February 9 - William Henry Harrison's Birthday

Posted on February 9, 2018

There are only two things that most people know about William Henry Harrison:

(1) He served the shortest term of any U.S. president - only 31 days! He was also the first U.S. president to die in office.

(2) He was the grandfather of another president, Benjamin Harrison.

But William Henry Harrison lived for 68 years before he died - surely SOMETHING interesting happened in all those years!

* He was born a British subject. That's because he was born on this date in 1773, a few years before the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.

* His family was political. His father (Benjamin Harrison V) signed the Declaration and served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, and in the Virginia legislature, and as Virginia's governor.

* Harrison was studying medicine - but not enjoying it - when his father died. He discovered that the previously wealthy family had little money left, so he left medical school and joined the military.

* Harrison inherited a chunk of his family's Virginia estate, which included land and several slaves, but he sold his portion of the estate to his brother.

* He achieved quite a bit in the military, but still the father of his beloved refused to give permission for them to marry.

So...they eloped! (That means they got married in secret.)

His bride's father was worried about how Harrison would support a family - and maybe worrying was the right thing to do, because Harrison and his wife had TEN children!!!

(Granted, families tended to be large back then. Harrison came from a family of eight.)

* "When they go low..." Politics has always been a pretty dirty thing. When Harrison was running for president, a newspaper ridiculed him by saying that he would rather sit in a log cabin with a barrel of hard cider than to show any sort of class or culture. (Hard cider is a non-posh sort of alcoholic drink.) In actual fact, Harrison came from a land-owning, slave-owning Southern family, but his campaign was painting him as, not just a military hero, but also a skillful frontiersman. So he got criticism from the other party for his image rather than anything real.

Harrison's campaign capitalized on the criticism. They began handing out whiskey in bottles shaped like log cabins! I think that many people liked his "everyman" image.

* In addition to his super short time as president, William Henry Harrison served as territorial secretary and acting territorial governor and congressional delegate in the U.S. Congress, for the Northwest Territory. He followed all of that up by being governor of the Indiana Territory, Representative and Senator for Ohio, and Minister to Gran Colombia.

* Harrison's inaugural address is the longest ever spoken by an incoming president. It took 90 minutes and included 8,445 words!

(The myth that the speech was so long that he caught a cold, which turned into pneumonia, and then he died - well, it's just that: a myth. 

Harrison fell ill three weeks after that long speech, so it seems clear that the two aren't cause-and-effect. And it may not even have been pneumonia that killed him - it may have been a bacterial infection of his GI tract.)

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