Wednesday, November 11, 2015

William Henry Harrison: An Average Presisident

William Henry Harrison, the 9th president, gave one of the longest inauguration speeches ever, and it would seemingly cost him his life.  As a soldier, farmer, and outdoorsman, he had spent much of his life in inclement weather.  Yet at age 68, he was far from the young man.

So, after talking for over two hours in rainy weather with no coat and no hat, Harrison developed a pneumonia that would cost him his life.  As of this day, he served the shortest term of any president: 1 month. There's really no way to judge a president who served only one month as president.

Despite having been born to a prominent family and having gone to college, his campaign had him being born in a log cabin.  This allowed him to peg Martin Van Buren as a wealthy, well-to-do president.  This was ironic, especially considering Van Buren was born of humble beginnings, and both Harrison and Tyler were born to prosperous families and went to college.

The Whigs succeeded in positioning Harrison as a champion of the common man.  This was similar to the approach used by Andrew Jackson, who said he was born in a log cabin.  Harrison's campaign said he too was born in a log cabin, even though this wasn't even close to the truth.

His campaign also positioned him as an Indian fighter, another strategy that worked for Jackson.  In fact, they ran under the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too."  This was a reference to Harrison's leadership against a coalition of Indian forces in 1811.

It didn't hurt that he was born to a prominent family. His father signed the Declaration of Independence. He was able to get a good education from the University of Pennsylvania. His father died when he was only 18, he turned to the military for support.  During the 1790s he served in campaigns against against native American tribes.

He was selected by John Adams to become secretary of Northwestern Territories, and made a name for himself by penning several treaties with the Indians, securing land for settlement.  In 1799 he was elected to Congress.

In 1811 he led a an army into the Battle of Tippacanoe, where he defeated the Shawnee tribe.  This made him very famous.  So it only made sense that he would use this fame to catapult himself into the presidency.  During the war of 1812 he was a general who lead American forces to victory in Western Canada.

He was hailed a hero.  He became a Congressman again, and then a Senator.

He became the first Whig president, easily defeating Martin Van Buren. The fact that his sole accomplishment was having the longest ever inauguration speech does not bode well for his legacy.  He is often sited as one of the most forgettable presidents.

Further reading: