Publication Date: May 27, 2008
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The rough-hewn general who rose to the nation's highest office, and whose presidency witnessed the first political skirmishes that would lead to the Civil War
Zachary Taylor was a soldier's soldier, a man who lived up to his nickname, "Old Rough and Ready." Having risen through the ranks of the U.S. Army, he achieved his greatest success in the Mexican War, propelling him to the nation's highest office in the election of 1848. He was the first man to have been elected president without having held a lower political office.
John S. D. Eisenhower, the son of another soldier-president, shows how Taylor rose to the presidency, where he confronted the most contentious political issue of his age: slavery. The political storm reached a crescendo in 1849, when California, newly populated after the Gold Rush, applied for statehood with an anti- slavery constitution, an event that upset the delicate balance of slave and free states and pushed both sides to the brink. As the acrimonious debate intensified, Taylor stood his ground in favor of California's admission--despite being a slaveholder himself--but in July 1850 he unexpectedly took ill, and within a week he was dead. His truncated presidency had exposed the fateful rift that would soon tear the country apart.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (October 15, 1917-February 28, 2007) was a renowned American historian, social critic, and the prolific author of numerous books including, most recently, "War and the American Presidency," He twice won both the Pulitzer Prize, for "The Age of Jackson" and "A Thousand Days," and the National Book Award, also for "A Thousand Days" as well as "Robert Kennedy and his Times," In 1998 he was awarded the prestigious National Humanities Medal.
Sean Wilentz, a professor of history at Princeton University, is the author or editor of seven books, including "Chants Democratic" and "The Rise of American Democracy". He has also written for" The New York Times", the "Los Angeles Times", "The New Republic", and other publications. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.