The president who served the shortest term—just a single month—but whose victorious election campaign rewrote the rules for candidates seeking America's highest office
William Henry Harrison died just thirty-one days after taking the oath of office in 1841. Today he is a curiosity in American history, but as Gail Collins shows in this entertaining and revelatory biography, he and his career are worth a closer look. The son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Harrison was a celebrated general whose exploits at the Battle of Tippecanoe and in the War of 1812 propelled him into politics, and in time he became a leader of the new Whig Party, alongside Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. But it was his presidential campaign of 1840 that made an indelible mark on American political history.
Collins takes us back to that pivotal year, when Harrison's "Log Cabin and Hard Cider" campaign transformed the way candidates pursued the presidency. It was the first campaign that featured mass rallies, personal appearances by the candidate, and catchy campaign slogans like "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too." Harrison's victory marked the coming-of-age of a new political system, and its impact is still felt in American politics today. It may have been only a one-month administration, but we're still feeling the effects.
Barely a footnote as chief executive because he died after a month in office, Harrison (1773 1841) receives a surprisingly entertaining biography from Collins (When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present), who with the occasional wry aside on political shenanigans that characterizes her New York Times op-ed column, tells everything the average reader might want to know about our ninth president. Despite the legendary 1840 campaign featuring a "log cabin, hard cider" frontiersman with humble origins, Harrison was born on a Virginia plantation, built himself a mansion as governor of the rough Indiana frontier territory, and avoided alcohol. His fame rested on two victories: the 1811 battle of Tippecanoe against the Shawnee Indians, and the 1813 Battle of the Thames during the War of 1812, in which the Indian leader Tecumseh was killed. For decades afterward, he struggled as a farmer and Ohio politician; he lost the 1836 presidential election but won four years later. While he accomplished nothing as president, his earlier achievements are well served in this excellent addition to the American Presidents series.