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Short-Lived Success

August 22, 2018

Eight Presidents have died in office: four by assassination and four from natural causes.  William Henry Harrison, who caught cold shortly after his inauguration, was the first.  His doctor said his cold had progressed into “bilious pleurisy,” but 19th century medicine probably contributed to his demise.  Other possible causes of natural death have been suggested by 21st century investigators.

Harrison was the first Whig President.  This political party was founded in the 1830’s in opposition to Andrew Jackson.  Despite being the home of great men such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, the Whig Party fell apart within a decade of their passing.

Harrison, who had been a general during the War of 1812, had defeated Tenskwatawa at the Battle of Tippecanoe and crushed Tecumseh and the British at the Battle of the Thames.  In the 1840 election campaign he was advertised as “Old Tippecanoe.”  As the first successful Whig presidential candidate he defeated incumbent President Van Buren with almost 53% of the popular vote and an Electoral tally of 234 to 60.  The Whig Party seemed to have a promising future.

Harrison was also the oldest person elected to an initial term as President, but that record has since been surpassed, first in 1980 and then in 2016 with the elections of Reagan and Trump respectively.  Despite Harrison’s age, his Presidency was expected to produce significant change.  Lincoln, who was also a Whig, made the following observations about Harrison in 1843.

“It was not the election of General Harrison that was expected to produce happy effects, but the measures to be adopted by his administration. By means of his death, and the unexpected course of his successor, those measures were never adopted.”

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