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William Henry Harrison: Significant Facts and Brief Biography


William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the United States
President William Henry Harrison

President William Henry Harrison

Library of Congress

Life span: Born: February 9, 1773, in Virginia.
Died: April 4, 1841, at the age of 68, in the White House, Washington, D.C.

Harrison was the first president to die in office.

Presidential term: March 4, 1841 - April 4, 1841
Harrison's single month in office is the shortest term of any president. He had caught a cold, which turned into a fatal case of pneumonia, while giving a very long inaugural address.

Accomplishments: As Harrison served so little time in office, and was quite ill for much of that, he had no real accomplishments as president.

However, Harrison holds a distinctive place in history for changing the way candidates ran for president. Before his first presidential campaign, in 1836, it was considered unseemly for candidates to even express interest in the job.

Harrison changed that by showing that he was quite eager to be nominated and elected. He toured Kentucky and Indiana, giving speeches in which he denounced the policies of Andrew Jackson and the partisanship of his Jackson's followers.

Harrison was nominated by the Whig and Anti-Masonic parties, and then campaigned against the Democratic candidate, Martin Van Buren, who had essentially been hand-picked by Jackson after serving as Jackson's vice president.

Harrison's campaign was nothing like modern political campaigns, as it really just consisted of him giving speeches. But just the idea that he appeared in public, seeking the presidency, was innovative.

Harrison lost the election of 1836 to Van Buren, but his approach indicated that active campaigning had a future. Four years later, Harrison ran in the election of 1840, which was notable for featuring campaign slogans.

The campaign in 1840 was remarkably devoid of issues, and Harrison won.

Supported by: Harrison was supported by the Whig Party, which was formed essentially to oppose the policies of Andrew Jackson and his Democratic Party.

Opposed by: Harrison's political opponents would have been the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson, which had been largely organized by New York political wizard Martin Van Buren.

Presidential campaigns: Harrison ran in the election of 1836, which he lost to Martin Van Buren, and the election of 1840, in which he beat Van Buren.

Spouse and family: Harrison married Anna Symmes in 1795, and they had 10 children, nine of whom lived to adulthood. One of Harrison's grandsons, Benjamin Harrison, served as president from 1889-1893.

Education: Harrison was born into a prominent Virginia family, and his father had been a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Young Harrison was well-educated, and for a time attended a medical college in Philadelphia.

Early career: Harrison pursued a military career, and was generally stationed on the frontier in Indiana. He served as governor of the Indiana Territory, a job which often involved negotiating treaties with Indian tribes.

On November 6, 1811, Harrison led an army of about 1,000 men against an encampment of Indians led by the brother of Tecumseh. In what became known as the Battle of Tippecanoe, Harrison defeated the Shawnee, and gained national acclaim as an Indian fighter.

In the War of 1812 Harrison led American forces at the Battle of the Thames, at which Tecumseh was killed.

Later career: Harrison died while president and had no post-presidential career.

Nickname: "Old Tippecanoe," a bestowed in honor of his leadership at the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe.

Unusual facts: Harrison gave what is generally considered the worst inaugural address of any American president. And the fact that he probably caught a cold giving it, which later led to his death, made his two-hour speech, delivered in snowy weather, notorious.

As Harrison was the first president to die while in office, his vice president, John Tyler, was the first to ascend to the presidency upon a president's death.

Death and funeral: Harrison died in the White House on April 4, 1841. His body was first interred in a vault in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and later buried in North Bend, Ohio.

Legacy: Harrison left no real legacy as president, and is often remembered as having served the shortest term of any president. But he did have some historical impact for having been the first presidential candidate to campaign in any practical way.

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