America in the 1850s

The Compromise of 1850

What role did President Taylor play in events before the Civil War?

President Zachary Taylor (1784–1850) was a Southern man, born and bred; he also owned slaves. Taylor was an ardent nationalist, however, a sentiment brought on by many years of service in the U.S. Army. Taylor showed great frustration with the political infighting, and at one point he threatened to use executive action to bring both California and New Mexico into the nation at the same time. And then, on July 9, 1850, Taylor died.

The timing was so mysterious—or fortuitous, depending on one’s point of view—that Taylor’s body was exhumed in 1991. At that time it was found that there had been no foul play; the worst that could be charged was that the president had eaten a bowl of bad fruit on the Fourth of July, perhaps helping to bring on his death. Taylor’s place in the White House was taken by Vice President Millard Fillmore, who was more open to compromise. As a result, the Compromise of 1850 was hammered out in July and August, and the nation as a whole learned the news in September.


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