Most observers who described Zachary Taylor in middle and later life agreed that he looked like a prosperous farmer. His countenance, as it appears in the few surviving photographs, is weathered and lined...Zachary Taylor was truly an individual who reserved the understanding of his personality for a limited few; most of them did not, or could not, record it on paper.
So little had General Taylor sought public notoriety, that almost his very name was unknown to a large portion of the American people, until the victories of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma revived the recollection of it. Even his heroic defence of Fort Harrison, and his services in Florida, were nearly forgotten.
Benignity also characterized Taylor's treatment of his troops in Texas and Mexico. His tent flap was open, anyone could come to see him, and his kindnesses were proverbial. His magnanimity became evident when, at Matamoros on the Rio Grande, he ordered American doctors to give careful attention to wounded Mexicans abandoned by their superiors.
As an untried experiment in Florida affairs, a sort of forlorn hope, he was communicated with and ordered to the new field. His marches, battles, and partial successes in this difficult area of operations are unique and of intrinsic interest. At last he made an active campaign, without hesitancy, fought a bloody battle, and thereby gained considerable public notice, and was raised to the honorary rank of the next grade, so that after this campaign he was denominated General Taylor.
It did not happen to General Taylor, once in his life, to fight a battle on equal terms, or on terms advantageous to himself --- and yet he was never beaten, and he never retreated. In all, the odds were greatly against him; in each, defeat seemed inevitable; and yet in all he triumphed. Wherever he has led, while the battle still rage, the issue was painfully doubtful; yet in each and all, when the din had ceased, and the smoke had blown away, our country's flag was still seen, fluttering in the breeze.
Although a slave owner, Taylor gradually came to support the Wilmot Proviso (mandating that there be no extension of slavery into the territory taken from Mexico at the end of the war). He encouraged Californians to seek admission as a free state, just as he did New Mexicans, despite the Texan claims to all land east of the Rio Grande. Southern Whigs thereupon turned against Taylor and the party.
"Old Rough and Ready's" homespun ways were political assets. His long military record would appeal to northerners; his ownership of 100 slaves would lure southern votes. He had not committed himself on troublesome issues. The Whigs nominated him to run against the Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass, who favored letting the residents of territories decide for themselves whether they wanted slavery.
Taylor's brief service as president was unremarkable. Having no political background, Taylor was unprepared for the give-and-take of Washington politics. The biggest issue facing him was statehood for California and New Mexico, which had been acquired from Mexico as a result of the war.
A hero of the war with Mexico in 1846, Zachary Taylor was the first U.S. President who had been "regular army." Nicknamed "Old Rough and Ready" for his hard-charging ways while in the army, Taylor was not so tough as president. He was nominated by the Whigs and elected because of his military reputation and southern roots, not because of his politics, whatever they may have been.
Taylor was a wealthy slave owner who held properties in the plantation states of Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi. During his brief time in office—he died only sixteen months after his election—his presidency foundered over the question of whether the national government should permit the spread of slavery to the present-day states of California, New Mexico, and Utah, then newly won from Mexico. His sudden death put Vice President Millard Fillmore into the White House, and Fillmore promptly threw his support behind the Compromise of 1850, canceling out much of the impact of Taylor's presidency.