Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in potus_geeks,

Remembering William Henry Harrison

On April 4, 1841 (180 years ago today) William Henry Harrison became the first president to die in office. His death came only a month after his inauguration, raising a number of questions about succession upon the death of a president, and leading to the setting of precedent thereafter.


Harrison, the ninth President of the United States, had been a military officer, territorial and governor before being elected as the Whig Party's first successful presidential candidate in the election of 1840. He was also the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, who became the 23rd President of the United States. He was 68 years, 23 days old when inaugurated, the oldest president to take office up to that time, a record that would last until the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981, and later be surpassed by the 45th and 46th Presidents. Harrison died on his 32nd day in office of complications from pneumonia. His tenure is the shortest in United States presidential history. His death sparked a brief constitutional crisis, but its resolution settled many questions about presidential succession left unanswered by the Constitution until the passage of the 25th Amendment.

William Henry Harrison was born on February 9, 1773. He was the youngest of seven children born to Benjamin Harrison V and the former Elizabeth Bassett. Harrison was born on his family's Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, coincidentally the same county where his future running mate John Tyler was born. Harrison was the last president born as a British subject before American Independence. His father was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1777 and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as governor of Virginia from 1781 to 1784, during and after the American Revolutionary War. William's older brother, Carter Bassett Harrison, was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Virginia.

Before election as president, Harrison had served as the first territorial congressional delegate from the Northwest Territory, governor of the Indiana Territory and later as a U.S. representative and senator from Ohio. He gained national fame for leading U.S. forces against Native Americans led by Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, from which he acquired the nickname "Old Tippecanoe". He served as a general in the War of 1812, and commanded US forces in the Battle of the Thames in 1813, which brought an end to hostilities in his region.

After the war, Harrison moved to Ohio, where he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1824 the state legislature elected him to the US Senate. He served as Minister Plenipotentiary (ambassador) to Colombia in May 1828, a job for which he was hired by John Quincy Adams and fired by Andrew Jackson. After that he returned to his farm in Ohio, and remained politically inactive until 1833 when he was nominated for the presidency as one of three Whig candidates running against Marin Van Buren. Harrison finished second in the election and retired again to his farm, only to be selected at the Whig candidate in 1840. This time he was elected president, an office he held for a month.

On March 26, Harrison became ill with a cold. There is a popular misconception that his illness came about because at his inauguration he gave a long inaugural address in cold weather, without an overcoat. But Harrison's illness did not arise until more than three weeks later. His cold turned into to pneumonia and pleurisy and he had difficulty in getting any rest in the White House, because of the steady crowd of office seekers. Harrison's doctors tried applying so-called "cures" such as opium, castor oil, leeches, and Virginia snakeweed. The treatments only made Harrison worse, and he became delirious. He died nine days after becoming ill, at 12:30 a.m. on April 4, 1841, of pneumonia, jaundice, and septicemia. Many believe that his last words, which were spoken to his doctor, were really meant for his successor John Tyler. Harrison is reported to have said: "Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more." He then checked out.


Harrison is buried in West Bend, Ohio, about 30 miles west of Cincinnati. I visited Harrison's Tomb when I was in the area in August of 2013. His resting place overlooks a scenic part of the Ohio River, and there is a museum style display in the park adjacent to the monument housing the tomb. It is a nice remembrance of the man in a blissful setting.
Tags: andrew jackson, benjamin harrison, john quincy adams, john tyler, martin van buren, ronald reagan, william henry harrison

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