Born: February 9, 1773 in Charles City County, Virginia.
Died: April 4, 1841.
the first president to die in office.
Married to Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison.
"Give him a barrel of hard cider and settle a pension
of two thousand a year on him, and my word for it" a Democratic
newspaper foolishly gibed, "he will sit by the side of a 'sea
coal' fire, and study moral philosophy". The Whigs, seizing on
this political misstep, in 1840 presented their candidate William Henry
Harrison as a simple frontier Indian fighter, living in a log cabin and
drinking cider, in sharp contrast to an aristocratic champagne-sipping
Harrison was in fact a scion of the Virginia planter aristocracy. He
was born at Berkeley in 1773. He studied classics and history at Hampden-Sydney
College, then began the study of medicine in Richmond.
Suddenly, that same year, 1791, Harrison switched interests. He obtained
a commission as ensign in the First Infantry of the Regular Army, and
headed to the Northwest, where he spent much of his life.
In the campaign against the Indians, Harrison served
as aide-de-camp to General "Mad Anthony" Wayne at the Battle
of Fallen Timbers, which opened most of the Ohio area to settlement.
After resigning from
the Army in 1798, he became Secretary of the Northwest Territory, was
its first delegate to Congress, and helped obtain legislation dividing
the Territory into the Northwest and Indiana Territories. In 1801 he
became Governor of the Indiana Territory, serving 12 years.
His prime task as governor was to obtain title to Indian lands so settlers
could press forward into the wilderness. When the Indians retaliated,
Harrison was responsible for defending the settlements.
The threat against settlers became serious in 1809. An eloquent and
energetic chieftain, Tecumseh, with his religious brother, the Prophet,
began to strengthen an Indian confederation to prevent further encroachment.
In 1811 Harrison received permission to attack the confederacy.
While Tecumseh was away seeking more allies, Harrison led about a thousand
men toward the Prophet's town. Suddenly, before dawn on November 7, the
Indians attacked his camp on Tippecanoe River. After heavy fighting,
Harrison repulsed them, but suffered 190 dead and wounded.
The Battle of Tippecanoe, upon which Harrison's fame was to rest, disrupted
Tecumseh's confederacy but failed to diminish Indian raids. By the spring
of 1812, they were again terrorizing the frontier.
In the War of 1812 Harrison won more military laurels when he was given
the command of the Army in the Northwest with the rank of brigadier general.
At the Battle of the Thames, north of Lake Erie, on October 5, 1813,
he defeated the combined British and Indian forces, and killed Tecumseh.
The Indians scattered, never again to offer serious resistance in what
was then called the Northwest.
Thereafter Harrison returned to civilian life; the Whigs, in need of
a national hero, nominated him for President in 1840. He won by a majority
of less than 150,000, but swept the Electoral College, 234 to 60.
When he arrived in Washington in February 1841, Harrison let Daniel
Webster edit his Inaugural Address, ornate with classical allusions.
Webster obtained some deletions, boasting in a jolly fashion that he
had killed "seventeen Roman proconsuls as dead as smelts, every
one of them".
Webster had reason to be pleased, for while Harrison was nationalistic
in his outlook, he emphasized in his Inaugural that he would be obedient
to the will of the people as expressed through Congress.
But before he had been in office a month, he caught a cold that developed
into pneumonia. On April 4, 1841, he died - the first President to die
in office - and with him died the Whig program.