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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