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William Henry Harrison

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William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison by James Reid Lambdin, 1835 crop.jpg
Official White House portrait by James Lambdin, 1835[1]
9th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
Vice PresidentJohn Tyler
Preceded byMartin Van Buren
Succeeded byJohn Tyler
3rd United States Minister to Gran Colombia
In office
May 24, 1828 – September 26, 1829
Preceded byBeaufort Taylor Watts
Succeeded byThomas Patrick Moore
United States Senator
from Ohio
In office
March 4, 1825 – May 20, 1828
Preceded byEthan Allen Brown
Succeeded byJacob Burnet
Member of the Ohio Senate
from Hamilton County
In office
Preceded byEphraim Brown
Succeeded byEphraim Brown
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 1st district
In office
October 8, 1816 – March 3, 1819
Preceded byJohn McLean
Succeeded byThomas R. Ross
1st Governor of the Indiana Territory
In office
January 10, 1801 – December 28, 1812
Appointed byJohn Adams
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byThomas Posey
Delegate to the
U.S. House of Representatives
from the Northwest Territory
In office
March 4, 1799 – May 14, 1800
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byWilliam McMillan
2nd Secretary of the Northwest Territory
In office
June 28, 1798 – October 1, 1799
GovernorArthur St. Clair
Preceded byWinthrop Sargent
Succeeded byCharles Willing Byrd
Personal details
Born(1773-02-09)February 9, 1773
Charles City County, Virginia, British America
DiedApril 4, 1841(1841-04-04) (aged 68)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Cause of deathPneumonia[2]
Resting placeHarrison Tomb State Memorial
Political party
(m. 1795)
Children10, including John and Carter
Parent(s)Benjamin Harrison V
Elizabeth Bassett
RelativesHarrison family of Virginia
  • Military officer
  • politician
AwardsCongressional Gold Medal
Thanks of Congress
SignatureCursive signature in ink
Military service
Years of service1791–1798, 1811, 1812–1814
RankMajor General
UnitLegion of the United States
CommandsArmy of the Northwest

William Henry Harrison (February 9, 1773 – April 4, 1841) was an American military officer and politician who served as the 9th president of the United States in 1841. Harrison died just 31 days after his inauguration, and had the shortest presidency in U.S. history. He was also the first U.S president to die in office, and a brief constitutional crisis resulted as presidential succession was not then fully defined in the United States Constitution. Harrison was the last president born as a British subject in the Thirteen Colonies and was the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president of the United States.

Harrison was born in Charles City County, Virginia, a son of Benjamin Harrison V, who was a Founding Father of the United States. During his early military career, Harrison participated in the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, an American military victory that ended the Northwest Indian War. Later, he led a military force against Tecumseh's confederacy at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, where he earned the nickname "Old Tippecanoe." He was promoted to major general in the Army during the War of 1812, and led American infantry and cavalry to victory at the Battle of the Thames in Upper Canada.

Harrison’s political career began in 1798, with an appointment as Secretary of the Northwest Territory; in 1799 he was elected as the territory's non-voting delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives. He became governor of the newly established Indiana Territory in 1801 and negotiated multiple treaties with American Indian tribes, with the nation acquiring millions of acres. After the War of 1812, he moved to Ohio where he was elected to represent the state's 1st district in the U.S. House in 1816. In 1824, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, though his Senate term was cut short by his appointment as Minister Plenipotentiary to Gran Colombia in 1828.

Harrison returned to private life in North Bend, Ohio until he was nominated as one of several Whig Party nominees for president in the 1836 presidential election; he was defeated by Democratic vice president Martin Van Buren. Four years later, the party nominated him again, with John Tyler as his running mate, under the campaign slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." Harrison defeated Van Buren in the 1840 presidential election, making him the first of only two Whigs (Zachary Taylor was the second) to win the presidency.

Just three weeks after his inauguration, Harrison fell ill and died days later. After resolution of an ambiguity in the constitution regarding succession to the powers and duties of the office, Tyler became president. At 68, Harrison was the oldest person to assume the U.S. presidency until Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 at 69. Though he is often omitted in historical presidential rankings due to his brief tenure, he is remembered for his Indian entreaties, and also his inventive election campaign tactics.

Early life and education

Harrison was the seventh and youngest child of Benjamin Harrison V and Elizabeth (Bassett) Harrison, born on February 9, 1773, at Berkeley Plantation, the home of the Harrison family of Virginia on the James River in Charles City County.[3] This was a prominent political family of English descent whose ancestors had been in Virginia since the 1630s; he became the last American president not born as an American citizen.[4] His father was a Virginia planter, who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress (1774–1777) and who signed the Declaration of Independence. His father also served in the Virginia legislature and as the fifth governor of Virginia (1781–1784) in the years during and after the American Revolutionary War.[5] Harrison's older brother Carter Bassett Harrison represented Virginia in the House of Representatives (1793–1799).[6]

Harrison was tutored at home until age 14 when he attended Hampden–Sydney College, a Presbyterian college in Virginia.[7] He studied there for three years, receiving a classical education which included Latin, Greek, French, logic, and debate.[8][9] His Episcopalian father removed him from the college, possibly for religious reasons, and after brief stays at an academy in Southampton County, Virginia, and with his elder brother Benjamin in Richmond, he went to Philadelphia in 1790.[10]

Harrison was placed in the care of Robert Morris and his father died shortly afterwards in the spring of 1791. He briefly studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania with Doctor Benjamin Rush and William Shippen Sr.; though he did not graduate, he was considered part of Penn's medical school class of 1793.[11] He was only 18 and Morris became his guardian; his family lacked the funds for his further schooling, so he withdrew from medical school in favor of a military career on the advice of his father’s friend, Governor Henry Lee III.[12]

Early military career

On August 16, 1791, within 24 hours of meeting Lee, Harrison, age 18, was commissioned as an ensign in the Army and assigned to the First American Regiment.[13] He was initially assigned to Fort Washington, Cincinnati in the Northwest Territory where the army was engaged in the ongoing Northwest Indian War.[14]

Harrison was promoted to lieutenant after Major General "Mad Anthony" Wayne took command of the western army in 1792 following a disastrous defeat under Arthur St. Clair.[13] In 1793, he became Wayne's aide-de-camp and acquired the skills to command an army on the frontier;[7] he participated in Wayne's decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794, which ended the Northwest Indian War.[15] Harrison was a signatory of the Treaty of Greenville (1795) as witness to Wayne, the principal negotiator for the U.S.[13] Under the terms of the treaty, a coalition of Indians ceded a portion of their lands to the federal government, opening two-thirds of Ohio to settlement.[16][17]

At his mother's death in 1793, Harrison inherited a portion of his family's Virginia estate, including approximately 3,000 acres (12 km2) of land and several slaves. He was serving in the Army at the time and sold the land to his brother.[18] Harrison was promoted to captain in May 1797 and resigned from the Army on June 1, 1798.[19]

Marriage and family

Harrison met Anna Tuthill Symmes of North Bend, Ohio in 1795 when he was 22. She was a daughter of Anna Tuthill and Judge John Cleves Symmes, who served as a colonel in the Revolutionary War and a representative to the Congress of the Confederation.[20] Harrison asked the judge for permission to marry Anna but was refused, so the couple waited until Symmes left on business. They then eloped and were married on November 25, 1795, at the North Bend home of Stephen Wood, treasurer of the Northwest Territory.[21] They honeymooned at Fort Washington, since Harrison was still on military duty.[22] Judge Symmes confronted him two weeks later at a farewell dinner for General Wayne, sternly demanding to know how he intended to support a family. Harrison responded, "by my sword, and my own right arm, sir."[23] Matters eventually became cordial with his father-in-law, who later sold the Harrisons 160 acres (65 ha) of land in North Bend, which enabled Harrison to build a home and start a farm.[22]

The Harrisons had ten children: Elizabeth Bassett (1796–1846), John Cleves Symmes (1798–1830), Lucy Singleton (1800–1826), William Henry (1802–1838), John Scott (1804–1878) father of future U.S. president Benjamin Harrison, Benjamin (1806–1840), Mary Symmes (1809–1842), Carter Bassett (1811–1839), Anna Tuthill (1813–1865), James Findlay (1814–1817).[24] Anna was frequently in poor health during the marriage, primarily because of her many pregnancies, yet she outlived William by 23 years, dying on February 25, 1864, at 88.[8][25]

Prof. Kenneth R. Janken, in his biography of Walter Francis White, claims that Harrison had six children by an enslaved African-American woman named Dilsia. The assertion is based upon the White family’s oral history but is not otherwise documented.[26]

Political career

Harrison began his political career when he resigned from the military on June 1, 1798, and campaigned among his friends and family for a post in the Northwest Territorial government.[13] His close friend Timothy Pickering was serving as Secretary of State, and he helped him to get a recommendation to replace Winthrop Sargent, the outgoing territorial secretary. President John Adams appointed Harrison to the position in July 1798.[13] The position of recording the activities of the territorial was a busy one, but he soon became bored, and sought a position in the U. S. Congress.[27]

U.S. Congress

Engraved portrait print of Harrison at age 27, as a delegate member of the House of Representatives from the Northwest Territory, c. 1800 by Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin.[28][29]

Harrison had many friends in the eastern aristocracy and quickly gained a reputation among them as a frontier leader. He ran a successful horse-breeding enterprise that won him acclaim throughout the Northwest Territory.[13] Congress had legislated a territorial policy that led to high land costs, a primary concern for settlers in the Territory; Harrison became their champion to lower those prices. The Northwest Territory's population reached a sufficient number to have a delegate in Congress in October 1799, and Harrison ran for election.[30] He campaigned to encourage further migration to the territory, which eventually led to statehood.[31]

Harrison defeated Arthur St. Clair Jr. by one vote to become the Northwest Territory's first congressional delegate in 1798 at age 26.[2] He served in the Sixth United States Congress from March 4, 1799, to May 14, 1800.[32] He had no authority to vote on legislative bills, but he was permitted to serve on a committee, to submit legislation, and to engage in debate.[33] He became chairman of the Committee on Public Lands and promoted the Land Act of 1800, which made it easier to buy Northwest Territory land in smaller tracts at a lower cost.[30] Freeholders were permitted to buy smaller lots with a down payment of only five percent, and this became an important factor in the Territory’s rapid population growth.[34]

Harrison was also instrumental in arranging the division of the Territory into two sections.[30] The eastern section continued to be known as the Northwest Territory and consisted of Ohio and eastern Michigan; the western section was named the Indiana Territory and consisted of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, a portion of western Michigan, and the eastern portion of Minnesota. The two new territories were formally established by law in 1800.[35]

On May 13, 1800, President John Adams appointed Harrison as the governor of the Indiana Territory, based on his ties to the west and his apparent neutral political stances.[36] The appointment was made for a twelve year term.[37] His governorship was confirmed by the Senate and he resigned from Congress to become the first Indiana territorial governor in 1801.[30][38]

Indiana territorial governor

Harrison began his duties on January 10, 1801, at Vincennes, the capital of the Indiana Territory.[39] Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were both members of the Democratic-Republican Party, and they reappointed him as governor in 1803, 1806, and 1809.[30] Harrison was in 1804 assigned to administer the civilian government of the District of Louisiana. He administered the district's affairs for five weeks until the Louisiana Territory was formally established on July 4, 1805, and Brigadier General James Wilkinson assumed the duties of governor.[40]

In 1805, Harrison built a plantation-style home near Vincennes that he named Grouseland, in tribute to the birds on the property.[20] The 26-room home was one of the first brick structures in the territory;[41] and it served as a center of social and political life in the territory during his tenure as governor.[42] Harrison founded Jefferson University at Vincennes in 1801, which was incorporated as Vincennes University on November 29, 1806.[43] The territorial capital was eventually moved to Corydon in 1813, and Harrison built a second home at nearby Harrison Valley.[44]

Harrison had wide-ranging powers in the new territory, including authority to appoint territorial officials and to divide the territory into smaller political districts and counties.[2] One of his primary responsibilities was to obtain title to Indian lands that would allow future settlement and increase the territory's population, a requirement for statehood.[2] He was also eager to expand the territory for personal reasons, as his political fortunes were tied to Indiana's eventual statehood.[2]

When Harrison was reappointed as the Indiana territorial governor on February 8, 1803, he was given expanded authority to negotiate and conclude treaties with the Indians.[30] Between 1803 and 1809, he supervised 13 treaties with Indian leaders that provided the federal government over 60,000,000 acres (240,000 km2), including the southern third of Indiana and most of Illinois.[45] The 1804 Treaty of St. Louis with Quashquame required the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes to cede much of western Illinois and parts of Missouri. Many of the Sauk resented the loss of lands, especially their leader Black Hawk.[46] Harrison thought that the Treaty of Grouseland (1805) appeased some of the Indians, but tensions remained high along the frontier.[47] The Treaty of Fort Wayne (1809) raised new tensions when Harrison purchased more than 2.5 million acres (10,000 km2) from the Potawatomi, Delaware, Miami, and Eel River tribes. Some Indians disputed the authority of the tribes joining in the treaty.[48] He pursued the treaty process aggressively, offering large subsidies to the tribes and their leaders, so as to gain political favor with Jefferson.[49]

In addition to tensions with the Indians, Harrison's pro-slavery position made him unpopular with the Indiana Territory's abolitionists, as he attempted unsuccessfully to encourage slavery in the territory. In 1803, he had lobbied Congress to temporarily suspend Article VI of the Northwest Ordinance for 10 years, a move that would allow slavery in the Indiana Territory.[50] Though Harrison asserted that the suspension was necessary to promote settlement and make the territory economically viable and ready for statehood, the proposal failed.[51] In 1807 with Harrison's support, the legislature enacted laws that authorized indentured servitude and gave masters authority to determine the length of service.[52]

President Jefferson, primary author of the Northwest Ordinance, made a secret compact with James Lemen to defeat the nascent pro-slavery movement eventually led by Harrison.[53] He donated $100 to encourage Lemen with abolition and other good works, and later another $20 to help fund the church known as Bethel Baptist Church.[53] In Indiana, the planting of the anti-slavery church led to citizens signing a petition and organizing politically to defeat Harrison's efforts to legalize slavery in the territory.[53]

The Indiana Territory held elections to the legislature's upper and lower houses for the first time in 1809. Harrison found himself at odds with the legislature after the abolitionists came to power, and the eastern portion of the Indiana Territory grew to include a large anti-slavery population.[40] The Territory's general assembly convened in 1810, and its anti-slavery faction immediately repealed the indenturing laws enacted in 1803 and in 1805.[54] After 1809, the Indiana territorial legislature assumed more authority and the territory advanced toward statehood. In 1812 with the outbreak of war, Harrison resumed his military career during the War of 1812. After receiving both his military pay as well as his salary as governor for three months, he was forced to formally resign the latter position.[55]

Army general

Tecumseh and Tippecanoe

Indian resistance to American expansion came to a head, with the leadership of Shawnee brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa (The Prophet), in a conflict that became known as Tecumseh's War.[56] Tenskwatawa convinced the tribes that they would be protected by the Great Spirit and no harm could befall them if they rose up against the settlers. He encouraged resistance by telling the tribes to pay white traders only half of what they owed and to give up all the white man's ways, including their clothing, muskets, and especially whiskey.[56]

1915 depiction of Tecumseh, believed to be copying an 1808 sketch

In August 1810, Tecumseh led 400 warriors down the Wabash River to meet with Harrison in Vincennes. They were dressed in war paint, and their sudden appearance at first frightened the soldiers at Vincennes.[57] The leaders of the group were escorted to Grouseland, where they met Harrison. Tecumseh insisted that the Fort Wayne Treaty was illegitimate, arguing that one tribe could not sell land without the approval of the other tribes; he asked Harrison to nullify it and warned that Americans should not attempt to settle the lands sold in the treaty. Tecumseh informed Harrison that he had threatened to kill the chiefs who signed the treaty if they carried out its terms and that his confederation of tribes was growing rapidly.[58] Harrison said that the Miamis were the owners of the land and could sell it as they wished. He rejected Tecumseh's claim that all the Indians formed one nation and said that each tribe could have separate relations with the United States if they chose to do so. Harrison argued that the Great Spirit would have made all the tribes speak one language if they were to be one nation.[58]

Tecumseh launched an "impassioned rebuttal," in the words of one historian, but Harrison was unable to understand his language.[58] A Shawnee friendly to Harrison cocked his pistol from the sidelines to alert Harrison that Tecumseh's speech was leading to trouble, and some witnesses reported that Tecumseh was encouraging the warriors to kill Harrison. Many of them began to pull their weapons, representing a substantial threat to Harrison and the town, which held a population of only 1,000. Harrison drew his sword, and Tecumseh's warriors backed down when the officers presented their firearms in his defense.[58] Chief Winamac was friendly to Harrison, and he countered Tecumseh's arguments, telling the warriors that they should return home in peace since they had come in peace. Before leaving, Tecumseh informed Harrison that he would seek an alliance with the British if the treaty was not nullified.[59] After the meeting, Tecumseh journeyed to meet with many of the tribes in the region, hoping to create a confederation to battle the United States.[60]

Tecumseh was traveling in 1811 when Harrison advised Secretary of War William Eustis to present a show of force to the confederation.[61] He led an army north with 950 men to intimidate the Shawnee into making peace, but the tribes launched a surprise attack early on November 7 in the Battle of Tippecanoe.[62] Harrison defeated the tribal forces at Prophetstown next to the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers; the battle became famous and he was hailed as a national hero. Although his troops had suffered 62 dead and 126 wounded during the battle and the Shawnee just 150 casualties, the Shawnee prophet's vision of spiritual protection had been shattered. Tecumseh's brother, “the Prophet,” and their forces fled to Canada, and their campaign to unite the tribes of the region to reject assimilation failed.[63][64]

When reporting to Secretary Eustis, Harrison informed him that the battle occurred near the Tippecanoe River and that he feared an imminent reprisal attack. The first dispatch did not make clear which side had won the conflict, and the secretary at first interpreted it as a defeat; the follow-up dispatch clarified the situation.[65] When no second attack came, the Shawnee defeat was more certain. Eustis demanded to know why Harrison had not taken adequate precautions in fortifying his camp against attacks, and Harrison said that he had considered the position strong enough. The dispute was the catalyst of a disagreement between Harrison and the Department of War, which continued into the War of 1812.[66]

The press did not cover the battle at first, and one Ohio paper misinterpreted Harrison's first dispatch to mean that he was defeated.[67] By December, however, most major American papers carried stories on the battle, and public outrage grew over the Shawnee.[68] Americans blamed the British for inciting the tribes to violence and supplying them with firearms, and Congress passed resolutions condemning the British for interfering in American domestic affairs. Congress declared war on June 18, 1812, and Harrison left Vincennes to seek a military appointment.[55]

War of 1812

This portrait of Harrison originally showed him in civilian clothes as a congressional delegate in 1800; the uniform was added after service in the War of 1812.

The outbreak of war with the British in 1812 led to continued conflict with Indians in the Northwest. Harrison briefly served as a major general in the Kentucky militia until the government commissioned him on September 17 to command the Army of the Northwest.[55] Harrison received federal military pay for his service, and he also collected a territorial governor's salary from September until December 28, when he formally resigned as governor and continued his military service. Harrison was succeeded by John Gibson as acting governor of the territory.[55]

The Americans suffered a defeat in the siege of Detroit. General James Winchester offered Harrison the rank of brigadier general, but Harrison also wanted sole command of the army. President James Madison removed Winchester from command in September, and Harrison became commander of the fresh recruits.[55] The British and their Indian allies greatly outnumbered Harrison's troops, so Harrison constructed a defensive position during the winter along the Maumee River in northwest Ohio. He named it Fort Meigs in honor of Ohio governor Return J. Meigs Jr. He received reinforcements in 1813, took the offensive, and led the army north to battle. He won victories in the Indiana Territory as well as Ohio and recaptured Detroit before invading Upper Canada (Ontario). His army defeated the British, and Tecumseh was killed, on October 5, 1813, at the Battle of the Thames. It was considered to be one of the great American victories in the war, second only to the Battle of New Orleans.[69]

In 1814, Secretary of War John Armstrong divided the command of the army, assigning Harrison to an outlying post and giving control of the front to one of Harrison's subordinates.[70] Armstrong and Harrison had disagreed over the lack of coordination and effectiveness in the invasion of Canada, and Harrison resigned from the army in May.[71][72] After the war ended, Congress investigated Harrison's resignation and determined that Armstrong had mistreated him during his military campaign and that his resignation was justified. Congress awarded Harrison a gold medal for his services during the War of 1812.[73]

Harrison and Michigan Territory's Governor Lewis Cass were responsible for negotiating the peace treaty with the Indians.[74] President Madison appointed Harrison in June 1815 to help in negotiating a second treaty with the Indians that became known as the Treaty of Springwells, in which the tribes ceded a large tract of land in the west, providing additional land for American purchase and settlement.[32]

Postwar life

Ohio politician and diplomat

Poster lauding Harrison's accomplishments

Harrison resigned from the army in 1814, shortly before the conclusion of the War of 1812, and returned to his family in North Bend, Ohio.[75] He settled well into a life on his farm but he soon returned to public life.[75] He was elected in 1816 to complete John McLean's term in the House of Representatives, representing Ohio's 1st congressional district, from October 8, 1816, to March 3, 1819. He declined an offer to serve as Secretary of War under President Monroe in 1817.[failed verification] He was elected to the Ohio State Senate in 1819 and served until 1821, having lost the election for Ohio governor in 1820.[32] He ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives, but in 1822 lost by 500 votes to James W. Gazlay.[failed verification] He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1824. Fellow westerners in Congress called him a "Buckeye," a term of affection related to the native Ohio buckeye tree.[failed verification][32] He was an Ohio presidential elector in 1820 for James Monroe[76] and for Henry Clay in 1824.[77]

Harrison was appointed in 1828 as minister plenipotentiary to Gran Colombia, so he resigned from Congress and served in his new post until March 8, 1829.[78] He arrived in Bogotá on December 22, 1828, and found the condition of Colombia saddening. He reported to the Secretary of State that the country was on the edge of anarchy, and that Simón Bolívar was about to become a military dictator.[78] He wrote a rebuke to Bolívar, stating that "the strongest of all governments is that which is most free" and calling on Bolívar to encourage the development of democracy. In response, Bolívar wrote that the United States "seem destined by Providence to plague America with torments in the name of freedom," a sentiment that achieved fame in Latin America.[78] Andrew Jackson took office in March 1829, and he recalled Harrison in order to make his own appointment to the position.[75]

Private citizen

Harrison returned to the United States and his North Bend farm, living in relative privacy after nearly four decades of government service. He had accumulated no substantial wealth during his lifetime, and he lived on his savings, a small pension, and the income produced by his farm. He cultivated corn and established a distillery to produce whiskey, but closed it after he became disturbed by the effects of alcohol on its consumers. In an address to the Hamilton County Agricultural Board in 1831, he said that he had sinned in making whiskey and hoped that others would learn from his mistake and stop the production of liquors.[79]

Harrison also earned money from his contributions to James Hall's A Memoir of the Public Services of William Henry Harrison published in 1836, and he made an unsuccessful run for the presidency as a Whig candidate.[failed verification] Between 1836 and 1840, he served as Clerk of Courts for Hamilton County.[80] About this time, he met abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor George DeBaptiste who lived in nearby Madison. The two became friends, and DeBaptiste became his personal servant, staying with him until his death.[81] Harrison campaigned for president a second time in 1840; more than a dozen books had been published on his life by then, and he was hailed by many as a national hero.[79][better source needed]

1836 presidential campaign

Harrison was the Northern Whig candidate for president in 1836, one of two times that a major political party intentionally ran more than one presidential candidate (the Democrats ran two candidates in 1860). Vice President Martin Van Buren was the Democratic candidate, and he was popular and deemed likely to win the election against a single Whig candidate.[failed verification][82] The Whig plan was to elect popular Whigs regionally, deny Van Buren the 148 electoral votes needed for election, and force the House of Representatives to decide the election. They hoped that the Whigs would control the House after the general elections. This strategy would have failed, nonetheless, as the Democrats retained a majority in the House following the election.[83]

Harrison ran in all the non-slave states except Massachusetts, and in the slave states of Delaware, Maryland, and Kentucky. Hugh L. White ran in the remaining slave states except for South Carolina. Daniel Webster ran in Massachusetts, and Willie P. Mangum in South Carolina.[84] The plan narrowly failed, as Van Buren won the election with 170 electoral votes. A swing of just over 4,000 votes in Pennsylvania would have given that state's 30 electoral votes to Harrison and the election would have been decided in the House of Representatives.[82][83]

1840 presidential campaign

1840 Electoral Vote Map

Harrison was the Whig candidate and faced incumbent Van Buren in the 1840 election. He was chosen over more controversial members of the party, such as Clay and Webster; his campaign highlighted his military record and focused on the weak U.S. economy caused by the Panic of 1837.[85]

The Whigs nicknamed Van Buren "Van Ruin" and blamed him for the economic problems.[85] The Democrats, in turn, ridiculed Harrison by calling him "Granny Harrison, the petticoat general," because he resigned from the army before the War of 1812 ended. They would ask voters what Harrison's name would be when spelled backwards: "No Sirrah". They also cast him as a provincial, out-of-touch old man who would rather "sit in his log cabin drinking hard cider" than attend to the administration of the country. This strategy backfired when Harrison and running mate John Tyler adopted the log cabin and hard cider as campaign symbols. Their campaign used the symbols on banners and posters and created bottles of hard cider shaped like log cabins, all to connect the candidates to the "common man."[86]

Harrison came from a wealthy, slaveholding Virginia family, yet his campaign promoted him as a humble frontiersman in the style popularized by Andrew Jackson, while presenting Van Buren as a wealthy elitist.[86] A memorable example was the Gold Spoon Oration that Pennsylvania's Whig representative Charles Ogle delivered in the House, ridiculing Van Buren's elegant White House lifestyle and lavish spending.[87] The Whigs invented a chant in which people would spit tobacco juice as they chanted "wirt-wirt," and this also exhibited the difference between candidates from the time of the election:[88]

Old Tip he wore a homespun coat, he had no ruffled shirt: wirt-wirt,
But Matt he has the golden plate, and he's a little squirt: wirt-wirt!

The Whigs boasted of Harrison's military record and his reputation as the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe. The campaign slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too" became one of the most famous in American politics.[89] Harrison won a landslide victory in the Electoral College, 234 electoral votes to Van Buren's 60, although the popular vote margin was much closer, fewer than 150,000 votes. He carried nineteen of the twenty-six states.[89][90]

Presidency (1841)

Painting by Albert Gallatin Hoit, 1840

When Harrison came to Washington, he wanted to show that he was still the steadfast hero of Tippecanoe and that he was a better educated and more thoughtful man than the backwoods caricature portrayed in the campaign. He took the oath of office on Thursday, March 4, 1841, a cold and wet day.[91] He braved the chilly weather and chose not to wear an overcoat or a hat, rode on horseback to the grand ceremony, and then delivered the longest inaugural address in American history[91] at 8,445 words. It took him nearly two hours to read, although his friend and fellow Whig Daniel Webster had edited it for length.[92]

The inaugural address was a detailed statement of the Whig agenda, essentially a repudiation of Jackson's and Van Buren's policies. Harrison promised to re-establish the Bank of the United States and extend its capacity for credit by issuing paper currency in Henry Clay's American system.[91] He intended to defer to the judgment of Congress on legislative matters, with sparing use of his veto power, and to reverse Jackson's spoils system of executive patronage. He promised to use patronage to create a qualified staff, not to enhance his own standing in government.[92][93]

Following the address, he rode through the streets in the inaugural parade,[91] stood in a three-hour receiving line at the White House, and attended three inaugural balls that evening,[94] including one at Carusi's Saloon entitled the "Tippecanoe" ball with 1,000 guests who had paid $10 per person (equal to $312 in 2021).[95]

Clay was a leader of the Whigs and a powerful legislator, as well as a frustrated presidential candidate in his own right, and he expected to have substantial influence in the Harrison administration. He ignored his own platform plank of overturning the "spoils" system and attempted to influence Harrison's actions before and during his brief presidency, especially in putting forth his own preferences for Cabinet offices and other presidential appointments. Harrison rebuffed his aggression, saying, "Mr. Clay, you forget that I am the President."[96] The dispute escalated when Harrison named as Secretary of State Daniel Webster, Clay's arch-rival for control of the Whig Party. Harrison also appeared to give Webster's supporters some highly coveted patronage positions. His sole concession to Clay was to name his protégé John J. Crittenden to the post of Attorney General. Despite this, the contretemps continued until the president's death.[97]

The Harrison Cabinet
PresidentWilliam Henry Harrison1841
Vice PresidentJohn Tyler1841
Secretary of StateDaniel Webster1841
Secretary of the TreasuryThomas Ewing1841
Secretary of WarJohn Bell1841
Attorney GeneralJohn J. Crittenden1841
Postmaster GeneralFrancis Granger1841
Secretary of the NavyGeorge Edmund Badger1841

Clay was not the only one who hoped to benefit from Harrison's election. Hordes of office applicants came to the White House, which was then open to any who wanted a meeting with the president. Most of Harrison's business during his month-long presidency involved extensive social obligations and receiving visitors at the White House. Harrison had been advised to have an administration in place before the inauguration; he declined, wanting to focus on the festivities. As such, job seekers awaited him at all hours and filled the Executive Mansion, with no process for organizing and vetting them.[91]

Harrison wrote in a letter dated March 10, "I am so much harassed by the multitude that calls upon me that I can give no proper attention to any business of my own."[98] U.S. marshal of the District of Columbia Alexander Hunter recalled an incident in which Harrison was besieged by office seekers who were preventing him from getting to a cabinet meeting; when his pleas for their consideration were ignored, Harrison finally "accepted their petitions, which filled his arms and pockets."[99] Another anecdote of the time recounted that the halls were so full one afternoon that in order to get from one room to the next, Harrison had to be helped out a window, walked the length of the White House exterior, and then helped in through another window.[99]

Harrison took seriously his pledge to reform executive appointments, visiting each of the six cabinet departments to observe its operations and issuing through Webster an order that electioneering by employees would be considered grounds for dismissal.[91] He resisted pressure from other Whigs over partisan patronage. A group arrived in his office on March 16 to demand the removal of all Democrats from any appointed office, and Harrison proclaimed, "So help me God, I will resign my office before I can be guilty of such an iniquity!"[100] His own cabinet attempted to countermand his appointment of John Chambers as Governor of the Iowa Territory in favor of Webster's friend James Wilson. Webster attempted to press this decision at a March 25 cabinet meeting, and Harrison asked him to read aloud a handwritten note, which said simply "William Henry Harrison, President of the United States." Harrison then stood and declared: "William Henry Harrison, President of the United States, tells you, gentlemen, that, by God, John Chambers shall be governor of Iowa!"[101]

Harrison's only official act of consequence was to call Congress into a special session. He and Clay had disagreed over the necessity of such a session, and Harrison's cabinet proved evenly divided, so the president vetoed the idea. Clay pressed him on the special session on March 13, but Harrison rebuffed him and told him not to visit the White House again, to address him only in writing.[102] A few days later, however, Treasury Secretary Thomas Ewing reported to Harrison that federal funds were in such trouble that the government could not continue to operate until Congress' regularly scheduled session in December; Harrison thus relented, and proclaimed the special session on March 17 in the interests of "the condition of the revenue and finance of the country." The session would have begun on May 31 as scheduled if Harrison had lived.[103][104]

Death and funeral

An illustration depicting the death of Harrison, April 4, 1841

On Wednesday, March 24, 1841, Harrison took his daily morning walk to local markets, without a coat or hat. Despite being caught in a sudden rainstorm, he did not change his wet clothes upon return to the White House.[105] On Friday, March 26, Harrison became ill with cold-like symptoms and sent for his doctor, Thomas Miller, though he told the doctor he felt better after having taken medication for "fatigue and mental anxiety."[105] The next day, Saturday, the doctor was called again, and arrived to find Harrison in bed with a "severe chill," after taking another early morning walk. Miller applied mustard plaster to his stomach and gave him a mild laxative, and he felt better that afternoon.[105] At 4:00 a.m. Sunday, March 28, Harrison developed severe pain in the side and the doctor initiated bloodletting; the procedure was terminated when there was a drop in his pulse rate. Miller also applied heated cups to the president's skin to enhance blood flow.[105] The doctor then gave him castor oil and medicines to induce vomiting, and diagnosed him with pneumonia in the right lung.[105] A team of doctors was called in Monday, March 29, and they confirmed right lower lobe pneumonia.[106] Harrison was then administered laudanum, opium, camphor with wine and brandy.[107]

No official announcements were made concerning Harrison's illness, which fueled public speculation and concern the longer he remained out of public view.[106] Washington society had noticed his uncharacteristic absence from church on Sunday.[99] Conflicting and unconfirmed newspaper reports were based on leaks by people with contacts in the White House.[105] A Washington paper reported on Thursday, April 1, that Harrison's health was decidedly better. In fact, Harrison’s condition had seriously weakened, and Cabinet members and family were summoned to the White House—his wife Anna had remained in Ohio due to her own illness.[105] According to papers in Washington on Friday, Harrison had rallied, despite a Baltimore Sun report that his condition was of a "more dangerous character."[105] A reporter for the New York Commercial indicated that, "...the country's people were deeply distressed and many of them in tears.”[105]

In the evening of Saturday, April 3, Harrison developed severe diarrhea and became delirious, and at 8:30 p.m. he uttered his last words, to his attending doctor, assumed to be for Vice President John Tyler:[105] "Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more."[108] Harrison died at 12:30 a.m. on April 4, 1841, Palm Sunday, nine days after becoming ill and exactly one month after taking the oath of office;[105] he was the first president to die in office.[106] Anna was still in Ohio packing for the trip to Washington when she learned of her loss.[109]

The prevailing theory at the time was that his illness had been caused by the bad weather at his inauguration three weeks earlier. [110] Jane McHugh and Philip A. Mackowiak did an analysis in Clinical Infectious Diseases (2014), examining Miller's notes and records showing that the White House water supply was downstream of public sewage, and they concluded that he likely died of septic shock due to "enteric fever" (typhoid or paratyphoid fever).[111][112]

A 30-day period of mourning commenced following the president's death. The White House hosted various public ceremonies, modeled after European royal funeral practices. An invitation-only funeral service was also held on April 7 in the East Room of the White House, after which Harrison's coffin was brought to Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. where it was placed in the Public Vault.[113] Solomon Northup gave an account of the procession in Twelve Years a Slave:

The next day there was a great pageant in Washington. The roar of cannon and the tolling of bells filled the air, while many houses were shrouded with crape, and the streets were black with people. As the day advanced, the procession made its appearance, coming slowly through the Avenue, carriage after carriage, in long succession, while thousands upon thousands followed on foot—all moving to the sound of melancholy music. They were bearing the dead body of Harrison to the grave…. I remember distinctly how the window glass would break and rattle to the ground, after each report of the cannon they were firing in the burial ground.[114]

That June, Harrison's body was transported by train and river barge to North Bend, Ohio, and he was buried on July 7 at the summit of Mt. Nebo, which is now the William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial.[115]

Impact of death

The William Henry Harrison Memorial in North Bend, Ohio

Harrison's death called attention to an ambiguity in Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution regarding succession to the presidency. The Constitution clearly provided for the vice president to take over the "Powers and Duties of the said Office" in the event of a president's removal, death, resignation, or inability, but it was unclear whether the vice president formally became president of the United States, or simply temporarily assumed the powers and duties of that office, in a case of succession.[116]

Harrison's cabinet insisted that Tyler was "Vice President acting as President." Tyler was resolute in his claim to the title of President and in his determination to exercise the full powers of the presidency.[117] The cabinet consulted with Chief Justice Roger Taney and decided that, if Tyler took the presidential oath of office, he would assume the office of president. Tyler obliged and was sworn into office on April 6, 1841. Congress convened in May and, after a short period of debate in both houses, passed a resolution, which confirmed Tyler as president for the remainder of Harrison's term.[118] The precedent that he set in 1841 was followed on seven occasions when an incumbent president died, and it was written into the Constitution in 1967 through Section One of the Twenty-fifth Amendment.[119]


Historical reputation

Harrison (on left) at Tippecanoe County Courthouse, Lafayette, Indiana

Among Harrison's most enduring legacies is the series of treaties that he negotiated and signed with Indian leaders during his tenure as the Indiana territorial governor.[8] As part of the treaty negotiations, the tribes ceded large tracts of land in the west which provided additional acreage for purchase and settlement.[32][120]

Harrison's long-term impact on American politics includes his campaigning methods, which laid the foundation for modern presidential campaign tactics.[121] Harrison died nearly penniless. Congress voted his wife Anna a presidential widow's pension of $25,000,[122] one year of Harrison's salary (equivalent to about $627,000 in 2020).[123] She also received the right to mail letters free of charge.[124]

Historian William W. Freehling refers to Harrison as "the most dominant figure in the evolution of the Northwest territories into the Upper Midwest today."[125] Harrison, age 68 at the time of his inauguration, was the oldest person to assume the U.S. presidency, a distinction he held until 1981, when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated at age 69.[126]

Harrison's son John Scott Harrison represented Ohio in the House of Representatives between 1853 and 1857.[127] Harrison's grandson Benjamin Harrison of Indiana served as the 23rd president from 1889 to 1893, making William and Benjamin Harrison the only grandparent-grandchild pair of presidents.[128]

Honors and tributes

Several monuments and memorial statues have been erected in tribute to Harrison. There are public statues of him in downtown Indianapolis,[129] Cincinnati's Piatt Park,[130] the Tippecanoe County Courthouse,[131] Harrison County, Indiana,[132] and Owen County, Indiana.[133] Numerous counties and towns also bear his name.

The Village of North Bend, Ohio, honors Harrison every year with a parade to celebrate his birthday.[134] The Gen. William Henry Harrison Headquarters in Franklinton, Ohio commemorates Harrison. The house was his military headquarters from 1813 to 1814.[135] On February 19, 2009, the U.S. Mint released the ninth coin in the Presidential $1 Coin Program, bearing Harrison's likeness.[136][137]

See also



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  15. ^ Owens 2007, pp. 23–26.
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Further reading

  • Barnhart, John D.; Riker, Dorothy L. (1971). Indiana to 1816, the colonial period. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau. OCLC 154955.
  • Booraem, Hendrik (2012). A Child of the Revolution: William Henry Harrison and His World, 1773–1798. Kent State University Press. ISBN 978-1-6127-7643-9.
  • Borneman, Walter R. (2005). 1812: The War That Forged a Nation. New York: HarperCollins (Harper Perennial). ISBN 978-0-06-053113-3.
  • Cheathem, Mark R. (2018). The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson. ISBN 9781421425986.
  • Ellis, Richard J. (2020). Old Tip vs. the Sly Fox: The 1840 Election and the Making of a Partisan Nation. U of Kansas Press. ISBN 978-0-7006-2945-9.
  • Graff, Henry F. (2002). The Presidents: A Reference History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. OCLC 1036830795.
  • Hall, James (1836). A Memoir of the Public Services of William Henry Harrison, of Ohio. Philadelphia: Key & Biddle. LCCN 11019326. Retrieved November 16, 2021.
  • Jortner, Adam (2012). The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-1997-6529-4.
  • Peckham, Howard Henry (2000). William Henry Harrison: Young Tippecanoe. Carmel, IN: Patria Press. ISBN 978-1-8828-5903-0. Retrieved November 10, 2021.
  • Peterson, Norma Lois (1989). The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. U of Kansas Press.
  • Pirtle, Alfred (1900). The Battle of Tippecanoe. Louisville: John P. Morton & Co./ Library Reprints. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-7222-6509-3. as read to the Filson Club.
  • Shade, William G. (2013). "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too: William Henry Harrison and the rise of popular politics". In Silbey, Joel H. (ed.). A Companion to the Antebellum Presidents 1837–1861. pp. 155–72.
  • Skaggs, David Curtis (2014). William Henry Harrison and the Conquest of the Ohio Country: Frontier Fighting in the War of 1812. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. ISBN 978-1-4214-0546-9.

External links

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