Knowing the Presidents: Zachery Taylor

Zachary Taylor  

Twelfth President, 1849-1850


Zachary Taylor was the reluctant candidate of the Whig Party, which nominated him purely on his reputation as a hero of the Mexican–American War. He defeated Democrat Lewis Cass.

The election was significant for the emergence of a distinctly anti-slavery third party, the Free Soil party; their ticket was headed by former President Martin Van Buren.


Despite being a southerner and a wealthy slave owner, the apolitical Zachary Taylor sought to be a unifying figure in his programs and appointments.

The issue that occupied his relatively short sixteen-month tenure was whether to allow the territory acquired in the Mexican-American War to enter the country as slaveholder states. This issue resulted in the Compromise of 1850 (signed after Taylor’s presidency) and inaugurated a decade in which slavery was a major political issue at all levels of American politics.

Major Acts:

An agreement with Great Britain, the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, ended international squabbling over Central America related to a possible inter-ocean canal. The Treaty reduced American interests in Central America and stepped away from using the theory of Manifest Destiny as a policy.


Though Zachary Taylor attempted to be a unifying figure in an era of increasing sectionalism and violent partisanship, his passivity and unflinching support of the Union was at odds with the issue at hand, the western expansion of slavery.