Zachary Taylor was born on November 24th, 1784, just outside of Barboursville, Virginia. Early on in his childhood, his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where at first they lived in a small cabin in the middle of the woods. By 1800 however, Taylor's family was prospering with his father, Richard Taylor, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army, owning 10,000 acres of land. Taylor's family were slave owners. Taylor inherited the land, as well as his family's slaves, and over time parlayed it into a wealthy estate with land across three states with over 100 slaves. Taylor had a sporadic education growing up, and he was considered a very poor student, but he always had wanted a career in the military. In 1810 he married Margaret Smith, and they would go on to have six children together, though two of his daughters died in early childhood.
Domestic Policy Under Taylor
By far biggest issue domestic issues during Taylor's time as president involved the newly acquired western territory won during the Mexican-American War, and the issue of slavery in said territories. Taylor urged residents of California and New Mexico to write constitutions to apply for statehood and for Congress to admit both states as soon as possible. Taylor also warned Congress not to organize territorial governments in the western area. Taylor did all of this to try and avoid a debate over slavery, but it led to one of the most prolonged and rancorous debates in American history. When California applied to be recognized as a state in 1850, it did so as a free state according to the constitution they wrote for themselves. At the time there was an even number of slave and free states and Taylor's solution of allowing these new states to write their own constitutions meant that the free to slave state balance would be upset in the Senate and the number of states. Southern Wigs felt betrayed by Taylor as a result of this policy, while many Southern Democrats called for a secession convention, to which Taylor responded that he would hang anyone who tried to disrupt the Union. Henry Clay led the effort to come up with a compromise to put an end to the slavery debate, but Taylor strongly opposed Clay's compromise.
Zachary Taylor's Death and Legacy
Ultimately Taylor never got to settle what became the Compromise of 1850. On July 4th, 1850 Taylor was attending holiday events on a hot summer day. When he came back to the White House, he reportedly drank a glass of iced milk and consumed a large quantity of cherries and other fruits. Taylor then fell ill and over the next five days battled serve stomach pains, fervor, and dehydration. His physicians diagnosed him with cholera morbus and attempted to treat him but on July 9th, 1850 Taylor succumbed to his illness and passed. With his death, Taylor became the second and to date only the eighth American president to die in office. Unfortunately for Taylor, his presidency was short lived and did not have much impact. He is seen as having been too nonpolitical for his time, being out of touch with Congress, never giving clear policy statements and rarely used his influence as president to direct policy. Overall, Taylor is seen as an anomaly between what he did during his life and how he acted in office. In 1883 Kentucky built a 50- foot tall monument to honor Taylor near his grave. In 1926 Taylor's grave site was expanded and turned into the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in his honor.