Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in potus_geeks,

Happy Birthday William Henry Harrison

On February 9, 1773 (247 years ago today) William Henry Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, was born in Charles City County, Virgina. His father Benjamin Harrison V had been one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. William Henry hold the distinction of being the President to serve the shortest time in office, a mere 31 days. He is also the first President to have died in office. He was 68 years, 23 days old when elected, the oldest president elected until Ronald Reagan in 1980, a record since surpassed by the current incumbent. Harrison is also the last President to be born before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

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Harrison died of complications from pneumonia on April 4, 1840. His death caused a brief constitutional crisis, one that ultimately resolved many questions about presidential succession left unanswered by the Constitution until passage of the 25th Amendment.

Before election as president, Harrison was a soldier, the first territorial congressional delegate from the Northwest Territory, governor of the Indiana Territory and a U.S. representative and senator from Ohio. He originally gained national fame for leading U.S. forces against American Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, where he earned the nickname "Tippecanoe" (or "Old Tippecanoe"), but historical accounts of that battle tell us that this really wasn't his most shining moment as a general. But in the subsequent War of 1812, his military praise is better justified, especially as the result of his victory at the Battle of the Thames in 1813, which brought an end to hostilities in his region.

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After the war, Harrison moved to Ohio, where he was elected to the United States Congress, and in 1824 he became a member of the Senate. He also served a brief term before being appointed as "Minister Plenipotentiary" (or what we would today call and Ambassador) to Colombia in May 1828. After being removed from that job for political reasons, he returned to his farm in Ohio, where he lived in relative retirement until he was nominated for the presidency in 1836. He lost that election because of an ill-conceived scheme in which the Whig Party ran several candidates, but he ran as the lone nominee for the Whig Party in 1840 and defeated incumbent President Martin Van Buren in what was perhaps the first presidential campaign in which spin doctoring reigned supreme. Even though he had been born into relative wealth, he was portrayed as a poor country boy from a log cabin (pure fiction) running against the silver-spoon candidate Van Buren. Whether it was this or his opponent being saddled by a poor economy, Harrison won the election handily.

It is said that Harrison died because he failed to dress warm enough when he gave what would become the longest inaugural address on a cold wet day. But in fact his illness did not arise until more than three weeks later when he developed a cold that worsened, rapidly turning into pneumonia. He sought to rest in the White House, but could not find a quiet room because of the steady crowd of office seekers. His doctors tried cures, that included opium, castor oil, leeches, and Virginia snakeweed. But, surprise surprise, these treatments only made Harrison worse.

He died nine days after becoming ill, at 12:30 am on April 4, 1841. His last words were to his doctor, but historian assume that they were meant for his Vice-President, John Tyler. He said "Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more."


Harrison would have another distinction: he would be the only President (so far) to have a grandson become President. That happened in 1888 when his grandson Benjamin Harrison would win the White House.
Tags: benjamin harrison, john tyler, martin van buren, ronald reagan, william henry harrison
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