Ages Served: 52-56
PROS: Frontier upbringing — Kids have their share of cuts and scraps. It’s all a part of growing up. I’m not really interested in hearing about your childhood horror story of an injury because I’m pretty sure Lincoln’s got you beat. Lincoln came pretty close to death when he was 11 and a horse kicked him in the head. There wasn’t much first aid available in the frontier for horse-kicks to the head, so they got Lincoln home and put him in bed. It apparently worked, because he survived with no apparent long-term effects.
This was a couple of years after his mother, aunt and uncle died of milk sickness. Milk sickness! I didn’t even know that was a thing.
Point being, there were a lot of hazards in the frontier back in the day. Whether it was getting kicked by a horse, drinking milk from a cow that got into poisonous plants or an Indian ambush — which is how Lincoln's grandfather died. The result? Lincoln grew up to be a strong man standing at 6’4” who would serve as captain in the Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War.
I should just defer to the wise words of Tyler Durden who, when asked what historical figure he’d like to fight, said he’d like to fight Abraham Lincoln.
|“Big guy, big reach. Skinny guys fight ‘til they’re burger.”|
Tyler Durden! The guy who loves fighting so much, he started his own club where people fought each other — a “fight club” if you will. He wants a piece of Lincoln because he knows how much of a challenge that would be.
I’m not even getting into the claims that he was a vampire hunter.
Self-taught hard ass — While growing up, watching his father spend his days of hard work in the fields, Lincoln decided that wasn’t for him. Let my clarify. He never weaseled out of his chores. No, in fact he became pretty good with the ax.
Since Lincoln wanted a future outside of the “strenuous manual labor” industry, and since he couldn’t afford to send himself to school, he started to hit the books. The son of a poor farmer taught himself enough to become a Congressman, an oft-sought after attorney, one of America’s greatest orators in and someone generally considered to be in the top three of U.S. presidents in history. He has also been known to spruce up a history class presentation or two.
And he was a pretty strong-willed president, as well. The presidents before Lincoln seemed afraid of overstepping the presidential powers. For example, James Buchanan, allowed states to leave the Union because he wasn’t sure he had the power to stop them from seceding.
Lincoln didn’t worry about that nonsense. He had a rebellion to quash, and quash it he did. He expanded his war powers, put up a blockade around the Confederates, spent money and even suspended the writ of habeas corpus — allowing for suspected Confederate sympathizers to be thrown in jail for no reason other than the fact that they were suspected Confederate sympathizers — all without the say of Congress.
Lincoln’s not going to roll over here. He’s going to give a fight because he really doesn’t know any other way of doing things.
CONS: Long history of losing — Lincoln’s career in national politics began in 1846, when he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig, where he pledged to serve only one term. Though he had claimed to be a “disciple of Henry Clay,” Lincoln saw little chance of him winning the presidency in 1848. Instead, he threw his support behind Gen. Zachary Taylor, who won. Lincoln had hoped that his endorsement would gain him the Commissioner of the General Land Office position, but it didn’t.
Lincoln left politics for a few years and returned after the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 — which repealed the restriction on slavery — sufficiently ticked him off. He ran for U.S. Senate in 1854, but lost. In 1856, he placed second in the race for vice president during the Republican Party’s first national convention. In 1858, he sought Illinois’ other U.S. Senate seat, but he lost that as well.
That’s quite the losing record. It’s a wonder why the Republicans nominated him as president in 1860. Could you imagine one of the two major parties nominating a candidate in 2012 whose last victory on the federal level was a House of Representatives race in 1998? That was kind of exactly Lincoln’s deal. And it’s possible that the only reason why Lincoln won in 1860 was because the Democrats put two candidates in the race, thereby splitting the vote.
And in 1864, Lincoln wasn't completely sure he was going to win re-election. The Democrats took the "peace at any cost" platform. And they nominated... a Civil War general who actually didn't believe in ending the war.
Tactically hapless Democrats aside, Lincoln wins were rare.
Suicidal? — Lincoln suffered from “melancholy,” or put in modern vernacular, clinical depression. He had told his good friend that he had been having suicidal thoughts on two separate occasions. He even wrote a poem The Suicide’s Soliloquy, which was a written in the form of a suicide note.
It’s safe to say dealing with the Civil War didn’t help much either. Though there’s no evidence of him being suicidal later in life, who knows?
There’s “suicide by cop” — that’s when someone gets a police officer to shoot them to death. What about “suicide by Presidential Gladiatorial Arena™”?
PROS: Veteran of being a veteran — Those of you who have been with this blog for a while may have noted that a great number of America's Presidents have served in the armed forces in various capacities. Many of them have even led armies. But few posses a military career quite like that of Zachary Taylor.
Taylor entered the Army in 1803, receiving a commission to the rank of lieutenant from his cousin, some guy named James Madison. Aside from a brief reprieve from 1814-19, he stayed in the Army until 1848. Along the way, he served in a number of wars, from the War of 1812, to the Mexican-American war, stopping in between for the occasional conflict that America surprisingly doesn't like to talk up all that much, anymore. He led divisions, commanded forts, kicked ass, and took names.
|Did we mention they called him "Ol' Rough and Ready"? Man, nicknames used to kick ass before sexual innuendo same along and ruined everything.|
|It was a choice between war, or hanging around outside Corpus Christi in teeny, tiny tents.|
Dude, look at this guy's lineage — Taylor is one of the more obscure presidents (dying 16 months into your first term will do that), which is kind of a shame because that obscurity belies a rich American heritage. Well, and a Confederate heritage. And a Canadian heritage. It's complicated.
We've already talked about how his cousin was fellow president James Madison, but Zachary Taylor's roots go even farther back in American history, as he could trace his roots back to a little ship called the Mayflower. Yup, that's how far back we're talking about. His family continued churning out winners after Taylor's death; both Robert E. Lee and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are part of that extended family tree. Taylor's immediate relatives served with distinction during the Civil War... albeit on both sides. One of his grandsons defected to the Confederacy during the war, then fled to Canada, where he eventually put down roots and started a family whose descendents would serve with distinction in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
All things considered, you've gotta admit: the Taylor line is pretty damn solid.
CONS: Cherries? Seriously? — So, right, about Taylor's death. Here's the thing: cherries may have been to blame. Possibly. It's a bit murky. The known facts are these: on July 4, 1850, Taylor attended the groundbreaking ceremony for what would become the Washington Monument. Conditions in Washington were not exactly pleasant at that time (it was the middle of summer and they were in a freaking swamp), and Taylor sought relief by consuming a bowl of cherries and a pitcher of milk.
|The illustrator of this children's book, however, is clearly pointing the finger at the milk.|
Zachary Taylor. Serious man-- Taylor's life only barely overlapped with the age of photography, so there are only a few existing records of what the man actually looked like. These records are supplemented by a number of potraits painted at various points in Taylor's life. However, there's one trait that unifies all these documents. To find it, just run a quick Google Image search...
Seriously, Taylor's facial expressions seem to range from "mildly disappointed," to "consumed a lemon directly prior to this picture being taken." Would it have killed the guy to smile every once in a while? And no, the quasi-smirk on his dollar coin does not count. What do these portraits say? They say that Taylor was kind of a bummer, and worse, he was a sternly inflexible bummer.
|Is this a U.S. President, or the guy who keeps getting cast as Scrooge in the community theatre's annual production of A Christmas Carol?|
Doug: I'm not really seeing the connection between bloodline and ability to fight. A 12-year-old girl recently traced all of the presidents' ancestries and found that all but Martin Van Buren were a descendant of King John of England. That's including Andrew Johnson, who only got 9.5% of the vote.
You know who else came from a notable bloodline? King Charles II of Spain. His ancestors came from the royal houses of Spain, Bavaria and Austria. There were even Holy Roman Emperors thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, after generations of inbreeding, Charles II was born mentally and physically disabled as well as physically disabled.
|Like Prince Gerhardt, the last in the Hapburgs line, in 30 Rock.|
I guess you can call King Charles II of Spain "Reubens-esque."
By the time he reached his mid-30s, he was unable to walk, epileptic and senile. No one even knew how he was able to survive to the age of 38. Point being, he probably wouldn't do well in a fight.
I'm not saying Taylor was inbred. But what I am saying is lineage means nothing. I think the fact that Lincoln was eight inches taller than Taylor will be more of a factor.
Tony: Yeah, I mean, decent point made here, definitely, except that you're overlooking Taylor's major advantage: the man spent most of his adult life in the Army, weaving his way through both official wars and other minor actions. THAT gives him a huge advantage over Lincoln and his non-military standing. The guy knows battles, he's seen action up-close-and-personal, he's gonna have all the tools he needs to dismantle Lincoln, piece by piece.
Sure, Lincoln's got the reach, but that's going to evaporate as soon as Taylor kicks him in the shins. And since Lincoln's so tall, those shins are probably a bigger target on him than most other people.
Doug: I'm not overlooking the fact that he spent most of his life in the Army, I just didn't mention it... which is not to say that I'm ignoring the fact. I was just dismissing the argument that his family line, both past and future, won't help him out here.
I don't want to put too much stock into his military career. Don't get me wrong: it's impressive and I don't want to discount his service. There's a lot of tactics that go into surviving that long in the military, but there's also a good amount of luck, as well. And if you have any doubts that luck plays into it, look at the guy who survived 45 years in the military only to be offed by a cherries and milk. I'm sure Taylor was very handy with a gun or a horse, but how does he handle bare-fisted combat?
Lincoln took a horse hoof to the head, so you know he can take a hit.
Tony: I don't think his lineage helps him directly. I mean, okay, it would be pretty rad if Taylor could go into some kind of trance and summon the corporeal presence of Madison or William Brewster, but that seems unlikely to happen. However, it's clear that Taylor's got some winning genes in his pool; you shouldn't sleep on that sort of advantage.
I'm no historian, clearly, so I can't speak to what sort of military training the American Army provided during Taylor's career. It's hard to imagine they didn't include some nascent form of melee training, however, and even the most rudimentary of melee skills would be better than what Lincoln's got.
Doug: Lincoln was born to a poor family, yet still taught himself to be the brilliant lawyer he was. If he can teach himself that, then he can bone up on some of these melee skills. However, I don't care if you tell me I should or shouldn't sleep on Taylor's so-called advantage of "winning genes," I'm still going to. For every James Madison and William Brewster in Taylor's family tree, there's got to be loads of hapless losers who you never heard of because they were useless members of society — people worse than the modern blogger.
|Ugh, look at them.|
Plus, like I said, if we're comparing family lines, we can trace nearly everyone in this tournament to King John or any of the badder-ass monarchs from the House of Plantagenet. This is a wash.
The truth is, Lincoln has a score to settle with Taylor. Lincoln sold out his mentor, Henry Clay, to back Taylor for president in 1848. What was Lincoln's reward for this? Taylor gave the post Lincoln wanted, Commissioner of the General Land Office, to Lincoln's rival, Justin Butterfield. Instead, Taylor's administration offered Lincoln the position of governor of the Oregon Territory, the far-off Democratic stronghold. I may be relying too heavily on '80s computer games to teach me thing, but I'm pretty sure this was code for, "I hope a fire destroys your spare wagon wheels, your wife dies of dysentery and you drown while trying to float down the Columbia River."
Tony: Oh sure, Lincoln can learn some hand-to-hand fighting skills, but did he? Ah, there's the rub. Without any evidence that he did, I'm gonna have to lean in the direction of the career army officer, over here. Sorry, Abe!
So, Lincoln thinks this is some sort of grudge match? Looks to me like Taylor was doing Lincoln a favor! I mean, what had Lincoln largely been known for? Screwing up! Failing! Why the hell would Taylor put that guy in charge of anything! More likely, Taylor saw some potential in Abe, and said to himself, "I can't have this guy doing anything important; best give him a job where if he does what comes naturally, eh, fine, but if he miraculously succeeds, great, he can return home and reap whatever benefits come his way. That's leadership, my friend! Unfortunately, Taylor's going to have to drop the boom on this young upstart in the Arena. At least in this case, Lincoln can say his failure is... Taylor-made.
Doug: Normally, the debate would be over now, but I have to call shenanigans.
Nice try, Fox News, but Lincoln's string of electoral bad luck came after Taylor's death.
And don't say "Taylor sensed Lincoln's failure potential," because then why didn't Taylor sense why he should steer clear of the cherries and milk?
Tony: Call all the shenanigans you want. Point of order: had Lincoln succeeded in every single aspect of his life up to the election of 1848? Not so much. I mean, he wasn't as bad as some people, but he'd taken his lumps. Taylor wanted a winner, so he didn't pick Lincoln. End of story.
And as to why he couldn't forsee his doom vis a vie the cherries, it's because no one ever expects the bowl of cherries. Duh.
The Chief: Oh, an extra-long debate. That's what we needed this week. Is Taylor ready to get rough — ooh, you're right, the double entendre kind of ruins that — with The Great Emancipator? Vote and tell us what you think? Polls close Friday, 9am Mountain Time.