9th President of the United States (March 4–April 4, 1841), b. “Berkeley,” Charles City co., Va.; son of Benjamin Harrison (1726?–1791) and grandfather of Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901).
Harrison attended Hampden-Sydney College and studied medicine briefly under Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia before joining (1791) the army and taking part in campaigns against Native Americans in the Northwest Territory. In 1798 he resigned to become secretary of the territory, and the next year he became territorial delegate to Congress. He helped secure the division of the territory into Ohio and Indiana and served (1800–1812) as governor of Indiana Territory at Vincennes. He was perhaps more important than any other man in opening Ohio and Indiana to settlement, negotiating a number of treaties with various tribes, notably the Treaty of Fort Wayne (1809). Native American opposition to the white advance then concentrated in hostile demonstrations directed by Tecumseh. Harrison engaged the forces of Tecumseh at the famous battle of Tippecanoe.
In the War of 1812, after the failure of Gen. William Hull, Harrison was made commander in the Northwest. Taking Detroit (Sept. 29, 1813), he advanced to defeat Gen. Henry Procter and establish American hegemony in the West at the battle of the Thames River on Oct. 5, 1813 (see Thames, battle of the), in which Tecumseh was killed. Later Harrison concluded treaties with Native Americans—Greenville (1814) and Spring Wells (1815)—that ushered in an era of peace and white expansion in the Old Northwest. He served in the House of Representatives (1816–19) and the Senate (1825–28). He was appointed (1828) minister to Colombia but was recalled (1829) by Andrew Jackson. His political fortunes rose as he became regarded as a compromise Whig candidate between Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.
A group of Whig Anti-Masons nominated Harrison for President in 1836, and in 1840, Webster went over to Harrison's candidacy for the presidency as a Whig. Clay, although bitterly disappointed, had to support Harrison. The campaign that followed was the first of the “rip-roaring” campaigns in U.S. history. Harrison and his running mate, John Tyler, were transformed by publicity. Harrison, an aristocratic Virginian, was made into a simple backwoods frontiersman, Tyler into his faithful lieutenant.
The “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” campaign was launched in answer to ill-judged jeers from the supporters of the Democratic candidate, Martin Van Buren. Van Buren was pictured as an effete, “silver-spoon” man, Harrison as a rugged Westerner, despite his Virginia upbringing. “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” won—partly because the Panic of 1837 had turned many against Van Buren. Harrison then selected a brilliant Whig cabinet headed by Webster and adopted a program outlined by Clay, but the strain of the campaign was too much. He died a month later, Tyler became President, and the Whig party fell prey to factionalism.
See biographies by D. B. Goebel (1926, repr. 1973), Freeman Cleaves (1939, repr. 1969), and J. A. Green (1941); R. G. Gunderson, The Log Cabin Campaign (1957); W. M. Hoffnagle, Road to Fame (1959); N. L. Peterson, The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler (1989).
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