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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Harrison, William Henry

HARRISON, William Henry, 9th President of the United States; b. Berkeley, Charles County, Va., 9 Feb, 1773; d. Washington, D. C., 4 April 1841. He studied at Hampden and Sidney College, later pursued a course in medicine, and was about to be graduated as a practitioner, when the sudden death of his father gave him the liberty to disengage himself from a profession for which he had no natural bent nor aptitude. He received from Washington a commission in the army, and was soon on his way to Cincinnati, making the journey from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh on foot, to join the regiment to which he had been assigned. He arrived at Fort Washington just after the defeat of General St. Clair's army. His first military service was to command a company of 20 men as an escort for a train of pack-horses to Fort Hamilton, a military post on the west bank of the Big Miami River from which the seat of Butler County was named. In 1793 he joined the new legion under Gen. Anthony Wayne who made him an aide-de-camp, and in December of that year he took part in the expedition which repossessed General St. Clair's field of battle, and erected thereon Fort Recovery. He participated in all the engagements with the Indians and their British allies during this campaign, and displayed conspicuous gallantry at the battle of Fallen Timbers, Shortly after the close of this campaign Harrison was advanced to the rank of captain and placed in command of Fort Washington. The position was largely a confidential one. The conduct of the Spaniards on the Mississippi was exasperating. French citizens and agents were engaged in exciting the people of Kentucky into a war with the Spanish of Louisiana with the object of embroiling our government with Spain and of forcing it into a league with France. Captain Harrison was instructed to prevent the passage down the river of boats laden with military stores belonging to the French agents. The English posts on the northern frontier, which had been held so long in violation of good faith, were now evacuated by the English in obedience to the Jay Treaty of 1794; the new garrison and supplies were sent to Fort Washington and forwarded thence through the wilderness under the supervision of the commandant of that post. In the spring of 1798 Harrison resigned his commission in the army and settled on a tract of land at North Bend about 16 miles from Cincinnati, but was immediately appointed by President John Adams as secretary of the Northwest Territory under Gen. Arthur St. Clair as governor. A year later he resigned this position to take his seat in Congress as the first delegate from the Territory. Up to this time the public lands had been sold in such vast tracts that none but men of wealth could buy them. Harrison secured the division of the land into small tracts and made it possible for the poor man to obtain a homestead. During that session of Congress a part of the Northwest Territory was formed into the Territory of Indiana. It included the present States of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and a part of Minnesota, and contained a civilized population of nearly 5,000 souls. Harrison was appointed its first governor by President Adams, and so satisfactory was his administration that he was successively reappointed by President Jefferson and President Madison. He was also made superintendent of Indian affairs. Governor Harrison organized the new government at Vincennes. Many difficult questions demanded his attention, but the most difficult and delicate was the restless and finally hostile attitude of the savages under the leadership of Tecumseh, and the preaching of Tecumseh's brother, “the Prophet.” The beginning of open warfare by the Indians was averted many times by his calmness and courage. He made in all 13 treaties with the Indians, and secured the cession from several tribes of more than 3,000,000 acres of land on the Wabash and White rivers. Tecumseh condemned these treaties on the ground that the land belonged to all of the Indians, and that a single tribe could not give a legal title without the consent of every other tribe. Harrison invited Tecumseh to Vincennes for a conference, and directed that he should bring with him not more than 30 warriors; but he came with 400 completely armed. There were many evidences that treachery was intended, and but for the conciliatory methods of the governor, the council would have terminated in bloodshed. Nothing was accomplished by this interview, nor by a second in the following summer. Meanwhile, frequent depredations by the Indians made it evident that conciliatory measures could no longer be employed, and on 26 Sept. 1811, Harrison set out with 900 men to punish them. On 6 November, when the army was within a short distance of Tippecanoe, it was met by messengers demanding a parley. A council was agreed upon for the next day, but at 4 o'clock on the following morning, the treacherous savages fiercely attacked the camp of Harrison in an endeavor to take it by surprise. The fighting continued till daylight when the Indians were routed with great loss. In the War of 1812 Harrison was appointed to the chief command of the Northwest, and given a major-general's commission. He urged upon the government the importance of creating a navy on the Lakes. That advice was heeded, and the splendid achievement of Commodore Perry on 10 Sept. 1813 was made possible by the military sagacity of this accomplished soldier. Six days after Perry's victory General Harrison embarked his artillery and supplies for a descent on Canada. The British general, Proctor, burned the fort and navy-yard at Malden and retreated, closely pursued by Harrison who overtook him and his Indian allies led by Tecumseh near the river Thames. Within five minutes almost the whole British force was captured, and shortly afterward the Indians were completely routed, and their leader, Tecumseh, was slain. The battle of the Thames and Perry's victory ended the war in Upper Canada, and gave the United States undisputed possession of the Great Lakes, excepting Lake Ontario.

The years between the War of 1812 and the presidential campaign of 1840 Harrison devoted in part to the service of his country and in part to the life of a country gentleman. He was in turn a member of Congress, State senator in the general assembly of Ohio, presidential elector, United States senator from Ohio and Minister to the United States of Colombia. In 1829 he retired to his farm at North Bend. In December 1839 he was nominated by the National Whig convention for the Presidency of the United States, with John Tyler of Virginia for Vice-President. The campaign which followed was one of the most exciting in the history of the country. Political mass meetings and processions were introduced for the first time, and party watchwords and emblems were employed with telling effect. That canvass has commonly been called the “log cabin and hard eider campaign.” The eastern end of General Harrison's house at North Bend consisted of a log cabin covered with clapboards, and his table was reputed to be well supplied with good cider, instead of wines. Log cabins and hard cider thus became party emblems typifying republican simplicity. 'Tippecanoe and Tyler too' was shouted and sung and emblazoned from one end of the country to the other. Nothing could stem the tide of wonderful popular enthusiasm for the hero of Tippecanoe and the Thames, Van Buren, the Democratic candidate, received only 60 electoral votes out of 294. The death of the President occurred only 31 days after his inauguration. Consult Bostwick in Wilson's ‘Presidents of the United States’ (1894); Wiley, E., and Rines, I. E., ‘The United States’ (New York 1916).