Zachary Taylor (November 24, 1784 – July 9, 1850) was the 12th President of the United States (1849-1850) and an American military leader. Initially uninterested in politics, Taylor nonetheless ran as a Whig in the 1848 presidential election, defeating Lewis Cass. Taylor was the last President to hold slaves while in office, and the second and also last Whig to win a presidential election.
Known as "Old Rough and Ready," Taylor had a forty-year military career in the United States Army, serving in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and the Second Seminole War. He achieved fame leading American troops to victory in the Battle of Palo Alto and the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican–American War. As president, Taylor angered many Southerners by taking a moderate stance on the issue of slavery. He urged settlers in New Mexico and California to bypass the territorial stage and draft constitutions for statehood, setting the stage for the Compromise of 1850. Taylor died just 16 months into his term, the third shortest tenure of any President. He is thought to have died of gastroenteritis. Only Presidents William Henry Harrison and James Garfield served less time. Taylor was succeeded by his Vice President, Millard Fillmore.
Zachary Taylor was born on a farm on November 24, 1784, in Orange County, Virginia, to a prominent family of planters of English ancestry. He was the youngest of three sons in a family of nine children. His mother was Sarah Strother Taylor, and his father, Richard Taylor, had served with George Washington during the American Revolution. Taylor was a descendant of Elder William Brewster, the Pilgrim colonist leader and spiritual elder of the Plymouth Colony, and passenger aboard the Mayflower and one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact; Isaac Allerton Jr., the son of Mayflower Pilgrim Isaac Allerton and Fear Brewster. Allerton was a 1650 graduate of Harvard College and was a merchant in Colonial America; first in business with his father in New England, and after his father's death, in Virginia. He was a Burgess for Northumberland County and a Councilor of Virginia. He became a member of the Virginia militia and ultimately rose to the rank of colonel; James Madison was Taylor's second cousin, and both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Robert E. Lee were kinsmen. During his youth, he lived on the frontier in Louisville, Kentucky, residing in a small cabin in a wood during most of his childhood, before moving to a brick house as a result of his family's increased prosperity. He shared the house with seven brothers and sisters, and his father owned 10,000 acres (40 km2), town lots in Louisville, and twenty-six slaves by 1800. Since there were no schools on the Kentucky frontier, Taylor had only a basic education growing up, provided by tutors his father hired from time to time. He was reportedly a poor student; his handwriting, spelling, and grammar were described as "crude and unrefined throughout his life." When Taylor was older, he decided to join the military.