Jacki: William Henry Harrison

Goodbye, Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His One Month Presidency, by Keith W. Norris

If people even remember who William Henry Harrison is it’s only because everyone learned in school that he was stupid enough to give his inauguration speech in the rain with no coat and then died one month later. He gets glazed over, and if mentioned it’s just as a “funny” little story. That is all that I knew going in.

Funny thing? It’s not even true. The weather that day was windy and dry. He did die a month later, but he didn’t get sick for 3 weeks afterwards. Historians generally believe that the ulcers that he had been dealing with for years, combined with horrible doctors (seriously, you should read what they did to “cure” him) lead to his death, not his long inauguration speech. Some people believe that he was assassinated: poisoned slowly with arsenic by someone close to him- maybe his doctors. Wild, right? Who knew.

Really, what he spent most of his short presidency doing was shaking hands and BSing with people. He had a LOT of support and people around the country campaigned like wild for him- it was the first election of its kind. Because of that, everyone who campaigned headed to Washington to tell WHH and expected an appointment of some kind. Politicking with all of these people and trying to make all of his assignments filled a big majority of his time, and even when he died it wasn’t a completed job.

Oh! I almost forgot! I had no idea that WHH spent nearly his whole life in Ohio! When we learned about Ohio Presidents in school, he wasn’t listed because he wasn’t born here. He moved here when he was young and was a senator here and was eventually buried here. Who knew? I think that his tomb is about an hour from where I grew up and I fully intend to visit next time I’m down there visiting my parents. Pretty sweet, huh?

Now, when I went searching for books on William Henry Harrison, there really wasn’t much out there. Two or three tops, and it seemed like they mostly focused on WHH’s life before he became president…. which totally makes sense as he was only president for a month. This one, however, said right on the cover that it was about those 32 days in office. I was intrigued and overlooked the fact that it was self-published and decided to go for it.

Then I get the book and read the intro. Turns out that the guy who wrote this has never written a book and he is an insurance claims adjuster. Can I tell you how low my expectations were going into this? Pretty much nil, if I’m being honest.

And this was one of those cases where I was surprised with the results. Very surprised.

This book was interesting, intriguing, full of good solid facts, and surprisingly well written. I’ve found that biographers seem to become a bit obsessed with their subjects and that was true here too. I bet his family cracked up at him when he decided that the object of his obsession was one of the most overlooked presidents in U.S. history, but it’s kind of cool that he just got into it and did his thing. I think that he probably exaggerated WHH’s long-reaching effects on America, but I do like that instead of just a little moral about wearing your coat in the rain he wrote a book about a man who was, at one time (however briefly) the most powerful man in the world.

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