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The William Henry Harrison Cabinet
William Henry Harrison: The Shortest Lasting Presidency In American History
William Henry Harrison had the shortest lasting presidency in American history. Harrison was a military officer and a politician before his presidency. Harrison became a war hero after fighting Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. After being elected into the White House, Harrison caught pneumonia at his inauguration. He died in office 32 days after thus the shortest amount of time being president.
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William Harrison was born on the Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia. Harrison grew up during the Revolutionary War, during which his home was ransacked by the British. Harrison chose medicine as his desired profession. He studied premedical studies at Hampden Sydney College. In 1791 he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Medical School in Philadelphia. Upon his arrival in Philadelphia, he learned that his father had died. He remained for a year at school, but when his money ran out he decided to join the army. Harrison fought in the Indian War in the Northwest Territories.
For two years, in 1791-1800, Harrison served as the delegate of the Northwest territories to the US House. This was a non-voting position. From 1798-1799 he served as the Secretary of the Northwest Territories.
From 1800-1812 Harrison served as the Governor of Indiana Territory. He was appointed to this position by John Adams. As governor, he led 300 regulars and a 650-man militia against the Indian confederacy, led by the Shawnee brothers Tecumseh and the Prophet. The Indians attacked in a pre-dawn raid near Tippecanoe Creek. The Indians were repulsed and Harrison rallied his men to an overwhelming victory. The battle earned Harrison the nickname Old Tippecanoe.
Harrison fought in the war of 1812. He was commissioned Major General and led the attacks in the Northwest Territories against the British. He successfully recaptured Detroit, then pursued the fleeing British and at Catham, Ontario, in October of 1813, won the victory of the Battle of Thames. This overwhelming victory turned Harrison into a national hero.
From 1816-1819 Harrison served as Representative in the US House. For the next four years, he served as an Ohio state senator. From 1825-1828 he became a US Senator. In 1828 he was appointed by President Adams as Minister to Columbia. He was recalled when Jackson became President. He then retired to his farm.
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison, an American military officer and politician, was the ninth President of the United States (1841), the oldest President to be elected at the time. On his 32nd day, he became the first to die in office, serving the shortest tenure in U.S. Presidential history.
“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, “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 William Henry Harrison as a simple frontier Indian fighter, 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 at Berkeley in 1773. He studied classics and history at Hampden-Sydney College, then began the study of medicine in Richmond.
Suddenly, that same year, 1791, Harrison switched interests. He 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 the campaign against the Indians, 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.
His prime task as governor was to obtain title to Indian lands so settlers could press forward into the wilderness. When the Indians retaliated, Harrison was responsible for defending the settlements.
The threat against settlers became serious in 1809. An eloquent and energetic chieftain, Tecumseh, with his religious brother, the Prophet, began to strengthen an Indian 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 the Prophet’s town. Suddenly, before dawn on November 7, the Indians attacked his camp on Tippecanoe River. After heavy fighting, Harrison repulsed them, but suffered 190 dead and wounded.
The Battle of Tippecanoe, upon which Harrison’s fame was to rest, disrupted Tecumseh’s confederacy but failed to diminish Indian raids. By the spring of 1812, they were again terrorizing the frontier.
In 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 Indian forces, and killed Tecumseh. The Indians scattered, never again to offer serious resistance in what was then called the Northwest.
Thereafter Harrison returned to civilian life the Whigs, in need of a national hero, nominated him for President in 1840. He won by a majority of less than 150,000, but swept the Electoral College, 234 to 60.
When he arrived in Washington in February 1841, Harrison let Daniel Webster edit his Inaugural Address, ornate with classical allusions. 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 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 caught a cold that developed into pneumonia. On April 4, 1841, he died — the first President to die in office — and with him died the Whig program.
The Presidential biographies on WhiteHouse.gov are from “The Presidents of the United States of America,” by Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidey. Copyright 2006 by the White House Historical Association.
Learn more about William Henry Harrison’s spouse, Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison.
The President’s Health Worsens
The Washington, D.C., of the mid-19th century was far from the urban metropolis it is today. The city was described by one contemporary as “a great village, with houses scattered here and there.” One did not have to venture far from the government buildings before encountering a rural hamlet. A quarter-mile away from the White House, on swampy land between 7th and 9th streets, were the so-called “marsh markets,” where vendors peddled fresh foodstuffs from the local farms. No one seems sure why the president himself went there several mornings each week to shop for the White House groceries. Some say it was a calculated move by the Whigs to project the country’s leader as a simple man of the people. Others suggest it reflected Harrison’s unpreparedness—there was no one else to do the shopping. (This seems unlikely. Harrison had traveled from Ohio with a retinue of cronies and family members—though not his wife, Harriet. She would wait to travel after the spring thaw.) More probable is that these excursions provided an opportunity to escape the madness at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Strolling with a simple shopping basket on one arm, the president invariably drew a crowd. But it was his kind of crowd— ordinary citizens eager to gaze upon the city’s newest, most famous resident. A contemporary journalist reported on Harrison as “an elderly gentleman dressed in black, and not remarkably well dressed, with a mild benignant countenance, a military air, but stooping a little, bowing to one, shaking hands with another, and cracking a joke with the third.” Many mornings he would invite a new acquaintance to accompany his return to the White House and share breakfast. Eventually, though, the office seekers began pursuing him at the markets. It seemed there were few places the president could find peace. Even his attendance at two local churches each Sunday was as much spectacle as spiritual.
The constant pressure from crowds, office seekers and politicians and a lack of rest were wearing the aged man down. Living in a 40-year-old leaky and drafty oversized house did him no favors, either. A rudimentary furnace system installed in the basement during the Van Buren years was not up to the task of warming the second-floor living quarters. A travel writer of the period recorded: “[The White House] is built upon marshy ground, not much above the level of the Potomac, and is very unhealthy. All that live there become subject to fever and ague.” This situation did not suit well a man who was trying to shake a cold.
Still, the exuberance of being president somehow sustained Harrison’s energy. Accounts suggest a very visible, active executive. He kept true to his intention to pay personal visits to each government department. He held a reception for a corps of foreign diplomats. He posed for a daguerreotype, the first known instance of a sitting president being captured in a photograph. Most nights the White House hosted informal gatherings for family, friends and political insiders. Such occasions were described by participants as “regular hard-cider affairs.” Adhering to the old saw about “feeding a cold,” the president ate and drank copiously. Writers record him as talking loudly across the table, being “full of obscene stories about war and lechery.” Eyebrows were undoubtedly raised when Harrison gave dour ex-President John Quincy Adams a hearty slap on the back. Despite his Virginia Tidewater upbringing, 30-plus years of living in the Western states had apparently rubbed off on Old Tip.
William Henry Harrison
Links immediately following the image of the American Flag ( ) are links to other POTUS sites. All other links lead to sites elsewhere on the Web.
9th President of the United States
(March 4, 1841 to April 4, 1841)
Nicknames: “Old Tippecanoe” “Old Tip”
Father: Benjamin Harrison
Mother: Elizabeth Bassett Harrison
Married: Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison (1775-1864), on November 25, 1795
Children: Elizabeth Bassett Harrison (1796-1846) John Cleves Symmes Harrison (1798-1830) Lucy Singleton Harrison (1800-26) William Henry Harrison (1802-38) John Scott Harrison (1804-78) Benjamin Harrison (1806-40) Mary Symmes Harrison (1809-42) Carter Bassett Harrison (1811-39) Anna Tuthill Harrison (1813-65) James Findlay Harrison (1814-17)
Education: Attended Hampden-Sydney College
Political Party: Whig
Other Government Positions:
- Secretary of Northwest Territory, 1798
- Territorial Delegate to Congress, 1799-1801
- Territorial Governor of Indiana, 1801-13
- U.S. Congressman from Ohio, 1816-19
- United States Senator, 1825-28
- Minister to Colombia, 1828-29
Presidential Salary: $25,000/year
|Year||Popular Votes||Electoral Votes|
|1836||Martin Van Buren||765,483||170|
|William H. Harrison||549,508||73|
|Hugh L. White||145,352||26|
|Willie P. Mangum||11|
|1840||William H. Harrison||1,274,624||234|
|Martin Van Buren||1,127,781||60|
Vice President: John Tyler (1841)
Secretary of State Daniel Webster (1841) Secretary of the Treasury Thomas Ewing (1841) Secretary of War John Bell (1841) Attorney General John J. Crittenden (1841) Postmaster General Francis Granger (1841) Secretary of the Navy George E. Badger (1841)
- Delivered the longest inaugural address on March 4. It was an extremely cold day and Harrison did not wear a hat while delivering the 105 minute speech. He contracted pneumonia and died in the White House one month later.
William Henry Harrison — from The Presidents of the United States of America Compiled by the White House. William Henry Harrison — from American Presidents: Life Portraits — C-SPAN Biographical information, trivia, key events, video, and other reference materials. Website created to accompany C-SPAN’s 20th Anniversary Television Series, American Presidents: Life Portraits. William H. Harrison — from U.S. Presidents From the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, in addition to information on the Presidents themselves, they have first lady and cabinet member biographies, listings of presidential staff and advisers, and timelines detailing significant events in the lives of each administration.
Other Internet Resources:
Grouseland, the William Henry Harrison Museum, in Vincennes, IN Find images and a history of Grouseland, the William Henry Harrison Mansion Museum, built by Harrison in l803-04 while Governor of the Indiana Territory.
Points of Interest:
- Harrison was the only president who studied to become a doctor.
- Harrison’s father was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
- Harrison and his vice president Tyler are the only president and vice president born in the same county.
- Harrison was clerk of Hamilton County (Ohio) court immediately before becoming president.
- His widow received a $25,000 pension after her husband’s death.
Previous President: Martin Van Buren | Next President: John Tyler
William Henry Harrison in the Digital Age
Something exciting has been happening for the IHS Press and the IHS Library. We’re doing a couple of new digitization projects that will bring out an amazing trove of primary sources. The first of these projects is being finished as I write this.
William Henry Harrison is often looked upon as a curiosity – son of a Founding Father, grandfather to President Benjamin Harrison, and as the president with the shortest term –pneumonia took his life mere weeks after his inauguration. Before he belonged to the nation, though, he was Indiana’s Territorial Representative, Governor and military leader. With all those responsibilities, he corresponded with many people.
It is that correspondence which drove our staff on a huge mission starting more than 30 years ago. Since there was not an official agency gathering papers of early frontier leaders at the time, much of that correspondence was scattered, and some was lost in a huge fire at the Harrison home. As historians, we itch to find all the evidence in a story and Harrison was no different.
He was heavily involved in fighting Native Americans who tried to defend their homeland against the new settlers, he was a politician, and, as Territorial Governor, he influenced the rising state of Indiana. Though several staff members were involved in the project over the years, Douglas Clanin was the man dispatched far and wide to find Harrison letters and documents. His mission was to find as many as possible and copy them for a documentary microfilm project which would help bring these primary sources together for researchers. Institutions from all over the country participated and the microfilm has, indeed, been of tremendous research value.
However, we don’t like to just rest on our laurels. We know that what was helpful in the 1980s must be updated and made even more widely available now. The microfilm has been digitized and is being uploaded into our digital collections. It is now available on your computer screens free of charge at any time.
We realize that while this is probably the most comprehensive collection of William Henry Harrison documents, it surely isn’t all that exists. Doug Clanin is a diligent researcher, but he doesn’t possess superpowers. In fact, another staff member pranked him during the project by announcing that a new Harrison letter had been found. The lengthy letter was full of juicy information and concluded with Harrison instructing the recipient to “hide this letter where Clanin can never find it.” It’s exciting for us to bring Doug’s sleuthing work into the digital age and hope you enjoy digging through Harrison’s correspondence. Stay tuned for details on the other exciting project.
Note on the image: General Harrison with his army at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The caption at the bottom of the lithograph reads: “Upon one occasion, as he (Genl. Harrison) was approaching an angle of the Line, against which the Indians were advancing with horrible yells, Lieut. Emmerson seized the Bridle of his Horse, and earnestly entreated that he would not go there but the Governor, putting spurs to his Horse, pushed on to the point of Attack, where the Enemy were received with firmness and driven back.”
Susan Sutton is director of digitization. She enjoys hiking, reading and endless cups of tea.
The Brief Presidency of William Henry Harrison
Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
In November of 1840, the American people elected their ninth president, William Henry Harrison. The election of the retired general was expected. Still, it was a great victory for the Whig Party and a sharply felt loss for the opposing party, the Democrats. They failed to put their man, President Martin Van Buren, in the White House for a second term.
Whig leaders made most of Harrison's campaign decisions. Some of those leaders, especially senators Henry Clay of Kentucky and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, believed they could control the newly elected president. But Harrison saw what was happening. When he made a trip to Kentucky, he made it clear that he did not want to meet with Clay. He felt that such a meeting might seem to show that Clay was the real power in the new administration.
But Clay made sure that Harrison was publicly invited to visit him. The newly elected president could not say no to such an invitation. He spent several days at Clay's home in Lexington.
This week in our series, Maurice Joyce and Jack Moyles discuss the presidency of William Henry Harrison.
Daniel Webster, without even being asked, wrote an inaugural speech for the new president. Harrison thanked him, but said he already had written his speech. Harrison spoke for more than one and a half hours. He gave the speech outside, on the front steps of the Capitol building.
It was the coldest inaugural day in the nation's history. But Harrison did not wear a coat or hat. Harrison caught a cold, probably from standing so long outside in the bitter weather of inaugural day. Rest was his best treatment. But Harrison was so busy, he had little time to rest.
Hundreds of people demanded to see the new president. They wanted jobs with the government. Everywhere he turned, Harrison was met by crowds of job-hungry people. And there was a problem that worried him. Henry Clay and Daniel Webster were fighting each other for power in the new administration.
Harrison had offered Clay any job he wanted in the cabinet. But Clay chose to stay in the Senate. Harrison then gave the job of Secretary of State to Webster. He also gave Webster's supporters the best government jobs in New York City.
Clay did not like this. And he told the president so. Harrison accused Clay of trying to tell him -- the president -- how to do his job. Later, he told Clay that he wanted no further words with him. He said any future communications between them would have to be written.
Harrison's health grew worse. Late in March 1841, his cold turned into pneumonia. Doctors did everything they could to cure him. But nothing seemed to help. On April fourth, after exactly one month as president, William Henry Harrison died.
Vice President John Tyler was then at his home in Williamsburg, Virginia. Secretary of State Webster sent his son Fletcher on horseback to tell Tyler of the president's death. The vice President was shocked. He had not even known that Harrison was sick. Two hours after he received the news, Tyler was on his way to Washington. He reached the capital just before sunrise on April sixth, 1841.
There was some question about Tyler's position. This was the first time that a president had died in office. No one was really sure if the Constitution meant that the vice president was to become president or only acting president. Webster and the other members of the cabinet decided that Tyler should be president and serve until the next election. Tyler also had decided this.
Tyler was sworn-in as the tenth president on April sixth. He was fifty-one years old. No other man had become president at such an early age. Tyler was born and grew up in the same part of Virginia as William Henry Harrison. His father was a wealthy planter and judge who had been a friend of Thomas Jefferson. John completed studies at the college of William and Mary, and became a lawyer. He entered politics and served in the Virginia legislature. Then he was elected a member of Congress and, later, governor of Virginia. He also served as a United States senator.
Tyler believed strongly in the rights of the states. As a congressman and a senator, he had voted against every attempt to give more power to the federal government. Tyler's political beliefs were strongly opposed to those of the northern and western Whigs. Henry Clay firmly supported the ideas of a national bank, a protective tax on imports, and federal spending to improve transportation in the states. Tyler was just as firmly against these ideas.
There was something else. Clay expected to be the Whig Party's presidential candidate in 1844. If he supported Tyler, then the new president might become too strong politically and win a second term in the White House.
Tyler quickly established his independence after becoming president. Webster told him that President Harrison had let the cabinet make the decisions of his administration. He said Harrison had only one vote. the same as any member of the cabinet. Webster asked if Tyler wanted this to continue.
"I do not," said Tyler. "I would like to keep President Harrison's cabinet. But I, alone, will make the decisions. If the cabinet members do not approve of this, let them resign."
Tyler wanted to change the cabinet, but could not do so immediately. All but two members of the cabinet were supporters of Senator Clay. Tyler wanted to put these men out and appoint men who would support him. But if he did this immediately, it would split the party. He would have to wait.
The Whig Party controlled both houses of Congress after the 1840 elections. Clay wanted a special session of the new Congress. He was able to get Harrison to call such a session before the president's death. At the session, Clay offered six resolutions as a plan of work for Congress. These proposed putting an end to the independent treasury, the establishment of a new national bank, and a tax increase on imports. They also included a new plan to give the states the money received by the federal government from the sale of public lands.
It was no problem to put an end to the independent treasury. Tyler had opposed it during the campaign and in his message to Congress. Congress soon passed a bill repealing the independent treasury act. And Tyler quickly signed it.
But a dispute arose on the issue of a new national bank. Tyler had his Secretary of the Treasury send Congress the administration's plan for a national bank. It would permit such a bank to be established in Washington. And it would permit the bank to open offices in a state, but only if the state approved.
This was not the kind of bank Clay wanted. He wanted no limits of any kind on the power of a national bank to open offices anywhere in the country. Clay then offered a bill that would create just this kind of bank. There was much debate. And Clay finally agreed to a compromise. Bank offices would be permitted in any state where the state legislature did not immediately refuse permission.
The Congress accepted the compromise. But President Tyler did not. He vetoed the bank bill and sent it back to Congress. This had been a difficult decision for Tyler to make. He wanted peace and unity in the party. But he also wanted to show that he -- and not Henry Clay -- was president. The people knew he opposed Clay's bill. If he accepted it, the people would feel that Clay was the more powerful.
Clay did not have enough votes to pass the bill over the president's veto. Another effort was made to get a bank bill that the president would approve. This time, members of Congress met with Tyler to get his ideas. He explained, again, the kind of bank he would accept. He said the states must have the right to approve or reject bank offices.
The congressmen wrote another bill. They said it was exactly what the president wanted. But the president did not agree. He said this second bill would also be vetoed unless changes were made in it. The changes were not made. And Tyler did as he said he would do. He vetoed it. This second veto caused a crisis in Tyler's cabinet.
William Harrison: Life Before the Presidency
More than once, William Henry Harrison referred to himself as a "Child of the Revolution." This was no idle politician's boast. When the Harrison family had their baby, William, on February 9, 1773, musket fire at Lexington Green was only two years away.
The Harrisons were one of Virginia's elite families and close friends of the Washingtons. The Declaration of Independence bears the signature of William's father, Benjamin, who served three terms as governor of Virginia. William's mother, Elizabeth Bassett Harrison, hailed from one of the colony's earliest and most prestigious families. It is likely that some of William's memories were of his parents talking about General Washington and his marathon struggle against England. After all, the family plantation lay just thirty miles from Yorktown, at the base of the peninsula where Washington trapped Cornwallis's army in the battle that sealed the British fate in the Revolutionary War. Doubtless the eight-year-old boy hailed the passing Continental troops, stared in awe at the great man leading them, thrilled at the news of the siege of Yorktown, and celebrated when word came of the British surrender.
William was the youngest of seven children, which under the laws and customs of the day limited his prospects. A family's property usually went to the eldest son, with younger male siblings entering the military, clergy, or trade. It was plain to William early in life that he would have to learn self-sufficiency. It was equally plain he was ambitious. The boy enjoyed a solid education—tutored at home, then three years at Hampden-Sydney College in Hanover County, Virginia. Benjamin Harrison wanted his youngest child to be a doctor and sent him to Philadelphia to study under the tutelage of renowned physician Benjamin Rush. In 1791, however, William's father died, leaving virtually all his estate to William's older brothers. Short of money and not enthusiastic about a career in medicine, the young man quickly left medical school to pursue the military career he had always wanted.
Rapid Rise in Military
Virtually all of William's life, there had been armed conflict somewhere in America—the Revolution, skirmishes with Native Americans, land disputes with the Spanish and French. The military offered an opportunity for a bright, aspiring young man to make a name for himself. Soon after leaving medical studies, Harrison used his family's connections with the Lee and Washington families to procure an officer's rank in an infantry division. The eighteen-year-old Harrison rounded up about eighty thrill-seekers and troublemakers off Philadelphia's streets, talked them into signing enlistment papers, and marched them to his assigned post, Fort Washington in the Northwest Territory.
The young man had entered the army as an ensign, the lowest officer's rank, but he made a strong impression and quickly won promotion to lieutenant. The fort's commander, General Mad Anthony Wayne, made the handsome, polished Harrison his aide after a little more than a year of service there. Mad Anthony commanded Fort Washington, near present-day Cincinnati—an installation established to protect settlers against Native Americans and the British agents who incited them. By 1794, matters had reached the boiling point, and General Wayne readied the fort for a large-scale assault by Indian forces. Harrison fought bravely and well, winning a citation from General Wayne for his valor: "I must add the name of my faithful and gallant Aide-de-camp . . . Lieutenant Harrison, who . . . rendered the most essential service by communicating my orders in every direction . . . conduct and bravery exciting the troops to press for victory." The rousing victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers ended the strong Native American presence in that part of the Northwest Territory, opening it for colonization. Captain Harrison took command of Fort Washington in 1796.
Moving On Up
Newcomers to the area near Fort Washington included twenty-year-old Anna Symmes. Her father had just been appointed judge for the region. Anna was quickly smitten by the handsome young officer, but her father disapproved, thinking his daughter could make a richer match elsewhere. The young couple waited until Anna's father had to travel to another part of the territory when he did, they found a justice of the peace and eloped. When Judge Symmes returned and learned of the marriage, he shouted at Harrison, "How, sir, do you intend to support my daughter?" The soldier coolly replied, "Sir, my sword is my means of support."
For Harrison, the marriage was politically astute. The Symmes family had inside connections with the local land speculators, something the new son-in-law exploited. By 1798, Captain Harrison saw the army as a career dead end and resigned his commission. His father-in-law still saw little in Harrison to be impressed with, writing a friend, "He can neither bleed, plead, nor preach, and if he could plow I should be satisfied." Finally, the judge used his contacts in Washington. The new President, John Adams, named Harrison secretary of the Northwest Territory. In 1799, the territory could send a delegate to the United States Congress for the first time, and Harrison was elected to fill the post. He played expertly to the voters by reforming land-buying policies allowing only large purchases. These enabled cash-strapped settlers to buy smaller lots on four-year installment plans.
By 1800, the Harrisons had three of what would eventually be ten children, although only four would live to see their father in the White House. That year the Northwest Territory split into what were known as the Ohio and Indiana Territories, and President Adams named Harrison governor of the latter. This region was comprised of what would later be all or sections of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Harrison built a palatial home he called "Grouseland" near his headquarters in Vincennes. The home came to be a political focal point for the territory, frequently hosting officials, friends, and meetings with Native Americans.
Governor and Land-Grabber
William Henry Harrison served as governor of the Indiana Territory for twelve years. He speculated in land, invested in two mill enterprises, and had a reputation as an honest administrator. To his credit, he was instrumental in improving the roads and other infrastructure in the region. However, the primary task charged to him by Presidents Adams and Jefferson was to secure legal claims to as much territorial land from Native Americans as possible.
To many Native Americans of that era, the idea of owning land was a completely alien concept. To claim sole right to a plot of land seemed as absurd as claiming sole right to the air. Harrison took advantage of the Indians' communal approach to territory. The governor pushed through seven treaties with Indians from 1802 through 1805, most shamefully exploitative of Native American poverty, corrupt leadership, or inability to hold liquor. This culminated in late 1805 with a massive, largely fraudulent landgrab of 51 million acres. Harrison and his aides warmly received five minor chiefs from the Sac tribe, softened them up with alcohol, then persuaded them to sign away one-third of modern Illinois, as well as sizable chunks of Wisconsin and Missouri, for one penny per two hundred acres.
The leading Native American chief in the region, Tecumseh, grew increasingly angry by the endless encroachments of settlers. He envisioned a grand alliance of Indian tribes, aided by the British, to stop it and began negotiating with other chiefs and Royal Army officers.
Despite their defeat in the Revolution, the British had never really given up on restoring America to rule by the Crown, and by this time they continued to assert themselves on the young nation's western frontiers. Two British forts stood across the river from Detroit, and English agents were continually inciting Indian tribes to harass and attack settlers. In response, congressional leaders like Henry Clay began to push for war with Britain.
Harrison, meanwhile, invited more than a thousand Native Americans for yet another round of land negotiations. He offered to buy nearly three million acres of their land—for just under two cents an acre. Harrison was attempting to secure the land to expedite statehood for a section of the territory called Indiana. Indian tensions, inflamed by Tecumseh, were high, and the timing for such an action was not good. The presidency of the United States, however, had just changed hands from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, and in the shift of power, Harrison's actions went largely unquestioned by the federal government. Harrison did not invite Tecumseh or other openly hostile tribes to the conference, despite the fact that earlier treaties had named these tribes sole owners of the land now in question. The Treaty of Fort Wayne was signed, and for Tecumseh, it was the last straw. He openly courted British military assistance, and redoubled efforts at assembling a confederacy of tribes to retake lost Indian lands.
Word of this trouble reached Harrison through his network of spies among the Indian tribes, and he began asking President Madison to fund military preparations. Madison, not eager to start a fight, dragged his feet, and Harrison attempted to negotiate an end to the crisis with Tecumseh. He sent a letter to the chief, warning him: "Our Blue Coats (U.S. Army soldiers) are more numerous than you can count, and our hunting shirts (volunteer militiamen) are like the leaves of the forests or the grains of sand on the Wabash."
War with Tecumseh
Tecumseh and his elite guard of about 75 warriors confronted Harrison and his officials outside the governor's Grouseland home on August 15, 1810. The two had never met in person, and for days the impassioned Tecumseh berated the affable, condescending Harrison. He plainly told the governor that any further incursions into Indian lands would mean war. Harrison insisted that the land had been acquired legally, and Tecumseh began shouting that the governor was a liar. Swords and war clubs were drawn, pistols cocked, and for a few seconds both sides stared one another down. The council broke up, and negotiations never really got back on track.
Tecumseh traveled throughout the great territory, recruiting tribes for his quest to retake it. Harrison became increasingly concerned that the chief's actions would slow Indiana's statehood and his own political climb, leaving it "the haunt of a few wretched savages." Indian raids on outlying settlements increased. In the late summer of 1811, the Madison administration finally sanctioned a raid to punish the Native Americans. Despite being thirteen years removed from military experience, Harrison managed to convince the President to allow him to command the operation. In October, he set out from Vincennes with a mixed force of regular Army troops, volunteers, and militia. Harrison saw it as a good time for such a strike because Tecumseh was out of the territory recruiting allies for his cause in his absence, the Indians were led by his brother, Tenskwatawa, a spiritual leader known as the "Prophet."
Battle at Tippecanoe
On the sixth day of November in 1811, Harrison's force of about 950 moved into position outside the Prophet's camp, beside a small river known as the Tippecanoe. Tired from their march, they made a camp of their own and prepared to attack the next day. It had been a long time since Harrison had commanded troops, and the rust quickly showed. The Indians discovered his force by the campfires he had allowed, and they infiltrated his camp before dawn on November 7. Outnumbered, the Prophet's warriors were short of ammunition, but they had surprise on their side. Several Army officers were killed, and their men broke and ran. Others staggered from their tents. Dazed with sleep and terror, silhouetted against the campfires, many were cut down by the Prophet's warriors.
Harrison leapt onto his horse almost immediately, rallying his men. Try as they might, the Indians could not get through the Army rifle lines and get the bulk of their force inside the camp. They broke off the attack and melted into the woods. Harrison ordered a counterattack that was successful in routing the Native Americans by midmorning. The graves of several Indians killed in the battle were dug up and desecrated.
The battle became the talk of the young nation. Public reaction to Harrison's actions ran mixed, but was on the whole favorable. There were mutterings of poor generalship and the steep loss of life, but others welcomed the revenge on the Indians whose raids had increased in frequency and severity on the western frontier.
War of 1812 and Battle at Thames River
The Battle of Tippecanoe was good for William Henry Harrison and no one else. While the Native American alliance had been badly frayed, it only hardened the resolve of warrior chiefs like Tecumseh. Now they were not just fighting to retake their land they were seeking revenge. Vicious new raids terrified the settlers. In the meantime, relations with Britain had worsened badly, and when America declared war against it in the summer of 1812 the Indians were even further emboldened.
By fall, Harrison commanded all forces in the Northwest with the rank of major general. With the country ill prepared for war, it had been a disastrous summer for the American cause. Much of the Indiana Territory had fallen to British control, and the fortress at Detroit had surrendered disgracefully. Harrison received orders to retake Detroit and thus bolster morale, but Harrison cautiously held back, unwilling to press the war northward.
In September of 1813, however, Americans regained control of Lake Erie with Oliver Hazard Perry's smashing victory over the British fleet. Once Perry sent the message, "We have met the enemy and they are ours," England's prime supply line into the United was severed. American troops could now be ferried across the lake into Canada to engage the British. By the end of the month, Harrison's forces had retaken Detroit they turned to chasing down the British and Native Americans. Among them was Harrison's old enemy, Tecumseh. On October 5, Harrison engaged the enemy in what is now Kent County in the province of Ontario, near a river called the Thames.
Harrison's force outnumbered the British-Indian contingent three to one and contained a band of Kentucky marksmen who were tremendous close-in fighters. The British, poorly deployed and ill trained for such warfare, either fell dead or surrendered. Their general fled the battlefield. The Native Americans fared better, fighting off the initial assault by Harrison's men. But the American force was relentless and finally overpowering. Tecumseh was killed, and the Indians were routed, their alliance in the region smashed for good.
The victory did much the same for Harrison that the triumph at New Orleans did for Andrew Jackson later in the war. (See Jackson biography, Life Before the Presidency section, for details.) The War of 1812 had been a string of demoralizing defeats for the Americans, and the conflict was unpopular with many factions. The victory at the Thames River boosted American morale and secured the national reputation of its commander.
Harrison, however, handled his sudden fame in a very different fashion than Old Hickory, and the difference speaks volumes about each man. Jackson remained in the war and led expeditions against Native American contingents for years afterward. The battle at the Thames River, on the other hand, virtually finished Harrison's military career. Instead of following up on his triumph and wiping out the remaining British in Canada, Harrison took leave from the Army and undertook a tour of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, soaking up the adulation offered by each city. He stayed in the East for months, choosing celebrity over duty, enjoying parties and banquets in his honor. In May of 1814, with the war still raging, William Henry Harrison resigned from the Army once again and settled into life on his farm in North Bend, near Cincinnati. He was forty-one years old.
A Quarter-Century in the Political Wilderness
Harrison's climb to political power would be a long and rocky one. He spent the following twenty-five years, well into his late sixties, trying to seek office of one kind or another. He was successful in getting to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1816 to 1819. He lived well beyond his means and soon plunged deep into debt. Harrison tried to secure the office of secretary of war in the new administration of President James Monroe but lost out to John C. Calhoun. Harrison was also passed over for a diplomatic post to Russia.
His political career began to come to a close. After his term in Congress, he returned to Ohio, won a post in its state senate, then lost a bid for governor of the state in 1820. Over the next two years, he ran for both of Ohio's seats in the U.S. Senate and lost both races. The failures peaked with an unsuccessful attempt to return to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1822, at the age of 59. Personal tragedy showed its face, too: six of Harrison's ten children died between 1817 and 1840.
Harrison kept trying, and in 1824 he finally won a U.S. Senate seat. He had barely arrived in Washington, D.C., before he began angling for posts. He secured appointments to two military committees. Then Harrison prevailed on his old friend Henry Clay—now secretary of state to the new President, John Quincy Adams—to be named an ambassador to Colombia. Clay managed to push the appointment through in 1828, despite Adams's distaste for what he considered Harrison's "rabid thirst for lucrative office."
Colombia was a volatile post in early 1829, torn by revolution and foreign war. Harrison's missteps were bad and frequent. He failed to show neutrality in the nation's affairs and publicly sided with the opposition to President Simón Bolívar. Colombia angrily planned to expel the envoy. When Andrew Jackson assumed the presidency in March, he quickly recalled his old foe and used the post to repay a political favor from his campaign. Harrison returned to Ohio, where his farm did not perform well, and money problems grew he was reduced to a menial job as recorder for his county to make ends meet.
William Henry Harrison Autograph
Onward, about the William Henry Harrison Autograph Signed as President and its valuations:
So, with just 30 days as President, William Henry Harrison has the shortest Presidential term in history making the William Henry Harrison autograph signed as President extremely scarce. In all of our years in business, we have sold just two examples. Here they are:
William Henry Harrison Document Signed as President — The Scarcest Presidential Autograph, With Only 12 Privately-Owned Signed Documents in Existence
William Henry Harrison full four-language ship’s paper signed as President, undated though of course sometime between 4 March and 4 April 1841. Countersigned by Daniel Webster as Secretary of State. Having only served one month in office before dying of complications from a cold, documents signed by Harrison as President are exceptionally scarce. In fact, only 24 Harrison presidential documents (twelve in private hands and twelve in institutions), three presidential autograph letters signed, and two presidential manuscript letters signed are known to exist, with many of the examples simply being his clipped signature with “President” printed beneath. This document, an exceptionally well-preserved four-language ship’s paper is boldly signed “W.H. Harrison” to the mid-right section. It was customary at the time for Presidents and the cabinet to sign ship’s papers in advance of their use for the convenience of the local officials who gave them to American merchant vessels bound overseas. This document is no exception, as portions were left blank. Printed in French, Spanish, English and Dutch, the English portion reads in part: “William Henry Harrison, President of the United States of America, To all who shall see these presents…By the President / Most Serene, Serene, Most Puissant, Puissant, High, Illustrious, Noble, Honorable, Venerable, Wise, and Prudent Lords, Emperors, Kings, Republics, Princes, Dukes, Earls, Barons, Lords, Burgomasters, Schepens, Counsellors, as also Judges, Officers, Justiciaries, and Regents of all the good cities and places, whether Ecclesiastical or Secular, who shall see these patents or hear them read: We [blank] make known, that the master of [blank] appearing before us, has declared, upon oath, that the vessel called [blank] of the burden of about [blank] tons, which he at present navigates, is of the United States of America, and that no subjects of the present belligerent Powers have any part or portion therein, directly or indirectly, so my God Almighty help him [blank] And, as we wish to see the said master prosper in his lawful affairs, or our prayer is, to all the beforementioned, and to each of them separately, where the said master shall arrive with his vessel and cargo, that they may please to receive the said master with goodness, and to treat him in a becoming manner, permitting him, on paying the usual tolls and expenses in passing and repassing, to pass, navigate, and frequent the ports, passes, and territories, to the end to transact his business, where and in what manner he shall judge proper.” Harrison signs his name, “W.H. Harrison” boldly and clearly on the fourth panel, the Dutch portion of the document. Webster signs his name “Daniel Webster”, also boldly and clearly, beside the printed “Secretary of State.” portion. Document measures 21.5″ x 16.5″ with neat mends to horizontal fold. Minor browning in a few spots and creasing around the original blind stamped U.S. seal still intact. An exceptionally scarce document in very good condition.
This William Henry Harrison Autograph Document Signed as President sold for $75,000 privately in 2011. These can sell for as high as $150,000.
William Henry Harrison Partial Document Signed as President — The Scarcest Presidential Autograph While Serving as He Was President for Just 30 Days Before Dying
William Henry Harrison partial ship’s paper signed as President, printed in English and Dutch. Countersigned by Daniel Webster as Secretary of State and by William Littlefield as Customs Collector. Having only served one month in office before dying of complications from a cold, documents signed by Harrison as President are exceptionally scarce. In fact, only 24 Harrison presidential documents (twelve in private hands and twelve in institutions), three presidential autograph letters signed, and two presidential manuscript letters signed are known to exist. This ship’s paper is partially trimmed and measures 10.5″ x 11 from the port of Newport, Rhode Island, dated 28 August 1841 approximately five months after Harrison’s death it was customary at the time for Presidents and the cabinet to sign documents such as this in advance of their use. Document was issued to Theodore Wimpenney, master of the ship Margaret, noting that she carried and 16/95 tons, or thereabouts, lying at present in the port of Newport, RI, bound for Pacific Ocean and laden with provisions, Tackle & stores for a voyage in the whale fishery.” Document is bright and clean, with two tiny tears at left center edge. Exceptional.
This William Henry Harrison Autograph Partial Document Signed as President sold for $59,742 at our auction in 2010.
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Watch the video: Curse of Tippecanoe (May 2022).