History Book – A president’s last meal

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, the 6th of July. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The WORLD History Book. 

35 years ago, German tennis star Boris Becker becomes the youngest man to win Wimbledon. 

Plus, 51 years ago this week, divorce in this country becomes a lot easier to obtain.

EICHER: But first, 170 years ago, a U.S. president enjoys what will prove his final meal. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: July 4th, 1850, Washington D.C. It’s a hot summer day in the nation’s capital. U.S. President Zachary Taylor sits in the pounding sun as an Independence Day commemoration drags on. The president finally finds an excuse to return to the White House and heads to the kitchen. Historian and author Sidney Blumenthal picks up the story in an interview with Ryan Grim.  

BLUMENTHAL: He goes back to the White House. He’s famished. He’s thirsty, and he gobbles down all sorts of strawberries, vegetables, water, milk. It’s all contaminated, and he gets cholera… 

Before becoming president, Zachary Taylor had a long military career beginning before the War of 1812. His exploits during the Mexico-American War were well known in newspapers across the country. He earned the nick-name: “Old Rough and Ready” because he insisted on leading from the trenches—often sleeping with his men under the stars. 

His political commitments were relatively unknown, but he earned wide support during his short run for the White House—announcing his campaign just six weeks before the 1848 convention. 

He earned 57 percent of the Electoral College and 47 percent of the popular vote. His biggest challenge as our 12th president was the debate over the expansion of slavery into the country’s new western territories. Historian John Sykes:

SKYES: He was able to convince rather strong handedly to keep the north and south together early. He often took a very strong stand to make sure people believed in the union.  

During his 16 months in the White House, Zachary Taylor made many enemies—both inside and outside his party. So when Taylor died five days after the Independence Day celebration, rumors of assassination by poisoning began almost right away. 

In 1991, researchers exhumed his body to test for arsenic poisoning. The results were negative—though some still suspect foul play. Only two U.S. presidents served shorter terms. 


Next, July 6th, 1969, California becomes the first state to adopt no-fault divorce. It allows for the dissolution of marriage on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences.” Up to this time, marriages could only be annulled by proving fault of one of the parties due to adultery, abandonment, or a handful of other serious offenses. 

The sexual revolution, women’s lib, and other cultural changes in the ‘60s became a driving force behind California’s move. Many other states soon followed suit. 

Over the next two decades, divorce rates more than doubled. Today, the sociological, financial, and spiritual effects of divorce are well documented, and it is particularly damaging to women and children in poor communities. 

During a 2016 interview with Eric Metaxas, author Peter Hitchens points to “no-fault divorce” as one of the most significant turning points in the anti-family revolution. 

HITCHINS: Until the divorce laws, marriage was an agreement entered into by two people freely of a life-long union. After the divorce laws, it was entered into in the same way, but it was extraordinarily easy to get out of even by just one party in the marriage. What’s more, to divide up the property and children of the family in favor of the person who initiated the breakup of the marriage. This interference of the state in private life is unprecedented in a free society.

The governor of California at the time was Ronald Reagan. Later, he changed his mind about divorce and confessed that he regretted The Family Law Act of 1969 bears his signature.


And finally, July 7th, 1985 at the All England Club championship.

The unseeded Boris Becker from Germany and the eighth-seeded American Kevin Curren face off in the Wimbledon final. 

At age 17, Boris Becker becomes the youngest player to win Wimbledon. Sportscaster Bud Collins speaks with the teenager following the victory:

COLLINS: What are you feeling right now? BECKER: I just can’t describe my feelings now. It’s like a dream, you know. I’m just happy and that’s it. COLLINS: Can you imagine, you’re 17 years of age, what do you look ahead to? BECKER: I think I have a lot of responsibility to the game now and I think the pressure is a little more on me, but I hope that I will do my best.

Over the next decade, Becker is a successful men’s player. He retired from the sport in 1999, holding a handful of records, dozens of titles, and even a gold medal. 

In 2006, Tennis magazine ranked Boris Becker the 11th best male player between the years of 1965 and 2005.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book. I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/Getty Images) Boris Becker

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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