Presidential Review: Zachary Taylor

19 May

Zachary Taylor


Old Rough and Ready–Zachary Taylor, while not serving very long before his untimely death, was the prototype of the fierce independent.   He didn’t even vote until his own election, if that gives you any idea as to how little he thought of politics.  In fact, I’m uncertain why he ran at all.

Taylor was very popular not only because he was a war hero (though that was significant) but also because he seemed to find a way around the sectionalism that had really started creating strain in the country.  After the Mexican American War ended, the United States had suddenly all this land to divvy up, which really started up the whole hornets nest of whether the new states and territories would be slave states or not.  Taylor did not feel like having the eastern states demand the western ones after one side or the other as ludicrous, and wanted each state to decide for itself what it wanted without the national government interfering too much.

In general, Taylor was for letting congress dealing with issues through compromise, the president’s role being to veto laws based on Constitutionality, and to be a steam valve for divisive issues.   While Congress was busy setting up the compromise of 1850 (which Taylor didn’t really have much to do with), Taylor did manage a bit of political maneuvering in setting up the western territories so that they could become part of the country with as little congressional fuss as possible.  His plan was for California to come into the union straight up as a state, so that congress wouldn’t have the chance to get into a frenzy over the slavery issue.  He wanted Texas to enter as a state directly as well, though there was the issue of Oklahoma territory, which Texas claimed.  Taylor denied that, as the territory was very lightly settled and might endanger his direct to statehood clause.  Oklahoma would remain separate  and be set off as a giant reservation for Native Americans (for a little while that is.)    Utah would remain a territory, with some special provisions for the Mormon population who wanted to remain separate from national politics.

Taylor had no real interest in spreading slavery, though he was a slave-owner.  I don’t think it was because he was particularly interested in equality or anything, just that he thought that slaves would not work very well in areas that couldn’t support a plantation system.  Also, he was wanting the new states to have identities that were not aligned with either the North or the South.

Internationally he had one big plum which would pay off years later, he managed to make an agreement about a canal possibly being built in Central America with Britain, where neither country would own or run any canal or railway running over Central America.   This would open up the possibility of the Panama Canal in half a century, and though Britain did try to sidestep this treaty a couple of times, effectively ended Britain’s attempts to settle the Americas beyond Canada.  Britain’s gaze would move to Australia, the Far East, and Africa, but largely left the Americas alone.   This also could be said to mark the start of friendly American/British relations, as Britain did not treat the United States as an inferior, but an equal and separate entity.  These relations would gradually evolve (bypassing certain tensions in the Civil War)  into the informal alliance we have today.

I can’t say much more about Taylor–always suffering from GI problems, he caught a form of cholera and died after serving only 16 months.  Historians tend to stress his outsiderness and how he didn’t tend to get along with prominent politicians very well, however, it did seem like he was able to get things done and be above all the sectionalistic claptrap that was going on at the time.  Also considering he got quite a bit done in a little more than a year, I can say he was a promising president if nothing else.

I would say that I don’t really agree with Taylor philosophically, however I don’t think he was a very philosophic president in the first place.    At any rate, he did what he could.  Next up, Millard Fillmore!

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