When we think of the president of the United States…in general terms, we often wonder if he will be good enough to be re-elected and serve the maximum term of eight years. We seldom think about whether or not he will finish his first year…or even month for that matter. And few of us can name the president with the sad title of being the president of the United States for the shortest term. Nevertheless, that is a record that has to be held by someone, and that man was William Henry Harrison, who was our 9th President. Harrison’s inaugural speech, delivered on a bitterly cold March morning, lasted one hour and forty five minutes. Harrison wasn’t really feeling well at the time, and went to bed at the end of inauguration day with a bad cold. The cold quickly developed into what would become a fatal case of pneumonia. I have to wonder if he would have been just fine in this day and age of modern medicine. Not everyone gets pneumonia these days, but most of those who do, survive and go on to lead long lives. Pneumonia isn’t the death sentence these days that it used to be.
William Harrison was the last president born as an English subject before the American Revolution. After that time, it became law that the president must be a natural born citizen, something that has sparked bitter battles in these modern times. He hailed from Virginia, and attended college intending to become a doctor, 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. In 1801, President Adams appointed him governor of the Northwest Territories, which is now Indiana and Illinois. Harrison later fought in the Battle of the Thames River during the War of 1812. After that time, he decided to go into politics, and 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, which he won, but this would not prove to be a long term in office for him. In fact, his death came exactly one month after he was inaugerated into office.
I have to wonder what things he might have done differently than his running mate, John Tyler did. Harrison was 68 years and 23 days old when he took office. He was the oldest president to take office until Ronald Reagan in 1981. After his passing, there was a brief constitutional crisis, because this had never happened before, and it had to be decided, who would take over. The solution was not widely accepted, and there were disputes as to the presidential line of succession, with regard to the Constitution up until the passage of the 25th Amendment in 1967. William Henry Harrison was the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, who was the 23rd President from 1889 to 1893, so his line did have a second chance at the course that the country would take, even though he was not directly involved. Of course, there is nothing to indicate that Benjamin would have had the same values as William did. Things change over the years, but he was a Republican…a good thing in my opinion.