Grant & Taylor


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 later.

Even so, the legacy was clear. Taylor’s influenced Grant militarily, politically, and personally.

Taylor and Grant:
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.


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