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ZACHARY TAYLOR by John S.D. Eisenhower


by John S.D. Eisenhower

Pub Date: June 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8237-1
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Old Rough and Ready gets proficient, if somewhat lackluster treatment in this latest volume of the American Presidents series.

Though he was a slave-owning Kentucky planter, Taylor (1784–1850) was “first and foremost a soldier,” writes Eisenhower (They Fought at Anzio, 2007, etc.). He worked his way through the ranks without a formal education, earning a reputation for being responsible and reliable in skirmishes during the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War and the Second Seminole War. The war with Mexico in 1846 brought him into the national spotlight as commander of the American forces aggressively driving back the enemy, most memorably at Palo Alto, Monterrey and Buena Vista. Returning a hero, Taylor was chosen over fellow general Winfield Scott as Whig candidate for president in 1848, running with Millard Fillmore. He became the 12th president at age 64. Outgoing President Polk’s assessment was that Taylor was “a well-meaning old man [but] uneducated, exceedingly ignorant of public affairs, and I should judge of very ordinary capacity.” He wasn’t polished, but the new president wasn’t a fool either. As debate raged about whether the new territories of California and New Mexico should be slave or free states, Taylor, opposed to the institution in principle, stood by the sovereignty of the states’ citizens to decide. In foreign affairs, he will be remembered for signing the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, which disallowed exclusive British or American dominion over Central America. He was also the first to call the president’s wife “First Lady,” in a eulogy for Dolly Madison, who died shortly after he was inaugurated in 1849. Taylor served only 16 months before dying of an untimely illness. Had he lived, Eisenhower notes, the Compromise of 1850 would probably not have become law, and Taylor would certainly have vetoed the Fugitive Slave Act: “What would have happened then must remain as one of those imponderable might-have-beens of history.”

Adequate sketch of Taylor’s accomplishments without a great deal of flesh or heart.