Harrison, William Henry

views updated May 14 2018

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison attained national recognition at an early age for his military victory over Shawnee leader Tecumseh (1768–1813) at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. He enjoyed a long political career before winning the presidential election of 1840, but he died soon after taking office as the ninth president.

Harrison was born on February 9, 1773, in Virginia into one of the state's leading families. His father had been one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence . Young Harrison briefly studied medicine before joining the U.S. Army in 1791. In 1795, Harrison married Anna Symmes; together they would have ten children. A grandson, Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901; served 1889–93), would become president of the United States in 1889.

Harrison served in campaigns against the Indians in the Northwest Territory (the early U.S. region including lands that would become Ohio , Indiana , Michigan , Illinois , Wisconsin , and part of Minnesota ) for seven years. In 1799, Harrison, an avid spokesman for westward expansion , became the Northwest Territory's first delegate to Congress.

Harrison was soon appointed governor of the newly created Indiana Territory. He had the nearly impossible mission of winning the trust of Native Americans while at the same time acquiring as much of their land as he could for the government. In 1809, he negotiated a treaty that transferred almost 2.9 million acres to the United States, bringing tensions between Native Americans and white settlers to a boiling point.

Around that time, Tecumseh developed the idea of a confederation of all Indian tribes to fight against U.S. invasion of their lands. His brother, Tenskwatawa (c. 1768–1834), founded a religious movement that preached a return to traditional Indian values and a rejection of the ways of the white man. Together, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa , also known as the Shawnee Prophet, drew a large group of followers from various tribes. These followers settled in a village called Prophetstown, ready to fight for their land.

Battle of Tippecanoe

As Harrison continued to seek Indian lands for the government, Tecumseh's resistance became an obstacle. In 1811, Harrison marched about one thousand soldiers to a camp near Prophetstown; Tecumseh was away at the time. Early on the morning of November 7, Prophetstown warriors launched a surprise attack against Harrison's troops. Harrison's forces beat back the attackers. He was able to take possession of their settlement, but 188 of his men were killed or wounded in the process and a few months later the Indians returned to their village. Some viewed Harrison as a hero, but others questioned his victory as an incomplete job.

Commander in War of 1812

During the War of 1812 , a conflict over trading between England and the United States, Harrison served in several military positions, including supreme commander of the Army of the Northwest. After many difficult battles, he led the victorious Battle of the Thames in 1813 near Chatham, Ontario, where Tecumseh was killed in battle. Once again, he received a hero's welcome by some, but others criticized his military performance. In May 1814, he resigned from the army and moved to a farm in Ohio. Between 1816 and 1829 Harrison served as a congressman, senator, and U.S. minister to Colombia.

“Tippecanoe and Tyler too”

During the 1830s, there was a growing reaction against the alleged abuse of power by President Andrew Jackson (1767–1845; served 1829–37) in the Democratic Party . In response, a mixed group of politicians and others formed the Whig Party . Harrison became the Whig candidate for the presidential nomination in 1840. He was nominated as a military hero and a spokesman for development of the West.

The Whigs did not offer a real political platform, only a pledge to correct the abuses of the current administration. Whig strategists created a winning campaign by portraying Harrison (widely known as “Old Tippecanoe”) as a man of the people. They waged the first modern presidential campaign by selling souvenirs, distributing campaign materials, flooding the country with speakers, and using songs, slogans, and verses. The most famous cry was “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” (John Tyler [1790–1862] was Harrison's running mate.) Harrison won the election with ease.

Inauguration day was chilly and rainy, and the new president caught a cold that quickly developed into pneumonia. On April 4, 1841, after only one month in office, Harrison died in the White House.

William Henry Harrison

views updated May 29 2018

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison (1773-1841), the ninth president of the United States, was an early administrator of the American territorial system. He gained fame as an Indian fighter and military hero before becoming president.

William Henry Harrison was born in Charles City County, Va., on Feb. 9, 1773, into one of the state's leading families. His father, Benjamin Harrison, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and governor of Virginia during the Revolution. William Henry studied at Hampden-Sidney College and at the University of Pennsylvania before receiving a commission in the U.S. Army in 1792.

Harrison served in the Ohio Territory and was aide-de-camp to Gen. Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794), which temporarily destroyed Indian power in the Northwest Territory. He married an Ohio girl, Anna Tuthill Symmes, in 1795. Three years later he left the Army, having attained the rank of captain. He soon was appointed secretary of the Northwest Territory and elected representative to the U.S. Congress. In Congress, Harrison's Land Act of 1800 was a major contribution to the development of America's territorial policy. Under its terms the Federal government provided cheap land and extended each settler 5 years' credit to pay for his property.

President John Adams appointed the experienced Harrison as governor of the Indiana Territory in 1801, when it was carved out of the Northwest Territory. During his 12 years in that post, Harrison's main accomplishments were the establishment of a legal system, the settlement of land disputes, and the management of Indian affairs. Harrison gained a national reputation through his victory over an Indian confederation organized by Tecumseh and his brother, the "Prophet," at the Battle of Tippecanoe. This was one of the last efforts at resistance by Indians east of the Mississippi River.

When the War of 1812 started, Harrison received a major general's commission in the U.S. Army and, after Gen. William Hull surrendered at Detroit, took command of the Northwest forces. Although failing to achieve his primary military objectives—the recapture of Detroit and the conquest of Canada—Harrison was victorious at the battle on Canada's Thames River. After the war Harrison was one of the commissioners who negotiated the Spring Wells Treaty in 1815, which completed the Federal takeover of Indian lands in the Northwest.

Political Career

Upon his return to Ohio, Harrison was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (1816-1819). In 1825 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1828.

In 1828 Whig president John Quincy Adams appointed Harrison ambassador to Colombia. Having little knowledge of diplomacy, Harrison promptly tangled with Colombia's ruler, Simón Bolívar, who accused Harrison of complicity in an uprising. Incoming president Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, recalled him.

With the Whig party in temporary eclipse, Harrison returned to Ohio and went into political retirement until 1834. But the celebration that year of the twentieth anniversary of the Battle of the Thames returned him to prominence. A movement to make Harrison president gained strength in the Middle Atlantic states, where he had the backing of the leaders of the Antimasonic party, which by 1836 had largely combined with the Whigs. Since the Whig party was without a candidate for the 1836 contest and was composed of a number of discordant elements, several sectional candidates emerged to challenge the Democratic nominee, Martin Van Buren. They hoped collectively to throw the election into the House of Representatives, where one of the Whigs would emerge victorious. This strategy failed, but Harrison had proved the strongest contender.

The President

Soon after Van Buren's inauguration the movement for Harrison picked up new steam. Aided by a decline in Van Buren's popularity as a consequence of the Panic of 1837, Harrison received the Whig party's nomination at its 1839 convention with John Tyler, of Harrison's native county in Virginia, as his running mate.

The Whigs used a purposely vague program to carry Harrison to victory. Harrison refused to take a stand during the course of the campaign. He was portrayed as a simple, hardworking western farmer who lived in a log cabin and loved farm work, as contrasted to Van Buren, who was described as an eastern aristocrat living in luxury. Although the campaign rhetoric may have influenced the election, the dire economic condition of the country led to a general desire for changes, which worked in Harrison's favor.

Between his election and inauguration, Harrison was beset by numerous party quarrels over patronage. On April 4, 1841, one month after he took office, amid signs that his party was breaking up, Harrison died of pneumonia. The nation was stunned, having witnessed the first death of a president in office.

Further Reading

Dorothy Burne Goebel, William Henry Harrison: A Political Biography (1926), is a warm and interesting account of the life of the frontier hero, but quite outdated. Beverley W. Bond, Jr., The Civilization of the Old Northwest, 1788-1812 (1934), is a good account of Harrison's early career and the difficulties encountered by territorial officials. Other studies include Freeman Cleaves, Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time (1939), and James A. Green, William Henry Harrison: His Life and Times (1941). For the election of 1840 see Robert G. Gunderson, The Log-Cabin Campaign (1957), and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed., History of American Presidential Elections (4 vols., 1971). □

Harrison, William Henry

views updated May 21 2018


William Henry Harrison was the ninth president of the United States. He served the shortest term of any U.S. president, dying just a month after assuming office.

Harrison was born February 9, 1773, in Charles City County, Virginia, the youngest of seven children in a distinguished plantation family. His father, Benjamin Harrison V, served in the House of Burgesses before the American Revolution, was later a member of the continental congress, and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Harrison was tutored at home in his early years. In 1787, at age fourteen, he entered Hampden-Sydney College for premedical studies, intending to become a doctor. In 1791, he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School to study under Dr. benjamin rush, a noted physician. Later that year, following his father's death and without funds to continue school, Harrison decided to enlist in the Army and was commissioned an ensign in the First Infantry, serving in the Northwest Territory.

Harrison rose quickly through the ranks of the military, becoming a lieutenant in 1792 and acting as aide-de-camp to Major General Anthony ("Mad Anthony") Wayne, who was responsible for pacifying the Ottawa, Chippewa, Shawnee, and Pottawatomie tribes. At the Battle of Fallen Timbers, in August 1794, Harrison was responsible for holding the line against the tribes and received an official commendation from General Wayne for his efforts. He was later promoted to captain, but in 1798 resigned from the Army.

"See that the government does not acquire too much power. Keep a check upon your rulers. Do this, and liberty is safe."
William Henry Harrison

Following his distinguished military service, Harrison was appointed territorial secretary of the Northwest Territory by President john adams. The position paid well ($1,200 a year), but Harrison did not find it particularly challenging. In 1799, he was appointed the territory's first delegate to Congress, a nonvoting position that authorized him only to introduce legislation and participate in debate. Harrison made the most of his office, introducing and lobbying for passage of the Harrison Land Act of 1800, which opened the Northwest Territory to settlers and offered land for sale in small, affordable tracts and on reasonable credit terms.

In 1800, Harrison was appointed governor of the Indiana Territory. In his twelve years in the post, Harrison successfully negotiated a number of Indian treaties that opened to white settlers millions of acres in southern Indiana and Illinois. Despite the treaties, the threat of uprisings continued, and in November 1811, Harrison led a force of a thousand men, largely militiamen and volunteers from Kentucky and Indiana, against the Indian confederacy. Harrison's troops, taken by surprise, were attacked by the confederacy forces in an early morning raid. In more than two hours of intense fighting, Harrison's men beat back their opponents, suffering more than two hundred casualties. The conflict, known as the Battle of Tippecanoe, put an end to Native American resistance to white settlement in the region—and earned Harrison the nickname Old Tippecanoe.

Soon after the war of 1812 broke out, Harrison was again on the front lines of a major military operation. He was commissioned a major general of the Kentucky militia, then made a brigadier general in command of the Northwest frontier. In 1813, he was promoted to major general. Harrison's biggest battle of the war was at the Thames River, in Ontario, where he defeated a force of seventeen hundred British troops and secured the Northwest for the United States. Harrison was proclaimed a national hero and left the military to resume a career in politics.

In 1816, Harrison won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Militia Committee, advocating universal military training and sponsoring a relief bill for veterans and war widows. He also opposed laws that would restrict slavery.In 1819, Harrison left the House to serve as an Ohio state senator. After a year in office, he ran for the U.S. Senate but was defeated. He also lost a close election for the U.S. House in 1822. In 1825, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. As a senator, Harrison once again focused on military issues, using his influence as chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs to lobby for increases in Army pay and an expansion of the Navy.

After three years in the Senate, Harrison turned to foreign service, accepting an appointment as minister to Colombia. Harrison's tenure in South America was brief, because of political instability within Colombia and concerns within the U.S. government that he was sympathetic to revolutionaries plotting to overthrow the Colombian president. He was recalled to Washington, D.C., in February 1830.

After returning to the United States, Harrison retired to his farm in Ohio and suffered a series of financial setbacks and family tragedies, including the death of his oldest son. But he remained interested in politics. In 1836, he ran unsuccessfully for president, losing to martin van buren. In 1840, he again ran against Van Buren, with john tyler as his running mate. The race has been viewed by historians as the first modern presidential campaign, one with advertising and slogans, including the famous Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too, a reference to Harrison's strong military record on the frontier. Harrison and Tyler won the election with 53 percent of the popular vote.

Harrison was inaugurated amid great enthusiasm and gave one of the longest inaugural speeches in history (nearly an hour and a half) outdoors in early March without a hat, gloves, or an overcoat. He soon came down with a cold, which grew progressively worse and eventually developed into pneumonia. He died less than a month later, on April 4, 1841, in Washington, D.C., at age sixty-eight.

further readings

DeGregorio, William A. 1984. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Dembner Books.

Harrison, William Henry

views updated May 14 2018

Harrison, William Henry (1773–1841) Ninth US president (1841). Harrison is chiefly remembered for his military career, especially his victory against Native Americans at Tippecanoe (1811). He was elected president in 1840, with John Tyler as vice president, under the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” Harrison died only a month after taking office.


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