Monday, December 09, 2013

William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins

On the plane on the way back from Pasadena, I finished reading William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins. I stumbled across the book while browsing on Amazon. This is part of my project to read books about all of the presidents.

Harrison was the ninth president of the United States. He has a number of odd distinctions. Harrison was the first president to die in office. When inaugurated on March 4, 1841, he was 68 years and 23 days old. This was the oldest president to take office until Ronald Reagan in 1981. Harrison died on his 32nd day in office of complications from pneumonia. This is the shortest tenure in United States presidential history. He caught pneumonia getting the longest inaugural address in American history; the speech was nearly two hours.

Born into an old Virginia family, Harrison was the son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He joined the army at age 18. Eventually raising to general, Harrison earned this reputation in the Indian skirmish called the Battle of Tippecanoe. He served as the governor of the Indiana Territory, a General in the War of 1812, congressman and senator from Ohio and the ambassador to Columbia. His grandson--Benjamin Harrison--became the 23rd President of the United States.

Harrison ran for president in 1836 as part of an unsuccessful Whig strategy to run several candidates against the strong Democrat Martin Van Buren. He had the best showing of all Whig candidates. Running again in 1840, he beat Van Buren. The 1840 presidential campaign is remarkable. Using jingles and songs, the Whigs marketed Harrison as a humble soldier with log cabin origins rather than a Virginia aristocrat. The election had a voter turnout of over 80%; a mark that has not been repeated since.

At only 125 pages, it is a short book. It is well written. I enjoyed the book a great deal and highly recommend it.

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