Ohio’s Presidential Legacy: William Harrison — America’s One-Month President

harrisonGrowing up in Ohio, I knew one thing for certain about the United States presidency — the state delivered eight men to serve in the White House. They were:

  1. William Harrison
  2. Ulysses S. Grant
  3. Rutherford B. Hayes
  4. James Garfield
  5. Benjamin Harrison
  6. William McKinley
  7. Howard Taft
  8. Warren Harding

What I did not learn in school was these eight men were involved in some of the weirdest stories in United States’ history. Of the eight men, two were assassinated, one died under suspicious circumstances, two lost the popular vote and were selected president (one in a scandal much larger than the 2000 Gore-Bush election) and one was the first president to die in office.

Here is a look at Ohio’s first offering for U.S. President.

William Harrison

Besides having the dubious honor of being the first president to die in office, Harrison also has the shortest presidential term: 30 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes.

Most historians peg his death — ruled pneumonia by his doctors — as being caused by his two-hour long March 4 inaugural address which took place in rainy and cold weather.  He was 68 — and at the time — the oldest elected president. However, some disagree that the weather caused Harrison’s death because he did not become ill until nearly three weeks after the speech. These scientists theorize his death may have been associated with the human sewage that festered near the White House.

That field of human excrement would have been a breeding ground for two deadly bacteria, Salmonella typhi and S. paratyphi, the causes of typhoid and paratyphoid fever — also known as enteric fever, for their devastating effect on the gastrointestinal system.

Once he became ill, though, he died nine days later.

Despite such a short presidency, Harrison is credited with several ‘firsts,’ including:

  • Having the first modern presidential campaign. He successfully created the image of a common working class man (he was wealthy and his father was governor) during the 1840 presidential campaign — an image other politicians have successfully used and re-used.
  • Being the first sitting president to be photographed.
  • Being the first Whig to be elected president.

Upon Harrison’s death, the concept of how to deal with a vacancy in the office of president was tested. This was because neither the Constitution nor the 12th Amendment stated whether the vice president was named President or simply filled in as acting president until an election. Tyler took on the role of president establishing the precedent used today.

Trivia:

Harrison’s grandson Benjamin, also an Ohioan, was the 23rd U.S. president. Benjamin was elected to only one term.

-flagsBooks About Harrison
Of course, there is much more to Harrison’s life than his short-lived presidency. In fact, he was a successful military man and politician before deciding to become president. Several books have been written about Harrison and one that consistently garners good reviews on Goodreads is the 422 page Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time by military historian Freeman Cleaves.
Another well-received book is: William Henry Harrison: The American Presidents Series: The 9th President,1841.
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Categories: American History, Ohio History

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