President Zachary Taylor only served sixteen months as President of the United States, when on July 9th 1850 he died suddenly in office, after a short illness that lasted only five days! Up until that very moment, he had tried to steer a neutral course between Slave Holding States and Free States. He was a slave owner himself, who came from Virginia, which was a Slave Holding State, but he favored admitting California and New Mexico to the Union as quickly as possible, even after they voted to become Free States. The admission of California and New Mexico to the Union as Free States was vehemently opposed by ‘the South.’
Interesting note: Zachary Taylor was the third of only four Whig candidates to become President of the United States. Since he refused to be inaugurated on a Sunday, the Senate Protempore David Rice Atchison, who was the third in line of succession after the Vice President, and the Speaker of the House, served for one day as the President of the United States until Monday, when President Taylor would be sworn in.
‘Old Rough and Ready,’ as he was affectionately called to by his admirers, was one of the heroes of the Mexican-American war, but he had never held an elected public office before! However, his name was placed on a list of potential candidates for the nomination at the Whig Party Convention in Philadelphia in 1848, and he was nominated for President by his Party on the 4th ballot.
The Whig Party in America was an offshoot of the Whig Party of England, which was opposed to British Royalty, the Divine Right of Kings, and the English Tories, and they favored American colonial independence ‘across the pond.’
However, here in America in the mid-19th century the Whig Party was increasingly becoming divided on many issues facing contemporary America, including the contentious issue of slavery, and what to do about it. There was soon more that divided the Whigs in America, than actually held them together, and so the Whig Party in America began to disintegrate soon after President Taylor’s death.
Another interesting note about the Taylor Presidency, is that in 1849 during Zachary Taylor’s Administration, the United States first secured the right to build the much-desired canal through the isthmus of Panama, however it was not through Panama! It was through Nicaragua! Panama didn’t even exist yet. It was still a part of Columbia, which would not give their permission to build a canal through their territory. (See Nicaragua canal, Clayton-Bulwer Treaty.)
President Taylor’s support for the admission of California and New Mexico to the Union as Free States, as well as his opposition to some of Texas’ wider territorial claims in New Mexico, incurred for him the wrath of many of his fellow Southerners.
After his death in 1849, his son became a prominent General in the Confederate Army, and his son-in-law, Jefferson Davis, became the first and only President of the Confederate States of America. The man to succeed Zachary Taylor in the WhiteHouse was his Vice President, Millard Fillmore who wrote, “God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil for which we are not responsible, and we must endure it [for now] and give it such protection as is guaranteed by the Constitution until such a time as we can get rid of it without destroying [our country].”
Zachary Taylor was the 12th President of the United States of America. He was a member of the Whig Party, which was destined to fall apart soon after his death. He tried to keep the Union together, and he tried to keep peace in a very divided country, and in his own very divided house, by trying to walk a middle-of-the-road position on slavery. He was a slave owner from a Slave Holding State, but he tried to walk a nominally neutral line between Slaveholding States and Free States.
However, after his premature death in 1850, he was succeeded in office by the last member of the Whig Party to ever be President of the United States. This was Millard Fillmore, who openly admitted his opposition to slavery, and spoke of a time when we could get rid of the institution of slavery in a way that would not destroy our country. So you can see the hand of God at work, as he moved our Nation ever closer to the time when the institution of slavery would be abolished in America! The Whig Party would soon be destroyed, and the institution of slavery soon followed!
The Whig Party was always double-minded on the issue of slavery. It became increasingly irrelevant on the American scene, and it was soon replaced by the Republican Party, which was never double-minded about slavery, nor irrelevant!
The Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854 further split the Whig Party into Northern and Southern factions over the increasingly divisive issue of slavery. It was the central issue of the day, and the Nation was divided over it, and so was the Whig Party!
While the issue of slavery was a contentious one for the Whigs, it was never a contentious issue for the Republicans. The Republicans were solidly opposed to slavery!
Many of the northern Whigs joined the new Republican Party, and many of the southern Whigs re-joined the old Democratic-Republican Party, which soon shortened its name to the Democratic Party. The United States began to re-orientate its political focus on issues here at home, rather than on the old trans-Atlantic issues having to do with Europe, national sovereignty, and our relationship to England. We were refocusing our thoughts inward! In a very real sense America was coming of age.