July 09, 2015

Today in History: Death of Zachary Taylor (1850)

John RobsonResident Historian

July 9 is the anniversary of the death of Zachary Taylor from cholera in 1850.

Which might sound sad for him but irrelevant to the rest of us. Except that Taylor was the 2nd, and last, Whig elected to the Presidency and the 2nd Whig president to die suddenly early in his first term. And the failure of the Whigs to develop into a full alternative to the Democrats in the two decades leading up to the Civil War is a major cause of that conflict. So these two medical accidents, small and random in themselves, contributed to it as well.

Now the Civil War was good, for all its horrors, in that it brought slavery to a formal end. But given how its aftermath included a century of bigotry and segregation, the possibility that a triumphant Whig Party might have set slavery on the path to peaceful extinction is a road less taken. To be sure, Taylor was no political giant; rather, he was a distinguished general of no known political views and frankly a rather cynical choice as candidate. But though a southerner and a slaveholder himself, he was against the expansion of slavery and very pointedly hostile to secession.

It’s a tantalizing glimpse, if no more, of an important “might have been”. Just possibly there was another way to end the blight of slavery, a better one for everyone. And just possibly, a sudden bout of cholera put it out of reach.


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commented 2015-07-09 16:40:18 -0400
The Whig principles generally were adopted over time by the Republican party, although Republicans for a long time supported managed trade but did become the free enterprise party. The Democratic Party changed with the coming of populists (and socialists) such as William Jennings Bryan, and then the whole party got absorbed into the progressive movement. The Republican Party flirted with progressivism under Teddy R, but firmly rejected it as Teddy jumped ship to his own party, and later leadership went to Harding and Coolidge.
commented 2015-07-09 13:00:27 -0400
1793 Niagara-on-the-Lake – Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe passes Act Against Slavery, banning the further import of slaves into Upper Canada, and limiting the contract of those remaining; Act declares that slaves’ children should be free at age 25; all slaves entering the province from this date were henceforth automatically free.

1793 Quebec Quebec – Importation of slaves into Lower Canada prohibited; bill to abolish slavery failed until 1804.

1755 Pittsburgh Pennsylvania – Daniel de Beaujeu 1711-1755 kills 600 of 1200 British regulars under General Edward Braddock in an ambush at Fort Duquesne; both Braddock and de Beaujeu mortally wounded in the Battle of the Monongahela, near present-day Pittsburgh. One survivor was an aide to Braddock – Col. George Washington – who wrote to his brother, ’But by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!

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commented 2015-07-09 11:35:28 -0400
Oh, how much could’ve been accomplished if it weren’t for the plagues of disease? But then, those were different times, and things are even more clusterfacked now. Answers, and true answers at best are foggy to say the least.