“Sir, I wish you to understand the principles of the Government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.”
William Henry Harrison was born a Virginia aristocrat, but was marketed to voters as a humble soldier in a cabin. He is best known for the Battle of Tippecanoe which didn’t result in a large military victory. Harrison screwed up the defenses resulting in high American casualties. This somehow landed him as a military hero in the eyes of most Americans, secondary only to Andrew Jackson at the time. I am still baffled this falls as a victory for Harrison since he led his men into a trap, most of the Indians escaped to wreak havoc on neighboring towns and resulted in Tecumseh allying with the British in Canada. His time spent in battle did lead to an advocacy for fellow veteran rights, a fight that would last his entire career. My main issue with Harrison is not only his misguided hero status but his blatant attempt to stay in the middle of the road with his opinions. The man said whatever needed to be said to the audience in front of him. It is hard to know what he truly believed on any major issue. He declared himself opposed to slavery but voted with Southerners when it came to prohibiting slavery in new territories. He presented himself as anti-bank but insisted that the Supreme Court had final say in these matters. Harrison did not believe in alcohol, but his campaign promoted drinking with souvenir whiskey bottles. At what point do you have to stop and think, why am I doing this? Did he only care about getting elected?
Most notably, he was the first presidential candidate to campaign which is where my interest lies. The voters of this period wanted change. They didn’t care who it was if it was different. Does this sound familiar? They were willing to pick Harrison even though his entire campaign platform was false. He never addressed real issues. His previous government posts were minimal, and he was reliant on the campaign strategies and his speeches to win over the voters. This was the first election that women were urged to take part in and voters turned out in record numbers to elect Harrison. Unfortunately, Harrison dies shortly after his inauguration. Some believe the length of the address in the cold weather brought on pneumonia, but others believe it was his constant campaigning and the pressure of his new position. His Vice President was never questioned on his beliefs because many assumed that he would never have the chance to make a difference. No one else would accept the position, and now Tyler found himself President. I am eager to begin his biography as well as several other key names that continue to pop up on my journey through the Presidents.
The perceptions of Harrison versus the true Harrison are drastic. I am reminded of the saying, “History repeats itself,” as I read about these voters compared to the recent election. Sometimes change is needed so badly that we allow people to be elected that seem improbable. What do we really know about presidential candidates? Most of our news is secondhand sources and we rarely meet the person. What change are we expecting when we only see what we want to see?