Thursday, June 17, 2010

Zachary Taylor: Army Guy, Probably Not Assassinated

General Zachary Taylor, in uniform, all "Rough and Ready" to kill Indians and Mexicans, be a slaveowner, and die of contaminated cherries or something.

So, you know how all the early presidents were, like, the sons of wealthy plantation owners from Virginia? Well, so was Zachary Taylor, our twelfth president and second cousin to James Madison our fourth president and distant relative to thirty-second president FDR and also future Confederate General/God/Hero Robert E. Lee! Also, Taylor was a direct descendent of some Mayflower passenger guy. So we're talking pedigree here, people. Pedigree.* All this according to the 'Pedia, obvs. Anyway, he was born on a farm in Virginia in 1784 and his dad totally served with Washington during the Revolution. Zachary was one of nine children and actually spent most of his childhood living in a family cabin on the Kentucky frontier. (Suck on that log cabin authenticity, William Henry Harrison!) He never really had much of a formal education, just tutors his father hired from time to time. Rumor has it that he was not a very good student anyway, so when he was grown up, he did what all good functional illiterates do: join the military. Luckily, Taylormade had family connections (again, Madison), and got a sweet commission as a first lieutenant.**

In the army during the War of 1812/various Indian wars, he led some troops and stuff. He served in Indiana fighting against Tecumseh either with or very near to the aforementioned WH Harrison. Our boy Zachary actually personally accepted the surrender of Chief Black Hawk at the conclusion of the creatively-named Black Hawk War which basically stemmed out of Harrison's prodigious "land-stealing through sketchy treaties" abilities while the territorial governor. Later, TayTay became a brigadier general and led troops against the Seminole in Florida upon the orders of King of the Jackasses Andrew Jackson. But Taylor didn't become a big-time war hero until our friend James K. "Manifest Destiny" Polk sent him to guard the Texas-Mexican border in 1845.*** He fought and defeated Santa Anna's troops at the Battle of Buena Somethingorather and became famous for riding around his aptly named horse "Old Whitey."**** His military nickname, "Old Rough and Ready" not only sounds like it should be the subject line of penis enhancement spam, but also spawned (heh) clubs across the country that sought to "draft" him for the presidency. Because that worked out so awesome with our friend Tippecanoe.

Taylor's pre-politics politics were basically non-existent. Like, he never voted before he ran for president. He considered himself an "independent" or some shit (What is he? fucking Ike?). Though he leaned toward the Whig party, apparently. Though Zachariahhh was actually a slave owner on his Louisiana plantation, he was mostly anti-slavery expansion into new territories. Sounds a little wishy-washy to me. But whatever. Oh, also he was married to a lady named Margaret in 1810 and they had six kids. Their son Richard went on to serve as a general in the Confederate army. Also, one of his daughters was briefly married to Jefferson Davis in 1835 until she died of malaria. So... awesome. But back to politics! In 1848, the Democratic Party basically split over slavery and some dude who got the nomination was like "Let's just not talk about it," but then washed-up former prez Martin Van Buren led a faction of "free soilers" who believed that the expansion of slavery into the western territories should be stemmed.

This incomprehensible cartoon depicting the 1848 presidential election either means the artist was on crack (or opium AKA "antebellum crack") or politics have just always been this ridiculous. BTW, who is the fox? Is that Van Buren? Is the turkey the presidency? WTF? I shouldn't bother to try and understand.

Whatever, so our Whig-nominated friend Zack Attack won the election blahblahblah. While in office, he helped organize the Department of the Interior and encouraged California and New Mexico to write anti-slavery clauses into their constitutions when they applied for statehood. There was some sort of controversy with Britain over control of a possible canal through Nicaragua that never got built (obvs), and they signed some important treaty or something about it. Congress at the time was of course consumed by slavery issues and were debating the various merits of the (disastrous) Compromise of 1850 when the unthinkable happened: President Zachary Taylor suddenly fell ill and died July 9, 1850. Supposedly from "gastroentiritis" or something. It may have involved milk and cherries or something. The doctors did apply their best bleeding, blistering, opium-doping, and other sweet contemporary medical procedures to try and save him; but to no avail. But OF COURSE not everyone believes it was just a real bad stomachache that killed him. Some people think he was POISONED. By a constituent at a Fourth of July picnic. Which actually would be kind of awesome if they had pulled it off and nobody ever found out (in the abstract--assassinations are only for foreign leaders). So in a move that (retroactively) pleases X-Philes the world over, some professor lady got permisison to exhume his body back in 1991. Take a drink!***** They concluded that he probs wasn't poisoned but died of some cherry/milk/open sewers in the D.C. summer/cholera somethingorather. Anyway, that's not that exciting, except for the part where they dug him up. He was reburied in the national cemetary named for him in Kentucky. Zachary Taylor also holds the honor of the being the last president to own slaves while in office. So, that's prestigious.

*Haha, see? The dog food. Right?
**BTWs, I just recently realized why that word is spelled so funny: its etymology is showing! It means an officer who is in charge (the tenant) in LIEU of the presence of someone of higher rank. See? Words are crazy, ppl.
***You GUYS: I started U.S. Grant's charming memoirs and he talks about serving under Taylor in Texas. Though Grant respects Taylor as a general, he was pretty down in general on the whole "let's provoke a war with Mexico so we can have Texas and fill it with slaves" aspect of the Mexican-American War. So, like, the whole thing.
****I don't know why this is supposed to be apt, except I guess for Taylor being an "Old Whitey" himself when elected president like every other president except that Muslim guy we have now.
*****X-Files Drinking Game "exhumation" rule. There is also one for any time somebody says the word "exsanguination." I think it's time to start that series over and watch it all the way through again.

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