William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison

9th President of the United States (March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841)

Age at inauguration: 68 years old

Vice President: John Tyler


  • General Mum, as in the expression, "keep it mum". Because of his avoidance of speaking out on controversial issues during his election campaign
  • Tippecanoe or also Old Tippecanoe, a reference to Harrison's victory at the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe; used in the campaign song Tippecanoe and Tyler Too during the 1840 Presidential election
  • Washington of the West, a reference to Harrison's victories at the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe and 1813 Battle of the Thames

Preceded by:  Martin Van Buren
Succeeded by: John Tyler

Born: William Henry Harrison February 9, 1773 Charles City County, Virginia, British America

Died: April 4, 1841 (aged 68) Washington, D.C., U.S.

Cause of death: Typhoid fever

Resting Place:  Harrison Tomb State Memorial

Father:  Benjamin Harrison V
Mother:  Elizabeth Bassett Harrison
Married: Hannah Hoes (m. 1807; died 1819)


  • Elizabeth "Betsy" Bassett Harrison (1796-1846)
  • John Claves Symmes Harrison (1798-1830)
  • Lucy Singleton Harrison (1800-1826)
  • William Henry Harrison Jr (1802-1838)
  • John Scott Harrison (1804-1878)
  • Benjamin Harrison (1806-1840)
  • Mary Symmes Harrison (1809-1842)
  • Carter Bassett Harrison (1811-1839)
  • Anna Tuthill Harrison (1813-1845)
  • James Findlay Harrison (abt 15 May 1814 - abt 1817)

Religion: Episcopalian

Education: Hampden-Sydney College (did not graduate)

Occupation: soldier

Other Government Positions:

  • United States Senator Ohio March 4, 1825 – May 20, 1828

Presidential Salary: $25,000/year

Early life and education

William Henry Harrison, the seventh and youngest child of Benjamin Harrison V and Elizabeth (Bassett) Harrison, was born on February 9, 1773, at Berkeley Plantation, the Harrison family home along the James River in Charles City County, Virginia. He was a member of a prominent political family of English descent, whose ancestors had been in Virginia since the 1630s. Harrison was the last U.S. president born as a British subject before the American Revolution. His father was a Virginia planter who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress (1774–1777) and who signed the Declaration of Independence. The senior Harrison also served in the Virginia legislature, and as the fifth governor of Virginia (1781–84) in the years during and after the American Revolutionary War. William's older brother, Carter Bassett Harrison, represented Virginia in the U.S. House(1793–99).

Harrison was tutored at home until age fourteen when he entered Hampden–Sydney College, a Presbyterian college in Virginia. He studied there for three years, receiving a classical education that included Latin, Greek, French, logic, and debate.[12] Harrison's Episcopalian father removed him from the college, possibly for religious reasons, and he briefly attended a boys' academy in Southampton County, before being transferred to Philadelphia in 1790.

He boarded with Robert Morris and entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied medicine under Doctor Benjamin Rush.; Harrison later told his biographer that he did not enjoy the subject. In the spring of 1791, shortly after he began his medical studies, his father died. When the eighteen-year-old Harrison, who was left in the guardianship of Morris, discovered that his family's financial situation left him without funds for further schooling, he abandoned medical school in favor of a military career.

Early military career

Governor Henry Lee III of Virginia, a friend of Harrison's father, learned of William's situation and persuaded him to join the military. Within twenty-four hours of meeting Lee, eighteen-year-old Harrison was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Army, 1st Infantry Regiment. He was initially assigned to Fort Washington, the present-day site of Cincinnati, in the Northwest Territory, where the army was engaged in the ongoing Northwest Indian War.

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, its previous commander. In 1793 he became Wayne's aide-de-camp and learned how to successfully command an army on the American frontier; he participated in Wayne's decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794, which brought the Northwest Indian War to a successful close. Harrison was a signatory of the Treaty of Greenville (1795) as witness to Wayne, the principal negotiator for the U.S.. Under the terms of the treaty, a coalition of Native Americans ceded a portion of their lands to the federal government that opened two-thirds of present-day Ohio to settlement by European Americans.

Following 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. Harrison, who was serving in the army at the time, sold his land to his brother.

Marriage and family

In 1795, at age 22, Harrison met Anna Tuthill Symmes of North Bend, Ohio. She was a daughter of Anna Tuthill and Judge John Cleves Symmes, who served as a colonel in the American Revolutionary War, as a representative to the Congress of the Confederation, and became a prominent figure in Ohio. Harrison asked the judge for permission to marry Anna but was refused— the pair waited until Symmes left on business, eloped and were married on November 25, 1795, at the North Bend home of Doctor Stephen Wood, treasurer of the Northwest Territory. The couple honeymooned at Fort Washington since Harrison was still on military duty. Two weeks later, at a farewell dinner for General Wayne, Judge Symmes confronted his new son-in-law for the first time since the wedding, sternly demanding to know how Harrison intended to support a family. Harrison responded, "by my sword, and my own right arm, sir."[24] Afterward, still concerned about Harrison's ability to provide for Anna, Judge Symmes sold the young couple 160 acres (65 ha) of land in North Bend. Symmes did not come to accept Harrison until he had achieved fame on the battlefield.

William and Anna Harrison 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).

Anna, who was frequently in poor health during the marriage, primarily due to her many pregnancies, outlived William by twenty-three years. She died on February 25, 1864, at age eighty-eight.

In a biography of Walter Francis White—African-American civil rights leader and N.A.A.C.P president—historian Kenneth Robert Janken indicates that White's mother Madeline Harrison was said to have traced some of her mixed-race white ancestry to Harrison in Virginia. According to Janken, she opined that Dilsia, a female slave belonging to William Henry Harrison, had six children by him, born into slavery. Four were said to be sold to a planter in La Grange, Georgia, including a daughter, Marie Harrison. Marie was said to be Madeline's mother. No evidence corroborating these assertions has been discovered.

Political career

Harrison began his political career when he resigned from the military effective June 1, 1798. and campaigned among his friends and family for a post in the Northwest Territorial government. With the aid of his close friend Timothy Pickering, who was serving as U.S. Secretary of State, Harrison received a recommendation to replace Winthrop Sargent, the outgoing territorial secretary. President John Adams appointed Harrison to the position in July 1798. Harrison frequently served as acting territorial governor during the absences of Governor Arthur St. Clair.

U.S. Congress

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. Harrison became a champion of lower land prices, a primary concern of settlers in the Territory at the time. The U.S. Congress had legislated a territorial land policy that led to high land costs, which many of the territory's residents disliked. In October 1799, after it had been determined that the Northwest Territory's population had reached a sufficient number to have a delegate in the U.S. Congress, Harrison ran for election. He campaigned to encourage further migration to the territory, which eventually led to statehood.

 In 1798, at age twenty-six, Harrison defeated Arthur St. Clair Jr., the son of the territorial governor, by one vote to become the Northwest Territory's first congressional delegate, and served in the Sixth United States Congress from March 4, 1799, to May 14, 1800. As the Northwest Territory's delegate to Congress, he had no authority to vote on legislative bills, but he was permitted to serve on a committee, submit legislation, and engage in debate.

Harrison became chairman of the Committee on Public Lands and successfully promoted passage of the Land Act of 1800, which made it easier to buy land in the Northwest Territory in smaller tracts at a low cost. The sale price for public lands was set at $2 per acre. This became an important contributor to rapid population growth of the Northwest Territory.

Harrison also served on the committee that decided how to divide the Northwest Territory into smaller sections. The committee recommended splitting the territory into two segments. The eastern section, which continued to be known as the Northwest Territory, comprised the present-day state of Ohio and eastern Michigan; the western section was named the Indiana Territory and consisted of the present-day states of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, a portion of western Michigan, and the eastern portion of Minnesota. The two new territories were formally established in 1800 following the passage of 2 Stat. 58.

On May 13, 1800, President John Adams appointed Harrison as the governor of the newly established Indiana Territory, based on his ties to the west and seemingly neutral political stances. Harrison, caught unaware, was reluctant to accept the position until he received assurances from the Jeffersonians that he would not be removed from office after they gained power in the upcoming elections. After Harrison's governorship was confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he resigned from Congress to become the first Indiana territorial governor in 1801.

1836 presidential campaign

Harrison ran in all the free states except Massachusetts, and 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. 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.

1840 presidential campaign

The Democrats ridiculed 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, the Democrats asked what Harrison's name spelled backwards would be: "No Sirrah". They also cast Harrison 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 John Tyler, his vice presidential running mate, 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".

Although Harrison had come from a wealthy, slaveholding Virginia family, his campaign promoted him as a humble frontiersman in the style popularized by Andrew Jackson. In contrast, the Whigs presented Van Buren as a wealthy elitist. A memorable example was the Gold Spoon Oration that Pennsylvania's Whig representative, Charles Ogle, delivered in the U.S. House. The speech ridiculed Van Buren's elegant, White House lifestyle and lavish spending. A Whig chant in which people would spit tobacco juice as they chanted "wirt-wirt," also exhibited the difference between candidates from the time of the election:

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. Harrison won a landslide victory in the Electoral College, 234 electoral votes to Van Buren's 60, although the popular vote was much closer. Harrison received 53 percent of the popular vote to Van Buren's 47 percent, with a margin of less than 150,000 votes.

Presidency (1841) - Shortest presidency

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 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.[95] He wore neither an overcoat nor hat, rode on horseback to the ceremony rather than in the closed carriage that had been offered him, and delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. 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. After becoming the first head of state to have his photograph taken, Harrison then rode through the streets in the inaugural parade,[96] and that evening attended three inaugural balls, including one at Carusi's Saloon entitled the "Tippecanoe" ball, which at a price of $10 per person (equal to $243 in 2018) attracted 1,000 guests.

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 reestablish the Bank of the United States and extend its capacity for credit by issuing paper currency (Henry Clay's American system); 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.

As leader of the Whigs and a powerful legislator (as well as a frustrated presidential candidate in his own right), Henry Clay expected to have substantial influence in the Harrison administration. He ignored his own platform plank of overturning the "spoils" system. Clay 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." The dispute intensified when Harrison named Daniel Webster, Clay's arch-rival for control of the Whig Party, as his Secretary of State, and appeared to give Webster's supporters some highly coveted patronage positions. Harrison's sole concession to Clay was to name his protégé John J. Crittenden to the post of Attorney General. Despite this, the dispute continued until the President's death.

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 all who wanted a meeting with the president. Most of Harrison's business during his month-long presidency involved extensive social obligations—an inevitable part of his high position and arrival in Washington—and receiving visitors at the White House. They awaited him at all hours and filled the Executive Mansion. Harrison wrote in a letter dated March 10, "I am so much harassed by the multitude that call upon me that I can give no proper attention to any business of my own."[102] Nevertheless, Harrison sent a number of nominations for office to the Senate for confirmation during his month in office. The new 27th Congress had convened an extraordinary session for the purpose of confirming Harrison's cabinet and other important nominees, since a number of them arrived after Congress' March 15 adjournment; however, John Tyler would ultimately be forced to renominate many of Harrison's selections.

Harrison took his pledge to reform executive appointments seriously, visiting each of the six executive departments to observe its operations and issuing through Webster an order to all departments that electioneering by employees would henceforth be considered grounds for dismissal.

As he had with Clay, Harrison resisted pressure from other Whigs over partisan patronage. When a group arrived in his office on March 16 to demand the removal of all Democrats from any appointed office, Harrison proclaimed, "So help me God, I will resign my office before I can be guilty of such an iniquity!"[104] Harrison's own cabinet attempted to countermand the president's appointment of John Chambers as Governor of Iowa in favor of Webster's friend, General James Wilson; when Webster attempted to press this decision at a March 25 cabinet meeting, however, Harrison asked him to read aloud a handwritten note (which said simply "William Henry Harrison, President of the United States"), then announced that "William Henry Harrison, President of the United States, tells you, gentlemen, that, by God, John Chambers shall be governor of Iowa!"

Harrison's only official act of consequence was to call Congress into a special session. Henry Clay and he had disagreed over the necessity of such a session, and when on March 11 Harrison's cabinet proved evenly divided, the president vetoed the idea. When Clay pressed Harrison on the special session on March 13, the president rebuffed his counsel and told him not to visit the White House again, but to address him only in writing.[106] 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 on March 17 proclaimed the special session in the interests of "the condition of the revenue and finance of the country". The session was scheduled to begin on May 31.

Death and funeral

On March 26, 1841, Harrison became ill with a cold—according to the prevailing medical misconception of that time, his illness was believed to be caused by the bad weather at his inauguration, but the illness did not arise until more than three weeks afterwards. Harrison tried to rest in the White House, but could not find a quiet room because of the steady crowd of office seekers. His extremely busy social schedule also made rest time scarce.

Harrison's doctors tried several cures, such as applying opium, castor oil, leeches, and Virginia snakeweed, but the treatments only made Harrison worse and he became delirious. He died nine days after becoming ill, at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 4, 1841. Harrison's doctor, Thomas Miller, diagnosed Harrison's cause of death as "pneumonia of the lower lobe of the right lung". A medical analysis made in 2014, based on Dr. Miller's notes and records of the White House water supply being downstream of public sewage, concluded that he likely died of septic shock due to enteric fever.

Harrison became the first United States president to die in office. His last words were to his doctor, but they were assumed to be directed at Vice President Tyler: "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: March 4 – April 4, 1841, 30 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes.

The President's body was borne through Washington. 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.

Harrison's funeral took place in the Wesley Chapel in Cincinnati, Ohio, on April 7, 1841. His original interment was in the public vault of the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., but his remains were later buried in North Bend, Ohio. The William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial was erected at the gravesite in his honor.

Impact of death

Harrison's death 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 former Democrat, abandoned the Whig agenda, effectively cutting himself off from the party.

Due to the death of Harrison, three presidents served within a single calendar year (Martin Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler), which has occurred only one other time when Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthurserved in 1881.

Harrison's death revealed the flaws in the U.S. Constitution's clauses on presidential succession. Article II of the Constitution states: "In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President ... and [the Vice President] shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected". Scholars at the time disagreed whether the vice president would become president or merely acting president. The Constitution did not stipulate whether the vice president could serve the remainder of the president's term, until the next election, or if emergency elections should be held.

Harrison's cabinet insisted that Tyler was "Vice President acting as President". After the cabinet consulted with the Chief Justice Roger Taney, they 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, it passed a resolution that confirmed Tyler as president for the remainder of Harrison's term. Once established, this precedent of presidential succession remained in effect until the Twenty-fifth Amendment was ratified in 1967, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the succession of Lyndon B. Johnson to the presidency in 1963. The Twenty-fifth Amendment dealt with the finer points of succession, defining the situations in which the vice president would serve as acting president, and in which situations the vice president could become president.

Legacy - Historical reputation

Among Harrison's most enduring legacies is the series of treaties that he either negotiated or signed with Native American leaders during his tenure as the Indiana territorial governor. As part of the treaty negotiations, the native tribes ceded large tracts of land in the west that provided additional acreage for purchase and settlement. Harrison's chief presidential legacy lies in his campaigning methods, which laid the foundation for the modern presidential campaign tactics.

Harrison was the first sitting incumbent President to have his photograph taken. The image was made in Washington, D.C., on his inauguration day in 1841. Photographs exist of John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Martin Van Buren, but these images were taken after they left office. The Harrison image was also the first presidential photograph. The original daguerreotype of Harrison on his inauguration day has been lost—although at least one early photographic copy exists in the archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Harrison died nearly penniless. Congress voted his wife, Anna, a presidential widow's pension of $25,000, one year of Harrison's salary (equivalent to about $607,000 in 2018). She also received the right to mail letters free of charge.

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

Martin Van Buren

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