William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison

9th President, 1841

Early Life and Pre-presidency

William Henry Harrison Portrait by James Lambdin, 1835

William Henry Harrison Portrait by James Lambdin, 1835

  • Born on February 9, 1773 at their Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia.
  • Parents: Benjamin Harrison V and Elizabeth Bassett. Harrison was the youngest of 7 children, and little is known about his siblings except for his older brother Carter Bassett Harrison (1756–1808) who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served from 1793 to 1799.
  • His father was a delegate to the Continental Congress (1774–1777) and one of those who signed the Declaration of Independence.
  • Attended the Presbyterian Hampden–Sydney College from 1787 to 1790. He entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1790 to study medicine, but when his father died in 1791, he had no funds to continue his schooling.
  • He joined the army at the invitation of Virginia Governor Henry Lee, who had learned of Harrison’s financial situation.
  • Was part of General “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s army in the latter’s victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, which marked the end of the Northwest Indian War. As lieutenant, he was one of those who signed the Treaty of Greenville, which opened the area (now Ohio) to European–American settlers.
  • Married Anna Tuthill Symmes (1775–1864) on November 25, 1795. Children: Elizabeth Bassett (1796–1846), John Cleves Symmes (1798–1830), Lucy Singleton (1800–1826), William Henry (1802–1838), John Scott (1804–1878), Benjamin (1806-1840), Mary Symmes (1809–1842), Carter Bassett (1811–1839), Anna Tuthill (1813–1865), James Findlay (1814–1817).
  • Appointed Secretary of the Northwest Territory from 1798 to 1799. He also served as acting governor to Arthur St. Clair during the latter’s absence.
  • Was elected as the first representative of the Northwest Territory to the 6th U.S. Congress in 1799 and served from March 1799 to May 1800.
  • He led the U.S. Army in the Battle of the Thames in 1813 during the War of 1812 where he defeated the British and their Indian allies, the Shawnee, led by Tecumseh, who was killed in that battle.
  • Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1816 as the replacement of John McLean, who resigned to take a seat in the Ohio Supreme Court. Harrison finished the term in 1819.
  • Elected to the Ohio State Senate and served from 1819 to 1821. He was then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1824 and served until 1828.
  • Served as Minister Plenipotentiary to Gran Colombia from 1828 to 1829. While there, he criticized its leader Simon Bolivar who he thought was becoming a military dictator.
  • He ran and lost in the 1836 Presidential nomination as a member of the Whig Party against Vice President Martin Van Buren.
  • By the 1840 Presidential election, the Whig Party had united and chose Harrison to run against the incumbent Van Buren. He used his service in the military and the economic crisis caused by the Panic of 1837 to win the election.

Presidency

William Henry Harrison Portrait by Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1813

William Henry Harrison Portrait by Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1813

  • Took his oath of office on March 4, 1841 at the East Portico, U.S. Capitol.
  • In his inaugural address, he outlined his plan to overturn the policies of his two Democratic Party predecessors, Jackson and Van Buren, by promising to re-charter the Bank of the United States, use his veto power against Congress sparingly, and to undo the “spoils system” of federal appointments made popular by Jackson.
  • At almost two hours, he delivered the longest inaugural address in the history of the U.S.
  • At 68 years old, was the oldest President to take office until Ronald Reagan took his oath of office in 1980 at nearly 70 years old.
  • The first President from the Whig Party to be elected.
  • The first President to have his photograph taken in office, which was done on Inauguration Day. Although the originial daguerreotype was lost, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a photographic copy of the original.
  • Contracted pneumonia three weeks into his Presidency and never recovered. His last words were: “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.” It was believed to be directed to Vice President John Tyler.
  • Died on April 4, 1841 in Washington, D.C. from pneumonia.
  • Remains the President to serve the shortest term in office at 32 days.
  • Only two times in the history of the United States have three Presidents served in the same calendar year. The first time was when Van Buren, Harrison and Tyler served in 1841. (The second time was when Hayes, Garfield (who was assassinated that year), and Arthur served as presidents in 1881.)
  • His widow, Anna Harrison, received a Presidential widow’s pension of $25,000. This was the annual Presidential salary set at the First United States Congress during President George Washington’s first term as the first U.S. President.
  • His son John Scott Harrison was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Ohio and serving from 1853 to 1857.
  • Benjamin Harrison, Harrison’s grandson by his son John Scott Harrison, became the 23rd president of the United States, marking the only time a grandfather and grandson have both become U.S. Presidents.
  • Harrison was originally interred at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. in April 1841. He was then moved to the William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial in North Bend, Ohio later that year. His wife and son John Scott Harrison are also buried there.
  • The death of Harrison created a conundrum with regards to the issue of succession. Article II of the Constitution did not clearly state whether the vice president, upon the President’s death or incapacity, would become acting President or President. The Article also did not state whether the vice president would serve the remainder of the President’s term or serve as President until an emergency election could be held. Congress passed a resolution in May 1841 declaring that the Vice President would be sworn in as President and serve the remainder of the term.