The president who wasnt poisoned with arsenic

President Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) was the twelfth president of the United States of America. He spent his boyhood on the family farm in Kentucky and enlisted in the army when he was 22. He soon developed a reputation for honest and plain speaking and rose through the ranks, being commissioned first lieutenant in the infantry in 1808 and making it to major general in 1846. It was then that he made his name in the war with Mexico when his army won the battle of Buena Vista against overwhelming odds, and despite disobeying orders not to engage the enemy. Taylor was a national hero. He was chosen by the Whig party as their presidential candidate and he beat the Democratic candidate Lewis Cass.

When Taylor was elected he was a fit and healthy man, and nicknamed 'Old Rough and Ready', but early in July 1850, only 16 months after taking office, he was suddenly taken ill after he sat too long bare-headed in the boiling sun listening to a speech. He went indoors and was given a dish of cherries and a glass of cold milk to refresh him, but soon he began to feel much worse and started vomiting. Doctors were called and despite dosing him with various medicines, none of which seemed to help, he died on 9 July. Had he been poisoned? That at least was a possibility and indeed there were some with motives for wanting him out of the way. Taylor had run into problems over the admission of anti-slavery California to the Union, which was strongly opposed by the Southern states, and he had discovered that three members of his cabinet were involved in a financial scandal.

In 1991 the Florida author Clara Rising began researching a book on Taylor. Rising came up with the theory that he had been murdered with arsenic, and she gathered enough circumstantial evidence to enable her to present a strong case for his body to be exhumed and tested. She was prepared to pay the $1200 autopsy fee and permission was granted for Kentucky officials to remove hair, nails and bone scrapings from Taylor's remains which rested in a crypt in the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.

These samples were sent to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and to two Kentucky laboratories, and analysed for arsenic. The results were negative. There were traces of arsenic but far less than those needed to cause arsenic poisoning. Taylor had died of natural causes, either cholera or gastroenteritis, whose symptoms are very similar to those of arsenic poisoning.

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