Zachary Taylor, born and raised in Kentucky, was the son of a respected and prosperous planter. Although his family was in high social standing, he had little education and was barely able to read or write.

Helped by his family's position, he received a commission to the Army in 1808 and was stationed on the frontier. He gained the nickname "Old Rough and Ready" because he never seemed to be bothered by the heat of battle or the physical hardships of life on the frontier. By the time the Mexican War began, Taylor was in command of an army of four thousand troops. He won numerous victories in the war, culminating in the capture of Monterrey and his victory at Buena Vista, where the Mexican Army outnumbered his troops three to one. He was not a brilliant strategist, and most of his victories were the result of a combination of his determination and mistakes by the enemy. Regardless, he became a popular military hero.

The Whig party, seeking a candidate for the election of 1848, sought out Taylor. Riding his popularity, he was elected without anything resembling a political platform. He became known as a president incapable of grasping the complexity of issues. In the growing controversy over slavery, of which Taylor was a defender, he enflamed the issues by steadfastly holding to his insistence that the institution of slavery would not be an issue in the newly acquired territories from Mexico due to a lack of rainfall there. He proposed quickly organizing the territories into two free states, New Mexico and California, and by-passing the normal polital route for entry as states. When Henry Clay proposed a compromise plan in 1850, Taylor, whose nature was to be highly suspicious of the motives of others, believed it to be a plan to undermine his authority and held fast to his plan. Later that year he died of a sudden attack of cholera and his vice president, Millard Fillmore, became president.

New Mexico did not become a state until 1912.

In 1991, Taylor's descendants had his body exhumed due to rampant rumors regarding the possibility that he had been poisoned with arsenic by pro-slavery fanatics. The scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee determined that the arsenic levels in Taylor's hair and fingernail samples were not abnormal. Hence, the rumors of "Old Rough and Ready's" death by poisoning were laid to rest.

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