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There's William Henry Harrison / I died in 30 days!
—"The Mediocre Presidents Song", from The Simpsons.
William Henry Harrison died early...
—Jonathan Coulton, "The Presidents".
(Are you noticing a trend?)
William Henry Harrison had a brilliant idea for his inauguration. Facing accusations that he was old and frail, as well as unintelligent, he decided to deliver an eloquent two-hour inauguration speech (which had already been edited for length). Outside. In cold weather. In the rain. Without warm clothes on. And then went out dancing.
Having never had a chance to do anything in office, he's largely a footnote in history. However, this was the first time a President died in office, and the Constitution was a little vague on whether the Vice President became President or merely Acting President (this was all the more important as it was very clear Harrison wasn't going to resume his duties anytime soon). John Tyler's insistence on the former set an important precedent for future, more contentious Vice Presidents. Harrison was the only President to have a grandson later hold the office. One of the few things he did do in office was have his photograph taken, being the first sitting President (but not the first President) to have his taken.
He used the memorable campaign slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too", which makes reference to the battle of Tippecanoe, a battle fought against Native heroes Tecumseh and his brother The Prophet, when he was governor of the Indiana Territory. Popular legends state that a curse laid by Tecumseh's shaman is what led to his death in office, and the death or violent near-misses of presidents every 20 years. Despite campaigning using this populist slogan, though, he was (ironically) from a city, unlike his opponent (Martin Van Buren) who was actually from the country. This definitely wouldn't happen again, especially not 160 years later.
Every four to eight years, he gets a break from "shortest time in office" until the newly inaugurated President reaches the 31-day mark and Harrison drops back to the bottom of the list. He retains the distinction of being the last President to be born as a British colonial subject rather than an American citizen; further, his father Benjamin was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
He is considered to be the greatest president in American history among anarchists, as his example of doing nothing and dying shortly after coming into office has yet to be equaled.
More Information Than You Require claims that he was actually poisoned with a 30-day poison, and would only get the antidote by finding his killer. He failed because, as Hodgman puts it, "Harrison was a great Indian-killer, but not much of a sleuth".
A one-minute biography of the guy can be found here. It probably took longer to make than this guy was President.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: At least a few probably think that The Simpsons made up a President who "died in thirty days."
- Death by Irony: Harrison is the only US President to have studied and practiced medicine, yet ended up being the first of only two Presidents (thus far) to die from illness.
- It's speculated that he may have been the only President to actually die from illness, since Zachary Taylor likely died from his doctors' "treatments" rather than gastroenteritis as was documented. Said treatments included bloodletting and over 40 grams (each) of quinine, opium, and ipecac.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Accused of being too old and frail, he went and proved his accusers right with his inaugural address. Oops.
- Not to mention being "unintelligent". Sticks and stones, pal; sticks and stones...
- Succession Crisis: The question of what would happen when a President was unable to fulfill his duties hadn't been settled, including whether or not the Vice President would be the next President or merely Acting President. The question had to be settled in the most urgent manner possible, since Harrison was dead.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The Whigs nominated him because of his resemblance to Andrew Jackson.
- Take That, Critics!: Failed spectacularly.
- He's the subject of the independent film The Triumph Of William Henry Harrison, in which he faked his death to run a shadow government of the US.
- In Orson Scott Card's Red Prophet, an Alternate History Fantasy novel, Harrison is still a governor and ends up on the wrong side of a conflict with Tecumseh and the Prophet. He's called "White Murderer Harrison" for most of the book.
- Episode 4 of Drunk History tells you all you need to know (in between the porcelain goddess-kissing).