Sudden Death

This Day in History

Death can be abrupt and life can be fragile; this was the case when 12th President Zachary Taylor’s life was shortened unexpectedly to an illness on this day in history, 1850. 

Zachary Taylor, nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready,” lived as a war hero (1808-1848) and short-term president (March 4, 1849 – July 9, 1850) – only 16 months. 

At 24 years old, Taylor had received minimal education but excelled on horseback and in marksmanship. Taylor left his home of Louisville, Kentucky after being commissioned in the army as a first lieutenant. 

During his military career, Taylor was vital to the state’s success in the war of 1812 when he warded off Native Americans at Fort Harrison. Right after obtaining the rank of major, Taylor suffered through thoughts  of resignation very briefly before returning to the battlefield. 

As a colonel during the Black Hawk War of 1832 and the Second Seminole War in Florida, Taylor climbed his way up the ladder and was appointed commander over all U.S. Forces in Florida.

Depiction of Major General Zachary Taylor

After a bit of fiery disregard of orders but great success in the Mexican War, President James K. Polk bestowed a hefty promotion to Taylor as major general. 

He gained the nickname “Old Rough and Ready” for his inclination to dirty his boots when accompanying his men on the battlefield. 

In 1848, Taylor, having no political background whatsoever (in fact, he had never cast a vote  in his life), was nominated by the Whigs Party based solely on his reputation as a fierce war hero. A very key – and highly controversial – issue that dominated Taylor’s run was to outlaw or to allow slavery in states taken by the U.S. during the Mexican War.  

Taylor slowly grew to oppose new slave states despite being a slaveholder himself, but managed to garner the win nonetheless over former President Martin Van Buren and Democratic candidate Lewis Cass. 

Days before his death on July 4, 1850, Taylor was a guest at a ceremony for the incomplete Washington monument. Possibly due to the hazardous heat, Taylor reportedly ate only cherries, raw vegetables, and milk.

While the matter is still speculated today, Taylor is said to have suddenly fallen to acute gastroenteritis after a extremely painful series of stomach cramps. 

While Zachary Taylor couldn’t finish off any major accomplishments as 12th president owing to his short-lived term, his rise to fame is one to be remembered. 

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