The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 90, July 1986 - April, 1987 Page: 319
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Book Reviews 319
(p. 247). Grass-roots acclaim for this modest, obscure career army offi-
cer and part-time planter had begun early in the Mexican War, long
before he even uttered a public word. Ignoring the fact that Taylor
had actually disputed the war's very legitimacy, Americans reveled in
their romantic worship of martial violence, embraced "Old Rough and
Ready," who only belatedly labeled himself a Whig, and elected him,
whether he liked it or not.
K. Jack Bauer's portrait of Taylor magnifies this image, dwelling on
the man's fundamental limitations as a leader. Unlike Holman Hamil-
ton, whose two-volume biography (1941 and 1951) offers us a thor-
oughly competent field commander, resourceful planter and investor,
and resolute chief executive, Bauer depicts Taylor as inflexible in battle,
overly conservative and habitually unhappy in financial dealings, and
stubborn politically-the beneficiary of more good luck than good
sense. Referring the reader to Hamilton's "majestic" and "definitive"
study for the full details of Taylor's life, Bauer explores phases "that
shaped his later actions," especially "those experiences and ideas which
led him to be the man he became" (pp. xxiii-xxiv). His own research,
however, far surpasses Hamilton's. Using widely scattered and obscure
primary sources (although apparently missing the superb Mexican
War-era materials at the University of Texas at Arlington), he adds the
best of modern scholarship and weaves a solid narrative.
The most valuable portions treat Taylor's long military service, in-
cluding the War of 1812, the Black Hawk and Seminole wars, post com-
mands along the entire length of the Mississippi River Valley frontier,
and finally the Mexican War. Two lively chapters describe the touchy
confrontation in South Texas and the resulting victories for Taylor at
Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. His triumphs in Mexico, at Monter-
rey and Buena Vista, constitute two more chapters. Bauer calls Taylor's
heroic status "an unearned reputation." Good subordinates and in-
ferior opponents seem to have offset the hero's poor logistical and tac-
tical abilities and his lack of that "instinct great commanders have for
[delivering] a final crushing blow" (p. 214). His unflinching determina-
tion in combat, says Bauer, veered too often toward blind rigidity and
Two years in the White House saw Taylor's stubbornness tested most
dangerously by southerners in Congress who threatened secession
when their slaveholding president sided with northern Whigs in refus-
ing to sanction slavery in the new territories won from Mexico. Taylor
vowed to take command of the army himself and quash such rebellion;
and he made the same stand against Texas's militant boundary claims to
the eastern half of New Mexico. Bauer provides a fresh, fascinating ac-
count of these crises, so integral to Congress's eventual passage of the
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 90, July 1986 - April, 1987, periodical, 1986/1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117152/m1/372/: accessed August 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.