Presidential conspiracy theories, from Zachary Taylor to JFK

Zachary_Taylor-circa1850
President Zachary Taylor. Is that a face or what?

After dying in office in 1850, President Zachary Taylor’s death was the subject of a conspiracy theory for nearly 150 years. Finally in 1991, a historical novelist convinced Taylor’s family to have his body exhumed to test for arsenic poisoning. The test came up negative.

The JFK assassination is, of course, the subject of a hornet’s nest of conspiracy theories. There’s even a conspiracy theory that the CIA conspired to discredit the phrase “conspiracy theory” – to give people who believe in conspiracy theories the reputation of lunatics. Yes, it’s a conspiracy theory about “conspiracy theory.”

Oddly, very few people use the word “conspiracy” when discussing the one Presidential assassination that’s well-known to be a conspiracy: Abraham Lincoln’s.

The Washington Post Presidential podcast, with Lillian Cunnigham, examines the Taylor administration. Taylor was a hero of the Mexican-American War who didn’t get a lot done as President, because he expected Congress to behave like subordinate officers and obey his commands. That’s not how government works.

Presidential conspiracy theories, from Zachary Taylor to JFK [Lillian Cunningham – The Washington Post]

As president, Taylor kept his distance from Congress and his cabinet, even as partisan tensions threatened to divide the Union. Debate over the slave status of the large territories claimed in the war led to threats of secession from Southerners.

Despite being a Southerner and a slaveholder himself, Taylor did not push for the expansion of slavery. To avoid the question, he urged settlers in New Mexico and California to bypass the territorial stage and draft constitutions for statehood, setting the stage for the Compromise of 1850. Taylor died suddenly of a stomach-related illness in July 1850, so had little impact on the sectional divide that led to civil war a decade later.

Zachary Taylor [Wikipedia]

And that’s the root of the conspiracy theory surrounding Taylor’s death – that Southern slave-holders poisoned Taylor for blocking the expansion of slavery.

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