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Who is William Henry Harrison?

William Henry Harrison was the ninth President of the United States, whose tenure was the shortest in American history, lasting just 32 days. He was a military hero and a public servant whose presidency was cut tragically short by illness. What lasting impact did his brief administration have on the presidency and American politics? Join us as we explore his legacy.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

William Henry Harrison was the ninth United States president, and is perhaps best known for setting some records during his presidential career. He was the oldest president to be elected up until the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan’s election at the age of 69 broke Harrison’s record by a year. He was also the first president to die in office, developing pneumonia from complications of a cold virus. He served as President for just a month.

Due to his short presidential term, William Henry Harrison is best known for his personal history prior to his election in 1840. He was initially a citizen of the England, the last president to have lived through the transition from English rule to American control. His father was a noted Virginia politician who was very active in this change. Benjamin Harris signed the Declaration of Independence, and was a delegate to the Continental Congress.

The White House, home of the president of the United States.
The White House, home of the president of the United States.

William Henry Harrison initially intended to become a doctor, but instead joined the US Military after the death of his father, when he sorely needed money and had little to continue medical training. His position toward Native Americans is clearly defined — they were enemies of the US. From this position, Harrison was vehement in defeating them. Later when he served as governor for the newly created territory of Indiana, William Henry Harrison would continue to push a pro-settler, anti-Indian agenda, in the hopes that settler expansion would not be met with Native American opposition.

Martin Van Buren beat William Henry Harrison in the 1836 presidential race.
Martin Van Buren beat William Henry Harrison in the 1836 presidential race.

Perhaps one of the most memorable actions of William Henry Harrison was his participation in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. The attack here was on a federation of Native Americans led by Tecumseh, a leader of the Shawnee Indians, and it briefly disorganized the Indian federation. In 1812, William Henry Harrison actively participated in the beginning of the War of 1812, and in 1813, he defeated Tecumseh, who was being backed by the combined British/Indian force.

The future ninth president resigned while the war of 1812 still raged, causing some of his political opponents to question his bravery and commitment. William Henry Harrison then returned to private life, and very soon to political life. He was a House Representative for Ohio from 1816-1819, and a member of the Ohio State Senate from 1819-1821. As a representative of Ohio, he became part of the US Senate in 1824, and served for four years.

William Henry Harrison ran twice for the office of President, losing in 1836 to Marin Van Buren, and winning in 1840. His election energized the Whig party, of which Harrison was an avid member. They were an offshoot of the Republican Party, especially interested in granting more powers to congress and weakening the executive branch of the US. Harrison’s successor, and Vice President, John Tyler was a Whig too, but was expelled from the party after he succeeded Harrison as President.

Our 23rd President, Benjamin Harrison, should not be confused with William Henry Harrison, but the two were related. Benjamin Harrison was William’s grandson. Unlike William Henry Harrison serving only a tithe of his term as president due to his untimely death, President Benjamin Harrison was able to serve four years as president.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was William Henry Harrison and what is he known for?

William Henry Harrison was the ninth President of the United States, serving the shortest term in U.S. presidential history. He is known for his military leadership during the War of 1812 and for being the first president to die in office, succumbing to pneumonia just 31 days after his inauguration in 1841. His presidency is often remembered for the brevity and the famous campaign slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," which referenced his military victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe.

What were William Henry Harrison's major accomplishments before becoming president?

Before becoming president, William Henry Harrison had a distinguished military career, notably leading American forces against Native American tribes at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. He also served as the governor of the Indiana Territory, where he worked to open Native American lands to white settlers. Additionally, Harrison represented Ohio in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, showcasing his extensive political experience prior to his presidency.

How did William Henry Harrison's presidency impact U.S. history?

Although William Henry Harrison's presidency was brief, it had a significant impact on U.S. history by setting important precedents. His death in office led to the first use of the presidential line of succession, raising questions about the vice president's constitutional power to assume the full role and title of president. This event eventually influenced the creation of the 25th Amendment, clarifying the procedures for presidential succession and disability.

What was the cause of William Henry Harrison's death?

William Henry Harrison died from pneumonia, believed to have been contracted shortly after delivering the longest inaugural address in U.S. history on a cold, wet day without wearing adequate protective clothing. His illness progressed rapidly, and despite various treatments available at the time, he passed away on April 4, 1841, marking the first time a sitting president died in office.

How does William Henry Harrison's military legacy live on today?

William Henry Harrison's military legacy lives on through his reputation as a leader in several key battles, particularly the Battle of Tippecanoe and his service during the War of 1812. These engagements were pivotal in the United States' efforts to assert control over the Northwest Territory and to resist British influence. His nickname, "Old Tippecanoe," remains a symbol of early American frontier military prowess and is a part of the collective historical narrative of the United States.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent PublicPeople contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent PublicPeople contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

SnowyWinter

@CarrotIsland: It is said that Indian Chief Tecumseh placed a curse on the Presidents of the United States and that every twenty years a President would die in office.

This was to begin when President William Henry Harrison took office in 1840. Harrison had angered Chief Tecumseh by the way he had treated his people years before and his successful victory in the Battle of Tippacanoe.

This is just a legend, but, surprisingly enough, every President being in 1840 until 1980 did die or was assassinated while in office.

CarrotIsland

What is Tecumseh’s Curse?

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    • The White House, home of the president of the United States.
      By: Sandra Manske
      The White House, home of the president of the United States.
    • Martin Van Buren beat William Henry Harrison in the 1836 presidential race.
      By: TradingCardsNPS
      Martin Van Buren beat William Henry Harrison in the 1836 presidential race.