William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison



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William Henry Harrison (1773-1841), America’s ninth president, served just one month in office before dying of pneumonia. His tenure, from March 4, 1841, to April 4, 1841, is the shortest of any U.S. president. Harrison, who was born into a prominent Virginia family, joined the Army as a young man and fought American Indians on the U.S. frontier. He then became the first congressional delegate from the Northwest Territory, a region encompassing much of the present-day Midwest. In the early 1800s, Harrison served as governor of the Indiana Territory and worked to open American Indian lands to white settlers. He became a war hero after fighting Indian forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Harrison went on to serve as a U.S. congressman and senator from Ohio. He was elected to the White House in 1840, but passed away a month after his inauguration, the first U.S. president to die in office.

William Henry Harrison: Early Years

William Henry Harrison was born on February 9, 1773, at Berkeley, his family’s plantation near Richmond, Virginia. His father, Benjamin Harrison (1726-91) was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and governor of Virginia. The younger Harrison attended Hampden-Sydney College and studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, before dropping out in 1791 to join the Army.

Harrison fought against Indian forces in various territorial conflicts, including the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, which was won by the U.S. and opened present-day Ohio to white settlement. Harrison was promoted to captain and became commander of Ohio’s Fort Washington, near present-day Cincinnati.

In 1795, Harrison married Anna Tuthill Symmes (1775-1864), whose father was a judge and wealthy land owner in Ohio. At first, Judge Symmes was against a match between the two, believing his prospective son-in-law’s military career on the frontier was not conducive to marriage; as a result, the Harrisons eloped. The couple had 10 children, six of whom died before Harrison became president. Their son John Scott Harrison (1804-78) would grow up to become a U.S. congressman from Ohio and the father of Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901), the 23rd American president.

Harrison Fights on the Frontier

After Harrison resigned from the Army in 1798, President John Adams (1735-1826) named him secretary of the Northwest Territory, a region encompassing the present-day states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota. The following year, Harrison became the Northwest Territory’s first congressional delegate.

In 1800, Congress created the Indiana Territory from part of the Northwest Territory, and Harrison became governor of the new territory. In this position, he negotiated treaties with American Indian tribes in which they agreed to hand over millions of acres of land. Not all tribes were happy with these treaties, however, and Harrison subsequently called in U.S. forces to remove Indians from the treaty lands and secure them for white settlers. In 1811, at the Battle of Tippecanoe, in Indiana, Harrison’s forces fought off followers of the powerful Shawnee leader Tecumseh (1768-1813). Although the U.S. suffered significant troop losses and the battle’s outcome was inconclusive and did not end Indian resistance, Harrison ultimately emerged with his reputation as an Indian fighter intact. He capitalized on this image during his 1840 presidential campaign, using the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.”

After a dozen years as governor of the Indiana Territory, Harrison rejoined the Army when the War of 1812 began. He was made a brigadier general and placed in charge of the Army of the Northwest. Harrison scored a decisive victory against the British and their Indian allies in 1813 at the Battle of the Thames, near the southern section of present-day Ontario, Canada. The chieftain Tecumseh was killed during the battle, and the confederation of Indian tribes he led never again posed a serious threat in the region.

The Log Cabin Campaign

In 1814, Harrison resigned from the Army as a major general, and moved with his family to a farm in North Bend, Ohio. Two years later, Harrison was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio. In 1819, he became a state senator. Starting in 1825, he spent three years as a U.S. senator. He resigned his senate seat in 1828 to become U.S. minister to Colombia, a post he held for a year.

In 1836, Harrison was a Whig Party candidate for the U.S. presidency (the recently established Whigs ran three presidential candidates in different parts of the nation that year). Harrison lost the election to Democrat Martin Van Buren (1782-1862). Four years later, the Whigs nominated Harrison again, with Virginia politician John Tyler (1790-1862) as his running mate. During the campaign, a pro-Democrat newspaper mocked Harrison, then in his late 60s, for being too old to run for president, and said: “Give him a barrel of hard [alcoholic] cider, and… a pension of two thousand [dollars] a year… and… he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin.”

The Whigs used this statement to mount a “log cabin campaign,” positioning Harrison, or “Old Tip,” as a symbol of the common man and promoting his image as an Indian fighter on the frontier. (His supporters used log cabin and cider barrel imagery on campaign memorabilia, including log-cabin-shaped bottles of whiskey from the E.C. Booz distillery, which led to “booze” becoming a common American term for alcohol.) Van Buren, who was unpopular with Americans for his mismanagement of the financial crisis known as the Panic of 1837, was painted by his opponents as an out-of-touch, wealthy elite. In fact, he came from humble roots while Harrison was well-educated and hailed from an established family. However, the tactics worked: Harrison won the presidency with an electoral vote of 234-60 and approximately 53 percent of the popular vote.

Harrison’s Brief Presidency

The 68-year-old Harrison was sworn into office on March 4, 1841. He was the oldest U.S. president until Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) was elected in 1980 at age 69. Harrison gave a lengthy inaugural address–the longest in history–and opted not to wear a coat or hat, despite the inclement weather. Four weeks later he was dead from pneumonia. Harrison was succeeded by his vice president, John Tyler, who earned the nickname “His Accidency.”

First lady Anna Harrison, who outlived her husband by two decades, became the first presidential widow to receive a pension from Congress–a one-time payment of $25,000, the equivalent of one year of her husband’s White House salary. She was also given free postage on all her mail.

The former president and his wife are buried at the William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial in North Bend, Ohio.


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PHOTO GALLERIES


On November 25, 1795, Harrison married Anna Tuthill Symmes despite her father’s protests. She was wealthy and well educated. Her father did not approve of Harrison's military career. Together they had nine children. Their son, John Scott, would later be the father of Benjamin Harrison who would be elected as the 23rd President of the United States.

Harrison fought in the Northwest Territory Indian Wars from 1791-1798, winning the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. At Fallen Timbers, approximately 1,000 Native Americans joined together in battle against US troops. They were forced to retreat.


Early years

Born at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia, Harrison was descended from two wealthy and well-connected Virginia families. His father, Benjamin Harrison, was long prominent in Virginia politics and became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1764, opposing Patrick Henry’s Stamp Act resolutions in the following year. He also was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a member of the Continental Congress, and the governor of Virginia (1781–84). A brother, Carter Bassett Harrison, served six years in the House of Representatives.

William Henry Harrison received a classical education at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, where he was a student from 1787 to 1790. He then studied medicine in Richmond, Virginia, and in Philadelphia with Benjamin Rush. However, the death of his father caused Harrison to discontinue his studies. In November 1791, at age 18, he enlisted in the army as an ensign in the 10th Regiment at Fort Washington near Cincinnati (in what is now Ohio). The following year he was made a lieutenant and subsequently served as an aide-de-camp to Gen. Anthony Wayne, who was engaged in a struggle against the Northwest Indian Confederation over the westward encroachment of white settlers. Harrison took part in the campaign that ended in the Battle of Fallen Timbers (August 20, 1794), near present-day Maumee, Ohio. The following year, on November 25, he married Anna Tuthill Symmes. Because her father objected to the match, the couple married in secret. Harrison was promoted to captain in 1797 and, for a brief period, served as commander of Fort Washington, resigning from the army in June 1798.

In subsequent years Harrison held several government positions. In 1798 Pres. John Adams named Harrison to succeed Winthrop Sargent as secretary of the Northwest Territory, a vast tract of land encompassing most of the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The following year Harrison was sent to Congress as a territorial delegate. While serving in this capacity, he devised a plan for distributing public lands to settlers and also assisted in the division of the Northwest Territory. It was Harrison’s ambition to become governor of the reconstituted, more-populous eastern portion of the territory. Instead, in May 1800, Adams appointed Harrison governor of the newly created Indiana Territory, which comprised, until 1809, a much larger area than the present state of Indiana. He would serve as governor for 12 years. In 1803 Harrison also became a special commissioner charged with negotiating with Native Americans “on the subject of boundary or lands.” Succumbing to the demands of land-hungry whites, he negotiated a number of treaties between 1802 and 1809 that stripped Indians of millions of acres of land—in the southern part of the present state of Indiana and portions of the present states of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri. For a few months after the division in 1804 of the Louisiana Purchase into the Orleans Territory and the Louisiana Territory, Harrison also acted as governor of the Louisiana Territory (all of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 33rd parallel), the largest jurisdiction ever exercised by a territorial official in the United States to that date.


William Henry Harrison: America's worst president

It was 4 April 1841 that America learned that the nation's ninth president, William Henry Harrison, had died of pneumonia and pleurisy. It would be difficult to say that a nation mourned – although it presumably mourned a little – since Harrison had been president for only 30 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes. He spent much of his presidency in bed with a cold.

At the time Harrison was said to have caught his cold from insisting on standing outside in freezing weather during his inauguration ceremony without wearing a coat, because he wanted to show how tough he was. He then gave a two-hour long inauguration address, the longest on record.

In other words, the only official duty he actually performed – being inaugurated – during his presidency he managed to cock up so badly that it probably contributed to his death. And people said George Bush was stupid.

Harrison's political popularity derived from his being a "war hero", which at that point in American history generally meant killing native Americans, a feat Harrison managed somehow at the battle of Moraviantown, during the War of 1812 – which itself was one of the stupidest wars fought by two nations.

As a result of Harrison's military campaign the US recaptured Detroit, for which America remains eternally grateful.

Harrison's untimely death imparted the nation's leadership to vice president, John Tyler. After managing to survive his own inauguration Tyler did little else that went right and was nicknamed "His Accidency". For more information see Tyler's Wikipedia entry, which contains such details as:

The last year of Tyler's presidency was marred by a freak accident that killed two of his Cabinet members.

Later, Tyler had the distinction of being the only former US president to side with the Confederacy during the Civil War. There was a man who could pick winners.

And all of this thanks to William Henry Harrison not wearing a coat, or moving the inauguration inside as Ronald Reagan did when it got too cold.


1773 Feb. 9

Born, Charles City County, Virginia. His parents were Elizabeth Bassett Harrison and planter, merchant, and prominent politician Benjamin Harrison V (1726-1791). He was the youngest child and third son in a family of three boys and four girls. His wealthy slave-holding family owned Berkeley Plantation, a prosperous estate on the James River. His father Benjamin Harrison V served as Virginia delegate to both the first and second Continental Congresses.

William Henry Harrison birthplace “Berkeley” in Virginia. Samuel H. Gottscho, photographer. Gottscho-Schleisner Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-G613-77597.

First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and the American Revolution began, pitting the American colonies against Great Britain.

1776, Aug. 2

Father Benjamin Harrison V signed the U.S. Declaration of Independence as a member of the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia and became known within his family as “The Signer.” His son, William Henry Harrison, and his great-grandson, Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901), later became presidents of the United States.

During the American Revolution, the Harrison family home in Virginia was looted of valuables and sacked, but left standing, by the British.

1781-84

Father Benjamin Harrison V served as governor of Virginia.

1783, Sept. 3

Treaty of Paris officially ended the American Revolution.

The British surrendering their arms to General Washington after their defeat at Yorktown in Virginia October 1781. John Francis Renault, artist, c. 1819. Tanner, Vallance, Kearny & Co. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-45

Educated at home until the age of 14 when he entered Hampden-Sidney College. Enjoyed the study of Greek and Roman history.

1787, July

The Northwest Ordinance, an act of the Confederation Congress, provided for government of the Northwest Territory. Bordering the Great Lakes and Canada, the territory encompassed parts of what became the future states of Ohio (1803), Indiana (1816), Illinois (1818), Michigan (1837), Wisconsin (1848), and Minnesota (1858).

1788, July

Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818), former president of the Continental Congress and an aide-de-camp to George Washington during the American Revolution, was appointed the Northwest Territory’s first governor. He served until 1802.

Father Benjamin Harrison V was a delegate to the Virginia convention called to ratify the Federal Constitution. He decried the lack of a Bill of Rights.

George Washington became the first president of the U.S.

William Henry Harrison studied medicine with Dr. Andrew Leiper in Richmond, Virginia.

Learned of his father’s sudden April 1791 death back home, soon after arriving in Philadelphia to study at the Medical School of Pennsylvania. With his financial status altered, Harrison arranged a commission into the Army infantry, aided by his father’s friends and President George Washington.

1791, Nov.

In the Battle of the Wabash (also known as St. Clair’s Defeat) U.S. army forces under the command of Major General Arthur St. Clair were decisively defeated by a confederation of Indians led by Miami chief LittleTurtle and Shawnee chief Blue Jacket.

1791, Fall

Stationed at Fort Washington, a western stockade located at what would become Cincinnati, Ohio, in the Northwest Territory. Criticized the high rates of intoxication observed among U.S. troops.

1792-93

Became a lieutenant, then captain, and aide-de-camp and protégé under Revolutionary War hero General (“Mad Anthony”) Anthony Wayne (1745-1796). Wayne’s forces opposed the pan-tribal Western Indian Confederacy led by Shawnee chief Blue Jacket.

1794, Aug. 20

Fought in the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which ended the Northwest Indian War.

1795, Aug. 3

Present at negotiations of the Treaty of Greenville, a peace treaty with Indian leaders conducted at Fort Greenville. The treaty established a boundary line between Native American and Anglo-American settlement by which Indian signers ceded much of the modern-day state of Ohio to white control. Shawnee leader Tecumseh (1768-1813) boycotted the agreement and began to organize a pan-tribal confederation of Indians opposed to white encroachment and fostering retention of traditional Native American cultural and religious practices and ways of life.

C. 1795

Traded family land held in Virginia for title to land in Kentucky. This transaction signified a shift in regional identification from southerner to westerner.

1795, Nov.

Married Anna Tuthill Symmes (1775-1864), the well-read, boarding-school educated, daughter of wealthy western-land speculator Colonel John Cleves Symmes. An excellent horsewoman, Anna was well suited to frontier and military life. The couple first met in Lexington, Kentucky. The match was supported by Anthony Wayne. The Harrisons moved to a log-cabin home on a farm outside the village of North Bend (near Cincinnati), purchased from the bride’s father.

Mrs. William Henry Harrison (Anna T. Symmes Harrison) (1775-1864). Photograph of a watercolor. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-25820.

Eldest daughter Elizabeth born, the first of ten children.

1796-97

Invested in business, including a gristmill, whiskey distillery, and sawmill, in Indiana Territory. None of the ventures proved profitable. Meanwhile, commanded the quiet outpost of Fort Washington.

Became secretary of Indiana Territory.

1799-1800

As a delegate from the Northwest Territory to Congress, in Philadelphia, Harrison penned the Land Act of 1800. It reduced the size of tracts of federal land available to western white settlers and made land available on credit, increasing white settlement but also raising the number of foreclosures. The sociable Harrison enjoyed evenings at President John Quincy Adams’s residence.

1800, May-July

Appointed by President John Quincy Adams the first governor of the Indiana Territory, created when Congress subdivided the Northwest Territory. Served as governor of Indiana Territory for twelve years.

1800-11

Took up residence at Vincennes, a French and Indian settlement some 200 miles from Cincinnati. As governor, supported the creation of an agricultural society, circulating library, and a Vincennes college, the latter to be supported by public lottery, and encouraged founding of the Indiana Gazette. Indian policies superseded resident Native American populations in favor of white settlement and statehood. Elite whites prospered from land speculation. Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother The Prophet led an Indian confederation that opposed further succession of lands and resisted assimilation by Indians to hegemonic Anglo-American religious beliefs and cultural practices.

Ohio became the 17th state of the United States.

1804, Aug.

Gubernatorial mansion, Grouseland, completed. The well-constructed two-story brick home was a sensation in Vincennes.

Treaty of Grouseland negotiated on behalf of the United States with Native American military leaders Miami chief Little Turtle and Lenape chief Buckongahelas.

Treaty of Fort Wayne (the Twelve Mile Line Treaty) opened vast acreage to white settlement and sparked what became known as Tecumseh’s War.

1811, Nov. 7

In Tecumseh’s absence, Harrison’s U.S. soldiers overcame supporters of Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa (The Prophet) at the Battle of Tippecanoe (near present-day Lafayette, Indiana, and the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers). The battle resulted in the temporary destruction of Prophetstown, the encampment and headquarters of the spiritual followers of Tenskwatawa , a setback for the Indian confederation. Indian resistance continued into the War of 1812.

The Battle of Tippecanoe. Kurz & Allison, print c. October 1889. Popular Graphic Arts collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-pga-01891

Commissioned as a general in the War of 1812. Took command of American forces in the northwest. Resigned as territorial governor of Indiana Territory.

1813, Sept.

American troops were victorious over the British and their allies at Detroit.

1813, Oct. 5

Battle of the Thames in Upper Canada pitted Harrison’s U.S. cavalry and infantry against the British and their Indian allies. The British retreated. Shawnee political and military leader Tecumseh was killed in battle, severely weakening the Indian alliance he headed. The U.S. army victory secured white control of the northwest frontier.

Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief. Hand-colored wood engraving, artist unknown. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZC4-3616 Prophet’s Rock, near Tippecanoe battleground. Detroit Publishing Co., 1902. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-det-4a09833

1814, July 22

Won pledges of support for the U.S. cause from pan-tribal Indian leaders in the Second Treaty of Greenville, with Governor Lewis Cass.

1814, Dec.

Treaty of Ghent officially ended the War of 1812.

1815-18

Member, U.S. House of Representatives, from Ohio.

1819-21

Elected to the Ohio state Senate and served two terms.

Unsuccessful candidate for governor of Ohio.

Unsuccessful candidate for U.S. House of Representatives.

1825-28

Member, U.S. Senate, from Ohio (until May 1828).

Log cabin anecdotes: Illustrated incidents in the life of Gen. William Henry Harrison. J. F. Trow, 114 Nassau St./New York: J. P. Gitting, Harrison Almanac, c. 1840. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZC4-2103

1828-29

Entrepreneur and businessman in Ohio.

Failed in a new election bid for the U.S. Senate.

1836-40

County court clerk, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Unsuccessful Whig Party candidate for the presidency of the U.S. The successful Democratic party opponent was Andrew Jackson’s political favorite son, Martin Van Buren of New York.

General William H. Harrison [campaign vignettes/montage]. George Endicott, lithographer, c. 1840. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-ds-00685

1839, Dec.

Nominated for president at the Whig Party convention in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. John Tyler nominated for vice president. Henry Clay had garnered the most votes in early balloting, but did not win a majority. Behind-the-scenes politicking led to a compromise Harrison-Tyler ticket, with Tyler of Virginia a pro-Clay delegate.

New England Convention Bunker Hill, 1840 [campaign badge, Whig Party convention, Boston]. Printed on silk. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-40700

The campaign of 1840 was a rematch between Harrison, the Whig of Ohio, versus Martin Van Buren, Democrat of New York and the incumbent president of the U.S. Van Buren was nominated unanimously at the Democratic National Convention, but Democrats balked at backing controversial incumbent Richard M. Johnson as vice president. Harrison’s campaign, meanwhile, was heavily infused by popular songs and by frontier iconography, including images of log cabins, coonskin caps, hard cider, and yeoman farmers at their plows. Harrison’s political nickname “Tippecanoe” appeared in lyrics of the Whig Log Cabin Song Book, and the Harrison campaign slogan remained famous into modern times: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”

Young Men’s Whig Convention, Baltimore Songbook, “Old Tippecanoe.” [Philadelphia?] : Leopold. Meignen & Co. Publishers & Importers of Music, 1840. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-91863 Harrison & Tyler Campaign Emblem. Woodcut, c. 1840. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-ds-00706 LC-DIG-ds-00706

1840, Nov.-Dec

Elected the ninth president of the U.S. in a landslide for the Whigs.

General Harrison’s marc and quick step [Whig Party sheet music]. Samuel Carusi, Edward Weber & Co., Baltimore, 1840. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress . LC-USZ62-4918 William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the U.S. New York: N. Currier (Currier & Ives), c. 1835-1856. Popular Graphic Arts collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZC2-3178

1841, Mar. 4

Sworn into office as president of the U.S. Harrison gave a long inaugural address, speaking for an hour and forty minutes and putting his interest in Roman history to good use in the speech. Harrison, at age 68, remained the eldest person inaugurated as president until 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office at age 69.

1841, Mar. 9

U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the captive-African mutineers in the Amistad case, following a rousing defense summation by John Quincy Adams.

1841, Mar. 17

With Henry Clay’s urging, called for a special session of Congress on the national economy.

Death of William Henry Harrison (1841). Kelloggs & Thayer, c. 1846. Popular Graphic Arts Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-51523

1841, April 4

After a short acute illness, the previously hearty president died only weeks after taking office, in Washington, D.C. Interned in William Henry Harrison State Memorial Park, adjacent to Congress Green Cemetery in North Bend, Ohio. Vice President John Tyler succeeded as U.S. president, quickly alienating Whig supporters.

1841, May 14

National day of mourning for the late president.

Widow Anna T. S. Harrison, died while the American Civil War was still in progress. Her grandson, Benjamin, became president of the U.S. in 1889.

Mrs. William Henry Harrison (Anna T. S. Harrison) (1775-1864). Photograph of a portrait. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-25778

Government Service

Harrison left the army in 1798 and held various government jobs before being named secretary of the Northwest Territory--a huge tract of land composed of most of the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin--by President John Adams in 1798. As the territory&aposs first congressional delegate, Harrison helped obtain legislation that divided the land into the Northwest and Indiana territories, the latter of which he served as governor of from 1801 until 1813.

As governor, Harrison oversaw the efforts to gain access to and control of Indian lands so settlers could extend their presence and establish new territories. The Indians usually resisted the process, so it became Harrison&aposs task to defend the fledgling settlements.


Show Notes for Tenskwatawa: The Rise and Fall of a Nation

All music in this episode was produced by award-winning Native artist Golaná from the Echota Cherokee tribe. Listen to and purchase Golaná’s music here: oginali.com.

The tracks heard in this episode are from the albums “Meditations for Two” and “Path to the Heart.”

Calloway, Colin, First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016).

Calloway, Collin, The Shawnees and the War for America, (New York: Penguin Books, 2007).

Cayton, Andrew, Frontier Indiana, (Bloomington: IU Press, 1998).

Dubar-Ortiz, Roxanne, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014).

Edmunds, David, Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership, (New York: Pearson Longman, 2008).

Edmunds, David, The Shawnee Prophet, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983).

Gugin, Linda and St. Clair. James, Indiana’s 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State, (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society), 346-348.

Harrison, William Henry, Messages and Letter of William Henry Harrison, 1773-1841, (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1922).

Jortner, Adam, The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Kinietz, Vernon, and Voegelin, Ermine, Shawnese Traditions C.C. Trowbridge’s Account, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1939).

Madison, James, and Sandweiss, Lee Ann, Hoosiers and the American Story, (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2014).

McNemar, Richard, The Kentucky Revival, or, A Short History of the Late Extraordinary Outpouring of the Spirit of God in the Western States of America: Agreeably to Scripture Promises and Prophecies Concerning the Latter Day: with a Brief Account of the Entrance and Progress of What the World Call Shakerism among the Subjects of the Late Revival in Ohio and Kentucky : Presented to the True Zion-traveler as a Memorial of the Wilderness Journey, (New York: Reprinted by Edward O. Jenkins, 1846).

Michigan Historical Commission, Michigan Historical Collections, vol. 40, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 2006), 127-133.

Sugden, John, Tecumseh: A Life, (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997).

Warren, Stephen, The Shawnees and Their Neighbors, 1795-1870, (Illinois: University of Illinois, 2005).

Candey, Robert, and Young, Alex, “Total Solar Eclipse of 1806 June 16,” accessed https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEsearch/SEsearchmap.php?Ecl=18060616.

Academic Journals:

Cave, Alfred, “The Shawnee Prophet, Tecumseh, and Tippecanoe: A Case Study of Historical Myth-Making,” Journal of the Early Republic, 22, no. 4 (Winter, 2002), accessed https://www.jstor.org/stable/3124761?read-now=1&loggedin=true&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.

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The President

Soon after Van Buren's inauguration the movement for Harrison picked up new steam. Aided by a decline in Van Buren's popularity as a consequence of the Panic of 1837, Harrison received the Whig party's nomination at its 1839 convention with John Tyler, of Harrison's native county in Virginia, as his running mate.

The Whigs used a purposely vague program to carry Harrison to victory. Harrison refused to take a stand during the course of the campaign. He was portrayed as a simple, hardworking western farmer who lived in a log cabin and loved farm work, as contrasted to Van Buren, who was described as an eastern aristocrat living in luxury. Although the campaign rhetoric may have influenced the election, the dire economic condition of the country led to a general desire for changes, which worked in Harrison's favor.

Between his election and inauguration, Harrison was beset by numerous party quarrels over patronage. On April 4, 1841, one month after he took office, amid signs that his party was breaking up, Harrison died of pneumonia. The nation was stunned, having witnessed the first death of a president in office.


William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison was born on his father’s estate, Berkeley, a tobacco plantation on the James River in Virginia. He was home-schooled as a youth and later attended Hampden-Sydney College where he studied history and the classics. He briefly studied medicine with the noted American physician Benjamin Rush. In 1791, he entered the military and later served as the aide-de-camp to General “Mad Anthony” Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. He was later the Secretary of the Northwest Territory and served as their first delegate to Congress from 1799 to 1800. During his brief tenure in Congress, William Henry Harrison headed the committee that rewrote the Land Act of 1796. The new act maintained the minimum price of $2 per acre but allowed for credit to the purchaser rather than immediate, full payment and generally provided more favorable terms to purchasers of small plots. In the period from 1800 to 1812, Harrison was the governor of the Indiana Territory where his prime function was to conclude treaties for the purchase of lands from Indians. Some tribes resisted, most notably Tecumseh and his brother, The Prophet. In 1811, Harrison routed the Shawnee at the Battle of Tippecanoe. During the War of 1812, Harrison replaced the disgraced William Hull and recaptured Detroit in September 1813. In the following month Harrison’s forces were victorious at the Battle of the Thames north of Lake Erie, a victory that secured the northwest border. Harrison secured further land cessions from Native Americans in the Treaty of Greenville in 1814 and the Treaty of Spring Wells in 1815. Following the war, Harrison embarked on his political career. He served in the House of Representatives (1816-19) from Ohio, the Ohio state senate (1819-21), and the U.S. Senate (1825-28). In 1828, he was appointed American minister to Columbia by John Quincy Adams. He offended his hosts by lecturing Simón Bolívar, the South American revolutionary leader, on the dangers of dictatorship and was recalled early in Jackson’s administration. In 1834, Harrison took a position as a court clerk because of pressing financial circumstances. His political star rose again when he emerged as a Whig Party compromise candidate between Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, but lost in the Election of 1836 to Martin Van Buren. These very candidates faced one another in the Election of 1840, the celebrated “log cabin and hard cider” campaign. Harrison won and appeared poised to enact the Whig program Clay was in the Senate and Webster was the secretary of state. In the longest inauguration oration ever given, Harrison promised, among other things, not to seek a second term he never had the chance. He caught cold in a dismal inaugural rainstorm, developed pneumonia, and died after only 31 days on the job, on April 4, 1841. William Henry Harrison at 68 years of age was the oldest man to be elected president (until Ronald Reagan in 1980) he also was the first president to die in office and had the shortest term. Harrison was the only president to have a grandson, Benjamin Harrison, achieve the same office.


See Also

  1. Durfee, David A. William Henry Harrison, 1773-1841: John Tyler, 1790-1862. Dobbs Ferry, NY, Oceana Publications, 1970.  
  2. Fess, Simeon D., ed. Ohio: A Four-Volume Reference Library on the History of a Great State. Chicago, IL: Lewis Publishing Company, 1937 
  3. Peterson, Norma. The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 1989.  

"William Henry Harrison's Administration of Indiana Territory." Indiana Historical Society Publications, vol. 4, no. 3 (1907).  


William Henry Harrison

"Give him a barrel of hard cider and settle a pension of two thousand a year on him, and my word for it,” a Democratic newspaper foolishly gibed about William Henry Harrison “he will sit . by the side of a ‘sea coal’ fire, and study moral philosophy.” The Whigs, seizing on this political misstep, in 1840 presented their candidate Harrison as a simple frontiersman, living in a log cabin and drinking cider, in sharp contrast to an aristocratic champagne sipping Van Buren.

Harrison was in fact a scion of the Virginia planter aristocracy. He was born on February 9, 1773 at Berkeley Plantation to one of Virginia's wealthiest slave owning families. He studied classics and history at Hampden-Sydney College, then began the study of medicine. Then in 1791, Harrison obtained a commission as ensign in the First Infantry of the Regular Army, and headed to the Northwest, where he spent much of his life. In 1795, Harrison married Anna Tuthill Symmes. They would go on to have ten children together.

As Native American peoples continued to resist displacement, Harrison served as aide-de-camp to General “Mad Anthony” Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which opened most of the Ohio area to settlement. After resigning from the army in 1798, he became secretary of the Northwest Territory, was its first delegate to Congress, and helped obtain legislation dividing the Territory into the Northwest and Indiana Territories. In 1801 he became governor of the Indiana Territory, serving 12 years.

Harrison’s primary task as governor was to secure more land for white settlers. He negotiated treaties for millions of acres in exchange for small amounts of money. When Native Americans refused to accept these agreements, or attacked encroaching settlements, Harrison responded with military force.

The threat against settlers became serious in 1809. Eager to repel invading settlers, an eloquent and energetic Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, with his religious brother, the Prophet, began to strengthen an Native American confederation to prevent further encroachment. In 1811 Harrison received permission to attack the confederacy.

While Tecumseh was away seeking more allies, Harrison led about a thousand men toward “Prophetstown.” Both sides agreed to a ceasefire until Tecumseh's return. The next morning, November 7, 1811, the Native American warriors attacked his camp on Tippecanoe River. After heavy fighting, Harrison repulsed them, but suffered 190 dead and wounded in the Battle of Tippecanoe. After driving the warriors from the field, Harrison and his men then burned “Prophetstown.” Violence continued to escalate into the spring of 1812 as Tecumseh and his remaining Native allies carried out raids against white settlements.

During the War of 1812, Harrison won more military laurels when he was given the command of the army in the Northwest with the rank of brigadier general. At the Battle of the Thames, north of Lake Erie, on October 5, 1813, he defeated the combined British and Native American forces. Tecumseh was killed in the battle, scattering his allies and destroying the delicate Native American alliance he had forged. The Native Americans scattered, never again to offer serious resistance in what was then called the Northwest.

Throughout his lifetime, Harrison offered contradictory views on slavery. As a slave owner, he opposed the idea of Congress restricting slavery in new territories. As his political career took off, he carefully avoided condemning slavery and instead professed the belief that the states themselves should decide its fate. He was nominated by the Whig Party in 1840 and won the election by less than 150,000 votes however he captured the Electoral College in a landslide, 234 to 60, with strong support from the western and southern states.

When he arrived in Washington in February 1841, Harrison let Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster edit his Inaugural Address, ornate with classical allusions. According to one recollection, Webster obtained some deletions, boasting in a jolly fashion that he had killed “seventeen Roman proconsuls as dead as smelts, every one of them.”

Webster had reason to be pleased, for while Harrison was nationalistic in his outlook, he emphasized in his Inaugural Address that he would be obedient to the will of the people as expressed through Congress. But before he had been in office a month, he became severely ill. On April 4, 1841, he died at the White House—the first president to die in office—and with him died the Whig program.


Watch the video: William Henry Harrison Tomb