Monday, December 5th, 2011 at 1:47pm

William Henry Harrison

Posted by Robert Bianchetto

1773-1841 (pneumonia)

“Old Tip” was the oldest dude to be President until Ronald Reagan
William Henry Harrison was a celebrated military leader who used his war record to eventually become President. He was a rough, tough son of a gun who was known for taking on Native Americans out West and living to tell the tale. He is also known for having the shortest Presidential term, as he died thirty days after taking the oath. His conflicts against Native Americans, as well as his short-term Presidency, make him an Important American.

Harrison was born into the fancy Virginia planter lifestyle in 1773. By the time he grew up the American Revolution had ended and he was sent away to school by his father. Harrison went to several different schools to study medicine but was forced to drop out after his father died and there was no money to afford his tuition. In 1791 he decided to join up with the U.S. military and was assigned to Cincinnati, Ohio to help fight against the Native Americans.

Harrison served under General Anthony “Mad Anthony” Wayne as he fought against the Miami Native American tribe, and he was eventually promoted to aide-de-camp (assistant). While working alongside Wayne, Harrison learned quite a bit about how to fight Native Americans out West. Harrison was present at The Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, which ended the Northwest Indian War, and was a signer of the Treaty of Greenville, in which several Native American tribes signed over their land to the U.S. government.

The Treaty of Greenville, where Native Americans got drunk and sold their land for booze 

In 1795 Harrison met Anna Symmes and wanted to marry her. Her father refused to give permission, so Harrison waited for a day when her father went out of town, and then he and Anna ran off together and got married. By 1797 Harrison was tired of the army life and wanted to settle down. He was appointed the Secretary of the Northwest Territory (at the time included today’s states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) which made him the vice-governor of the area. In 1799 Harrison became the first Congressman for the Northwest Territory. He couldn’t do much since he wasn’t a true Congressman (the Northwest Territory wasn’t a state, so he couldn’t vote) but he did make sure the Harrison Land Act was passed, which made it easier to buy land in the Northwest Territory (easier purchase of land meant more citizens moving there, and more citizens meant that the area would eventually be populated enough to count as a state.) In 1800 the Northwest Territory was split into the Ohio Territory and the Indiana Territory, and Harrison was made Governor of the Indiana Territory by President John Adams. As Governor Harrison had two main jobs: to get as much land as he could from Native American tribes and to protect American settlers from Native American attacks.

In 1810 Harrison was visited at the territory capital by Tecumseh, a Native American chief who was angry at the United States for buying up Native American land. Tecumseh told Harrison that if he didn’t return the land there would be trouble. Harrison told Tecumseh to get lost and Tecumseh left, muttering that he would be back. In 1811 Harrison was ordered to gather up an army and take down Tecumseh’s confederacy of Native American tribes. Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa (aka The Prophet) tried to get a sneak attack going against Harrison’s marching army, but Harrison was able to counter-attack. This became known as the Battle of Tippacanoe, and with the defeat of The Prophet, Tecumseh’s War was pretty much at an end. Harrison was revered for his victory at Tippacanoe and this gave him the national attention he needed to make the jump from Governor of a country bumpkin territory to the Federal Government.

Shortly after the U.S. declared war on Britain and the War of 1812 had begun. Harrison was ordered to continue running the army in the Northwest as the British had become allies with several Native American tribes. Harrison was eventually made brigadier general of the Northwest army and after getting achieving several military victories against Native American forces he led the army up towards Canada. In 1813 Harrison’s army clashed with British and Native American forces at the Battle of the Thames, and not only did Harrison get yet another victory but he was also able to kill Tecumseh. The Battle of the Thames was the biggest victory for the American army during the War of 1812, and between these victories and the victory at Tippacanoe, Harrison continued to get more popular nationally.

Harrison and the Whigs want you to think he shot Tecumseh but no one knows who killed him

In 1816 Harrison was elected as Congressman in Ohio, and in 1819 was elected as a Senator for Ohio. In 1828 Harrison was appointed to be a diplomat to serve in the country of Columbia, but was only stuck there for a year until President Andrew Jackson took office and called him back. Upon his return to the United States Harrison decided to retire from public office and lived on his family farm in Ohio and assisted James Hall in writing a biography about his life which was titled A Memoir of the Public Services of William Henry Harrison.

In 1836 the Whig party selected Harrison to run for President mainly due to his popularity in America for his war record. Harrison was unable to defeat the Democratic candidate Martin Van Burin, but ran against him a second time in 1840. This time Harrison was also promoted as the “common man” and log cabin-shaped bottles filled with hard cider were given away to supporters and potential voters.  This campaign, coupled with the economic crisis of 1837, caused voters to elect “Old Tip” over Martin Van “Ruin”.

That’s Harrison dispensing free booze while Jackson and Van Buren try and stop him

On March 4, 1841, Harrison was sworn in as the ninth President of the United States. Harrison wanted to maintain his tough guy persona and refused to wear a hat or coat while delivering his inauguration speech (almost two hours long) on a cold, rainy day. Harrison had promised to reverse many of the policies of Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Burin by re-establishing the National Bank and ending the spoils system. On March 26 Harrison began to show symptoms of sickness, and what was believed to at first be nothing more than a cold quickly turned to pneumonia. Harrison died in the White House on April 4th, making him not only the first President to die in office but also to serve the shortest amount of time in office at just thirty days.

Harrison doesn’t just teach kids about history, but also the importance of bundling up

William Henry Harrison may not be a shining example of a successful Presidency but he is still remembered for his military and public service. Henry loved the West and eventually settled down out there for the better portion of his life, whether he was fighting Native Americans or running a territory. He used his military success and “common man” image to become elected President, but his macho display during his inauguration only shorted his term, and his life. Harrison’s military victories and years of public service, as well as his brief one-month stint as President, make him an Important American.

Why He’s an Important American:

  • Successful military leader during the Northwest Indian War
    • Present at the Battle of Fallen Timbers
    • Signed the Treaty of Greenville
  • Was the first Congressman for the Northwest Territory
    • Created Harrison Land Act- made it easier to buy land in Northwest Territory
  • Made Governor of Indiana Territory
  • Led army against Tecumseh and The Prophet
    • Defeated The Prophet at Battle of Tippacanoe
      • Became national hero
  • Was promoted to Brigadier General during War of 1812
    • Led army against Native American forces in Northwest
    • Invaded Canada
    • Defeated Tecumseh and British allies at Battle of Thames
      • Greatest American victory during War of 1812
  • Elected a Congressman and then a Senator to Ohio
  • Ran for President in 1836 but lost
  • Elected ninth President in 1840
    • Based campaign on military victory and his appeal to the “common man”
  • Delivered a two-hour long inaugural speech at the White House
    • Caught pneumonia and died thirty days later
    • Shortest Presidential term and first President to die in office
      • Established precedent on how Vice President transitions to President


Ferris, Robert G. The Presidents: From the Inauguration of George Washington to the Inauguration of Jimmy Carter. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977.

Garraty, John A. The American Nation: A History of the United States. 8th ed. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1995.

Smith, Carter. Presidents: All You Need to Know. Irvington: Hylas Publishing, 2005.$1coin/?action=WHHarrison

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© 2011 Important Americans: Those Who Made America Great