, saying: "I have always done my duty, I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me." Upon his sudden death on July 9, the cause was listed as gastroenteritis.

He was interred in the Public Vault (built in 1835 to hold remains of notables until either the gravesite could be prepared or transportation arranged to another city) of the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. from July 13, 1850 to October 25, 1850. Taylor was then transported to the Taylor Family plot where his parents are buried, on the old Taylor homestead estate known as 'Springfield'. In 1883, the Commonwealth of Kentucky placed a fifty foot monument near Zachary Taylor's grave. It is topped by a life-sized statue of Zachary Taylor.

By the 1920s, the Taylor family initiated the effort to turn the Taylor burial grounds into a national cemetery. The Commonwealth of Kentucky donated two pieces of land for the project, turning the half-acre Taylor family cemetery into 16 acres. There, buried in the Taylor family plot, Zachary Taylor and his wife (who died in 1852) remained, until he and his wife were moved to their final resting place on May 6, 1926 in the newly commissioned Taylor mausoleum (made of limestone with a granite base, with a marble interior), nearby. Today, President Taylor and wife Margaret rest in the mausoleum in Louisville, Kentucky, at what is now the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.

Exhumation of 1991

In the late 1980s, college professor and author Clara Rising theorized that Taylor was murdered by poison and was able to convince Taylor's closest living relative and the Coroner of Jefferson County, Kentucky, to order an exhumation.

On June 17, 1991, Taylor's remains were exhumed and transported to the Office of the Kentucky Chief Medical Examiner, where radiological studies were conducted and samples of hair, fingernail and other tissues were removed. The remains were then returned to the cemetery and received appropriate honors at reinterment. He was reinterred in the same mausoleum he had been interred in since 1926. A monolith was constructed next to the mausoleum later on. Neutron activation analysis conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed arsenic levels several hundred times lower than they would have been if Taylor had been poisoned.

Rather, it was concluded that on a hot July day Taylor had attempted to cool himself with large amounts of cherries and iced milk. “In the unhealthy climate of Washington, with its open sewers and flies, Taylor came down with cholera morbus, or acute gastroenteritis as it is now called.” He might have recovered, Samuel Eliot Morison felt, but his doctors “drugged him with ipecac, calomel, opium and quinine (at 40 grains a whack), and bled and blistered him too. On July 9, he gave up the ghost.”

Despite these findings, assassination theories have not been entirely put to rest. Michael Parenti devoted a chapter in his 1999 book History as Mystery to "The Strange Death of Zachary Taylor," speculating that Taylor was assassinated because of his moderate stance on the expansion of slavery — and that his autopsy was botched. It is suspected that Taylor was deliberately assassinated by arsenic poisoning from one of the citizen-provided dishes he sampled during the Independence Day celebration.

Other dissenting historians claim as suspicious the facts that there were no eyewitness accounts of Taylor consuming cherries and milk on that day; that there are no confirmed cholera outbreaks in Washington in 1850; that Taylor's symptoms were not those of typhoid (spread by flies); that Taylor was not given the aforementioned drugs until he was already deathly sick, on the third day of his acute illness; and that Taylor was not bled until near death on the fifth and last day of his illness

President Zachary Taylor died on July 9, 1850. Taylor's sudden death shocked the nation. After attending Fourth of July orations for most of the day, Taylor walked along the Potomac River before returning to the White House. Hot and tired, he drank iced water and consumed large quantities of cherries and other fruits. The president suffered severe stomach pains for the next five days. Diagnosed as suffering from "cholera morbus" by his physicians, Taylor ate slivers of ice for relief until his body began rejecting fluids. At about 10:00 in the morning on July 9, 1850, Taylor called his wife to him and asked her not to weep, saying: "I have always done my duty, I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me." His funeral took place on July 12. An estimated 100,000 people thronged the funeral route in the nation's capital to witness the presidential hearse drawn by eight white horses accompanied by grooms dressed in white and wearing white turbans. The hearse was followed by Washington dignitaries, military units, the president's beloved horse "Old Whitey," and the president's family. Behind them a line of military units, officials, and common citizens stretched in procession for over two miles. His final resting place was to be at Springfield at the family burying site, today known as Zachary Taylor National Cemetery and Monument. Zachary Taylor left behind a country sharply divided, and a vice president, Millard Fillmore, who supported the Compromise of 1850 that specifically prohibited slavery in the new Western states. In the end, Taylor had little personal impact on the presidency, and his months in office did little to slow the approach of the great national tragedy of the Civil War. He is not remembered as a great president. Most historians believe that he was too non-political in a day when politics, parties, and presidential leadership demanded close ties with political operatives. Taylor's "outsider" philosophy kept him out of touch with Congress. He never addressed the legislature with a clear policy statement nor did he use his influence to direct legislation-except on the matter of statehood for California and New Mexico. He thought that the president's role should be limited to vetoing unconstitutional legislation but otherwise to give in to Congress on matters of domestic concern. He never took a stand on any of the issues on which he had firm opinions, such as revamping the banking system, protective tariffs, or internal improvements. In foreign policy, his treaty with England (Clayton-Bulwer) on Central America is recognized as an important step in scaling down the nation's commitment to Manifest Destiny as a policy. Yet many of his political contemporaries thought that it went too far in respecting England's claim to power in the Americas. Overall, Taylor was something of an anomaly. He was a slave owner who supported the Wilmot Proviso's ban on the expansion of slavery into the western territories that had been acquired from Mexico. He was the triumphant military conqueror of Mexico who saw little need for Manifest Destiny as a foreign policy. He was an army general who shied away from war as an instrument of state. He was a stern military commander who avoided decisive actions as president. The one thing about him that is clear is that he was committed to preserving the Union even if it meant using force against the secessionists. It is interesting to speculate what might have happened had Taylor lived and been elected to a second term. On the political front, Taylor had revamped his cabinet on the eve of his death, bringing in men of national prominence that would have given him one of the strongest cabinets ever assembled. More importantly, had he lived, there might not have been a Compromise of 1850 or even the Civil War. Because the South was still too disunited in 1850 to form a viable secession movement, Taylor's unflinching support (had he lived) for the direct admission to the Union of the western territories might have changed the course of history. He had surprised many when he stamped out Santa Anna at the Battle of Buena Vista. The question remains, if Taylor had survived, would he have been able to stamp out the most burning issue that faced the nation in 1850-the expansion of slavery westward. Some historians suspected that Taylor's death may have had other causes, and in 1991 one convinced Taylor's descendants that the president might have suffered arsenic poisoning. As a result, Taylor's remains were exhumed from a cemetery in Louisville and Kentucky's medical examiner brought samples of hair and fingernail tissue to Oak Ridge National Laboratory for study. In the Chemical and Analytical Sciences Division, Larry Robinson and Frank Dyer headed the Taylor investigation, using neutron activation analysis to measure the amount of arsenic in the hair and nail samples. After placing the samples in a beam of neutrons from the High Flux Isotope Reactor, Dyer and Robinson looked at the gamma rays coming from the samples for the distinctive energy levels associated with the presence of arsenic. Arsenic is among the easier elements to identify through neutron activation and can be detected in a few parts per million. Most human bodies contain traces of arsenic, so the essential issue in the Taylor case was whether the samples from Taylor contained more arsenic than would be normal after 141 years in the crypt. Working late in the evenings, Dyer and Robinson in a few days calculated the arsenic levels in the samples and sent them to the Kentucky medical examiner for his decision. After reviewing the test results, the examiner announced that the arsenic levels in the samples were several hundred times less than they would have been if the president had been poisoned with arsenic. This finding acquitted several of Taylor's prominent contemporaries of the suspicion of murder and proved that history and science share a common quest for truth.

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