April 4

This Day in History

Presidential

Apr 4, 1841:

Harrison dies of pneumonia

President William Henry Harrison dies after serving only 32 days in office on this day in 1841. Harrison holds the unfortunate presidential record of shortest term in office.

Ironically, the man with the shortest White House tenure delivered the longest inaugural address in history, which may have been his undoing. This first presidential speech, delivered on a bitterly cold March morning, clocked in at one hour and 45 minutes. Harrison went to bed at the end of inauguration day with a bad cold that soon developed into a fatal case of pneumonia. Some historians have claimed that a case of hepatitis may also have contributed to his demise.

Harrison was the last president born as an English subject before the American Revolution. A native of Virginia, he attended college with the intent of studying medicine, but opted to join the army before finishing his degree. President John Adams took note of Harrison's exemplary service in the Indian Wars of the Northwest Territories and, in 1801, appointed him governor of the Northwest Territories (now Indiana and Illinois). Harrison later fought in the Battle of the Thames River during the War of 1812. He went on to become a congressman and the ambassador to Colombia before running with John Tyler on the Whig Party ticket in the presidential election of 1840.

Much to the horror of the political establishment, Harrison and Tyler campaigned in a vigorous style considered unseemly in their era. They used Harrison's nickname, Tippecanoe, which he had earned during a brutal Indian War campaign at Tippecanoe Creek, and concocted the campaign slogan Tippecanoe and Tyler, too. Harrison and Tyler held boisterous rallies during which they handed out free bottles of hard cider housed in little log cabin-shaped bottles. Their tactics, however controversial, were successful, and on March 4, 1841, Harrison was sworn in as the ninth U.S. president.

Upon his death, Harrison left behind a widow, Anna, and three surviving children. His grandson, Benjamin, became the 23rd president of the United States in 1889. Unlike his grandfather, Benjamin Harrison served a full term, but lost his re-election bid to Grover Cleveland in 1892.

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