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Zachary Taylor, Our 12th President  

Born in Virginia in 1784, Zachary Taylor was taken to Kentucky as an infant where he grew up on a large plantation. In 1808 he received his first commission as an Army officer, becoming commander of the garrison at Fort Pickering (Memphis is located there today). In 1810 he married Margaret Mackall Smith. They had one son and five daughters. Being transferred from one fort to another, Taylor gained fame as an Indian fighter, and received the nickname of “Old Rough and Ready” for his homespun ways and wide-brimmed straw hat. The family settled in Louisiana when Taylor assumed command of the fort at Baton Rouge. He had a 40-year military career in the U.S. Army, serving in the War of 1812, Black Hawk War, and Second Seminole War. He also led troops to victory in several important battles of the Mexican-American War. Although a wealthy slave owner, Taylor opposed the extension of slavery into areas where neither cotton nor sugar cane could be grown. As a national hero, he was nominated for President in 1848 by the Whigs, who added Millard Fillmore of New York as VP to balance the ticket. For the first time the entire nation voted on the same day, November 7, 1848, and Taylor and Fillmore were narrowly elected. The slavery issue challenged Taylor immediately. California and New Mexico wanted statehood and the question of whether slavery would be allowed led to a bitter debate in Congress. Southern states threatened to call a secession convention. Taylor issued a statement that he would hang anyone who tried to disrupt the Union by force or by conspiracy. Members of both parties in Congress tried to work out a compromise which would placate both the slave and non-slave supporters. On July 4, 1850, while attending the Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, Taylor contracted a stomach ailment and was dead by July 9. Heat stroke, cholera, typhoid fever and food poisoning have all been suggested as the source of his fatal illness. He had eaten a hasty snack of iced milk, cold cherries and pickled cucumbers. Also, although it was July, he was wearing a thick coat, vest, high-collared shirt and top hat which might have caused heat stroke. He was reported to have a red, flushed face and slurred speech. He is buried in Louisville, Kentucky, at what is now the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.