DEAD: Zachary Taylor

DEAD: ON THIS DATE

Zachary Taylor (aged 65)
Twelfth President of the United States

Zachary Taylor (November 24, 1784 – July 9, 1850) was the 12th president of the United States, serving from March 1849 until his death in July 1850. Taylor previously was a career officer in the United States Army, rose to the rank of major general and became a national hero as a result of his victories in the Mexican–American War. As a result, he won election to the White House despite his vague political beliefs. His top priority as president was preserving the Union, but he died sixteen months into his term, before making any progress on the status of slavery, which had been inflaming tensions in Congress.

DEATH: On July 4, 1850, Taylor reportedly consumed copious amounts of raw fruit and iced milk while attending holiday celebrations during a fund-raising event at the Washington Monument, which was then under construction. Over the course of several days, he became severely ill with an unknown digestive ailment. His doctor “diagnosed the illness as cholera morbus, a flexible mid-nineteenth-century term for intestinal ailments as diverse as diarrhea and dysentery but not related to Asiatic cholera”, the latter being a widespread epidemic at the time of Taylor’s death. The identity and source of Taylor’s illness are the subject of historical speculation (see below), although it is known that several of his cabinet members had come down with a similar illness.

Despite treatment, Taylor died at 10:35 p.m. on July 9, 1850. He was 65 years old. After his death, Vice President Fillmore assumed the presidency and completed Taylor’s term, which ended on March 4, 1853. Soon after taking office, Fillmore signed into law the Compromise of 1850, which settled many of the issues faced by the Taylor administration.

Taylor was interred in the Public Vault of the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., from July 13, 1850, to October 25, 1850 (which was built in 1835 to hold remains of notables until either the grave site could be prepared or transportation arranged to another city). His body was transported to the Taylor Family plot where his parents were buried on the old Taylor homestead plantation known as “Springfield” in Louisville, Kentucky.

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