Zachary Taylor Invites Relatives to the White House, Where He Will Die of "Too Many Cherries & Too Much Cold Milk"

March 20, 1849

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Zachary Taylor Invites Relatives to the White House, Where He Will Die of "Too Many Cherries & Too Much Cold Milk"
Autograph Letter Signed
1 page | SMC 372

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      Background

      If, as common wisdom would have it, William Henry Harrison got too cold and died, Zachary Taylor got too hot and died. July 4th, 1850, was a sweltering day in Washington, and Taylor spent two horrible hours of it sitting in the sun, listening to patriotic orations; then he went for a long walk along the Potomac. Returning to the White House, thirsty and famished, he ate copious amounts of cherries, and drank vast quantities of milk. This, according to those who were there, killed him. Certainly the cramps, nausea and diarrhea which attended his death suggest dysentery, or even cholera – both diseases carried by fruit and dairy. His death throes, however, lasted five days, which was enough time for rumors of poisoning to germinate. Taylor, the suspicious argued, although a Southerner, opposed the expansion of slavery into the new territories - a position which shocked, and alarmed, his fellow slave-holders. There had been talk of secession; and talk, from Taylor, of leading troops and unabashed hangings. Vice President Fillmore, on the other hand, wanted to avoid controversy and certainly, war: he was only glad to compromise on slavery – and did, soon enough, as President.

      The letter displayed here is a scarce relic of Taylor’s brief presidency. The old General had come to national prominence late in life – at age 62! - and then served the third shortest term of any president. With this extremely rare autograph letter as President, Taylor – in office just sixteen days – invites his cousin and Mexican War comrade, Colonel Thomas Leonidas Crittenden, to stay with him at the White House. “We have plenty of room,” he says.


      Autograph Letter Signed (“Z. Taylor”, as President, 1 page, octavo, Washington, March 20, 1849. To Colonel Thomas Leonidas Crittenden. Of extreme rarity in autograph in office.
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      Washington March 20th, 49

      My dear Sir,

      I hared [sic] last night you and your lady had returned to the City, and taken up your quarters at Browns; I had expected you would have at  [sic] come here and remained with us while you continued in Washington, and hope you will do so as we have plenty of room;  I have sent the carriage for you and beg you and the madam will at once come up with your baggage.  Mrs. Bliss would have waited on Mrs. C - had she not been prevented by indisposition.

      Your Friend and relative
      Z. Taylor

      Col. T.L. Crittenden
      at Browns