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Tests show Zachary Taylor not poisoned

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Zachary Taylor, the nation's 12th president, did not die of arsenic poisoning, as suggested by a Florida historian, Kentucky Medical Examiner George Nichols said Wednesday.

Nichols based his conclusions on examination of tissue taken from Taylor's remains after his coffin was removed from his tomb last week.

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He said the examination found no greater concentration of arsenic in the late president's remains than would be expected in normal human tissue.

'It is my opinion,' Nichols said, 'that President Zachary Taylor was not poisoned by arsenic ... It is my opinion that a cause of death cannot be ascertained from the body of Zachary Taylor as a result decomposition and loss of soft tissue.'

Nichols said he believes Taylor 'died as a result of a myriad of natural diseases, which would have induced the symptoms of gastroenteritis.'

He said the 'scientific determination of the allegation of poisoning could be made with medical certainty. He was not poisoned with arsenic.'

Jefferson County Coroner Richard Greathouse opened Taylor's mummy- shaped casket June 17. He said most of the 12th president's body had decomposed but that he had retrieved enough samples of hair, nails and other tissue to permit analysis.

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'Arsenic doesn't disappear,' he said. 'It stays.'

The assassination theory, kept alive mostly as historical innuendo since Taylor's death July 9, 1850, was put back on the front burner by historian Clara Rising.

Rising said she decided while researching a book on Taylor that his death likely was not caused by gastroenteritis -- the official cause of the president's sudden passing after only 16 months in office.

The possibility of murder, Rising said, 'was implicit in most of the histories ... Sentences began to fly off the pages.'

Historians were ready with suggestions of who might have been behind the poisoning of Taylor -- and why.

Chief among the potential suspects in an assassination were former Sen. Henry Clay, one of the most powerful figures in Washington in the mid-19th century and the man Taylor beat for the Whig Party presidential nomination.

The motive, historians suggested, could have been Taylor's unwillingness to compromise on the slavery issue. Taylor was opposed to the spread of slavery, while Clay worked for compromise solutions that would permit the admission of new slave states to the growing union -- especially in the Southwest.

Rising said it is possible that Taylor, had he lived, might have derailed the chain of events that led to the Civil War.

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'It's mind-boggling that 628,000 battlefield deaths may not have happened if it weren't for the selfish, greedy, prancing politicians who wanted their own way,' she said at the time of the exhumation.

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