Zachary Taylor: Final Illness

July 4, 1850 was a hot day in a hot and humid summer in Washington, DC. Dysentery was circulating in town, though some said it was cholera 1a. President Taylor, not in the best of health already (see above) attended various Independence Day ceremonies. That evening he began having abdominal cramps, possibly the result of something he ate. He steadily worsened: diarrhea and fever developed, and the diarrhea turned bloody. His doctors tried what they could. He died on July 9.

Some details of those days are available SEE BELOW, but the cause of Taylor's death will probably never be known with certainty. Typhoid fever has been proposed, with suspicion directed at the cherries Taylor ate on the 4th 2a.

Here is a chronology of Taylor's final illness, taken from 1b unless noted otherwise:
July 4     morning    Taylor attended a Sunday school recital.
About this time, ate several green apples.
July 4 afternoon  Sat in blistering hot heat during ceremony at Washington Monument.
Afterwards, took extended walk along the Potomac River.
Arrived back at White House very thirsty and hungry.
Ate large amounts of raw fruit, said to be cherries.
Drank great deal of cold water and milk.
July 4 dinner Drank a great deal of cold liquids.
Ate a considerable amount of cherries.
Admonished by his physician for both.
Soon after dinner, developed abdominal discomfort, nausea, cramps.
July 4 night Spent an uncomfortable night.
Apparently not ill enough to alarm anyone.
July 5 Dr. Alexander Wotherspoon called to White House.
His diagnosis: cholera morbus (see comments at end).
Treatment: calomel and opium relieved discomfort somewhat.
Intermittent fever.
Great thirst: ate ice.
July 8 Depressed. Predicts his own death.
Dystentery appears.
Vomiting worsens.
July 9 Worse.
5 pm Barely alive.
Treatment: bleeding and blistering.
10:35 pm Dies.
"Cholera morbus" implies diarrhea only. It has nothing to do with classic Asiatic cholera.

It has been said that the cherries were cooled on ice made from contaminated water 2a, however, there are no primary references given for this statement.

Cited Sources
  1. Bumgarner, John R. The Health of the Presidents: The 41 United States Presidents Through 1993 from a Physician's Point of View. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Company, 1994.
    a  p.75  b  pp.75

    Comment: Devotes one chapter to each President, through Clinton. Written for the layperson, well-referenced, with areas of speculation clearly identified, Dr. Zebra depends heavily on this book. Dr. Bumgarner survived the Bataan Death March and has written an unforgettable book casting a physician's eye on that experience.

  2. MacMahon, Edward B. and Curry, Leonard. Medical Cover-Ups in the White House. Washington, DC: Farragut, 1987.
    a  p.18

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