Tuesday, July 9, 2013


July 9, 2013


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) The 12th President of the United States, Zachary Taylor*, died of acute gastroenteritis 163 years ago today, July 9, 1850.

President Taylor, who had been elected in 1848, had been in office only a year and 4 months.

           General Zachary Taylor (1840s)

*Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) was born in Virginia and grew up along the Ohio River in Kentucky.  He joined the US Army as a 1st Lt in 1808.  He served in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War and the Mexican War.

Chosen by the Whigs in 1848, he defeated Lewis Cass and Martin Van Buren and became president in March 1849.  The most critical issue he faced as President was the question of whether or not slavery should exist in the territories of California, New Mexico and Utah acquired in the Mexican Cession.

The previous summer the President had suffered gastrointestinal issues while making a tour of the Northeast.

On July 4, 1850, President Taylor attended ceremonies for the laying of the cornerstone of the WASHINGTON MONUMENT.  He spent 3 hours there with the temperature at 92 degrees and high humidity.

It was reported that several people attending the event fainted and some horses died of heatstroke.

The President walked back to the White House where he ate raw fruit (which included cherries) and vegetables and drank iced milk.

Shortly afterward, Taylor began to suffer cramping, diarrhea, nausea and dehydration.

Physicians prescribed calomel**, a mercury compound and opium.

**Calomel, or mercury chloride, which today is considered toxic, was used as a laxative and disinfectant until the early 20th Century.

President Taylor improved enough on July 5 to entertain a visit from Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs*** who "angrily castigated the president over his position on the ongoing slavery crisis."

The President responded by saying...

"If ever the flag of disunion is raised...while I occupy the chair, I will plant the stars and stripes alongside of it and with my own hand strike it down."

***Alexander Stevens and Robert Toombs were both congressmen from Georgia.  Stevens later became the VP and Toombs Secretary of State of the Confederate States of America.

Taylor had trouble sleeping that night and became even more ill on Saturday, July 6th.  Doctors administered more calomel along with quinine and bleeding.

The President's condition continued to worsen in the following days and on July 9th, he called his wife to his side and said...

"I have always done my duty.  I am ready to die.  My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me."

Death came to the 12th President of the United States at 10:35 p.m. Doctors determined the cause of death to be acute gastroenteritis.

Vice-President Millard Fillmore, staying at the Willard Hotel, was informed of Taylor's death and sworn in as the 13th President of the United States on July 10, 1850.

Zachary Taylor was interred in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. but his remains were later transferred to his home in Kentucky.

His funeral was held on July 13, 1850 with 100,000 people lining the streets of Washington to pay their respects.

In 1991, the remains were exhumed to be examined for evidence of poisoning.  The work was done at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Scientists, using neutron activation analysis, determined that while there were traces of arsenic in Zachary Taylor's hair and fingernails, the levels were "several hundred times less than if he had been poisoned with arsenic."


"President Zachary Taylor and the Laboratory:  Presidential Visit from the Grave,"

"The Death of Zachary Taylor," March 13, 2010,

        President Zachary Taylor Tomb
                   Louisville, Kentucky