William Henry Harrison (1773-1841)/Biography

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This article is about the General and President. For his great-great-grandson, see William H. Harrison.
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison.png

In office
March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
Vice President John Tyler
Preceded by Martin Van Buren
Succeeded by John Tyler

In office
March 4, 1825 – May 20, 1828
Preceded by Ethan Allen Brown
Succeeded by Jacob Burnet

Born February 9, 1773(1773-02-09)
Charles City County, Virginia
Died April 4, 1841 (age 68)
Nationality American
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Anna Symmes Harrison
Occupation Soldier
Religion Episcopal
Signature William Henry Harrison Signature.png

William Henry Harrison (February 9, 1773April 4, 1841) was an American military leader, politician, and the ninth President of the United States. He served as the first Governor of the Indiana Territory and later as a U.S. Representative and Senator from Ohio. Harrison first gained national fame for leading U.S forces against American Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 and earning the nickname "Tippecanoe" (or "Old Tippecanoe"). As a general in the subsequent War of 1812, his most notable contribution was a victory at the Battle of the Thames, which brought the war in his region to a successful conclusion.

When Harrison took office in 1841 at the age of 68, he was the oldest man to become President - a record that stood for 140 years, until Ronald Reagan became President in 1981 at the age of 69. Harrison died thirty-one days into his term — the briefest presidency in the history of the office. He was also the first U.S. President to die while in office. His death threw the country into a constitutional crisis.[1]

Early years and military careerEdit

Harrison was born into a prominent political family at the Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County Virginia, the youngest of the seven children of second cousins Benjamin Harrison V and Elizabeth Bassett. His father was a Virginia planter who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress (1774–1777), signed the Declaration of Independence (1776), and was Governor of Virginia (1781-1784). William Henry Harrison's brother, Carter Bassett Harrison, later became a member of the United States House of Representatives, representing Virginia. Harrison's father-in-law was Congressman John Cleves Symmes. His stepmother-in-law was the daughter of New Jersey Governor William Livingston. He was the first cousin of Burwell Bassett on his mother's side. Harrison was the last president to be born a British subject.

Before attending the University of Pennsylvania, Harrison attended Hampden-Sydney College where he studied medicine under Dr. Benjamin Rush. He entered school at the age of 14. [1] Harrison attended the University of Pennsylvania with the intention of becoming a physician, but did not receive a degree. His father's death, in 1791, left Harrison without money for further schooling and so, at the age of 18, he was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Army. He was sent to the Northwest Territory, where he spent much of his life. Harrison served as aide-de-camp to General "Mad Anthony" Wayne, from whom he learned how to successfully command an army on the American frontier. Harrison participated in Wayne's decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, which brought the Northwest Indian War to a close. Lieutenant Harrison was one of the signers of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which opened much of present-day Ohio to settlement by white Americans.

William H. Harrison

This portrait of Harrison originally showed him in civilian clothes as the Congressional delegate from the Northwest Territory in 1800, but the uniform was added after he became famous in the War of 1812.

Harrison resigned from the Army in 1798 to become Secretary of the Northwest Territory, and acted as governor when Governor Arthur St. Clair was absent. In 1799, Harrison was elected as the first delegate representing the Northwest Territory in the Sixth United States Congress, serving from March 4, 1799, to May 14, 1800. As delegate, he successfully promoted the passage of the Harrison Land Act, which made it easier for people to purchase land for settlement in the Northwest Territory. Harrison resigned from Congress to become governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory at Vincennes, Indiana. The Indiana Territory consisted of the future states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and the eastern portion of Minnesota. While in Vincennes, Harrison built a home Grouseland, which was the first brick structure in the territory. The home served as the center of social and political life in the territory. The home has been restored and is a popular tourist attraction. He had built a second home at Harrison Spring as well.

A primary responsibility as territorial governor was to obtain title to Native American lands so that white settlement could expand in the area and the region could attain statehood. Harrison, however, was also extremely eager to expand the territory for personal reasons, as his own political fortunes were tied to Indiana's rise to statehood. Harrison oversaw numerous treaties, purchasing much of present-day Indiana from Native American leaders. The Treaty of Grouseland in 1805 was thought by Harrison to have appeased Native Americans however, tensions, always high on the frontier, became much greater after the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne, in which Harrison illegally purchased more than 2,500,000 acres (10,000 km²) of American Indian land.

An Indian resistance movement against U.S. expansion had been growing around the Shawnee brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa ("The Prophet"). Tecumseh called upon Harrison to nullify the Treaty of Fort Wayne, warned against any whites moving onto the land, and continued to widen his Indian confederation (see "Tecumseh's War"). In 1811, Harrison was authorized to march against the confederacy, winning his famous victory at Prophetstown next to the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers. Harrison was publicly hailed as a hero, despite the fact that his troops had greatly outnumbered the Indian forces and yet suffered many more casualties.

During the War of 1812, Harrison took command of the Army of the Northwest. He won victories in Indiana and Ohio before invading Canada and crushing the British at the Battle of the Thames, in which Tecumseh was killed. Harrison subsequently resigned from the army because of ongoing disagreements with Secretary of War John Armstrong.

According to a legend, Tecumseh had placed a curse on Harrison, claiming that every President to be elected in a year ending with the number zero (which happens every 20 years) would die in office. This Curse of Tecumseh is sometimes called the "zero-year curse". Remarkably, though there is no documantary evidence to prove the curse was made, it in fact 'came true' for Harrison and for the next 6 eligible Presidents - Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Roosevelt and Kennedy - though the next 2 (Reagan and, so far, George W Bush) evaded it.

Post-war political careerEdit

After the war, Harrison was elected to various political offices, including the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio, serving from October 8, 1816, to March 4, 1819. He was defeated as a candidate for governor of Ohio in 1820 but served in the Ohio State Senate from 1819 to 1821. In 1824, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until May 20, 1828, when he resigned to become Minister to Colombia from 1828 to 1829. Harrison was a tall man, and in Congress he was referred to by fellow westerners as a Buckeye, as were other tall pioneers on the Ohio frontier, as a term of endearment in respect of the Buckeye chestnut tree.

WmHHarrison-campaign poster

Chromolithograph campaign poster for William Henry Harrison

1840 Presidential CampaignEdit

Harrison was the Northern Whig candidate for President in 1836, but lost the election to Martin Van Buren. He was the candidate again (and again faced Van Buren, now the incumbent President) in the 1840 election, basing his campaign heavily on his heroic military record and the weak U.S. economy brought on by the Panic of 1837.

The Democrats attempted to ridicule Harrison by calling him "Granny Harrison, the petticoat general," because he resigned from the army before the War of 1812 ended. When asking voters whether Harrison should be elected, they asked them what his name backwards was, which happens to be "No Sirrah."

Democrats also cast Harrison as a provincial and 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, however, when Harrison and his vice presidential running-mate, John Tyler, immediately adopted both symbols, using the images in banners, posters, and even bottles of hard cider that were shaped like log cabins.

Their campaign was from then on marked by exaggeration of Harrison's connections to the common man. (Harrison came from an aristocratic Virginia family, but his supporters promoted him as a humble frontiersman in the style of the popular Andrew Jackson.) A memorable example of these efforts was the Gold Spoon Oration delivered by a Whig congressman. Van Buren, by contrast, was presented as a wealthy elitist who spent taxpayers' money on champagne and crystal goblets from which to sip it.

The Whigs also played up Harrison's military record and reputation as the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe. Their campaign slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," became one of the most famous in American politics.

On election day, Harrison won a landslide electoral victory against Van Buren.

Presidency 1841Edit


Official White House portrait of William Henry Harrison

Short presidencyEdit

When Harrison arrived in Washington, he focused on showing that he was still the steadfast hero of Tippecanoe. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, an extremely cold and wet day. [2] Nevertheless, he faced the weather without his overcoat and delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. At 8,424 words, it took nearly two hours to read (even after his friend and fellow Whig, Daniel Webster, had edited it for length). He then rode through the streets in the inaugural parade, and later caught a cold, which then developed into pneumonia and pleurisy. (According to the prevailing medical misconception of the times, microorganisms being still unknown, it was believed that his illness was directly caused by the bad weather, when, in fact, he was likely a victim of the virus that causes the common cold, exacerbated by the drastic pressures of his changing circumstances.) He sought to rest in the White House, but could not find a quiet room, as he was deluged with people seeking his favor in the hope that he would appoint them to the numerous offices the president then had at his disposal. In addition, his position and new arrival in Washington obligated Harrison to keep an extremely busy social schedule, making any rest time scarce.

Harrison only had time for one official act: calling Congress into a special session, which he set to begin on May 31, 1841. He and Whig leader Henry Clay had disagreed over the necessity of the special session (which Harrison opposed, but Clay desired in order to immediately get his economic agenda underway), but Clay's powerful position in both the legislature and the Whig Party quickly forced Harrison to give in. He thus proclaimed the special session in the interests of "the condition of the revenue and finance of the country."[3] Most of his business during his month-long presidency, however, involved receiving office seekers. Harrison and Clay had also disagreed about government patronage, which was entirely given at the discretion of the President. Harrison had tried to end the dispute by promising in his inaugural address not to use the power to enhance his own standing in the government; however, the very fact of his appointment power sent scores of people to line up at the doors of the White House. The stress and volume of these interviews and petitions is often thought to have further weakened the already-ill Harrison.[4]


Poster of Harrison's accomplishments.

His doctors tried everything to cure him, applying opium, castor oil, Virginia snakeweed, and even actual snakes. But the treatments only made Harrison worse and he went into delirium. He died a month later, at 12:30 a.m., on April 4, 1841, of right lower lobe pneumonia, jaundice, and overwhelming septicemia, becoming the first American president to die in office. His last words were "Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more." Harrison served the shortest term of any American president: only 30 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes.

Harrison's funeral took place in the Wesley Chapel in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1841. He was a founding member of Christ Church, Cincinnati. He was buried in North Bend at the William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial.

The untimely death of Harrison was a disappointment to Whigs, who hoped to pass a revenue tariff and enact measures to support Henry Clay's American System. John Tyler, Harrison's successor and a long-time Democrat, abandoned the Whig agenda, leaving himself without a party.

Harrison's son, John Scott Harrison, was also elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio from 1853 to 1857. Harrison's grandson, Benjamin Harrison of Ohio, became the 23rd president in 1889, making them the only grandparent-grandchild pair of presidents to date. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison gave his inaugural address in the rain. Understanding his grandfather's mistakes, he asked his outgoing predecessor (and later his successor), Grover Cleveland, to hold an umbrella above his head, since he also delivered a long inaugural address.

Harrison was the first sitting president to have his picture taken. The original daguerreotype has been lost, although copies of it exist.[5]

He was the first, but not only, US president to have no military vessel named after him.

Harrison was in so much debt when he died that a sympathetic Congress voted to give his wife the remaining eleven months of his annual salary.

Administration and CabinetEdit

Harrison tomb

Harrison's tomb and memorial in North Bend.

The Harrison Cabinet
Office Name Term
President William Henry Harrison1841
Vice President John Tyler1841
Secretary of State Daniel Webster1841
Secretary of Treasury Thomas Ewing, Sr.1841
Secretary of War John Bell1841
Attorney General John J. Crittenden1841
Postmaster General Francis Granger1841
Secretary of the Navy George E. Badger1841

Supreme Court appointmentsEdit


States admitted to the UnionEdit


Statue of Harrison on horseback in Cincinnati.


Notes and references Edit

  1. ^ "The Constitution of that time contained no Twenty-fifth Amendment to lay out procedures governing the vice president's actions when the chief executive became disabled or when there was a vacancy before the end of the incumbent's term. The document provided only that the 'Powers and Duties of the said Office . . . shall devolve on the Vice President . . . [who] shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.' In another section, the Constitution referred to the vice president 'when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.'" John Tyler, Tenth Vice President (1841). Secretary of the Senate, United States Government. Last accessed 2007-04-01.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ The White House Historical Association, retrieved January 23, 2007
  • Cleaves, Freeman. Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time. New York: Scribner's, 1939.

Related Links Edit

External links Edit

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Political offices
New title
Indiana Territory established
Governor of Indiana Territory
1800 – 1812
Succeeded by
John Gibson (acting)
Preceded by
Amos Stoddard
as Commandant of the District of Louisiana
Governor of Indiana Territory
1804 – 1805
Succeeded by
James Wilkinson
as Governor of Louisiana Territory
Preceded by
Andrew Jackson
Chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee
1825 – 1828
Succeeded by
Thomas Hart Benton
Preceded by
Martin Van Buren
President of the United States
March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
Succeeded by
John Tyler
United States House of Representatives
New title Delegate from the Northwest Territory
March 4, 1799 – May 14, 1800
Succeeded by
William McMillan
Preceded by
John McLean
Member from Ohio's 1st congressional district
1816 – 1819
Succeeded by
Thomas Randolph Ross
United States Senate
Preceded by
Ethan Allen Brown
Senator from Ohio (Class 3)
1825 – 1828
Served alongside: Benjamin Ruggles
Succeeded by
Jacob Burnet
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Beaufort T. Watts
United States Minister to Colombia
May 24, 1828 – September 26, 1829
Succeeded by
Thomas P. Moore
Party political offices
New political party Whig Party presidential candidate
1836¹, 1840
Succeeded by
Henry Clay
Notes & References
1. The Whig Party ran regional candidates in 1836. Harrison ran in the Northern states, Hugh Lawson White ran in the Southern states, and Daniel Webster ran in Massachusetts.

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at William Henry Harrison. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

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