spacer Zachary Taylor Zachary Taylor (1784-1850)
Twelfth President (1849-1850)

Throughout his career as a professional soldier, Zachary Taylor took no more than a passing interest in politics. But his victories at the battles of Palo Alto, Monterrey, and Buena Vista during the Mexican War changed all of that. In their wake, this "rough and ready" general became eminently ripe for elective office, and even if Taylor had wanted to, he perhaps could not have stopped the groundswell of determination within the Whig Party to elect him President in 1848.

Upon entering the White House, Taylor declared his intention to bring harmony to the Union. Yet his refusal to placate the South by allowing slavery in some of the new territories acquired during the Mexican War did quite the opposite. Within a year of Taylor's coming to office, the country seemed to be moving toward civil war. Only after his unexpected death in July of 1850 did compromise on this divisive issue become possible. This portrait depicts Taylor in a more decorous light than the reality of his appearance often warranted. In or out of uniform, he was no stickler for spit and polish, and what frequently struck people most upon meeting him was the frayed and dusty shabbiness of his attire.


Attributed to James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889)
oil on canvas, 1848
National Portrait Gallery
Smithsonian Institution
gift of Barry Bingham, Sr.
NPG.76.7

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Zachary Taylor Zachary Taylor (center) at his encampment during the Mexican War

As Zachary Taylor's victories in Mexican War turned him into prime presidential timber for the Whigs, plans were quickly set afoot to promote his already considerable popularity with rank-and-file voters. One such scheme, hatched by a Whig newspaper editor, involved sending the English-born artist William Garl Brown out to Taylor's military encampment to paint a portrait of the general for use in advancing the subject's presidential fortunes. Finding a warm welcome in Taylor's camp, Brown stayed longer than he intended, and instead of just one likeness, he produced a number of pictures, including this scene showing Taylor fraternizing with some of his officers. Also featured in the picture was Taylor's trusty horse, Whitey, who became almost as famous in the course of the war as his master.


William Garl Brown Jr. (1823 - 1894)
Oil on canvas, 1847
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
NPG.71.57

Enlarged image