U.S. Election of 1848

Although the Whigs had devoted much of their energies to opposing Polk's war policies, they were mindful of the fact that the nomination of a war hero in the election of 1848 would have broad popular appeal. General Winfield Scott, who had marched from Vera Cruz to Mexico City to win the war, seemed a logical choice. A prominent Whig whose presidential ambitions were well known, he had been considered as a possible contender for his party's nomination in 1840. But Scott—who was known by the nickname "Old Fuss and Feathers"--had a reputation for vanity and an aristocratic demeanor that proved to be serious political liabilities in an age of Jacksonian Democracy. He had also become embroiled in a feud with the Democratic generals on his staff and removed from command as military governor of Mexico City at war's end, although a court of inquiry later cleared him of all charges.

As a result, a movement to draft Zachary Taylor as a presidential candidate began to gather momentum in Whig circles during the war. Taylor was an odd choice. A man of vague political beliefs, it was rumored that he had never before voted in a presidential election. Particularly distressing to many Northern Whigs was the fact that he owned a sizable plantation in Louisiana, and could hardly be relied upon to take a firm stance opposing the expansion of the slavery into the territories. Taylor himself initially expressed little interest in a presidential bid, although his feelings seemed to change as his relations with the Polk administration soured (he bitterly resented being passed over when the president tapped Scott to take charge of the southern campaign).

Thus the Whigs in 1848 returned to a formula which had served them well eight years earlier with the election of William Henry Harrison: nominating a war hero whose vague stand on the controversial issues of the day would serve as an asset rather than a liability. To an even greater degree than was common at the time, Taylor took little role in the campaign, declining to respond even in writing to questions regarding his political views. In November Taylor defeated Lewis Cass, the Democratic candidate, and Martin Van Buren, the Free Soil candidate.

Like his Whig predecessor, William Henry Harrison, Taylor's presidential tenure was short lived. He would die from a digestive ailment sixteen months after the inauguration, succeeded by Millard Fillmore.

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