In 1806, Zachary Taylor received his first military descipline when he joined the militia to defend Kentucky when President Thomas Jefferson sent out an alert about the so-called Burr conspiracy.
Former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr had assembled a small private army, apparently to seize land somewhere in the West. However, Burr's army was dispersed and Taylor's unit was disbanded.
In 1808, Secretary of State James Madison, a second cousin of Taylor's, secured for him an appointment as lieutenant in the Seventh Infantry.
Taylor spent the next 40 years in the service. Over the course of these next 40 years, he served at many frontier posts.
During the War of 1812, he distinguished himself under William Henry Harrison. He also served in the Indian Wars in the Old Northwest Territory and Florida as well as in the Mexican War.
Dignitaries who served under Taylor included Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hawk War, and Ulysses S. Grant and Jefferson Davis in the Mexican War.
In 1837 during the Second Seminole War, he was credited with the defeat of the Seminole Indians in the Battle of Lake Okeechobee. This action earned him a promotion to the rank of Brigadier General.
It was through his actions in these battles that he earned the nickname "Old Rough and Ready".
His participation in the Mexican War made him a national hero and his 40 years in the Army made him a strong nationalist.
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.
Taylor's short Presidency was shadowed by the issue that was then dominating all aspects of American national affairs - that of slavery. The immediate issue was the admission of New Mexico and California as states.
Taylor confounded his Southern supporters, who had assumed that since the President owned slaves, he would support the pro-slavery position and refuse entry into the union to two states settled by Northerners and likely to be anti-slavery.
Taylor recommended that the two territories develop their own constitutions and then request admission based on those constitutions.
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