Wednesday, April 3, 2013
William Henry Harrison: The Presidents
In 1787, at the age of 14, Harrison entered the Presbyterian Hampden-Sydney College. He attended the school until 1790, becoming well-versed in Latin and basic French. He was removed by his Episcopalian father, possibly because of a religious revival occurring at the school. He then briefly attended an academy in Southampton County. He allegedly became involved with the antislavery Quakers and Methodists at the school.
Angered, his pro-slavery father had him transfer to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he boarded with Robert Morris, probably because of medical training available there. Harrison entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1790, where he continued to study medicine under Dr. Benjamin Rush. As Harrison explained to his biographer, he did not enjoy the subject. Shortly after he had arrived in Philadelphia in 1791, his father died, leaving him without funds for further schooling. Eighteen years old, he was left in the guardianship of Morris.
Governor Henry Lee of Virginia, a friend of Harrison's father, learned of Harrison's impoverished situation after his father's death and persuaded him to join the army. Within 24 hours of meeting Lee, Harrison was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Army, 11th U.S. Regt. of Infantry at the age of 18. He was first assigned to Cincinnati in the Northwest Territory where the army was engaged in the ongoing Northwest Indian War.
General "Mad Anthony" Wayne took command of the western army in 1792 following a disastrous defeat by its previous commander, Arthur St. Clair. Harrison was promoted to lieutenant that summer because of his strict attention to discipline, and the following year he was promoted to serve as aide-de-camp. It was from Wayne that Harrison learned how to successfully command an army on the American frontier. Harrison participated in Wayne's decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, which brought the Northwest Indian War to a successful close for the United States. After the war, Lieutenant Harrison was one of the signatories of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which opened much of present-day Ohio to settlement by European Americans.
After the death of his mother in 1793, Harrison inherited a portion of the family's estate, including about 3,000 acres of land and several slaves. Still in the army at the time, Harrison sold his land to his brother.
Together they had 10 children. Nine lived into adulthood and one died in infancy. Anna was frequently in poor health during the marriage, primarily due to her many pregnancies. Nevertheless, she outlived William by 23 years, dying at age 88 on February 25th, 1864.
Harrison is also believed to have had six children with one of his female slaves, Dilsia. When he ran for president he did not want "bastard slave children" around, so he gave four of his children to his brother, who sold them to a Georgia planter. Through this family line, Harrison is the great-grandfather of famous black civil rights activist Walter Francis White. White was the president of the NAACP from 1931–1955.
Harrison had many friends in the elite eastern social circles, and quickly gained a reputation among them as a frontier leader. Harrison ran a successful horse-breeding enterprise that won him acclaim throughout the Northwest Territory. He championed for lower land prices, the northwesterners' primary concern at the time. The U.S. Congress had legislated a territorial land policy that led to high land costs, a policy disliked by many of the territory's citizens. When Harrison ran for Congress, he campaigned on working to alter the situation to encourage migration to the territory. In 1799, at age 26, Harrison defeated the son of Arthur St. Clair and was elected as the first delegate representing the Northwest Territory in the Sixth United States Congress. He served from March 4, 1799, to May 14th, 1800. As a delegate from a territory, not a state, he had no authority to vote on bills but was permitted to serve on a committee, submit legislation, and debate. As delegate, Harrison successfully promoted the passage of the Harrison Land Act. This made it easier for the average settler to buy land in the Northwest Territory by allowing land to be sold in small tracts. The availability of inexpensive land was an important factor in the rapid population growth of the Northwest Territory. Harrison also served on the committee that decided how to divide the Northwest Territory. The committee recommended splitting the territory into two segments, creating the Ohio Territory and the Indiana Territory. The bill, 2 Stat. 58, passed and the two new territories were established in 1800.
Harrison moved to Vincennes, the capital of the newly established Indiana Territory, on January 10, 1801. While in Vincennes, Harrison built a plantation style home he named Grouseland for its many birds. It was one of the first brick structures in the territory. The home, which has been restored and has become a popular modern tourist attraction, served as the center of social and political life in the territory. He also built a second home near Corydon, the second capital, at Harrison Valley.
As governor, Harrison had wide ranging powers in the new territory, including the authority to appoint all territorial officials, and the territorial legislature, and to control the division of the territory into political districts. A primary responsibility was to obtain title to Native American lands. This would allow European-American settlement to expand and increase U.S. population to enable the region to gain statehood. Harrison was eager to expand the territory for personal reasons as well, as his political fortunes were tied to Indiana's rise to statehood. In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson granted Harrison authority to negotiate and conclude treaties with the Indians.
Harrison supervised the development of 13 treaties, through which the territory bought more than 60,000,000 acres of land from Native American leaders, including much of present-day southern Indiana. The 1804 Treaty of St. Louis with Quashquame led to the surrender by the Sauk and Meskwaki of much of western Illinois and parts of Missouri. This treaty and loss of lands were greatly resented by many of the Sauk, especially Black Hawk. It was the primary reason the Sauk sided with Great Britain during the War of 1812. Harrison thought the Treaty of Grouseland in 1805 appeased some of the issues for Native Americans, but tensions remained high on the frontier.
The 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne raised new tensions. Harrison purchased from the Miami tribe, who claimed ownership of the land, more than 2,500,000 acres of land inhabited by Shawnee, Kickapoo, Wea, and Piankeshaw peoples. Harrison rushed the process by offering large subsidies to the tribes and their leaders so that he could have the treaty in place before President Jefferson left office and the administration changed. The tribes living on the lands were furious and sought to have the treaty overturned but were unsuccessful.
In 1811, while Tecumseh was traveling, Harrison was authorized by Secretary of War William Eustis to march against the nascent confederation as a show of force. Harrison led an army of more than 1,000 men north to try to intimidate the Shawnee into making peace. Instead, the tribes launched a surprise attack on Harrison's army early on the morning of November 6, in what became known as the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison defeated the tribal forces at Prophetstown, next to the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers. Harrison was hailed as a national hero and the battle became famous. His troops had greatly outnumbered the attackers, and suffered many more casualties during the battle.
The press did not cover the battle at first, and one Ohio paper misinterpreted Harrison's dispatch to Eustis to mean he was defeated. By December, as most major American papers carried stories on the battle, public outrage over the Shawnee attack grew. At a time of high tensions with Great Britain, many Americans blamed the British for inciting the tribes to violence and supplying them with firearms. In response, Congress passed resolutions condemning the British for interfering in American domestic affairs. A few months later, the U.S. declared war against Great Britain.
The outbreak of war with the British in 1812 led to continued conflict with Native Americans in the Old Northwest, and Harrison was kept in command of the army in Indiana. After the loss of Detroit, General James Winchester became the commander of the Army of the Northwest. He offered Harrison the rank of brigadier general, which he refused, as he wanted sole command of the army. President James Madison removed Winchester and made Harrison the commander on September 17, 1812. Harrison inherited an army of fresh recruits, which he endeavored to drill. Initially he was greatly outnumbered by the British with their Indian allies. In the winter of 1812–13, Harrison constructed a defensive position at the rapids on the Maumee River in northwest Ohio. He named it Fort Meigs in honor of the Ohio governor, Return J. Meigs, Jr.
After receiving reinforcements in 1813, Harrison took the offensive. He led the army north to battle the Shawnee and their new British allies. He won victories in Indiana and Ohio and recaptured Detroit, before invading Canada. He defeated the British at the Battle of the Thames, in which Tecumseh was killed.
Secretary of War John Armstrong divided the command of the army, assigning Harrison to a "backwater" post and giving control of the front to one of Harrison's subordinates. Armstrong and Harrison had disagreed over the lack of coordination and effectiveness in the invasion of Canada. When Harrison was reassigned, he promptly resigned from the army. His resignation was accepted in the summer of 1814.
After the war ended, Congress investigated Harrison's resignation. It determined that he had been mistreated by the Secretary of War during his campaign and that his resignation was justified. They awarded Harrison a gold medal for his services during the War of 1812. The Battle of the Thames was considered one of the great American victories in the war, second only to the Battle of New Orleans.
Appointed as minister plenipotentiary to Gran Colombia, Harrison resigned from Congress and served in his new post until March 8th, 1829. He arrived in Bogotá on December 22, 1828. He found the condition of Colombia saddening. Harrison reported to the Secretary of State that the country was on the edge of anarchy and he thought Simón Bolívar was about to become a military dictator. While minister in Colombia, Harrison wrote a rebuke to Bolívar, stating "... the strongest of all governments is that which is most free." He called on Bolívar to encourage the development of a democracy. In response, Bolívar wrote, "The United States ... seem destined by Providence to plague America with torments in the name of freedom", a sentiment that achieved fame in Latin America. When the new administration of President Andrew Jackson took office in March 1829, Harrison was recalled so they could make their own appointment to the position. He returned to the United States in June.
When Harrison came to Washington, he wanted to show both that he was still the steadfast hero of Tippecanoe, and that he was a more learned and thoughtful man than the backwoods caricature ascribed to him in the campaign. He took the oath of office on March 4th, 1841, a cold and wet day. He wore neither an overcoat nor hat, rode on horseback to the ceremony rather than in the closed carriage that had been offered him, and delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. It took him nearly two hours to read, although his friend and fellow Whig Daniel Webster had edited it for length. Harrison then rode through the streets in the inaugural parade, and that evening attended three inaugural balls, including one at Carusi's Saloon entitled the "Tippecanoe" ball, which at a price of US$10 per person attracted 1000 guests.
The inaugural address was a detailed statement of the Whig agenda, essentially a repudiation of Jackson and Van Buren's policies. Harrison promised to reestablish the Bank of the United States and extend its capacity for credit by issuing paper currency (Henry Clay's American System); to defer to the judgment of Congress on legislative matters, with sparing use of his veto power; and to reverse Jackson's spoils system of executive patronage. He promised to use patronage to create a qualified staff, not to enhance his own standing in government.
As leader of the Whigs and a powerful legislator (as well as a frustrated Presidential candidate in his own right), Clay expected to have substantial influence in the Harrison administration. He ignored his own platform plank of overturning the "Spoils" system. Clay attempted to influence Harrison's actions before and during his brief presidency, especially in putting forth his own preferences for Cabinet offices and other presidential appointments. Harrison rebuffed his aggression, saying "Mr. Clay, you forget that I am the President.The dispute intensified when Harrison named Daniel Webster, Clay's arch-rival for control of the Whig Party, as his Secretary of State, and appeared to give Webster's supporters some highly coveted patronage positions. Harrison's sole concession to Clay was to name his protégé John J. Crittenden to the post of Attorney General. Despite this, the dispute continued until the president's death.
Clay was not the only one who hoped to benefit from Harrison's election. Hordes of office applicants came to the White House, which was then open to all comers who wanted a meeting with the President. Most of Harrison's business during his month-long presidency involved extensive social obligations - an inevitable part of his high position and arrival in Washington - and receiving visitors at the White House. They awaited him at all hours and filled the Executive Mansion. Harrison wrote in a letter dated March 10 that "I am so much harassed by the multitude that call upon me that I can give no proper attention to any business of my own." Nevertheless, Harrison sent a number of nominations for office to the Senate for confirmation during his month in office. The new 27th Congress had convened an extraordinary session for the purpose of confirming Harrison's cabinet and other important nominees; since a number of them arrived after Congress' March 15th adjournment, however, John Tyler would ultimately be forced to renominate many of Harrison's selections.
Harrison's only official act of consequence was to call Congress into a special session. He and Henry Clay had disagreed over the necessity of such a session, and when on March 11 Harrison's cabinet proved evenly divided, the president vetoed the idea. When Clay pressed Harrison on the special session on March 13, the president rebuffed his counsel and told him not to visit the White House again, but to address him only in writing. A few days later, however, Treasury Secretary Thomas Ewing reported to Harrison that federal funds were in such trouble that the government could not continue to operate until Congress' regularly scheduled session in December; Harrison thus relented, and on March 17th proclaimed the special session in the interests of "the condition of the revenue and finance of the country." The session was scheduled to begin on May 31st.
On March 26, Harrison became ill with a cold. According to the prevailing medical misconception of that time, it was believed that his illness was directly caused by the bad weather at his inauguration; however, Harrison's illness did not arise until more than three weeks after the event. The cold worsened, rapidly turning to pneumonia and pleurisy. He sought to rest in the White House, but could not find a quiet room because of the steady crowd of office seekers. His extremely busy social schedule made any rest time scarce. Harrison's doctors tried cures, applying opium, castor oil, leeches, and Virginia snakeweed. But the treatments only made Harrison worse, and he became delirious. He died nine days after becoming ill, at 12:30 am on April 4th, 1841, of right lower lobe pneumonia, jaundice, and overwhelming septicemia. He was the first United States president to die in office. His last words were to his doctor, but assumed to be directed at John Tyler, "Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more." Harrison served the shortest term of any American president: March 4 – April 4, 1841, 30 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes.
Harrison's funeral took place in the Wesley Chapel in Cincinnati, Ohio, on April 7th, 1841. His original interment was in the public vault of the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. He was later buried in North Bend, Ohio. The William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial was erected in his honor.
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