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It would almost seem that the ninth president of the United States, William Henry Harrison, was doomed for a career in politics.  After all, Benjamin Harrison was his father.  Not to be confused with the future President Benjamin Harrison, who was William Harrison’s grandson, the elder Harrison had signed the Declaration of Independence and was a governor of Virginia.  But William Henry originally planned on being a doctor.  However, he was forced to drop out of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and take a commission in the Army when his father died in 1791.  (1 William Henry Harrison)

Shortly thereafter, in 1795, Harrison married Anna Tuthill Symmes.  Harrison’s future father-in-law, believing that a military career wasn’t suitable for marriage, opposed the union, so William and Anna eloped,  (1 William Henry Harrison) and then commenced having ten children.  (American President)

In the Army, Harrison was stationed on the western frontier du jour, which, at the time, was pretty much the Midwest, and there he distinguished himself as an “Indian fighter” and quickly rose through the ranks.  (2 William Henry Harrison)  More importantly, though, he got himself a good nickname: “Old Tippecanoe,” for it was at the battle of Tippecanoe that he gained most of his fame in battling those pesky Indians, who had the crazy notion that your home is worth fighting for.  (American President)  But what do you expect from savages?

It was also during that time that Harrison developed a very effective way to get the Native Americans to sign the treaties that ceded to the United States government well over 50 million acres of land, often at the bargain price of a penny an acre (if even that).  First, you defeat them with your troops, then you ask them to sign, and if they don’t sign, you defeat them again.  (American President)

In 1798 Harrison resigned his commission and entered politics, eventually becoming Governor of the freshly minted Indiana Territory,  (2 William Henry Harrison) a position he held for the next 12 years until the start of the War of 1812.  At that time he rejoined the Army, and went back to fighting the Native Americans, who were now allies of England.  It was in 1813, at the battle of Thames, that Harrison’s forces finally killed his old nemesis Tecumseh, and that pretty much ended any organized resistance from Native Americans in central North America.  (9. William Henry Harrison)  And, in turn, that made Harrison a hero.  (William Henry Harrison (1773-1841))  And what better career for a war hero than politics?  Following his military career, Harrison became a Representative in Congress, (2 William Henry Harrison)  served in the Ohio State Senate, and was even a US Minister to Colombia.  (American President)

Unfortunately, Harrison made the mistake of being critical of Andrew Jackson’s war with the Seminole Indians in Florida, and when Andrew Jackson came into office in 1829, the only connection Harrison had with the government was down at the unemployment office.  (American President)  Eight years later, a collation of politicians, who were tired of Andrew Jackson and fairly well convinced that they would be equally tired of Van Buren, too, created a new political party, the Whigs (which borrowed it’s name from an anti-monarchy political party in England).  Their strategy was to run four different candidates and so split the vote that nobody would win the Electoral College, leaving it to the House of Representatives to decide, where, apparently, the Whigs thought they stood a better chance of winning.  However, their plan failed, and Van Buren won in a TKO in a clean fight, with Harrison coming in a strong second.  (American President)

In a preview of what was to come in American politics, the Harrison/Van Buren re-match of 1840 focused more on the characters of the individuals while avoiding any real issues. (William Henry Harrison (1773-1841))  Van Buren was despised by the general public for being an aristocratic “dandy,” (American President) whereas Harrison ran as the “log cabin and hard cider” candidate, which, at that time, was the equivalent to being a beer drinkin’ good ol’ boy. (2 William Henry Harrison)  But mostly Van Buren was despised for having the bad luck of being president during the worst economic collapse our young nation had seen so far.  (American President)  And it didn’t hurt that Harrison had a great slogan: “Old Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.”  (American President)  Tyler, of course, being Tyler Perry.  All of that combined in giving Harrison an electoral landslide in 1840, even though he won by less than 150,000 popular votes,  (9. William Henry Harrison) proving, once again, that popularity is over-rated.

In a shrewd political move, Harrison caught a cold during his inaugural address, which developed into pneumonia, and after serving right at a month, he died, becoming the first president to die in office.  (9. William Henry Harrison)  And you know, that’s a record that nobody else is going to ever take away from him. 


Work Cited

“9. William Henry Harrison.”  The White House.  13 Jan. 2013.  http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/williamhenryharrison

“American President:  William Henry Harrison (1773-1841).”  2012.  Miller Center:  University of Virginia.  13 Jan. 2013.  http://millercenter.org/president/harrison

“William Henry Harrison.”  2012.  History.  2013.  http://www.history.com/topics/william-henry-harrison

“William Henry Harrison.”  2012.  NNDB:  Tracking the Entire World.  14 Jan. 2013.  http://www.nndb.com/people/886/000031793/

“William Henry Harrison (1773-1841).”  2000.  Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.  14 Jan. 2013.  http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/hall2/whharriss.htm