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William Henry Harrison Biography


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Lesson Plans | Quotes | Facts

#9: William Henry Harrison (1841)

In the Election of 1840, William Henry Harrison (February 9, 1773 – April 4, 1841) ran a dynamic campaign against incumbent Martin Van Buren, claiming a decisive victory in the electoral vote. His reputation as a war hero fully intact, he came into office with the promise of a new day for a troubled nation. And then – it all vanished. The President, in office for only a month, died. His presidential term remains the shortest in US history. Harrison was unusual in other ways as well. He was the last President born before the Declaration of Independence. At 68 years of age, he was the oldest President-elect until Ronald Reagan. He was the first President who died in office, his death creating quite a stir in Washington as presidential succession still had a lot of kinks to be worked out.

Harrison was born in Charles City County, Virginia to a family of the planter aristocracy. His father eventually served as Governor of Virginia, his brother in the US House of Representatives. While studying medicine in Philadelphia, he lived with Robert Morris, the so-called “Financier of the [American] Revolution” and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. However, Harrison quickly changed gears following his father’s death in 1791; Virginia Governor Henry Lee convinced him to join the Army. His first assignment was the Northwest Indian War in Cincinnati. The groundwork was thus laid for Harrison’s enduring military career.

He left the Army for a spell starting in 1798 and became Secretary of the Northwest Territory; he was also the first delegate from that territory to the US Congress. After helping to split the Northwest Territory into two entities (the Northwest and Indiana Territories), he became Governor of the Indiana Territory for a 12 year period beginning in 1801. Charged primarily with acquiring lands from the Indians to clear the way for white settlement, Harrison’s military skill became necessary once again when the Indians fought back with a vengeance. Two Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa (The Prophet), led a passionate resistance against Harrison and white settlers. In 1811, after receiving authorization from Secretary of War William Eustis, Harrison marched with over 1,000 men as a show of force – but the Indians struck back. The ensuing Battle of Tippecanoe, named after a nearby river, became Harrison’s defining moment. His victory over the Indians made him a hero by the standards of his day. Harrison continued to fight the Indians in the War of 1812, and he now had also to fight their new allies: the British. Commanding the Army of the Northwest at the Battle of Thames in 1813, Harrison defeated the British and the Indians, killing Tecumseh.

Between 1816 and 1828, Harrison held offices in the US House, the State Senate, and the US Senate, all in or representing Ohio. He then served as Ambassador to Colombia. In 1836, the new Whig Party ran a few regional candidates in an effort to deny anyone a majority of electoral votes, which would have forced the House of Representatives to choose a President. This strategy failed and Democrat Martin Van Buren won, but it was Harrison’s first run for the presidency. In 1840, with Van Buren’s presidency widely perceived as a failure, Harrison won in part by appealing to the common man – which of course he wasn’t! His slogan may have been “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” but running-mate John Tyler ended up being more significant as Harrison contracted a bad cold in office and this turned into pneumonia and pleurisy, taking his life and leaving him with a military legacy which, quite frankly, comes off as disgraceful today.

 


William Henry Harrison life biogrpahy

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