Remember when I said that Martin Van Buren was the least active President? Well, I was wrong.
The Book: Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time, written by Freeman Cleaves, was the quickest read yet, but I didn’t care for it. The first 344 pages of the book were all about Harrison’s involvement in the military. Less than 100 pages actually discussed his life outside of the military (personal life, family history, or political history- which was really the majority of his life). For most people who have any level of understanding of fighting-type things, this might not be a huge issue, but I’m really embarrassingly uneducated on such things, and it took me the better part of a dozen pages (and probably a quick Google search) to be able to figure out what war he was involved in. There wasn’t a ton of jargon or specific language in the book, but I teetered between skimming (from lack of interest) and slogging through (again, from lack of interest). Probably not something I’m able to recommend in good conscience to anyone. That is, unless you’re looking for a book on WHH. Then I have to recommend it, as it’s the only reasonably priced one.
The President: Harrison was apparently a general with seemingly the same amount of respect as General Washington. Fighting against Native Americans (or as my book calls them, shoot, I can’t even type those words) in the Battle of Tippenanoe (1811), and then leading troops in the War of 1812, he gained enough notoriety that he was elected to Congress, nominated for Senate, and from there things escalated. A few things were pretty interesting about him. He was a prohibitionist, which basically means that so far he is the only leader I’ve read about who isn’t a raging alcoholic. I’d consider that a positive. For each positive, there’s a negative: he actually opposed Congress’ attempts to limit the spread of slavery. He was down with slavery. That was kind of a turn-off.
Politically, he associated himself with the Whig party, though he didn’t have many political ties to speak of. In fact, short of Lincoln and Van Buren, no other politician is even mentioned in this book. I was a little surprised to see that he of all of the campaign sites he went to, the one that the book mentioned was in Springfield, IL. While here, he found out that his son had died, and yet carried forth down Main Street. This apparently was important because it showed his dedication to his political aspirations. While I’m sure some readers were put off by his lack of mourning of his son, others were glad that he fulfilled his prior commitment. Mostly I wanted to know what Main Street was. As a life-long resident of Springfield, I’m not aware of any such street, and I’d like to know.
As for actual election platform, he said he would: “Confine his service to a single term [little did he know…], disclaim all right of control over the public treasury, eschew any attempt to influence the elections, exercise due regard for laws passed by representatives of people and within limitations limit his exercise of veto power, never suffer the influence of his office to be used for partisan purposes, and furnish to the Senate his reasons for removal from office.” (412). I’m interested in knowing how these would have turned out if he had lived for more than 29 days and 12 hours (and done anything more than host dinner parties and get sick). Rather, that was not the case, and instead, what he really did was help make sure that people knew what would happen in the case a President died and they needed to fill his position. I guess that’s important too. Actually, on the day he was inaugurated he didn’t wear an overcoat or hat and gave a 2-hour speech in the rain. Within the month he had pneumonia and died. I feel like I could use this against my children. “Wear your coat or you, like President Harrison, will die.” What do you think? Will it work?
Fun fact: After he did, the government felt they owed something to his wife (though not his salary), so they gave her free postage for life. Talk about generous! WOW!