President Zachary Taylor died on July 9, 1850. The cause is still not fully clear, but poisoning by arsenic has been ruled out.
What would have happened had Taylor lived?
President Zachary Taylor’s death on July 9, 1850 shocked a nation that was in a heated debate about issues that eventually led to the Civil War. But his sudden passing also sidestepped two constitutional crises.
He fell ill soon after with a stomach ailment. His doctors gave him relief medication that included opium and later bled the president. Taylor died five days later at the age of 65.
Officially, he died from cholera morbus, and today, the prevalent theory is that Taylor suffered from gastroenteritis, an illness exacerbated by poor sanitary conditions in Washington.
There are other theories, including one where Taylor was poisoned by people who supported the South’s pro-slavery position. (In recent years, Taylor’s body was exhumed and a small, non-lethal amount of arsenic was found in samples taken from his corpse.)
It was Taylor’s unexpected opposition to slavery (he was from the South and was the last president to own slaves) that had caused an immediate crisis in 1850.
Taylor ran as a Whig candidate in 1848 and he wasn’t a professional politician. Taylor was a career military man and a hero in the war with Mexico.
Once he took office in March 1849, it became clear that Taylor, the military man, was more interested in preserving the Union than the art of politics.
Taylor decided to press for statehood for the newly acquired territories of California and New Mexico, and to let the regions hold their own constitutional conventions. This guaranteed that California and New Mexico would join the Union as anti-slavery states, tipping the balance in the Senate to the North.
In any case, Taylor died on July 9.
And on July 10, 1850, his vice president, Millard Fillmore, was sworn in as president.
No, that doesn’t mean the bathtub tale is true.
- Exhumation of Zachary Taylor, at the New York Times
- Wretched Richard’s Almanac notes the occasion, 2015