9. WILLIAM HENRY 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 Van Buren.
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 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
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
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
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