Presidents of the United States



William Henry Harrison

From: Portrait and Biographical record of Rockland and Orange Counties, New York
By: Chapman Publishing Company
Published: 1895

WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON, the ninth President of the United States, was born at Berkeley, Va., February 9, 1773. His father, Benjamin Harrison, was in comparatively opulent circumstances, and was one of the most distinguished men of his day. He was an intimate friend of George Washington, was early elected a member of the Continental Congress, and was conspicuous among the patriots of Virginia in resisting the encroachments of the British crown. In the celebrated Congress of 1775, Benjamin Harrison and John Hancock were both candidates for the office of Speaker.

Mr. Harrison was subsequently chosen Governor of Virginia, and was twice re-elected. His son William Henry, of course, enjoyed in childhood all the advantages which wealth and intellectual and cultivated society could give. Having received a thorough common-school education, he entered Hampden Sidney College, where he graduated with honor soon after the death of his father. He then repaired to Philadelphia to study medicine under the instructions of Dr. Rush and the guardianship of Robert Morris, both of whom were, with his father, signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Upon the outbreak of the Indian troubles, and notwithstanding the remonstrances of his friends, he abandoned his medical studies and entered the army, having obtained a commission as Ensign from President Washington. He was then but nineteen years old. From that time he passed gradually upward in rank until he became aide to Gen. Wayne, after whose death he resigned his commission. He was then appointed Secretary of the Northwestern Territory. This Territory was then entitled to but one member in Congress, and Harrison was chosen to fill that position. In the spring of 1800 the Northwestern Territory was divided by Congress into two portions. The eastern portion, comprising the region now embraced in the State of Ohio, was called “The Territory northwest of the Ohio.” The western portion, which included what is now called Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, was called “the Indiana Territory.” William Henry Harrison, then twenty-seven years of age, was appointed by John Adams Governor of the Indiana Territory, and immediately after also Governor of Upper Louisiana. He was thus ruler over almost as extensive a realm as any sovereign upon the globe. He was Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and was invested with powers nearly dictatorial over the then rapidly increasing white population. The ability and fidelity with which be discharged these responsible duties may be inferred from the fact that he was fOur times appointed to this office—first by John Adams, twice by Thomas Jefferson, and afterwards by President Madison.

When he began his administration there were but three white settlements in that almost boundless region, now crowded with cities and resounding with all the tumult of wealth and traffic. One of these settlements was on the Ohio, nearly opposite Louisville; one at Vincennes, on the Wabash; and the third was a French settlement.

The vast wilderness over which Gov. Harrison reigned was filled with many tribes of Indians. About the year 1806, two extraordinary men, twin brothers of the Shawnee tribe, rose among them. One of these was called Tecumseh, or "the Crouching Panther;” the other Olliwacheca, or “the Prophet.” Tecumseh was not only an Indian warrior, but a man of great sagacity, far-reaching foresight and indomitable perseverance in any enterprise in which he might engage. His brother, the Prophet, was an orator, who could sway the feelings of the untutored Indians as the gale tossed the tree-tops beneath which they dwelt. With an enthusiasm unsurpassed by Peter the Hermit rousing Europe to the crusades, he went from tribe to tribe, assuming that he was specially sent by the Great Spirit.

Gov. Harrison made many attempts to conciliate the Indians, but at last war came, and at Tippecanoe the Indians were routed with great slaughter. October 28, 1812, his army began its march. When near the Prophet’s town, three Indians of rank made their appearance and inquired why Gov. Harrison was approaching them in so hostile an attitude. After a short conference, arrangements were made for a meeting the next day to agree upon terms of peace.

But Gov. Harrison was too well acquainted with the Indian character to be deceived by such protestations. Selecting a favorable spot for his night’s encampment, he took every precaution against surprise. His troops were posted in a hollow square and slept upon their arms. The wakeful Governor, between three and four o’clock in the morning, had risen, and was sitting in conversation with his aides by the embers of a waning fire. It was a chill, cloudy morning, with a drizzling rain. In the darkness, the Indians had crept as near as possible, and just then, with a savage yell, rushed, with all the desperation which superstition and passion most highly inflamed could give, upon the left flank of the little army. The savages had been amply provided with guns and ammunition by the English, and their war-whoop was accompanied by a shower of bullets.

The camp-fires were instantly extinguished, as the light aided the Indians in their aim, and Gen. Harrison’s troops stood as immovable as the rocks around them until day dawned, when they made a simultaneous charge with the bayonet and swept everything before them, completely routing the foe.

Gov. Harrison now had all his energies tasked to the utmost. The British, descending from the Canadas, were of themselves a very formidable force, but with their savage allies rushing like wolves from the forest, burning, plundering, scalping, torturing, the wide frontier was plunged into a state of consternation which even the most vivid imagination can but faintly conceive. Gen. Hull had made an ignominious surrender of his forces at Detroit. Under these despairing circumstances, Gov. Harrison was appointed by President Madison Commander-in-Chief of the Northwestern Army, with orders to retake Detroit and to protect the frontiers. It would be difficult to place a man in a situation demanding more energy, sagacity and courage, but he was found equal to the position, and nobly and triumphantly did he meet all the responsibilities.

In 1816, Gen. Harrison was chosen a member of the National House of Representatives, to represent the District of Ohio. In Congress he proved an active member, and whenever he spoke it was with a force of reason and power of eloquence which arrested the attention of all the members.

In 1819, Harrison was elected to the Senate of Ohio, and in 1824, as one of the Presidential Electors of that State, he gave his vote for Henry Clay. The same year he was chosen to the United States Senate. In 1836 his friends brought him forward as a candidate for the Presidency against Van Buren, but he was defeated. At the close of Mr. Van Buren’s term, he was re-nominated by his party, and Mr. Harrison was unanimously nominated by the Whigs, with John Tyler for the Vice-Presidency. The contest was very animated. Gen. Jackson gave all his influence to prevent Harrison’s election, but his triumph was signal.

The cabinet which he formed, with Daniel Webster at its head as Secretary of State, was one of the most brilliant with which any President had ever been surrounded. Never were the prospects of an administration more flattering, or the hopes of the country more sanguine. In the midst of these bright and joyous prospects, Gen. Harrison was seized by a pleurisy-fever, arid after a few days of violent sickness died, on the 4th of April, just one month after his inauguration as President of the United States.

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