Harrison, William Henry

Born: 1773-02-09 Harrison's Landing, Virginia

Died: 1841-04-04 Washington, D.C.

Born on his family's Berkeley Plantation at Harrison's Landing, Virginia, William Henry Harrison was a member of one of the most elite slaveholding families in the state. His father, Benjamin Harrison, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. William enrolled in Hampden-Sydney College and stayed for a year before moving to Richmond to study medicine. Shortly thereafter, he enrolled in the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania but he quit in 1791 due to his father's death and enlisted in the military.

Harrison was transferred to the Northwest Territory where he fought against the Native American tribes there, earning a strong reputation for her service under "Mad" Anthony Wayne. He married Anna Symmes in 1795 and settled with her in North Bend, Ohio. He resigned from the army in 1797, became involved in territorial politics, and was elected the first Representative to Congress from the Northwest Territory in 1799. The following year he was appointed governor of the newly organized Indiana Territory. In this capacity he negotiated numerous land cessions from local Native Americans and unsuccessfully pressured Congress to legalize slavery in the territory. As tensions between Harrison and the local tribes increased, a revolt broke out resulting in the Battle of Tippecanoe, at which Harrison defeated a much smaller Native American force. The battle made Harrison a national celebrity and one of the nation's leading military figures. During the War of 1812, Harrison further heightened his reputation by defeating a combined British and Native American force at the Battle of the Thames.

Following the war, Harrison served in a number of state and federal positions, including terms in both houses of Congress. He ran for president in 1836 against Martin Van Buren and lost but successfully ran in 1840 as a Whig, making him the first member of that party to win the presidency. Part of his success derived from the Whigs efforts to create a public persona for Harrison similar to one Democrats created for Andrew Jackson - emphasizing his military career and portraying him as a "common man." Harrison contracted pneumonia soon after his inauguration, at which he made the lengthiest address in history, and died on April 4, 1841. His vice president, John Tyler, succeeded him.

Robert M. Owens, Mr. Jefferson's Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007); James A. Green, William Henry Harrison: His Life and Times (Richmond: Garrett and Massie, 1941); Freeman Cleaves, Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1939).