US Consitution, Bill of Rights, and the Amendments
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General William Henry Harrison
The Hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe
Fast Fact: William Henry Harrison
was the first President to die in office.
him a barrel of hard cider and settle a pension of two thousand a year
on him, and my word for it," a Democratic newspaper foolishly gibed, "he
will sit ... by the side of a 'sea coal' fire, and study moral philosophy."
The Whigs, seizing on this political misstep, in 1840 presented their candidate
William Henry Harrison as a simple frontier Indian fighter, living in a
log cabin and drinking cider, in sharp contrast to an aristocratic champagne-sipping
Harrison was in fact a scion
of the Virginia planter aristocracy. He was born at Berkeley in 1773. He
studied classics and history at Hampden-Sydney College, then began the
study of medicine in Richmond.
Suddenly, that same year, 1791, Harrison switched interests.
He obtained a commission as ensign in the First Infantry of the Regular
Army, and headed to the Northwest, where he spent much of his life.
In the campaign against the
Indians, Harrison served as aide-de-camp to General "Mad Anthony" Wayne
at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which opened most of the Ohio area to
settlement. After resigning from the Army in 1798, he became Secretary
of the Northwest Territory, was its first delegate to Congress, and helped
obtain legislation dividing the Territory into the Northwest and Indiana
Territories. In 1801 he became Governor of the Indiana Territory, serving
His prime task as governor was
to obtain title to Indian lands so settlers could press forward into the
wilderness. When the Indians retaliated, Harrison was responsible for defending
The threat against settlers
became serious in 1809. An eloquent and energetic chieftain, Tecumseh,
with his religious brother, the Prophet, began to strengthen an Indian
confederation to prevent further encroachment. In 1811 Harrison received
permission to attack the confederacy.
While Tecumseh was away seeking
more allies, Harrison led about a thousand men toward the Prophet's town.
Suddenly, before dawn on November 7, the Indians attacked his camp on Tippecanoe
River. After heavy fighting, Harrison repulsed them, but suffered 190 dead
The Battle of Tippecanoe, upon
which Harrison's fame was to rest, disrupted Tecumseh's confederacy but
failed to diminish Indian raids. By the spring of 1812, they were again
terrorizing the frontier.
In the War of 1812 Harrison
won more military laurels when he was given the command of the Army in
the Northwest with the rank of brigadier general. At the Battle of the
Thames, north of Lake Erie, on October 5, 1813, he defeated the combined
British and Indian forces, and killed Tecumseh. The Indians scattered,
never again to offer serious resistance in what was then called the Northwest.
Thereafter Harrison returned
to civilian life; the Whigs, in need of a national hero, nominated him
for President in 1840. He won by a majority of less than 150,000, but swept
the Electoral College, 234 to 60.
When he arrived in Washington in February 1841, Harrison
let Daniel Webster edit his Inaugural Address, ornate with classical allusions.
Webster obtained some deletions, boasting in a jolly fashion that he had
killed "seventeen Roman proconsuls as dead as smelts, every one of them."
Webster had reason to be pleased,
for while Harrison was nationalistic in his outlook, he emphasized in his
Inaugural that he would be obedient to the will of the people as expressed
But before he had been in office a month, he caught a
cold that developed into pneumonia. On April 4, 1841, he died--the first
President to die in office--and with him died the Whig program.
Courtesy of the White