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Our 9th President William Henry Harrison

By Ruth Browning

Born in Berkeley, Virginia, in 1772, William Henry Harrison was a member of a wealthy and prominent Virginia family. He studied classics and history at Hampden-Sydney College and had begun to study medicine in Richmond when he suddenly decided to enter the military. He obtained a commission as ensign in the First U.S. Infantry and spent much of his life in the Northwest of his day, campaigning against the Indians and serving in various official positions. He became Governor of the Indiana Territory in 1801 and served in that position for 12 years. His main job was to obtain title to Indian lands so settlers could move further into the wilderness and to defend the settlements when the Indians retaliated. During Harrison's term as territorial governor, the Shawnee Indian chief Tecumseh decided to strengthen Indian alliances to prevent further settlements by the whites. In 1811 Harrison led about a thousand men to attack Tecumseh's village. Instead, Indians attacked Harrison's camp on Tippecanoe River. The American forces, after heavy fighting, were able to drive away the Indians. The Battle of Tippecanoe made Harrison famous. Harrison was given command of the Army in the Northwest with the rank of brigadier general in the War of 1812. In the Battle of the Thames near Lake Erie, Tecumseh was killed and the combined British and Indian forces defeated. The death of Tecumseh ended serious Indian resistance to settlement in what was then called the Northwest. In 1840 the Whig party nominated Harrison as President. With VP nominee John Tyler, they ran on the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too."  He won by an Electoral College vote of 234 to 60. When he arrived in Washington in February 1841, Harrison was 68 years old, the oldest man to be elected President until Ronald Reagan became President. Before he had been in office a month, on April 4, 1841, Harrison died from a cold that developed into pneumonia. He was the first President to die in office. Many believe his death was the result of the cold, wet day on which he took his oath of office. He refused to wear his overcoat and gave the longest inaugural address in American history, lasting nearly two hours.