His life ended shortly after attaining the Presidency of the United States. Even though he was the ninth President, his major impacts did not take place in the Executive office. Among the Presidents, William Henry Harrison was the first U.S. President to die while in office. He passed away 30 days into his term. He had the unfortunate distinction of serving the shortest term of office in Presidential history. His death triggered a short Constitutional crisis regarding succession to the Presidential Office by the Vice President.
Harrison was born on this date in 1773. He was the last President born before the Declaration of Independence was written. He was also the oldest man to be sworn in as President until Ronald Reagan.
Harrison attended the University of Pennsylvania but didn’t receive his degree in medicine as planned. In his impoverished condition, he joined the U.S. Army and was commissioned as an ensign, serving as aide-de-camp to General “Mad” Anthony Wayne. General Wayne taught Harrison the skills of commanding a frontier army.
In 1798, Harrison resigned from the military to become the Secretary of the Northwest Territory and acting governor. He was also a non-voting delegate to Congress. Harrison resigned from Congress to become territorial governor of Indiana Territory.
In 1811, Harrison gained national reknown for his leadership of United States forces against native Americans at the Battle of Tippecanoe. This garnered Harrison the nickname, “Tippecanoe”. To seal his reputation as a hero, General Harrison led his forces to victory during the Battle of the Thames in the War of 1812. The battle ended hostilities in his territory.
Following his wartime career, Harrison served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio, then had a term of office in the Ohio State Senate. He was then elected to the U.S. Senate where he served until his appointment as foreign minister to Columbia.
Harrison was nominated as the Northern Whig Party candidate for President in 1836, but lost the general election to Martin Van Buren. Then, in 1840, Harrison ran for office again. The campaign exaggerated Harrison’s military career and promoted him as a humble, “everyman”, frontiersman. Harrison and running mate John Tyler enjoyed one of American history’s most famous campaign slogans, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”. Harrison won a landslide victory.
On Inauguration Day, Harrison took the oath of office and a very cold, windy day without an overcoat. He gave the longest inaugural address in history. Later, he made the rounds of inaugural parties. Some time later, Harrison fell ill with the common cold. That condition soon degraded into pneumonia and pleurisy. Harrison had little opportunity to rest due to the influx of people seeking political appointments to the various offices that the executive had to fill.
The primitive, folk remedies of the day only worsened Harrison’s conditions, William Henry Harrison died on April 4, 1841 of pneumonia, jaundice and septicemia.
Harrison’s legacy included his son, John, who served as the Representative from Ohio, and grandson, Benjamin, who was elected the 32nd President in 1889. Benjamin delivered the second longest inaugural speech since his granddad’s. But he decided to wear an overcoat and to have an umbrella over his head during the light rain shower.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that at the time of his second Presidential run, over twelve biographies had been published about Harrison’s heroic life.