December 4, 1849: Annual Message to Congress

 

 

Fate dealt President Zachary Taylor only one annual message to Congress.  It is a fascinating look at the world and of America at mid-stream in the 19th century:

 

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

Sixty years have elapsed since the establishment of this Government, and the Congress of the United States again assembles to legislate for an empire of freemen. The predictions of evil prophets, who formerly pretended to foretell the downfall of our institutions, are now remembered only to be derided, and the United States of America at this moment present to the world the most stable and permanent Government on earth.

Such is the result of the labors of those who have gone before us. Upon Congress will eminently depend the future maintenance of our system of free government and the transmission of it unimpaired to posterity.

We are at peace with all the other nations of the world, and seek to maintain our cherished relations of amity with them. During the past year we have been blessed by a kind Providence with an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and although the destroying angel for a time visited extensive portions of our territory with the ravages of a dreadful pestilence, yet the Almighty has at length deigned to stay his hand and to restore the inestimable blessing of general health to a people who have acknowledged His power, deprecated His wrath, and implored His merciful protection. (more…)

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Was Zachary Taylor Murdered?

 

I find it comforting that conspiracy theorists have always been with us, and that they are not only a feature of our times.  On July 4, 1850 Taylor had a busy day attending several Independence Day celebrations and a fund raising event for the Washington Monument.  The day was hot and Taylor drank a lot of ice milk and ate a great deal of raw fruit.  Unsurprisingly he came down with a gastric ailment thereafter.  Physicians treated him with the best medicine of the time, which often weakened or finished off the poor patients subject to it:  Taylor was dosed with ipecac, calomel, opium, and quinine at 40 grains per dose (approximately 2.6 grams), and bled and blistered.  Several of Taylor’s cabinet members came down with similar symptoms.  The 65 year old Taylor died on July 9, 1850.

In hindsight an analysis of Taylor’s death is pretty straightforward.  The White House had a tainted water supply with raw sewage running into it.  This probably killed three presidents:  Harrison, Polk (who died shortly after his term in office) and Taylor.  Cholera was the big killer in 19th century urban centers until sewers were installed, and Taylor likely died of some variant of that bacterial infection.

Taylor had opposed what became known as the Compromise of 1850, wanting to keep slavery out of the territories won from Mexico.  Some abolitionists claimed, without any evidence, that pro-slavery advocates had poisoned the president.  Although rumors abounded, no official investigation ever took place. (more…)

Published in: on February 23, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Zachary Taylor and His Son-in-Law

Jefferson Davis was the son-in-law of Zachary Taylor.  Marrying the daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, of General Zachary Taylor, who opposed the marriage, he resigned his commission in the Army in 1835.  Tragically the new bride died three months after her marriage of malaria.  She was 21.  Taylor blamed Davis for bringing his daughter to the malarial infested region in which his plantation was located in Mississippi.  War would end the enmity of the two men who loved Sarah Knox Taylor.

Although he had resigned from the Army, however, Davis never ceased to be a military man, always retaining a fascination for all things martial. Thus it was only natural that Davis, a Congressman from Mississippi at the beginning of the Mexican War, resigned from Congress and raised a volunteer regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, which he led as colonel.

On July 21, 1846, the regiment sailed from New Orleans to join the army of Zachary Taylor in northern Mexico.

Davis had armed his regiment with 1841 percussion rifles, the latest technology, with much more reliable percussion caps substituted for flint locks. Davis’ men during the war would use the rifles with such deadly skill that ever afterwords the rifles became known as 1841 Mississippi percussion rifles.

Davis and his men participated in the siege of Monterrey in September of 1846. The war in northern Mexico then entered a quiet phrase which was shattered in February of 1847 by a Mexican offensive.

(more…)

Published in: on February 22, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Comments on Lincoln’s Eulogy of Zachary Taylor

 

 

Yesterday I ran a post containing Abraham Lincoln’s eulogy on Zachary Taylor.  Go here to read it.  It is an interesting eulogy and deserves some comment.  It should be noted that Lincoln was disappointed that the Taylor administration did not offer him a post that he had been seeking.  As one of the leaders of the Whig party in Illinois, he felt that this was a slight not only to him but to Illinois Whigs.  Outwardly he remained supportive of the Taylor administration, but privately he regarded Taylor as a weak leader and an immense disappointment.  Thus his eulogy was delivered more out of duty than out of any fondness for a man who turned out to be the last Whig elected president.  On to the eulogy. (more…)

Published in: on February 21, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lincoln on Taylor

 

I have never liked Presidents’ Day.  Why celebrate all presidents when only a select few of them, like Washington and Lincoln, deserve to be celebrated?   Officially the date is still the commemoration of George Washington’s birthday, which actually won’t occur until February 22.  However, I will keep up my tradition of writing about presidents on this day.

American presidents all fit into two broad categories:  those who had political careers and held political offices prior to their presidency and those who did not.  Only five presidents held no political office prior to being elected President:  Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Donald Trump.  Zachary Taylor, the first non-politician to become president, is now an obscure figure to most Americans, his fame in the Mexican War almost entirely forgotten by the oblivion that has largely swallowed that conflict, and his relatively brief time in office ensuring that his administration would be one of the forgotten ones in popular memory.  Ironically, one of our two most famous Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, deliver a eulogy on the death of Taylor.  Tomorrow I will comment on the obituary.  Today, I want us to focus on Lincoln’s words, as we use the eulogy as a springboard to look at “Old Rough and Ready” throughout this week.  Here is Lincoln’s eulogy:

 

EULOGY PRONOUNCED
BY HON. A. LINCOLN,
ON THE LIFE AND SERVICES OF THE LATE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,
At Chicago, July 25th, 1850

GENERAL ZACHARY TAYLOR, the eleventh elected President of the United States, is dead. He was born Nov. 2nd, [2] 1784, in Orange county, Virginia; and died July the 9th 1850, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, at the White House in Washington City. He was the second [3] son of Richard Taylor, a Colonel in the army of the Revolution. His youth was passed among the pioneers of Kentucky, whither his parents emigrated soon after his birth; and where his taste for military life, probably inherited, was greatly stimulated. Near the commencement of our last war with Great Britain, he was appointed by President Jefferson, a lieutenant in the 7th regiment of Infantry. During the war, he served under Gen. Harrison in his North Western campaign against the Indians; and, having been promoted to a captaincy, was intrusted with the defence of Fort Harrison, with fifty men, half of them unfit for duty. A strong party of Indians, under the Prophet, brother of Tecumseh, made a midnight attack on the Fort; but Taylor, though weak in his force, and without preparation, was resolute, and on the alert; and, after a battle, which lasted till after daylight, completely repulsed them. Soon after, he took a prominent part in the expedition under Major Gen. Hopkins against the Prophet’s town; and, on his return, found a letter from President Madison, who had succeeded Mr. Jefferson, conferring on him a major’s brevet for his gallant defence of Fort Harrison. (more…)

Published in: on February 20, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Video Clips Worth Watching: Wayne v. Marvin

 

 

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), perhaps the greatest of Westerns, contains this gem of a scene with John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Jimmy Stewart, Strother Marvin, Lee Van Cleef and Woody Strode.  Marvin as Liberty Valance is the archetypal mercenary gunslinger, his days, and the days of his kind, about to come to an end.  Wayne as Tom Doniphon, rancher, is the obverse of Marvin, a man just as tough as Valance, if not tougher, but no bully.  However, his time is also closing.  Their destroyer?   The almost clown like figure of Ransom Stoddard, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart.  He knows nothing about guns, but he knows a lot about law, and law and civilization are fast coming to the range.  This is John Ford’s eulogy to the Old West, and to this type of Western. (more…)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Published in: on February 18, 2017 at 3:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Henry Adams

 

Power when wielded by abnormal energy is the most serious of facts, and all Roosevelt’s friends know that his restless and combative energy was more than abnormal. Roosevelt, more than any other man living within the range of notoriety, showed the singular primitive quality that belongs to ultimate matter,—the quality that mediæval theology assigned to God,—he was pure act.

Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1918)

Published in: on February 17, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Evolution of the United States to 2014

I am a sucker for this type of map that depicts the passage of time.

Published in: on February 16, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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February 15, 1879: Women Granted Right to Argue Before Supreme Court

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An act to relieve certain legal disabilities of women
, 20 Stat. 292 (Feb. 15, 1879):
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United Supreme Court. States
of America in Congress assembled, That any woman who shall have been a member of the bar
of the highest court of any State or Territory or of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia
for the space of three years, and shall have maintained a good standing before such court, and
who shall be a person of good moral character, shall, on motion, and the production of such
record, be admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States.
On February 15, 1879 President Rutherford B. Hayes signed an act allowing women to argue before the Supreme Court.  Suffragette Belva Lockwood had lobbied Congress for this Act and in 1880 she became the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court.
Published in: on February 15, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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