Zachary Taylor, a professional soldier and sugar planter with no previous political experience, held the office of president for barely sixteen months before dying of acute gastroenteritis. A war hero before moving into the White House, he immediately confronted a rogue effort (supported by Southern slave owners and politicians) to seize Cuba and had to address issues involving slavery in the new territories acquired from Mexico, demands for a new fugitive-slave law, and petitions for the admission of New Mexico and California as free states. A patriotic nationalist with a steady hand, Taylor was prepared to allow slavery where it existed, but was also ready to halt its expansion and face down Southern extremists. His death likely extinguished the nation’s last hope for tamping down the fierce disagreements developing between North and South.
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