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President should have been able to ‘tweet’

For The Madera Tribune Zachary Taylor.


In the presidential election of 1848, America had two major political parties: Democrats and the Whigs. Everyone expected the fight to be hard and bitterly fought. The incumbent President, Democrat James Knox Polk, had decided not to run for a second term, and that sent the Whigs scurrying in search of a candidate to put them back in the White House.

They finally settled on Zachary Taylor, but they had a difficult time getting him to accept the nomination because the old General simply refused to read his mail.

The Whigs had first won a presidential election in 1840, when they elected General William Henry Harrison to the White House. Harrison, however, served just 30 days and died of pneumonia. John Tyler, who was really a Democrat, succeeded him. In 1844, Polk defeated the Whigs, but now in 1848, they were sure they stood a good chance of repeating their 1840 victory by choosing another general.

Therefore, at their convention of 1848, in Philadelphia, the Whigs nominated General Zachary Taylor for the presidency. Never mind that he had no experience and practically no interest in politics. Never mind that he had never bothered to vote before. It was enough that he was a national hero for his exploits in the Mexican/American War.

Taylor was nominated on the 4th ballot, and Whig Party Chairman, John Moorehead, sent the General, who was living near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a letter notifying him of the action at the convention. One week passed, and there was no response from Taylor. Two weeks passed and still no word. When the third week passed without a reply from Taylor, the Whigs begin to worry. By this time, news of his nomination had been in all of the newspapers; why wasn’t “Old Rough and Ready” responding? Didn’t he want to be President?

Well, of course he did, but he hadn’t replied to Moorehead’s letter because he hadn’t read it!

You see, in those days, letters were often sent with minimum postage, and the expectation was that the recipient would pay any amount that was due. Taylor, as a war hero, was receiving a huge amount of mail from his admirers. In an effort to economize, the General instructed the postmaster of Baton Rouge not to deliver any mail to him that had postage due. Therefore, when the letter from the Whig convention arrived, it went into the dead-letter file because there was $7.50 postage due.

The letter of notification spent weeks in the Baton Rouge mailroom, until an embarrassed Taylor realized what had happened and retrieved the correspondence. In a costly twist in time, the General paid the postage bill, which amounted to approximately $130 in today’s currency, and formally accepted the Whig Party’s nomination.

Taylor went on to win the election of 1848, and as far as is known, never allowed any future correspondence to go undelivered. He had learned his lesson well, even without tweets or email.

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