Section #12 - Southerners are alarmed by an apparent Northern wish to ban all blacks from the new West

Chapter 143: Zachary Taylor’s Term

Fall 1848

Six Parties Enter The 1848 Race 

By mid-August 1848, a total of six different political conventions have been held to select five candidates to succeed Polk.  

Conventions Held For The 1848 Race 
Dates Party Nominee
Sept. 10-11, 1847 Native American Zachary Taylor
October 20 Liberty Party (1st) John Hale
May 22, 1848 Democrats Lewis Cass
June 2 Liberty Party (alt.) Gerritt Smith
June 7 Whigs Zachary Taylor
Aug 9-10 Free Soil Martin Van Buren

Each gathering is marked by internal bickering and residual uncertainty about both the nominees and the platforms that emerge. 

At the two extremes are the growing number of fire-eater Southerners and the awkward combination of Wilmot-men and Abolitionists. In between are the Unionists, forever seeking compromise.  

Dissenting Views Across The Political Spectrum In 1848
Divisions Within The  DemocratsSeeking Key Proponents
* Southern Fire-Eaters Ironclad guarantees on the expansion of slavery Calhoun, Yancey, Davis, Hunter, Mason, Atchison
* Van Buren Loyalists Revenge against the South for stealing the 1844  nominationJohn Van Buren, Dix, Wright, Niles, Butler
* Wilmot Democrats A flat-out ban on slavery in all new western territories Wilmot wing and King wing
Divisions Within The Whigs
* Conscience Whigs An alternative to the Southern slave-holder,  TaylorSumner, Wilson, Charles Francis Adams
Issues Transcending Both  Parties
* Devoted UnionistsPolitical compromises designed to save the UnionCrittenden, Bell, Clayton,
Johnson, Toombs, Cobb,
* AbolitionistsImmediate emancipation and
assimilation of all slaves
Chase, Smith, Garrison,
Conscience Whigs
* Anti-ImmigrationistsA ban on immigration and
passage of anti-Catholic
Levin, Dearborn
Fall 1848

The Campaigns Try To Deal With The Slavery Issue

Going into the race, both major party candidates recognize that slavery in the west is an explosive issue best tip-toed around during the campaign. 

The Whigs, however, have an easier time dodging it than the Democrats. 

Thus Zachary Taylor is able to run simply as “Old Rough and Ready,” the heroic military general who, at age sixty-one, has defeated a much larger Mexican army by bravery and grit – to finally realize America’s Manifest Destiny.  

The fact that he is a plantation owner and lifelong slaveholder is already well known, and will probably gain him more Southern votes than are lost to the small band of fervent Abolitionists. 

On the other hand, Cass is forced to contend more directly with the slavery issue. This is due to the schism within the Democrats over the Wilmot Proviso, and the presence of a Free Soil Party boasting many Barnburners and the former loyalist icon, Martin Van Buren. 

Cass however believes his “pop sov” compromise – “let the voters decide” — will succeed with both his internal political factions and the American people at large. If only he can convince  Southerners that the settler’s votes will favor slavery and Northerners that they will oppose it!  

This is no small task, and it is frustrated in the North by Van Buren and the Free Soil Party campaign.  

The ex-President wants his political revenge, and he goes on the offensive arguing that slavery violates “the principles of the Revolution,” and that Congress does indeed have the right to prohibit its spread, if it so chooses. This stance infuriates the Southern Democrats. John Calhoun  denounces Matty as an “unscrupulous and vindictive demagogue,” while Polk calls him “the  most fallen man.” 

In the end, the “Little Magician’s” residual popularity will deny Cass the presidency, achieve revenge against the “Polk men,” and make the Free Soilers into America’s first credible third party.  

November 7, 1848

A Second Whig Wins The White House

Zachary Taylor 2
Zachary Taylor (1784-1850)

For the first time all Americans cast their ballots for president on the same day, in this case Tuesday, November 7, 1848.

Whig General Zachary Taylor wins the election, garnering 47% of the popular vote and a fairly comfortable 163-127 margin in the Electoral College. He dominates in the North and more than holds his own in the Border States and the South, where many assume erroneously that his slave-owning status signals his support for future expansion.

As expected the Democrats suffer from their internal divisions. Cass sweeps the six Midwestern states (Ohio to Wisconsin and Iowa) and also wins in Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas. But the Free Soilers, behind Van Buren, carve out 10% of the popular vote, signaling their power as a third-party option.

The public once again repudiates the abolitionists and Gerritt Smith’s Liberty Party, in what turns out to be its final political campaign.  

Results Of the 1848 Presidential Election 
Party Pop Vote Elect Tot South Border North West
Taylor Whig 1,361,3931634323970
Cass Democrat 1,223,460 1274871557
Van Buren Free Soil291,5010
G. Smith Liberty2,5450
2,879,1842909130 11257

At the local level, Taylor records a crucial win of 36 electoral votes in New York over favorite son, Martin Van Buren — who nevertheless manages to outpoll and derail Senator Cass in the state. 

Election Results In New York State (1848) 
Party Pop Vote%
Taylor Whig 218,583 48%
Van Buren Free Soil 120,497 26
Cass Democrat 114,319 25
Smith Liberty2,5451
Total 455,944 100%

A total of four states shift from the Democrats to Taylor and the Whigs in 1848, the two most crucial being New York and Pennsylvania.  

Party Power By State
South 1844 1848 Pick-Ups
Virginia Democrat Democrat
North Carolina Whig Whig
South Carolina Democrat Democrat
Georgia Democrat Whig Whig
Alabama Democrat Democrat
Mississippi Democrat Democrat
Louisiana Democrat Whig Whig
Tennessee Whig Whig
Arkansas Democrat Democrat
Texas— Democrat Democrat
Delaware Whig Whig
Maryland Whig Whig
Kentucky Whig Whig
Missouri Democrat Democrat
New Hampshire Democrat Democrat
Vermont Whig Whig
Massachusetts Whig Whig
Rhode Island Whig Whig
Connecticut Whig Whig
New York Democrat Whig Whig
New Jersey Whig Whig
Pennsylvania Democrat Whig Whig
Ohio Whig Democrat Democrat
Maine Democrat Democrat
Indiana Democrat Democrat
Illinois Democrat Democrat
Iowa Democrat Democrat
Wisconsin —DemocratDemocrat

Despite all of the Party turmoil preceding the election, the composition of both the House and the  Senate is only marginally changed from 1846. The Democrats maintain a solid 35-25 lead over the Whigs in the upper chamber – although two transformative “Free Soil” senators are elected, Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and John Hale of New Hampshire.  

Senate Election Trends 
House 1844 18461848 Change
Democrats 31 3635-1
Whigs 25 2125+4
Others 1-1
Free Soil2+2
Vacant 0

In the House, the Democrats pick up one seat to maintain a narrow majority. 

House Election Trends 
House184418461848 Change
Democrats143112113 +1
Whigs78116108– 8
Free Soil9+9

This victory in Congress shows that although the Wilmot controversy has shaken the Democrat’s solidarity, it has not yet caused an irreparable schism.  

It does, however, signal that the path back to the White House will require a quid pro quo between Northern Democrats who aspire to the office — like Stephen Douglas, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan – and Southern Democrats who hope to extend slavery to the west. 

Thus the idea of a “doughface” presidential candidate for future Democrat nominees is advanced  – a man of the North, but one willing to reach accommodations with Southern wishes on slavery.  

On the other side, political strategists like Thurlow Weed and Salmon Chase have been able to deny the Democrats their successor to Polk, no small accomplishment. But Zachary Taylor’s credentials as a Whig, in the mold of Henry Clay, are thin at best – and internal divisions over slavery are already intensifying.  

If the Whigs are to dislodge the Democrats on a more permanent basis, it appears that some linkage to the Free Soil Movement will be required, possibly around opposition to expanding slavery. 

But for now, it’s time for “Old Rough & Ready” to take his turn at the presidency.


President Zachary Taylor: Personal Profile

Zachary Taylor is the fourth American president whose fame rests heavily on his military achievements. Like Washington and Harrison, he is born on a Virginia plantation to a prominent family, with roots in his case tracing back to the Plymouth Colony. His father is Lt. Colonel Richard Taylor, who fights at Trenton and Monmouth and is with George Washington at Valley  Forge.  

In 1790 his family picks up and moves to the frontier in Kentucky, two years before its admission as a state. Taylor is six at that time and is raised, like Andrew Jackson, in a log cabin, while his father works his 8,000 acres worth of land, with the help of 23 slaves. His formal education is hit or miss, and he favors a rough physical life in the outdoors rather than intellectual pursuits in the classroom. 

Comparisons Between Taylor And The Three Previous Military Presidents 
Presidents Family Heritage Education/Career Landmark Battle
Washington Virginia plantation Tutors/planter/military/politics Yorktown (1781)
Jackson Childhood poverty in  SCSelf educated/lawyer/planter/militiaNew Orleans  (1815)
Harrison Virginia plantation Tutors/medical school/militia/politicsTippecanoe (1811)
Taylor Virginia plantation Self-educated/military/politics Buena Vista (1847)

In 1808 his second cousin, James Madison, then Secretary of State, arranges a military omission for him as 1st Lieutenant in the army’s Seventh Infantry Regiment. He is posted to New Orleans, earns a promotion to Captain in two years, and marries his wife “Peggy,” who prays daily for his safety throughout her life. He is then off to the Indiana Territory in 1811, defending Ft. Knox and  

Ft. Harrison against Tecumseh and the Shawnees during the War of 1812. His successes here draw praise from General William Henry Harrison, the nation’s military and political leader in the Northwest territories. 

When the war ends, Taylor resigns briefly to farm a 324 acre plantation just east of Louisville, Kentucky that his father has given him as a wedding present. He is now a slave owner and will add many more “servants,” as he calls them, in the years to come.

His farming hiatus proves brief, and in 1816 he is back in the army, with the rank of Major. He spends two years at Fort Howard in the upper reaches of the Michigan (later Wisconsin) Territory at Green Bay, before being promoted to Lt. Colonel and assigned to duty in Louisiana.  

From 1822 to 1824, he commands Fort Robertson in Baton Rouge, and while there acquires a second plantation, 300 acres along with more slaves, in Feliciana Parish. It will become his off-duty home for the rest of his life.  

After a stint as a recruiting officer, he is called to Washington, DC in 1826, before heading back west for tours at Fort Snelling and Fort Crawford, in what will become the Minnesota Territory. He is a full Colonel when he joins the fighting in the brief Blackhawk War of 1832.  

Based on his own up and down experiences in the army, Taylor refuses in 1835 to approve the marriage of his daughter Sarah to a twenty-six year old 1st Lieutenant named Jefferson Davis. While the two lovers elope anyway, she dies three months after the marriage, leaving both Davis and Taylor in despair.  

Taylor’s military career takes another leap forward during the Second Seminole War in southern Florida. On Christmas day 1837 he wins the Battle of Lake Okeechobee, earning his nickname,  “Old Rough & Ready,” along with a promotion to Brigadier General in charge of all U.S. troops in Florida.  

As his fame grows, so does his wealth. In 1840 he purchases his third plantation, Cyprus Grove, in Rodney, Mississippi, along with 81 more slaves, for $95,000. He also begins to dabble around the edges of politics, in communication with Harrison, his old superior, about to be elected President.  

After leaving Florida, he is stationed in Arkansas, with command over most American forces west of the Mississippi River. This places him along the frontier facing Texas, as tension builds with Mexico over the March 1845 annexation. On January 12, 1846, Polk orders him to advance west to the Rio Grande, and three months later the war with Mexico is underway. 

The hard-charging Taylor now moves into the Mexican interior winning battle after battle despite being often outmanned by upwards of two to one margin. His crushing win at Monterrey on September 24, 1846 is followed by a strategically brilliant victory over Santa Anna at Buena  Vista on February 23, 1847.  

Buena Vista marks the end of Taylor’s days as a combat officer and the beginning of his persona as a hero on the national stage and a potential candidate for the presidency. It is not a position he chases after – in fact, early on he is quick to dismiss the idea out of hand. But two Whigs in particular – the strategist, Thurlow Weed, and Senator John J. Crittenden – finally win him over.

Reservations aside, the Whigs nominate Taylor on the fourth ballot, and proceed to mail him a letter seeking his acceptance. When nearly a month passes without a response, the General, busy with both his command of the western armies and his plantation, finally comes upon the “lost notification” and signals his agreement.  

At sixty-four years old, Taylor and his reluctant wife, prepare to leave home for what will be his final, and an abbreviated, tour of duty.  

January – February 1849

Taylor’s Cabinet Picks Tend To Oppose Further Expansion Of Slavery 

As the various congressional factions spar over slavery in the District of Columbia, President Taylor assembles a cabinet comprising seven Whigs, all formerly lawyers.  

His choice for Secretary of State is a sitting U.S. Senator from Delaware, John Clayton, a man he has never met before in person. But Clayton has long been considered presidential timber and enjoys support within the party during the 1847 nominating process. He opposes both the Texas Annexation and the Mexican War, but vigorously supports the troops once the fighting begins. 

Neither of the military posts is filled with experienced service men, signaling Taylor’s intent to focus on his duty as commander-in-chief.  

The War Secretary, George W. Crawford, serves only briefly in the Georgia militia before being chosen as the state’s Attorney General and Governor. His early record in politics includes a prolonged duel in which he kills a local congressman on a third exchange of gunfire. The Navy post goes to House member William “Ballard” Preston, a planter and slave owner who support abolition during his time in the Virginia state legislature.  

For the Treasury, Taylor is said to favor Horace Binney, defender of the Second U.S. Bank against Jackson, but instead ends up with another Pennsylvanian, William Meredith. He is the son of a famous Philadelphia banker, and an unfailing proponent of protective tariffs to support American jobs.  

Congressman Jacob Collamer of Vermont becomes a Postmaster General who, to his benefit, refuses to follow the tradition of immediately sacking all party-opposite employees within his realm.  

The Attorney General position goes to the renowned Maryland trial lawyer, ex-slave owner, and sitting U.S. Senator, Reverdy Johnson. He becomes a strong supporter of Taylor and a particularly influential member of the cabinet.

Given the sudden and vast expansion westward, congress approves a new Department of the Interior, its mission being to manage the lands, natural resources, and Indian affairs in the new territories. The first to fill this slot is Thomas Ewing of Ohio, formerly a U.S. Senator and then, momentarily, Treasury Secretary under Harrison.  

While four of his seven picks come from “slave” states, all members share Taylor’s opposition to expanding the institution into the west.  

Zachary Taylor’s Cabinet 
Position Name Home State
Secretary of State John Clayton Delaware
Secretary of Treasury William Meredith Pennsylvania
Secretary of War George Crawford Georgia
Attorney General Reverdy Johnson Maryland
Secretary of Navy William Preston Virginia
Postmaster General Jacob Collamer Vermont
Secretary of Interior Thomas Ewing Ohio
March 5, 1849

The Inaugural Speech Calls For “Enlarged Patriotism” To Assuage Sectional Conflicts

Lady Liberty with US Flag
The Vision Of A Unified Nation

A crowd of some 20,000 gather at the East Portico to hear the new President deliver his inaugural address, an abbreviated and largely perfunctory effort of only 1090 words.

Taylor begins by expressing gratitude for his election and acknowledging the “fearful responsibilities” he will face.

The confidence and respect shown by my countrymen in calling me to be the Chief Magistrate…have inspired me with feelings of the most profound gratitude; but when I reflect that the acceptance of the office..involves the weightiest obligations (and) by fearful responsibilities.

He anticipates “able cooperation” from a divided congress (a Whig House and a Democrat Senate) and the judiciary, so that he can execute his duties “diligently, impartially, and for the best interests of the country.” 

Happily, however…I shall not be without able cooperation (from) the legislative and judicial branches of the Government …whose talents, integrity, and purity of character will furnish ample guaranties for the faithful and honorable performance. With such aids and an honest purpose to do whatever is right, I hope to execute diligently, impartially, and for the best interests of the country the manifold duties devolved upon me.  

In enumerating his duties, Taylor promises to operate within the strict guidelines laid out for the  Executive in the Constitution. His first priority will be to act as the military commander-in-chief. He will oversee all treaties, appoint ambassadors, update congress on emerging issues, and insure that all laws are faithfully executed.  

To command the Army and Navy of the United States; with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties and to appoint ambassadors and other officers; to give to  Congress information of the state of the Union and recommend such measures as he shall  judge to be necessary; and to take care that the laws shall be faithfully executed….  

At this point his mind is clearly on the tensions surrounding slavery in the new territories – as he returns to the notion of serving “the whole country,” and not “any particular section or local interest.” His determination will be to maintain the “national existence” (i.e. the Union) by scrupulously following the Constitution.  

Chosen by the body of the people under the assurance that my Administration would be devoted to the welfare of the whole country, and not to the support of any particular section or merely local interest, I this day renew the declarations I have heretofore made and proclaim my fixed determination to maintain to the extent of my ability the Government in its original purity and to adopt as the basis of my public policy those great republican doctrines which constitute the strength of our national existence.  

He cycles back to an old favorite from his days at war, the need for a strong Regular Army as opposed to trying to fight effectively with amateur militiamen. 

In reference to the Army and Navy, lately employed with so much distinction on active service, care shall be taken to insure the highest condition of efficiency, and in furtherance of that object the military and naval schools, sustained by the liberality of Congress, shall receive the special attention of the Executive.  

Despite this focus on the army, Taylor says he will follow Washington’s dictate to avoid involving America in foreign conflicts, and will exhaust all diplomatic efforts to settle disputes before any resort to warfare. 

As American freemen we can not but sympathize in all efforts to extend the blessings of civil and political liberty, but at the same time we are warned by the admonitions of history and the voice of our own beloved Washington to abstain from entangling alliances with foreign nations…. It is to be hoped that no international question can now arise which a government confident in its own strength and resolved to protect its own just rights may not settle by wise negotiation; and it eminently becomes a government like our own, founded on the morality and intelligence of its citizens and upheld by their affections, to exhaust every resort of honorable diplomacy before appealing to arms. 

He acknowledges his responsibility to appoint honest and capable government officials.  

The appointing power vested in the President imposes delicate and onerous duties. So far as it is possible to be informed, I shall make honesty, capacity, and fidelity indispensable prerequisites to the bestowal of office, and the absence of either of these qualities shall be deemed sufficient cause for removal.  

Finally he pledges to “protect the interests” of all three sectors of the economy (“agriculture, commerce, and manufactures”), to “extinguish the public debt,” to achieve “economy in all  public expenditures,” and to rely on Congress to properly regulate…domestic policy.” 

Consistent with his predecessors, Taylor invokes “Divine Providence” to sustain the “high state of prosperity” the nation has long experienced, while also calling on “enlarged patriotism” to “assuage the bitterness…marking differences of opinion” and strengthen the Republic.  

In conclusion I congratulate you, my fellow-citizens, upon the high state of prosperity to which the goodness of Divine Providence has conducted our common country. Let us invoke a continuance of the same protecting care which has led us from small beginnings to the eminence we this day occupy, and let us seek to deserve that continuance by prudence and moderation in our councils, by well-directed attempts to assuage the bitterness which too often marks unavoidable differences of opinion, by the promulgation and practice of just and liberal principles, and by an enlarged patriotism, which shall  acknowledge no limits but those of our own widespread Republic.  

March 5, 1849 – July 9, 1850

Overview Of Taylor’s Term

Zachary Taylor’s time in office will be brief – only sixteen months – but it will further set the stage for the national debate around slavery that dominates the next decade.  

The South’s assumption that Taylor’s ownership of three plantations will translate into support for extending slavery into the new Mexican Cession territories is soon proven false. Like Andrew Jackson before him, the General’s highest calling lies with preserving the Union, and he is convinced that a flat-out prohibition on more slavery will put an end to further sectional hostilities. On this score, he will be proven dead wrong.

When Taylor signals his wish to immediately admits California to the Union as a Free State, Southerners in Congress, including his own Whig associates, rise up to oppose him. Their apparent sense of betrayal is so intense that the aging patriarch of the party, Henry Clay, decides to step directly into the fray in search of a solution on slavery similar to his 1820 Missouri Compromise. 

Along with the powerful Democrat, Stephen Douglas, Clay crafts what becomes known as the 1850 Omnibus Bill, which includes off-sets to the South for the admission of a Free California. Central here are promises to allow voters in the New Mexico and Utah Territories to choose their status (i.e. the Democrat’s “popular sovereignty” principle) and new rules requiring Northerners to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. 

Congressional debate over the Omnibus Bill in March 1850 produces memorable exchanges between aging lions such as John Calhoun and Daniel Webster and next generation leaders such as William Seward, who, like Taylor himself, opposes passage. Seward’s “Higher Law” address goes so far as to argue the primacy of God’s law over that in the U.S. Constitution, a fearful consideration for all slave owners. 

In response, Southern Fire-Eaters hold a convention in Nashville in June seeking a call for secession, but they are turned back by more moderate Unionist forces. Still, further wrangling over the Omnibus Bill resumes.  

In the middle of all this, Taylor is struck down by a severe case of gastroenteritis and dies after a six-day battle to try to recover. He is the second President to succumb in office and the last ever elected under the Whig banner. His successor is a mere shadow of the decisive Taylor, his Vice President, Millard Fillmore.  

President Taylor’s Term: Key Events
Nov 7Taylor is elected President
Dec 5Polk confirms the discovery of gold in California
Dec 21Abolitionist Giddings offers bill to ban slavery in DC 
Dec 22Calhoun convenes Southern conference. Sets up a Committee of 15
YearMultiple attempts by Polk to buy Cuba
German revolution fails & many immigrate to U.S. 
JanuaryAmelia Bloomer publishes The Lily focused on the women’s movement
Moderate Southerners defend Taylor, reject Calhoun’s pleas
June 15President Polk dies suddenly in Nashville
July 27Memorial service in DC for ex-President Polk
Feb 7Supreme Court denies Mass/NY attempt to tax incoming aliens
Feb 12Temporary government set up in San Francisco
Mar 5 Taylor inaugurated
Aug 11 Taylor forbids any filibustering actions in Cuba
August Taylor: “the North need have no apprehension of the further expansion of  slavery”
Sept 13 Convention delegates sign a California Constitution declaring it a “Free State”
Nov 13 California Constitution ratified by voters: bans slavery & hopes for an all-white population
Dec 4 Taylor calls for California statehood & says he will fight secession
Dec 22 A troubled Howell Cobb was elected House Speaker after 3 week battle and 63 ballots
Year The Pacific Railroad Co. is chartered, looking westward
Regular shipping voyages from NY to Liverpool take 33 days
Feb 5-6 Clay proposes initial 1850 Compromise (Ca a free state; NM tbd; fugitive slave  act)
Feb 20 Thad Stevens joins the attack on slavery in the House
Feb 27 Unionist Robert Toombs pleads with North to honor Southern rights 
Feb Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter is published
Mar 4 Calhoun’s final speech warns of two nations split over slavery & southern  secession
Mar 7 Webster speech calling on North to accept slavery to preserve the Union
Mar 11 Seward counters with “there is a higher law” speech opposing the Compromise
April 17 Senator Foote draws pistol on Senator Benton on floor during California debate
April 19 Clayton-Bulwer Treaty guarantees US & UK neutrality in Central America 
May 8 Senate committee reports “Omnibus Bill” – one on territories, other on DC
May Narciso Lopez filibustering expedition lands in Cuba & is later ousted
Jun 3-12 Nashville Convention rejects secession & calls for 36’30” line to coast
July 9 Taylor dies suddenly & Fillmore becomes president

The economy begins to tick up toward the end of Taylor’s term in office, as the California gold rush gets underway.  

Key Economic Overview
Total GDP ($000) $2,427 2419 2581
% Change1%NC7%
Per Capita GDP$111108111