After the election of 1848, a riverboat passenger struck up a conversation with President Zachary Taylor, not knowing his identity. The passenger asked if he was "a Taylor man." "Not much of a one," the General replied, saying he had not voted for Taylor because his wife was opposed to sending "Old Zack" to Washington, "where she would be obliged to go with him!" It was a truthful answer.
Moreover, the story goes that Margaret Taylor had taken a vow during the Mexican War that if her husband returned safely, she would never go into society again. In fact, she never did, though prepared for it by genteel upbringing.
"Peggy" Smith was born in 1788 in Calvert County, Maryland, daughter of a major in the Revolutionary War. In 1809 while visiting in Kentucky she met young Lieutenant Taylor. They were married the following June, and for a while the young wife stayed on the farm given them by Zachary's father. She bore her first baby there, then followed her husband from one remote garrison to another along the western frontier of civilization.
Two small girls died in 1820 of what Taylor called "a violent bilious fever," which left Margaret's health impaired. Three girls and a boy grew up. Knowing the hardships of a military wife, Taylor opposed his daughters' marrying career soldiers, but each eventually married into the Army.
The second daughter, Knox, married Lieutenant Jefferson Davis in gentle defiance of her parents. Within three months of her wedding, Knox died of malaria. Zachary Taylor was not reconciled to Davis until they fought together in Mexico. The second Mrs. Davis became a good friend of Margaret Taylor, often calling on her at the White House.
As a president's wife, Mrs. Taylor took no part in formal social functions. She relegated all the duties of official hostess to her youngest daughter, Mary Elizabeth, recent bride of Lieutenant Colonel William W. S. Bliss. "Betty" Bliss filled her role admirably. One observer thought that her manner blended "the artlessness of a rustic belle and the grace of a duchess."
For Mrs. Taylor, her husband's death on July 9, 1850 was an appalling blow. Never again did she speak of the White House. She spent her last days with the Blisses, dying on August 18, 1852.
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