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William Henry Harrison: The One-Month President

William Henry Harrison refused to wear a coat for his long inaugural address – and died of pneumonia four weeks later.

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William Henry Harrison (1773–1841) was the ninth president of the United States and served a shorter term than any other. He took the coveted office on March 4, 1841, but died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841. Even though Harrison didn’t stay the nation’s leader for long, he had lived an eventful life.

Harrison was born on February 9, 1773 at Berkeley, his family’s plantation near Richmond, Virginia. His father, Benjamin Harrison V, was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and served as governor of the state. William Harrison attended Hampden-Sydney College in Pennsylvania, where he studied medicine until he dropped out in 1791 to join the Army.

Harrison got much of his reputation as an Indian-fighter. In 1794, he fought against the indigenous tribes at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which opened the Ohio country to white settlement. He was promoted to captain and became the commander of Ohio’s Fort Washington, which is near present-day Cincinnati.

Harrison and Anna Tuthill Symmes were married in 1795. The bride’s father was a judge and didn’t agree to the match because of Harrison’s military career, so the couple eloped. They had ten children, six of whom died before Harrison became president. One son, John Scott Harrison, would later become a congressman and the father of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president.

The future president resigned from the Army in 1798 and became the secretary of the Northwest Territory, assigned by President John Adams. In 1800, Harrison became governor of the new Indiana Territory that had been created by Congress. This position saw him negotiating treaties with Native American tribes, getting them to hand over millions of acres of land and causing problems with those who were not happy with the treaties. He ended up calling in U.S. forces to remove the natives from the lands, but in 1811, he had to battle the powerful Shawnee leader, Tecumseh. This epic battle, which cost a lot of lives on both sides, is what reinforced his reputation as a fighter against the Indians.

He continued as governor for a dozen years before rejoining the Army for the War of 1812. He was placed in charge of the Army of the Northwest and made the rank of brigadier general. The Battle of Thames in 1813 was a decisive victory for Harris, defeating the British and their Indian allies, including the death of chieftain Tecumseh.

After resigning again from the military, Harrison and family moved to North Bend, Ohio, in 1814. For the next several years, he served on various political seats, including as a member of the House of Representatives.

In 1836, he ran for president as part of the Whig Party but lost to Democrat Martin Van Buren. The Whigs nominated Harrison four years later with John Tyler as his running mate. He was the oldest president – until Ronald Reagan – and was mocked relentlessly during his campaign. One newspaper taunted him, saying, “Give him a barrel of hard [alcoholic] cider, and … a pension of two thousand [dollars] a year … and … he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin.” This became known as the “log cabin campaign” and memorabilia was sold to commemorate the image.

Harrison became president at age 68. He gave a long inaugural address, the longest in history, and chose not to wear a coat or hat despite the weather. Four weeks later, he died of pneumonia, and the vice president, John Tyler, took over, gaining the name of “His Accidency.”

First lady Anna Harrison became the first presidential widow to receive a pension from Congress, which was a one-time payment of $25,000, the amount her husband would have earned in a year as president. She was also given free postage on all her mail.

Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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