An Historic Letter Written To President Zachary Taylor Warning Him Of An Impending Assassination Attempt
"I have always done my duty. I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me."
For over 150 years, there has been controversy regarding the untimely death of the twelfth president of the United States, Zachary Taylor. Well-known nationally for his heroic victories during the Mexican-American War, Taylor returned from the conflict to public adulation. As such, he was well positioned for a run at the presidency, which he easily secured in the first election held simultaneously in all states. The national political scene was treacherous indeed and Taylor immediately found himself embroiled in the divisive controversy over the expansion of slavery to which he was opposed.
This slavery issue, as well as a dangerous state of relations with Great Britain which had existed in the previous few years leading up to his election created a highly volatile and emotionally charged political environment both at home and abroad.
The landscape was littered with potential enemies, political and otherwise. It was long held that Taylor was a victim of a well placed assassin. Many had postulated that he was poisoned with arsenic. In 1991, after years of debate, his body was exhumed. Scientific examination concluded that there was no evidence suggesting he was murdered, however some scholars insist the debate is still open.
While the medical examinations may have concluded otherwise, one of the letters offered herein penned by an anonymous, well-placed official in the Polk administration certainly fuels the possibility that the debate over Taylor’s death remains open. This fascinating and historic letter provides further insight into one of the most mysterious American Presidential controversies in history at a time of great danger for the fledgling nation.
[Zachary Taylor] 1850. New York. 8pp. Written anonymously to President Zachary Taylor one year into his presidency. The letter writer, obviously in a high and powerful position in the government, sends a warning to Taylor of evil conspiracies, plots to destroy the country and assassination. This lengthy and highly important letter offers such fantastic detail and insight into the dangerous political environment of the period that we have recited it in its entirety.
“It seems necessary to inform you I trust I shall be sufficiently (intelligible).
While Bulwer is at Washington persons in private circles are there whose influences could be readily used to divert the attention of government from an investigation or impede its action. Emissaries have been out lately to assassinate a citizen of this country.
Since about the 3rd of this month he has been in great peril. It is believed that a kind of management through the press and paid writers is designed to cover and obscure the question, which is both vitally and practicably allied to the mode of opposition to the coconspiratory and evil purposes entertained by the existing interest — the existing order of things in England. It will be well to mark the influences upon the press closely.
As a citizen I have a right, and it is my duty to write my sentiments plainly to you. With true lights before you it is my belief that your own strong mind will direct things aright.
Persons who would attempt to defraud the people of their rights, by hired voters in this country, are quite as bad, in my opinion, as those who are base enough to be employed to commit perjury when giving their votes.
Mr. Clayton can answer you whether or not any persons are now in his confidence who were accused of what was termed pipe laying in 1840, in New York. If their should be, allow me to suggest, that your Excellency satisfy yourself as to the as to the justness of those allegations, before yielding weight to their opinions, in any thing - If true, it is probable, that some of the persons were got into the Scrape unreflectingly, at dinners or suppers and did not appreciate the extent of the designs or know the source from which they originated.
The origin of the affair was in England. If the project had succeeded, the happiness and interests of the people of this country would have fallen beneath a system of financial complexities and false elections. The plan to mar this country, tributory to the maintenance of the English system by auxiliary complexities and disorganization, failed.
In that period, as now, attempts were made to destroy the male representative of the exiled family, the other branch in this country was in against him, by some secret arrangement.
A person who had been employed and knew some part of the intrigues, said he never saw the play of Richelieu without being reminded of the affair. I had not then seen the play, or at least had no recollection that I had seen or read it - I obtained a copy, and upon reading was forcibly reminded of its analogy, in many respects. That there are conspiratory papers, I do not doubt. An important part of them, might, I think, upon one occasion have been obtained, provided that there had been a healthy and efficient action, in the police and magisterial departments to set out with. It is quite certain to me, that there is nothing encompassing in those departments in this City unsupported by the application of means and strong influences.
I think it was in 1845, passing by a book shop, a man stept from the door with an extra newspaper in hand, just after an arrival – and desired me to go with him, or send some person with him, to the Virginia Springs. He said that there was a person there, who had papers in his trunk, of utmost consequence – that the possession of them was of utmost consequence, and that they would implicate persons of highest respectability in this City.
His own signature was upon a paper in this mans possession: he had been employed by this man to assassinate me, had been much with him, and became in some manner possessed of secrets, beyond the point of assassination – the newspaper, which he held in his hand, contained a remark made by the Duke of Wellington, that the throne was in danger. I had held no conversation with this man, of a political character, what ——?.
I know he had been employed to assassinate me; that he had stated that this man not only had his signature with others to a banded gang, but that he had the signature of my brother in law and other persons, to other papers, and that there were persons on the other side of the Atlantic connected in the same manner. I cannot now question these statements in my own mind. The most strenuous and persevering yet cautious means have been used to test them. Where the labours of intelligence have prevailed to elicit facts in this case, the rack(?) might have failed. Yet did I move, or attempt to move one step, I should be called insane: headed; thus, at every point, and thus weaken the modes of defense, without obtaining aid or protection. The last news of the person who was then said to have been at the Springs in Virginia (was been ?) that he was in London, shouting with the nobility, at Crockfords.
There are reasons for the most profound and conspiratory proceeding and for my destruction preliminarily for the objects to be attained under those proceedings. No person who knows me will believe, I think, that I could be made an instrument in the hands of any persons to rivet the chains of a people to a system of financial Monarchy and Despotism; or that I could be brought into any secret or traitorous purposes towards the soil which has sheltered my father and afforded me its genial support. Of my existence is a hindrance to evil designs I shall endeavor to preserve it. The fact of its continuance is no evidence that attempts have not been made to deprive me of it; and, if the country is now safe, it is no evidence, it has not been in danger.
In 1845, there was a partial demonstration as if to touch the object of conspiracy; there was then organized gangs in this country sufficient to lay every Atlantic City in ashes; there was an English fleet at sea sufficient to strip the sea of our entire mercantile and naval marine, and blockade every port. Who will say that under such calamities, the public mind would not have staggered and reeled? The country was open to danger. The great fire in this City in 1845, I believe was the work of a gang so organized; there was a doubt on the minds of the conspirators as to what might be dared, or attempted in the then existing relations between the two countries. If an expose had been attempted to be forced by persons of weight and authority to carry it through, the direst consequences might then have ensued.
In July I think of 1845 the fire took place, and afterwards, in the same month the Unicorn Steamer lay for some time within Pistol Shot of the Battery. I do not know, that any thing has yet transpired, publicly as to the object of her visit. I think it was in August of that year Lord Palmerston, proposed to arm the militia of England. For What?
The Unicorn may have been here to carry away, or afford an asylum for evil persons; or to abduct me. I was so closely hunted at that time as to deem it scarcely prudent to sleep two nights at a place. I was alone, friendless, emaciated by care and almost distracted. If Mr. Polk was with you, he could not but say that I had done my duty to him and the country, without claiming protection beyond a voluntary and prudential disposition to grant it.
Had a war ensued, I should have been driven to the forest, and pursued for extermination, in order carry out the designs of conspiratory proceeding. If I had fallen by the assassins hand, the happenings and institutions of this country would as certainly have been assailed by future hands under those conspiratory designs as if the calamities of war had been hitherto, suddenly and treacherously imposed upon us, by an expose of the conspiracy itself and with the causes originating it, and the political secret and historical fact, so carefully concealed by the English Government, and so expensively guarded.
I send herewith the Atlas. An article - the concluding part - induces me to conjecture - that persons here may be employed, by the English Government through agencies here. It is my most earnest wish, Sir, that you may be enabled to see every thing, and misapprehend nothing.
New York Jany 23, 1850”
The content of this detailed missive surely speaks for itself. In all likelihood, this dire warning to the president was penned by a highly placed member of the Polk administration, though we’ve been unable to determine who. This frightening letter surely would have been of grave concern to the president. When placed within the backdrop of the harsh political climate both at home and abroad, Taylor must have felt threatened at nearly every turn. This letter clearly demonstrates the conditions that existed to foster the long-held beliefs that Taylor may have been assassinated. While the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was signed in 1850 easing some of the tensions between the United States and Great Britain, political foes in favor of slavery’s expansion at home clearly abounded with motivation to carry out an attempt on the president’s life. This letter offers what is perhaps some of the most shocking political content to come to market in quite some time.
Catalog: # AM-0917