• Born in 1773, William Harrison grew up as the youngest of seven children during the Revolutionary War.
• Harrison’s family was part of Virginia’s elite, friendly with George Washington. Benjamin Harrison, William’s father, served three terms as Virginia’s governor and signed the Declaration of Independence.
• William Harrison knew by age 18 that he wanted to pursue a military career, and quickly rose through the ranks serving in the Northwest Territory. When, under President John Adams, the territory was split into the Ohio and Indiana Territories, Harrison was named governor of the Indiana Territory.
• As governor Harrison negotiated unfair land deals with Native Americans, leading to the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison’s success there resulted in his commanding a force during the War of 1812, after which he resigned from the Army.
• Harrison had a varied political career after that, serving in the House of Representatives, the Ohio State Senate and, eventually, the United States Senate. He was also named an ambassador to Colombia under John Quincy Adams.
• After losing in the 1836 presidential election, Harrison was a candidate again in 1840. His military career was highlighted in the campaign, and “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” referring to Harrison and his running mate, John Tyler, was the first presidential campaign slogan.
How he defined the office
• Harrison didn’t have a chance to define the office, dying just 32 days into his presidency. His two-hour-long inaugural address gave some hints as to how he would have served: He promised a limited presidential role, not interfering with what Congress decided. He said a president should not use a veto unless he believed a law Congress passed was unconstitutional. Harrison was a slaveowner who believed the states had the right to decide slavery issues for themselves. In his address he also promised he would not serve a second term as president.
Successes and failures
• Harrison gave his inaugural address wearing no coat or hat on a cold, snowy day. When he attended inaugural receptions in his wet clothing, he developed pneumonia. He died one month after his inauguration, resulting in the shortest presidential term.
• “The attempt of those of one state to control the domestic institutions of another can only result in feelings of distrust and jealousy, the certain harbingers of disunion, violence, and civil war, and the ultimate destruction of our free institutions.”
William Henry Harrison