For a president who only served a month in office and who died in 1841, William Henry Harrison is certainly hot these days. His name keeps coming up in things I see and read.
Part of this interest probably comes from the publication of New York Times columnist Gail Collins’ new book on Harrison, who was 68-years-old when he was inaugurated (at a time when life expectancy was around age 40). Collins has written about Harrison in her column, making parallels between Harrison and the 2012 election. A co-worker recently stopped in my cube to ask if I had seen the recent article on our ninth president.
Then in early March (on the 171st anniversary of Harrison’s infamous inauguration), the Baltimore Sun’s Fred Rasmussen wrote a “Back Story” column about Harrison’s nearly two-hour speech, delivered outdoors without wearing a coat, that many speculated may have contributed to Harrison contracting a cold several weeks later, developing pneumonia and dying just 31 days after the ceremony.
Maybe all this Harrison hoopla is coincidental, since it’s not a particularly significant anniversary that I can see. (Born in 1773, died in 1841 – what’s the 2012 link? Maybe the connections to the War of 1812?)
Since he didn’t have much time as president, many people may associate Harrison with his catchy campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” in recognition of Harrison’s heroism and military leadership in the victory at Tippecanoe, a battle in 1811 against the Shawnee Indians. (He was also well-known for his victory in the Battle of the Thames, fought on Canadian soil during the War of 1812 and the battle when Shawnee chief Tecumseh died).
Here are a few random facts about William Henry Harrison:
His father, Benjamin Harrison, signed the Declaration of Independence. His grandson Benjamin Harrison was our 23rd president.
William Henry Harrison was the first president elected from the Whig party.
Harrison originally wanted to be a doctor.
Harrison served as ambassador to Colombia (President Andrew Jackson fired him and later referred to Harrison as “the present imbecile chief”).
Harrison fathered ten children.
Harrison is the first president to die in office.
A significant event during Harrison’s month-long presidency, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Africans aboard the Spanish ship the Amistad who rebelled and killed crew members. (You may remember this story from the 1997 movie Amistad). Former President John Quincy Adams was part of the defense team.
Next post: A Nerd Trip to William Henry Harrison’s monument in North Bend, Ohio.