On this day in 1773, future President William Henry Harrison is born on the Berkeley Plantation in Virginia.
Harrison went on to serve as the ninth U.S. president for a brief 32 days in 1841, the shortest term ever served. Harrison is also credited with the record for the longest inaugural address in history. Delivered on a bitterly cold March morning, it clocked in at one hour and 45 minutes. He was also the last president to be born an English subject.
A native of Virginia, Harrison grew up in a wealthy, politically active household–his father served as governor of Virginia for three terms. He attended college with the intent of studying medicine, but opted to join the army before finishing his degree. As a soldier, Harrison earned a reputation for bravery for his participation in the Indian Wars of the Northwest Territories and the Battle of the Thames River in Ontario during the War of 1812. John Adams appointed Harrison secretary of the Northwest Territories (present-day Indiana and Illinois) in 1798 and shortly thereafter he accepted Adam’s offer to serve as the region’s governor.
In 1811, Harrison earned the nickname Old Tippecanoe after leading a brutal, but successful, attack against Tecumseh’s Shawnee tribe at Tippecanoe Creek in what is now Indiana. As governor, Harrison drew up several restrictive and one-sided treaties with Native American tribes who held desirable land. In one of his stingiest treaties, he agreed to pay a tribe a mere one cent for every 200 acres, a deal which gave the United States 51 million acres for a pittance and opened a wide swath of the West to white settlement.
Harrison married Anna Tuthill Symmes in 1795. The couple had eight children of their own; Harrison also adopted Anna’s son John from a previous marriage. Six of his children died prior to Harrison’s campaign for the presidency. Daughters Mary and Elizabeth survived their father, but only by several years. His last remaining child, Anna, died in 1865.
Boosted by a successful military and political career, which included stints in the U.S. Congress, Ohio Senate and as U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Harrison ran for president in 1840, choosing John Tyler to run with him on the Whig Party ticket. Much to the horror of the political establishment, the two men campaigned vigorously, setting the tone for future campaigns. They employed catchy campaign slogans such as Tippecanoe and Tyler, too, and held boisterous rallies during which they handed out free bottles of hard cider housed in little log cabin-shaped bottles.
Harrison caught a cold on the day of his inauguration that lingered, eventually turning into a fatal case of pneumonia. Some historical records indicate that doctor-prescribed remedies for the pneumonia also gave Harrison a deadly case of hepatitis. He died on April 4, 1841, leaving behind his widow Anna and three surviving children. His grandson, Benjamin, followed in Harrison’s political footsteps, serving a full term as president from 1889 to 1893.