Zachary Taylor character jug produced by Bennington Pottery of Bennington, New Jersey, circa 1850. Zachary Taylor (1784 - 1850) was an American military leader who served as the 12th president of the United States from 1849 until his death in 1850. Taylor was a career officer in the United States Army, rising to the rank of major general and becoming a national hero for his victories in the Mexican-American War. As a result, he won election to the White House despite his vague political beliefs. His top priority as president was to preserve the Union. He died 16 months into his term having the third shortest presidency in U.S. history.