Zachary Taylor with William Bliss

Unidentified photographer
Quarter-plate daguerreotype, c. 1848

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; acquired in part through the generosity of the Quaker Oats Company

Zachary Taylor—who rose to national prominence for his leadership in the Mexican War—is seated in this daguerreotype portrait next to his army chief of staff, William Bliss. A career military officer, Taylor served more than three decades on the western frontier, where he earned the nickname “Old Rough and Ready” for his unpolished demeanor and courage under fire.

In 1846 Taylor was ordered to the Rio Grande, the southern boundary claimed controversially by Texas. This action upset Mexican authorities, who ordered a large force to drive out Taylor’s army.

Taylor distinguished himself in a series of battles that followed—most famously at Palo Alto, Monterrey, and Buena Vista. After the war, he reluctantly agreed to run for president and went on to win the 1848 campaign. Intent on unifying the nation, Taylor instead contributed to sectional tensions by adamantly refusing to extend slavery into the territories. He died unexpectedly in 1850 after only sixteen months in office.