A Reference Resource
At the time he became President, Zachary Taylor was the most popular man in America, a hero of the Mexican-American War. However, at a time when Americans were confronting the explosive issue of slavery, he was probably not the right man for the job.
Taylor was a wealthy slave owner who held properties in the plantation states of Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi. During his brief time in office—he died only sixteen months after his election—his presidency foundered over the question of whether the national government should permit the spread of slavery to the present-day states of California, New Mexico, and Utah, then newly won from Mexico. His sudden death put Vice President Millard Fillmore into the White House, and Fillmore promptly threw his support behind the Compromise of 1850, canceling out much of the impact of Taylor's presidency.
Career Soldier, "Indian Fighter," and War Hero
Zachary Taylor was born on November 24, 1784, to a landed family of planters. His family's fortunes grew, and by 1800, they owned 10,000 acres in Kentucky and a number of slaves. He knew as a child that he wanted a military career. In 1808, he received his first commission as an officer, becoming commander of the garrison at Fort Pickering, the site of modern-day Memphis. He was transferred from one frontier post to another in a career that built his professional reputation but made his personal life difficult.
In 1810, he married Margaret Mackall Smith, the daughter of a prominent Maryland family. She followed him from post to post as their family grew. The family finally settled in Louisiana, where Taylor assumed command of the fort at Baton Rouge. Taylor won fame as an "Indian fighter" in the present-day states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas. Although he frequently fought Native Americans, he also protected their lands from invading white settlers. He believed that the best solution for coexistence between settlers and Native Americans was a strong military presence to keep the two sides apart.
In 1845, Texas was granted statehood. Mexico disputed lands along the new state's border, and President James Knox Polk ordered Taylor and his troops into the contested area, a deployment that ignited the Mexican-American War. After winning two decisive encounters, Taylor, facing overwhelming odds, triumphed in a battle against the Mexican General Santa Anna at Buena Vista. When the smoke cleared, Taylor's army of 6,000 had defeated a Mexican force of 20,000, and Zachary Taylor, "Old Rough and Ready," as he was known because of his willingness to share his troops' hardships, was a national hero.
The Politics of Slavery
Although Taylor had never divulged his political preferences, after his victory, clubs sprang up to support his presidential candidacy. By then, he was a wealthy slave owner, and the South hoped he would support states' rights and the expansion of slavery into the new areas won from Mexico. The North pointed to his service on the nation's behalf and hoped fervently that he was a Union man.
In fact, Taylor thought of himself as an independent. He differed with the Democrats over the concept of a strong national bank and opposed the extension of slavery into areas where neither cotton nor sugar could be grown. He also had problems with the Whigs' support of strong protective tariffs. Most importantly, he passionately opposed secession as a means of resolving the nation's problems. In the end, he announced that he was a Whig. At their 1848 nominating convention, the Whigs named Taylor for President, adding New York's Millard Fillmore to the ticket to appease those who opposed the nomination of a slave owner and doubted Taylor's commitment to the Whig Party.
On November 7, 1848, the first time the entire nation voted on the same day, Taylor and Fillmore narrowly defeated the Democratic ticket, headed by Michigan's Lewis Cass, and the ticket of the Free-Soil Party, led by former President Martin Van Buren.
Slavery had been the driving issue of the campaign, and it would be the central challenge of Taylor's brief presidency as well. The nation was polarized over the question of whether to extend the institution to the new western territories. Taylor believed that the people of California—in which he hoped to include the Mormons around Salt Lake—and New Mexico should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to permit slavery by writing constitutions and applying immediately for statehood. In this way, he hoped to avoid the increasingly rancorous sectional debate over congressional prohibition of slavery in any territorial governments organized in the area. Many in the South, however, feared that the addition of two free states would upset the delicate North-South balance in the Senate.
Some southern Democrats called for a secession convention, and Taylor's reaction was a bristling statement that he would hang anyone who tried to disrupt the Union by force or by conspiracy. In this heated atmosphere, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and others began to cobble together a compromise in the Senate. To placate the South, they proposed the enactment of a second Fugitive Slave Law that would mandate the return of escaped slaves apprehended anywhere in the nation. This effort would become the Compromise of 1850.
The compromise legislation did not prohibit slavery in the Mexican Cession. It admitted California as a free state, and it allowed for the organization of Utah and New Mexico as formal territories, rather than as states, without any federal restrictions on slavery. This left open the possibility that any states formed from those territories could opt for slavery, and indeed the language of the compromise explicitly committed future Congresses to admit them as slave states if they so desired. Many northerners were outraged by that concession to the South, and it intensified their opposition to any further extension of slavery. This was the issue that pushed the nation down the road to Civil War.
At a time when strong leadership and party politics were absolutely essential, Taylor probably damaged his cause by refusing to engage directly with Congress or to pull together a functional coalition. He held onto his belief that the President should stand above party politics.
On July 4, 1850, after attending celebrations in Washington, D.C., Taylor contracted a virulent stomach ailment that may have been cholera. He died on July 9, and more than 100,000 people lined the funeral route to see the hero laid to rest. He left behind a country sharply divided and a vice president, Millard Fillmore, who supported the Compromise of 1850. In the end, Taylor had limited personal impact on the presidency, and his months in office did little to slow the approach of the great national tragedy of the Civil War.
Born into a family of planters in Virginia on November 24, 1784, Zachary Taylor spent his youth in the frontier outpost of Louisville, Kentucky. For most of Zachary's childhood, his Louisville home was a small cabin in the woods. As his family prospered, the cabin became a substantial brick house that Zachary shared with his seven brothers and sisters. By 1800, Taylor's father owned 10,000 acres, town lots in Louisville, and twenty-six slaves.
Although educated, Zachary was a poor student. His handwriting, spelling, and grammar were crude and unrefined throughout his life. Even as a boy, he wanted a career in the military; for a planter's son, it was a respectable alternative to law and the ministry.
Taylor received his first commission as an officer in 1808 and was immediately assigned to command the garrison at Fort Pickering, located in modern-day Memphis. From that moment until his election as President, Taylor was in the military, stationed at a succession of frontier outposts.
In 1810, Taylor married Margaret Mackall Smith, a member of a prominent Maryland family. They eventually had five daughters and one son, but lost two of the daughters at a young age to sickness. As Zachary moved from one wilderness outpost to another in the Mississippi Valley frontier, his family often accompanied him. In 1840, Mrs. Taylor finally settled down in Louisiana when Zachary assumed command of the fort at Baton Rouge. Although a poorly paid career officer, Taylor had parlayed the 300 acres of land given to him by his father into holdings in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In 1850, his estate was valued at around $120,000—equivalent to $6 million today.
Indian Fighter Fame
By 1845, Taylor had gained fame as an Indian fighter in the nation's continuing warfare against Native Americans. His service included postings in the present-day states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas. Among other Indian battles, he engaged the Sacs, led by Chief Black Hawk, in Illinois in 1832 and the Seminoles in Florida in the late 1830s.
Taylor's willingness to share the hardships of field duty with his men earned him the affectionate nickname "Old Rough and Ready." Although he fought Native Americans in numerous engagements, much of his service was devoted to protecting their lands from invading white settlers. Taylor seemed to understand if not sympathize with the plight of the Native Americans, and he admired their style of guerrilla warfare. He frequently bemoaned the incompetence of the citizen militia units that he commanded in comparison to the superb discipline and unity of his Indian foes. For Taylor, the best solution to the ongoing wars required a strong military presence to stand between white settlers and the Native Americans. He viewed anything less as a poor and ultimately doomed solution.
Mexican War Hero
It was not his success as an Indian fighter, however, that propelled Zachary Taylor into national prominence. That achievement came from his military victories against Mexican troops during the war with Mexico (1846-1848). Briefly told, when Texas was granted statehood in 1845, President James K. Polk ordered Taylor into disputed lands on the Texas-Mexico border. When Mexicans there attacked his troops near the Rio Grande River, Polk declared to Congress, in May 1846, that war had begun by an act of Mexico. Events then happened rapidly. With superior artillery, Taylor easily defeated the substantially larger Mexican forces in Palo Alto, Mexico. Taylor then attacked the "un-destroyable" city of Monterrey, inflicting heavy casualties on its Mexican defenders, leaving 800 killed or wounded.
General Winfield Scott, commander of all U.S. troops, then ordered half of Taylor's army to join his troops for an assault on Veracruz. Mexican General Santa Anna, intercepting a letter from Scott to Taylor, knew that "Old Zack" (another nickname) would be left with just 6,000 men—most of whom were nonregulars. In February 1847, Santa Anna threw his nearly 20,000 soldiers into the Battle at Buena Vista, determined to annihilate "Old Rough and Ready." The two armies clashed, and when the smoke cleared, 1,800 Mexican soldiers lay dead or wounded—Taylor lost 672. Thoroughly defeated, the "Mexican Napoleon," as Santa Anna called himself, left the field, and General Zachary Taylor became an American hero.
The word of how Old Zack had fought alongside his troops in hand-to-hand combat at both Monterey and Buena Vista spread like a prairie fire across the nation. Taylor was compared to American war heroes George Washington and Andrew Jackson in the popular press. Stories were told about his informal dress, the tattered straw hat on his head, and the casual way he always sat atop his beloved horse, "Old Whitey," while shots buzzed around his head. The criticism that he had allowed the Mexican army at Monterrey to surrender without disbanding held no sway in the popular mind.
The Campaign and Election of 1848
As a career officer in the regular Army, Zachary Taylor had never revealed his politics, nor had he even voted prior to 1848. Upon his victory at Buena Vista, "Old Rough and Ready" political clubs sprang up in support of Taylor's candidacy for President. Most southerners believed that Taylor supported slavery and its expansion into the new territories acquired from Mexico, which included present-day California, New Mexico, and Utah. They also thought that he was opposed to protective tariffs and government spending for internal improvements while supporting states' rights. In contrast, the Whigs hoped that Taylor was a Union man first, having fought so hard in defense of the nation. But no one knew for sure.
Taylor thought of himself as an independent. He had always disliked the Democratic Party's stand on the money issue. He favored a strong and sound banking system and thought that Andrew Jackson had foolishly destroyed the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson's use of party politics to award patronage seemed dishonest and corrupt to Taylor. And while he owned slaves, he thought it impractical to talk about expanding slavery into western lands where neither cotton nor sugar could easily be grown in a plantation economy.
Although Taylor did not like the Whigs' stand on protective tariffs and expensive internal improvements, he aligned himself with Whig governing principles. He believed that the President should not and could not use the veto unless a law was unconstitutional. Taylor also felt that the President should not interfere with Congress. A strong cabinet and collective decision making were also important to him. These were all Whig principles and a reaction to Jackson's strong presidency.
Most importantly, Taylor was a strong nationalist. Because he had seen too many of his comrades die in battle, he did not look favorably upon secession as a solution to national problems. He also carried a personal grudge against President Polk. Taylor blamed Polk for allowing General Scott to cut his forces in half at Buena Vista—a plot to set Taylor up for defeat and thus sidetrack his growing popularity with the public.
As the 1848 party nominating conventions loomed closer, Taylor let it be known that he had always been a Whig in principle, although he liked to think of himself as a Jeffersonian-Democrat. On the burning issue of slavery in the territories acquired from Mexico, Taylor took a position that angered his southern supporters: He hinted that if elected President, he might not veto the Wilmot Proviso, a controversial bill prohibiting slavery in the western lands—this was in line with Taylor's belief in the Whig principle that the President should only veto legislation that clearly violates the Constitution. Interestingly, Taylor's position on slavery did not enhance his standing with the more activist antislavery elements in the North who had wanted Taylor's strong support of the Wilmot Proviso. Furthermore, few abolitionists could bring themselves to support a slave owner.
Relying on Taylor's national appeal as a war hero, the Whigs presented him as an ideal man "without regard to creeds or principles" and ran him without any platform. This tactic attracted criticism from many directions. Some thought that Taylor had no position while others felt that he lacked political experience and knowledge. Moreover, there were people who believed that his military success was not enough to qualify him for President. Taylor's refusal to actively campaign allowed him to stand above party politics, although his supporters waged a vigorous battle on his behalf.
On November 7, the first time the entire nation voted on the same day, 2,880,572 male voters, or 72.7 percent of the eligible voters, cast their ballots. Taylor won a plurality of the popular vote, with 1,360,967 votes to 1,222,342 votes for Cass and Van Buren's 291,263. Taylor's electoral college vote came in at 163 to Cass's 127. Surprisingly, despite the hotly debated issue of slavery's expansion, the Whigs retained 90 percent of their 1844 vote in the North and 97 percent in the South while the Democrats held onto 91 percent of their 1844 vote in the South and 89 percent in the North. Party loyalty remained strong: Taylor won principally because the Free-Soil Party had drained votes from the Democrats, especially in the mid-Atlantic states. Van Buren won 120,000 votes in New York, draining votes from the Democrats and giving Taylor New York's electoral votes. Taylor had triumphed both in the North and in the South, winning 46 percent and 51 percent of the popular vote, respectively. Taylor's military renown and reputation for independence clearly helped him, but in the end, Whig loyalty in the North and disproportionate Democratic abstentions in the South helped him carry the day.
Zachary Taylor served only sixteen months in office, dying on July 9, 1850, from a bout of severe "stomach sickness," specifically diagnosed at the time as "cholera morbus." However brief, he served at a momentous time for the presidency. The issue of slavery in the western territories had come to center stage, pitting fire-eating southern radicals against extreme abolitionists.
Although people looked to Taylor for a solution, he said nothing about the matter in his brief inaugural address. Within the next few months, however, he opted for a policy with decided antislavery implications that his southern Whig supporters regarded as a betrayal of the South. He urged the residents of California—among whom he sought to include the Mormons around Salt Lake—and New Mexico to write constitutions and apply for statehood when Congress met in December. He correctly expected that both would bar slavery in those state constitutions. In messages to Congress in December 1849 and again in January 1850, he urged Congress to admit California and New Mexico to statehood as soon as their constitutions arrived in Washington, with no language from Congress about slavery. Federal courts could settle the boundary dispute between Texas and New Mexico once the latter became a state. Above all, he warned Congress, it must not attempt to organize territorial governments in the area, for that would only revive dangerous sectional conflict over congressional prohibition of slavery in them. His goal was to avert such a rancorous debate.
Threat of Secession
Drafting a constitution that prohibited slavery, California applied for admission as a free state in 1850. At that time, there were thirty states in the Union, equally split between slave and free states. Hence, Taylor's proposed solution of allowing the residents in the Mexican Cession to decide the issue of slavery in new state constitutions would have added two or three free states to the Union, upsetting the delicate North-South balance in the Senate.
With much at stake and tensions mounting, the stage was set for either a clash or a compromise. Many southern Democrats responded to Taylor's position by calling for a secession convention. A firm believer in national supremacy, Taylor told a group of southern leaders that he would hang anyone who tried to disrupt the Union by force or by conspiracy. In this atmosphere, wiser heads worked feverishly to come up with some compromise that would allow the controversy to pass. The debate that ensued over the proposed solutions was one of the most prolonged, significant, and contentious episodes in American history. Political luminaries of the time, such as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and William H. Seward contributed weighty arguments and opinions to the discussion that captivated the country from January to September of 1850.
Clay, Webster, and others hoped that a strong fugitive slave law and the organization of territorial, rather than state, governments for New Mexico and Utah without any congressional prohibition of slavery would enable Southerners to accept California's admission as a free state. The compromise idea appealed to some southerners, especially those most offended by talk of secession in 1850, because it would put the federal government on record as the legal protector of slavery in the South. Calhoun, up to his death on March 31, 1850, opposed Clay; Jefferson Davis took over Calhoun's southern leadership in opposition to Clay's compromise proposals. Taylor also firmly opposed Clay's compromise. When Taylor died unexpectedly on July 9, the forces for compromise stepped up their efforts to push through the great Compromise of 1850 in September. Taylor's successor, Millard Fillmore, signed the bill into law.
An "Outsider" Strategy
Taylor took a strong stand regarding the Texas-New Mexico border dispute, promising personally to lead an army against Texas should that state use force to occupy disputed lands. He paid close attention to Indian affairs in Florida and Texas, the cholera epidemic in New York and New Orleans (which killed 5,017 people), and the ceremonial affairs of state. Taylor thought the presidency should stand above party politics, and he appointed cabinet members who represented all sections and the "great interests" of the nation—none of them were prominent Washington politicians. Additionally, Taylor delegated most patronage decisions that required firing Democrats and appointing Whigs to key positions on his cabinet. He gave great authority to his cabinet, using it like a council of war, yet he refused to develop a close working relationship with Congress.
Neither Zachary Taylor nor his secretary of state, John M. Clayton, had had much experience in foreign affairs. As in domestic matters, Taylor was not directly involved in either foreign policy formation or diplomacy. His administration acted to stop an expedition filibustering against Cuba, supported the efforts of German liberals in the revolutions of 1848 in the German states, and engaged in verbal clashes with France and Portugal over various reparation disputes. It also confronted Spain about the arrest of several Americans charged with piracy and assisted England's search for a team of lost British explorers in the Arctic.
Taylor's most important foreign policy move involved delicate negotiations with Britain over American plans to build a canal across Nicaragua. The plan was opposed by the British, who claimed a special status in neighboring Honduras. The resulting treaty, known as the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, was Taylor's last act of state. It proved to be a landmark agreement. Both sides agreed to renounce control or dominion over any canal that might be built. The treaty effectively weakened U.S. commitment to Manifest Destiny as a formal policy while recognizing the supremacy of U.S. interests in Central America. It was an important step in the development of the Anglo-American alliance that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Zachary Taylor's sudden death shocked the nation. After attending Fourth of July orations for most of the day, Taylor walked along the Potomac River before returning to the White House. Hot and tired, he drank iced water and consumed large quantities of cherries and other fruits. The President suffered severe stomach pains for the next five days. Diagnosed as suffering from "cholera morbus" by his physicians, Taylor ate slivers of ice for relief until his body began rejecting fluids. At about ten in the morning on July 9, 1850, Taylor called his wife to him and asked her not to weep, saying: "I have always done my duty, I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me."
His funeral took place on July 13. An estimated 100,000 people thronged the funeral route in the nation's capital to witness the presidential hearse, drawn by eight white horses accompanied by grooms dressed in white and wearing white turbans. The hearse was followed by Washington dignitaries, military units, the President's beloved horse "Old Whitey," and the President's family. Behind them a line of military units, officials, and common citizens stretched in procession for over two miles. His final resting place was in Louisville, Kentucky, the site of the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery and Monument today.
Zachary Taylor lived most of his life as an army officer at various frontier outposts. Two of his five daughters died as young children. Another daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, married the young Mississippian who would become the president of the Confederacy and who served under Taylor in Mexico—Jefferson Davis. Sarah tragically died from cholera just two months after her wedding. At the time of his presidency, Taylor had three surviving children: Ann Margaret Mackall, Mary Elizabeth, and Richard. Elizabeth "Betty" married Major William W. S. Bliss, known to the Taylor family as "Perfect Bliss." Major Bliss had served under Taylor in Texas and at the Battle of Monterrey. Even before and after his marriage to Betty, Bliss was like a son to Taylor, advising him about finances, politics, and military tactics.
On numerous occasions, Taylor used family time to manage his lands and plantations. Seldom at home long enough to supervise slaves or crops, he relied on associates, relatives, and his daughters to assist his wife with daily finances and decisions. He understood the toll that his career took on his family, and he hoped that his daughters would never marry career soldiers. So adamant was he on this that Lieutenant Jefferson Davis actually resigned from the Army in order to wed Taylor's oldest daughter, Sarah.
In the 1820s, white manhood, rather than property, had become the qualification for voting. Hence, only white males over the age of twenty-one could vote in the 1848 presidential election. At that time, many states determined qualifications for suffrage and allowed aliens who were not citizens to cast ballots. Neither free black men (in all but a few states) nor women of any race enjoyed the privilege of suffrage. However, given these constraints on the participation of African Americans and women, nowhere in the world was the right to vote so widespread as it was in the United States. In the vote of 1848, a total of 2,880,572 voters cast their ballots in the then thirty states of the Union. This represented 72.7 percent of the eligible voters, down from the 78.9 percent who had voted in 1844. Interestingly, these voters amounted to only 13.1 percent of the nation's total population of 22 million people.
During the ten-year span between the 1840 and the 1850 U.S. census, the nation's population increased from 17 million to 23 million—about a 35 percent increase. Approximately 15 percent of Americans lived in cities or towns of 2,000 or more people in 1850, compared to the 11 percent in 1840. And 1.7 million immigrants arrived in America during the decade—most of them coming from Germany (152,000), Ireland (781,000), and Britain (267,000).
Women's Suffrage Movement
In the summer of 1848, approximately 300 people attended a women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York. Among the resolutions passed was one calling for the right of women to vote. Zachary Taylor's opinion on the Seneca meeting is not known, but it is likely that he heard about the convention because the popular press made great sport ridiculing the idea of female suffrage. Old Zack had always encouraged his daughters to obtain as much education as possible, and he had little difficulty thinking of them as capable individuals. But he was no populist on issues of suffrage. He distrusted the popular vote and lined up with the Whigs who preferred minimum property qualifications for suffrage—suggesting that he would have been a traditionalist on women's suffrage. He probably believed that women had their hands full managing the private sphere of family life and that politics should be left to men.
Immigration, Slavery, and Native American Rights
On the issue of immigration, Taylor had lived too far to the west to have been greatly affected by the fivefold increase in immigration to the United States in the 1830s. Most of these new immigrants had settled in eastern urban centers (Irish) or in the mid-Atlantic states (Germans). As President, Taylor looked kindly upon the immigration of German intellectuals and liberal reformers to America following the collapse of the German revolutions of 1848. And there is nothing in his personal correspondence—most of which was lost to roving Union soldiers who sacked his family home in Louisiana during the Civil War—to suggest that he had ever expressed an opinion on the many social reform movements that swept the nation in the 1830s: temperance, evangelism, anti-Masonry, utopianism, immigration limits, prison reform, abolitionism, or women's rights.
As a slave owner, Taylor supported slavery and found nothing morally offensive about the institution. He thought that abolitionists were out-of-touch extremists. Historians claim that he prided himself on the good treatment of his slaves. One of the most interesting episodes regarding Taylor and slavery was his refusal to seize slaves held by the Seminole Indians after their defeat in Florida. Resisting the strong demands of Florida whites, Taylor allowed the Indians to keep their slaves—most of whom had run away from white owners.
As a lifelong Indian fighter, Taylor participated in numerous Indian wars. He generally respected Native Americans as fighters and spent much of his service career trying to protect them from having their treaty-designated lands overrun by unscrupulous white settlers. On the other hand, he shared the common view of Native Americans as potentially dangerous savages to be controlled. Taylor did not give this matter much deep thought or introspection.
Zachary Taylor's presidency was too short-lived to have substantially impacted the office or the nation. He is not remembered as a great President. Most historians believe that he was too nonpolitical in a day when politics, parties, and presidential leadership demanded close ties with political operatives.
Taylor's "outsider" philosophy kept him out of touch with Congress. He never addressed the legislature with a clear policy statement, nor did he use his influence to direct legislation—except on the matter of statehood for California and New Mexico. He thought that the President's role should be limited to vetoing unconstitutional legislation and that otherwise he should give in to Congress on matters of domestic concern. What he said about federal economic policy in his only annual message to Congress was utterly ignored due to preoccupation with the territorial issue. In foreign policy, his treaty with England on Central America, the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, is recognized as an important step in scaling down the nation's commitment to Manifest Destiny as a policy. Yet many of his political contemporaries thought that it went too far in respecting England's claim to power in the Americas.
Overall, Taylor was something of an anomaly. He was a slave owner who wanted to ban the expansion of slavery into the western territories that had been acquired from Mexico. He was the triumphant military conqueror of Mexico who saw little need for Manifest Destiny as a foreign policy. He was an army general who shied away from war as an instrument of state. He was a stern military commander who avoided decisive actions as President. The one thing about him that is clear is that he was committed to preserving the Union even if it meant using force against the secessionists.
It is interesting to speculate what might have happened had Taylor lived and been elected to a second term. On the political front, Taylor, at the time of his death, was under severe pressure from Whigs to replace his unpopular cabinet, and had he done so, it might have improved relations with the congressional wing of the Whig Party. More importantly, had he lived, there might not have been a Compromise of 1850 or even the Civil War. Because the South was still too disunited in 1850 to form a viable secession movement, Taylor's unflinching support (had he lived) for the immediate statehood of the western territories might have changed the course of history. He had surprised many when he stamped out Santa Anna at the Battle of Buena Vista. The question remains: If Taylor had survived, would he have been able to stamp out the most burning issue that faced the nation in 1850—the expansion of slavery westward?