The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Taylor, Zachary

1184626The American Cyclopædia — Taylor, ZacharyRobert Carter

TAYLOR, Zachary, twelfth president of the United States, born in Orange co., Va., Sept. 24, 1784, died in Washington, D. C., July 9, 1850. His father, Col. Richard Taylor, served throughout the revolutionary war, and removed in 1785 from Virginia to Kentucky, where he had an extensive plantation in the neighborhood of Louisville. Zachary was engaged till his 24th year on the plantation. His brother Hancock, a lieutenant in the United States army, died in 1808, and the vacant commission was assigned to Zachary. He was made a captain in November, 1810, and after the declaration of war against Great Britain was placed in command of Fort Harrison, a blockhouse and stockade on the Wabash river, about 50 m. above Vincennes. This was the first object of attack by the Indians, a large force of whom invested it in September, 1812, and after professions of peace made a furious night assault and set fire to the lower buildings of the fort. Taylor had but 50 men, of whom two thirds were ill; but after a sharp conflict of several hours he extinguished the flames and repulsed the assailants with severe loss. For his conduct on this occasion he received from President Madison the rank of major by brevet, the first instance in the service of this species of promotion. A few months later he took part in a successful expedition led by Gen. Hopkins against the Indian villages, and in 1814, with the full rank of major, commanded an expedition against the British and Indians on Rock river. On the restoration of peace in 1815, congress reduced the army and annulled many of the promotions made during the war. Taylor was reduced to the rank of captain, and in consequence resigned his commission and retired to his plantation near Louisville. Being soon reinstated as major, he was employed for several years alternately on the N. W. frontier and in the south, where in 1822 he built Fort Jesup. In 1819 he became lieutenant colonel, and in 1832 colonel. In the latter year he was engaged in the Black Hawk war, and was then ordered to Prairie du Chien, where he took command of Fort Crawford, which had been erected under his superintendence. In 1836-'40 he served in Florida. On Dec. 25, 1837, he defeated the Indians in the desperate and decisive battle of Okeechobee, and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general by brevet; and in April, 1838, he was made commander-in-chief in Florida. In 1840 he was appointed to the command of the first department of the army in the southwest. He purchased at this time an estate at Baton Rouge, to which he removed his family. Congress having in March, 1845, passed the joint resolution annexing Texas, Gen. Taylor was directed to defend it against invasion from Mexico. In July he embarked at New Orleans with 1,500 troops, and in the beginning of August encamped with them at Corpus Christi, Texas, where he was reënforced, so that in November his forces amounted to about 4,000 men. The administration desired to bring the Mexican question to a crisis, without, if possible, incurring the responsibility of beginning a war. Indirectly, therefore, it endeavored to induce Gen. Taylor to advance his forces into the disputed territory; but he disregarded all hints to that effect, and would not move till explicitly ordered by the president. Positive instructions were at length sent, and on March 8, 1846, the army began its advance toward the Rio Grande, and on the 28th reached the banks of that river opposite Matamoros. Here it encamped and erected Fort Brown, which commanded Matamoros, where the Mexicans were also throwing up batteries and redoubts. On April 12 Gen. Ampudia, the Mexican commander, addressed a note to Gen. Taylor requiring him within 24 hours to break up his camp and retire beyond the Nueces, “while our governments are regulating the pending question in relation to Texas,” and informing him that his non-compliance would be regarded by the Mexicans as equivalent to a declaration of war. Gen. Taylor replied that he was acting under instructins which did not permit him to return to the Nueces, and that if the Mexicans saw fit to begin hostilities he should not avoid the conflict. Ampudia was soon after superseded by Arista, who early in May crossed the Rio Grande with 6,000 men, and on the 8th of that month attacked and was defeated by Gen. Taylor with 2,300 men at Palo Alto, a few miles from Matamoros. (See Palo Alto.) The Mexicans retreated to Resaca de la Palma, and on the following day again gave battle to the Americans, who after a severe contest routed them and drove them across the Rio Grande. The total loss of the Mexicans in these battles amounted to about 1,000 men. Taylor was promoted to the rank of major general, took possession of Matamoros on May 18 without opposition, and remained there till September, when he marched against Monterey, which he reached on Sept. 9 with a force of 6,625 men, mostly volunteers. The place was defended by Ampudia with about 10,000 regular troops. On the 19th Taylor ordered an assault, and after several days' desperate fighting Ampudia capitulated on the 24th. (See Monterey.) Taylor made Monterey his headquarters, but occupied with a strong detachment the city of Saltillo, the capital of the state of Coahuila. He was making preparations for an advance upon San Luis Potosí, when the best part of his force was transferred to the expedition against Vera Cruz, under Gen. Scott. He was left with only 5,000 men, of whom but 500 were regulars, the rest being volunteers who had never seen a battle. He received intelligence that Santa Anna had concentrated at San Luis Potosí the flower of the Mexican army to the number of 21,000 veteran troops, and was moving rapidly to attack him in the valley of the Rio Grande. Gen. Taylor on Feb. 21, 1847, took a position at Buena Vista, a mountain pass 7 m. from Saltillo, and awaited the approach of the Mexicans, who made their appearance on the following day, and were signally defeated. (See Buena Vista.) Santa Anna retreated to San Luis Potosí, and during the rest of the war the valley of the Rio Grande remained in quiet possession of the Americans. On his return home in November, 1847, “Old Rough and Ready,” as his soldiers familiarly called him, was greeted everywhere by the warmest demonstrations of popular applause; and as the time for the presidential election was approaching, his name was at once brought forward for the presidency. He avowed himself “a whig, but not an ultra whig,” and in several letters intimated his willingness to accept the nomination provided he could be left untrammelled by partisan pledges, at the same time expressing his distrust of his fitness for the office. In June, 1848, he was nominated by the whig national convention at Philadelphia, the other candidates for the nomination being Mr. Clay, Mr. Webster, and Gen. Scott. Millard Fillmore of New York was nominated for the vice-presidency. Henry Wilson of Massachusetts and a few other delegates, on this result being announced, withdrew from the convention, and subsequently formed the freesoil party on the basis of opposition to the extension of slavery. The democratic national convention had already nominated Lewis Cass for the presidency, but a powerful section of the New York democracy, familiarly known as barn-burners, refused their support to Mr. Cass, partly because of his pro-slavery position. On Aug. 9, 1848, these freesoil democrats assembled in convention at Buffalo, N. Y., together with the freesoil whigs who had rejected the nomination of Gen. Taylor, and the liberty party men who had previously supported James G. Birney. A fusion of these parties was effected on the basis of a platform of which opposition to the extension of slavery was the leading principle, and Martin Van Buren was nominated for president and Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts for vice president, At the election in November 163 electors were chosen for Taylor and Fillmore to 127 for Cass and Butler. The Van Buren and Adams party did not carry a single elector, their popular vote being about 290,000, while that for Gen. Taylor was about 1,360,000, and that for Cass 1,220,000. Gen. Taylor was inaugurated president on Monday, March 5, 1849, and on the following day appointed as his cabinet John M. Clayton of Delaware, secretary of state; William M. Meredith of Pennsylvania, secretary of the treasury; George W. Crawford of Georgia, secretary of war; William B. Preston of Virginia, secretary of the navy; Thomas Ewing of Ohio, secretary of the interior; Jacob Collamer of Vermont, postmaster general; and Reverdy Johnson of Maryland, attorney general. The democratic party had elected a plurality of the members of congress, and a few freesoil members held the balance of power between the whigs and democrats. A vehement struggle began with regard to the organization of the new territories, the admission of California as a state, and the question of the boundary between Texas and New Mexico, all of these subjects being connected with the question of the extension of slavery. California had applied for admission into the Union with a constitution excluding slavery. There being at this time an equal number of free and slave states in the Union, the proposition to admit California and thus give the free states a preponderance in the senate excited throughout the south the most violent opposition. At the same time New Mexico and Utah, or Deseret, as it was called by the Mormons who occupied it, were without governments. President Taylor in his messages to congress recommended that California should be admitted, and that the other territories should form state constitutions to suit themselves, and should be admitted into the Union with or without slavery as their constitutions might prescribe. These recommendations were not acceptable to the slaveholding leaders, many of whom made open threats of secession. Henry Clay in the senate introduced the compromise measures known by his name, including the recommendations of the president's message. (See Clay, Henry.) His propositions were still the subject in one form or another of exciting debates in congress and of earnest discussion among the people, when on the 4th of July, 1850, President Taylor was seized with bilious fever, of which he died on the 9th at the presidential mansion. — Gen. Taylor was of middle stature and stout form, with dark complexion, high forehead, and keen penetrating eyes, with a face more remarkable for intelligence than for elegance, and an expression of much kindness and good nature. It was during this administration that the secession party in the south first manifested itself in considerable force outside of South Carolina. To the schemes of this party Gen. Taylor was sternly opposed.