rembrandt_peale_-_william_henry_harrison_-_google_art_project
William Henry Harrison. By: Rembrandt Peale.

William Henry Harrison, a Whig, won the White House in the election of 1840. In March 1841, for his inauguration, he stood in the cold and wind and spoke for an hour and a half. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 570.

President Harrison drew a comparison between his party, the Whigs, and the Democrats, who had dominated politics in the previous decade. See id. citing “Inaugural Address” (March 4, 1841), Presidential Messages, IV, 5-21. He promised “to exercise executive restraint, serve but one term, and use the veto sparingly.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 570.

Further, President Harrison warned about demagoguery, concerned that some could use it to undermine democracy and strip liberties, looking to Julius Caesar of Ancient Rome and Lord Cromwell of Britain and drawing implied comparisons to Andrew Jackson. See id. citing “Inaugural Address” (March 4, 1841), Presidential Messages, IV, 5-21.

In his inaugural address, President Harrison made clear that he was an erudite, distinguished politician, invoking the dignity of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 570. To appear vigorous and healthy, perhaps in response to his detractors who derided him as being too old (he was 68 years old at the time of his inauguration), he delivered his hour and a half speech in the cold with no overcoat. Id.

Shortly thereafter, President Harrison fell ill, and exactly “one month after his inauguration, President Harrison died,” after doctors administered “heroic” treatments: “‘topical depletions,’ harsh laxatives, and blistering.” Id. at 589.

President Harrison’s death leaves him to be the shortest serving president in American history. Nonetheless, he brought to the presidency a hope for Whigs that the years of Democratic domination were coming to an end. He provided hope to all of those who saw Andrew Jackson’s Democratic Party as a threat to the country, and many likely agreed that the demagoguery of the Democrats belonged in the past.

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