Wednesday, March 9, 2016

William Henry Harrison: A man who would become 'Old Tippecanoe'

William Henry Harrison at Tippecanoe
William Henry Harrison was not born in a log cabin, as his campaigners would later claim in the run up to the presidential election of 1840.  Yet like Andrew Jackson, who would later learn to hate Harrison, his life's journey earned him the executive experience, military experience, and fame needed to win a presidential election.  

He was born on February 9, 1773, on a Virginia plantation.  His father was one of the founding fathers, having signed the Declaration of Independence as a member of the Continental Congress.  He studied classics, history, and medicine before deciding to join the First Infantry of the Regular Army.

Here he served under General Anthony Wayne.  Many officers passed the time by drinking and fighting with fellow officers, yet Harrison passed the time by reading and studying the military situation.  He came up with suggestions that were supported by Wayne, who later promoted Harrison to lieutenant. He then accompanied Wayne during the Battle of Fallen Timber, which was a decisive victory for the Americans against the Shawnee and Miamis and their British allies.

Wayne praised Harrison for his bravery, and one officer said that if Harrison "continue (on as) a military man, he will be 'a second Washington."  Harrison then was one of 27 white men to sign the Treaty of Greenville.  It was a treaty brokered between Wayne and 92 chiefs, in which the chiefs agreed to lay down their weapons and hand over their land in exchange for $20,000.  One Shawnee warrior named Tecumseh condemned the chiefs for giving up land that belonged to the Indians, and he would later lead a resistance.

Harrison left the army in 1798 and was named congressional delegate to the Northwest Territory, a track of land that consisted of present day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  He brokered a deal that divided this land into two parts: The Northwest Territory consisting of present day Ohio and eastern Michigan, and the Indiana Territory consisting of present day Indiana, western Michigan, Illinois, Wisconson, and southeastern Minnesota.

Harrison was then appointed governor of the Indiana Territory, and it was his job to oversee efforts to gain control of Indian lands for settlers.  Of course the Indians usually resisted, and it was Harrison's task to defend the new settlements.

Tucumseh, now referred to as an Indian prophet, and his followers had built a village called Prophetstown at the mouth of the Tippecanoe River, which was about 150 miles north of Vincennes, the capital of the Indiana Territory where Harrison had built a home.  Harrison had already met with the chiefs of Miami, Potawatomi, and Delaware and brokered a treaty with them called the Treaty of Fort Wayne.  They sold about  million acres of land on the Wabash and White Rivers to the government.  This deal made Tucumseh irate.

Harrison had met with Tucumseh twice at his home in Vincennes, but no treaty was agreed upon. Harrison knew he had to do something to end the tension, so he, on November 6, 1811, had his troops set up camp near the Tippecanoe River.  The next morning the soldiers were awakened by whooping and hollering by an Indian attack.  After several hours of fighting the Indians were forced to flee. Harrison had his men burn Prophetstown to the ground.

Later historians would argue with this, but at the time this was considered a great victory against the Indians.  Harrison had earned the name "Old Tippecanoe."

Seven months later, on June 18, 1812, President Madison asked Congress for a war declaration against Britain.  During their war with France, the British had set up blockades to prevent French merchant ships from getting to past.  The British were also stopping American ships, and taking forcing sailors to work for the British.

After early defeats in the first weeks of the war, Madison called Harrison to active duty, appointing him brigadier general.  His job was to command armies in the Northwest Territories.  Harrison resigned as governor of the Indiana Territory and took command. Tecumseh and his followers joined the British.

In 1813, the U.S. Navy was victorious over a British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie, weakening the British hold on Detroit.  Harrison then led 3,000 troops into Canada, attacked the British and Indian forces at the Thames River, and defeated them.  Among the dead was Tecumseh, thus ending his attempt at creating an Indian resistance against the Americans.

At the age of 41, and before the war had ended, Harrison retired from military service.  He now had both the executive and military experience needed to become a future president.  He also enjoyed the fame that was needed, and a nickname: "Old Tippecanoe."

In 1816 he ran for a seat in the House of Representatives.  He was concerned how ill prepared the U.S. was for war in 1812, so he initiated a bill that required that all young men be trained in the military. His bill was rejected, and the U.S. found itself still ill prepared 45 years later when the Civil War broke out.  He did not run for reelection in 1818.

However, he was not finished with politics quite yet.  In 1819 he ran for state senator of Ohio and won.  He served one term.  Then he ran for governor and lost.  Then he ran for the U.S. Senate twice, and lost.  In 1825 he ran for the U.S. Senate and won.  Fittingly, he sat on a Senate committee that dealt with military affairs. He wanted to be named Vice President in 1824, but was not chosen when the House decided on John Quincy Adams.

Adams appointed him as the first ambassador to Columbia, although as soon as he arrived in Columbia he learned that Jackson had defeated Adams.  When Harrison was in the House, he called for a censure of Jackson for advancing into Spanish Florida and capturing two spanish forts.  The censure failed to pass the House, but Harrison had made an enemy of Jackson.  So Harrison was out of a job.

Fortune for Harrison came when the opponents of Jackson came together and formed the Whig party in 1834.  Along with former president John Quincy Adams, and Congressional leaders Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, Harrison joined the new party.  He was now primed to run for a run at the presidency.  He also had the nickname: "Old Tippecanoe."