William Henry Harrison

9th president - 1841

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The Independent Online


The first president to die in office, Harrison was notable mainly for the brevity of his presidency (31 days); for the populism of his election campaign; and for his achievements before being elected. The child of an aristocratic Virginia planter family, he initially trained as a doctor before becoming a professional soldier. He served with distinction in the war of 1812-14, becoming a brigadier-general; but was chiefly famous for his campaigns against the Native Americans, notably his crushing victories over Tecumseh's Indian confederation at Tippecanoe in 1811 and at the Battle of the Thames in 1813.

His presidential campaign presented him as a simple frontiersman, living in a log cabin and drinking cider – in contrast to the effete, champagne-sipping Van Buren. His supporters pressed his cause with an unprecedented degree of razzmatazz, with huge parades, rallies lasting several days, and a range of gimmicks and souvenirs such as whiskey sold in log-cabin bottles. He won by a majority of less than 150,000, but comfortably swept the Electoral College, 234 to 60. Shortly after taking office, he caught a cold that developed into pneumonia. He died on 4 April, 1841; and (according to the official White House history): "with him died the Whig program".

In his own words

"The people are the best guardians of their own rights and it is the duty of their executive to abstain from interfering in or thwarting the sacred exercise of the lawmaking functions of their government."

In others' words

"As unconscious as a child of his difficulties and those of his country, he seems to enjoy his election as a mere affair of personal vanity. It is really distressing to see him." Senator John C Calhoun


As well as having the shortest presidency, Harrison had the distinction of delivering (to date) the longest inaugural address: an hour and 45 minutes. It is possible that the cold he caught while delivering it may have contributed to the illness that eventually killed him.

During the 1836 election campaign, Harrison's Democrat opponents took to asking voters to say Harrison's name backwards – producing the phrase "No, sirrah!"

He was a distant descendant of Henry III.

The body of one of his sons, John Scott Harrison, was stolen by grave-robbers and sold to a medical school – only to be recognised by his son, who was a medical student.