|Grant “puts me
in the mind of old Taylor, and sometimes I fancy he models himself on
old Zack,” General George Meade observed during the Civil War. It was
an understatement. General and President Zachary Taylor was an important
role model for Ulysses S. Grant. Although his legacy is not commonly
remembered today, Taylor made an indelible impression on Grant, who
served under him as a second lieutenant in the Mexican War.
First, a disclaimer: There were important differences. Taylor was an
upper crust southerner (a native of Virginia, and resident of Kentucky
and then Louisiana), and Grant was a Northerner of much less means.
Their backgrounds led to another, fundamental difference, this one in
the ultimate issue of their age, slavery. Taylor, up until his death,
was a plantation owner with 100 slaves. He was pro-slavery where it
existed. Grant would later be a key figure in the destruction of slavery
in America. There will be more on their positions relative to slavery
Even so, the legacy was clear. Taylor’s influenced Grant militarily,
politically, and personally.
Some Additional Comparisons
American Indians: Considering their times, and conceding that
violence still occurred under their watches, Presidents Taylor and Grant
shared views of American Indians that were progressive for men of the
military in their day. Taylor had fought Indians in three wars. As
president in 1849, he took a calm, reasoned, and objective stance to
defuse conflicts – and probably avoid full-blown wars -- between
whites and Seminoles in Florida and the Southwest. Grant, who had
personally empathized with Indians ever since encountering them up close
as a young man, worked as president to assign the government
responsibility for the welfare of Indians, and to encourage Indian
assimilation on the road to citizenship.
Diplomacy: Both Presidents diffused diplomatic disputes with
England over Latin America. Taylor hammered out the Clayton-Bulwer
Treaty that defined British and American rights during the run-up to a
planned Nicaraguan canal. Grant’s administration fashioned the
landmark Alabama Claims settlement with England, which involved damage
to Union shipping.
The Mississippi River: Taylor and Grant were both propelled
by their successes on the River. They gained important experience and
credentials as military commanders in operations there (Taylor in the
War of 1812 and the Black Hawk War; Grant in the Civil War from 1861-63,
culminating in the Vicksburg campaign). Incidentally, both lived in
Mississippi River cities, Taylor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Grant in
Galena, when elected president.