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March 4, 1841: Longest Inaugural Address

 

President William Henry Harrison gave the longest inaugural address in American history.  He spoke for one hour and forty-five minutes in a howling snow storm, without wearing a hat or a coat.   Catching pneumonia, he died one month later.  Here is the text of his address:

Called from a retirement which I had supposed was to continue for the residue of my life to fill the chief executive office of this great and free nation, I appear before you, fellow-citizens, to take the oaths which the Constitution prescribes as a necessary qualification for the performance of its duties; and in obedience to a custom coeval with our Government and what I believe to be your expectations I proceed to present to you a summary of the principles which will govern me in the discharge of the duties which I shall be called upon to perform.

It was the remark of a Roman consul in an early period of that celebrated Republic that a most striking contrast was observable in the conduct of candidates for offices of power and trust before and after obtaining them, they seldom carrying out in the latter case the pledges and promises made in the former. However much the world may have improved in many respects in the lapse of upward of two thousand years since the remark was made by the virtuous and indignant Roman, I fear that a strict examination of the annals of some of the modern elective governments would develop similar instances of violated confidence.

Although the fiat of the people has gone forth proclaiming me the Chief Magistrate of this glorious Union, nothing upon their part remaining to be done, it may be thought that a motive may exist to keep up the delusion under which they may be supposed to have acted in relation to my principles and opinions; and perhaps there may be some in this assembly who have come here either prepared to condemn those I shall now deliver, or, approving them, to doubt the sincerity with which they are now uttered. But the lapse of a few months will confirm or dispel their fears. The outline of principles to govern and measures to be adopted by an Administration not yet begun will soon be exchanged for immutable history, and I shall stand either exonerated by my countrymen or classed with the mass of those who promised that they might deceive and flattered with the intention to betray. However strong may be my present purpose to realize the expectations of a magnanimous and confiding people, I too well understand the dangerous temptations to which I shall be exposed from the magnitude of the power which it has been the pleasure of the people to commit to my hands not to place my chief confidence upon the aid of that Almighty Power which has hitherto protected me and enabled me to bring to favorable issues other important but still greatly inferior trusts heretofore confided to me by my country. Continue Reading

Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

 

 

Something for the weekend.  Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!  The 1840 campaign for President was considered to be an insult to intelligence by more than a few observers.  The Whigs put up a military hero of the War of 1812 William Henry Harrison.  Prior to the War of 1812 in 1811 he had gained the victory against massed Indian tribes under Tenskawtawa (the Prophet) the brother of Tecumseh.  The two Shawnee brothers had been meeting with some success in setting up a nascent Indian confederation to resist American expansion.  The battle was fought at Prophetstown, modern day Lafayette, Indiana, near to the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers, hence the name of the battle was Tippecanoe and became a nickname for Harrison.  Harrison went on after the War to be a Senator from Ohio and an ambassador to Colombia, but had met with little political success in the 1830s.  At the time he received the Whig nomination he was Clerk of Courts for Hamilton Country Ohio.  His running mate was John Tyler, a Virginia aristocrat and former Democrat, who had turned against Jackson.  Tyler had served in the state legislature in Virginia, in Congress both in the House and in the Senate, and as Governor of Virginia.  He was put on the ticket to ensure Southern votes.

The incumbent Martin Van Buren had reaped the whirlwind sown by Jackson’s economic policies and the country was ready for change.  However, serious discussion of the issues of the day was largely absent from the campaign.  The Democrats then, as now, posed as the champion of the common man..  Van Buren came across as something of a stuffed shirt.  When a Democrat paper made the mistake of sneering, completely inaccurately, as a backwoodsman, who would be content to live in his log cabin if awarded a pension of 2000 a year and a barrel of hard cider, the Whigs seized upon it gleefully.  Usually accused as being the party of the rich, the Whigs ran a “hard cider and log cabin” campaign decrying Martin Van Buren as a New York aristocrat who wore frilly shirts, used perfume and ate off of gold plate.  The tenor of the campaign is illustrated by this little ditty that Whig partisans would chant:

Old Tip he wore a homespun coat, he had no ruffled shirt: wirt-wirt,
But Matt he has the golden plate, and he’s a little squirt: wirt-wirt! Continue Reading

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Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!

Something for the weekend.  After a fortnight of political conventions I thought it was appropriate to have one of the more popular campaign songs in American political history featured for our weekend song, Tippecanoe and Tyler Too, written by Alexander Coffman Ross, and sung endlessly by the Whigs during the 140 presidential campaign.  Perhaps one of the more vacuous campaigns in our nation’s history, the Whig’s rode to victory on William Henry Harrison’s status as a war hero at the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 and during the War of 1812, and the poor economy presided over by Democrat Martin Van Buren.  Ironically John Tyler, who was as much an afterthought on the ticket as he is in the song, would serve out the term of Harrison after Harrison died after only 32 days in office.  John Tyler was a Democrat who had only recently converted to the Whig party.  As president he returned to his Democrat roots and had dreadful relations with the Whigs, who would certainly have impeached him but for their losing control of the House in the 1842 elections.  Astoundingly Tyler still has two living grandchildren.

Here is a rock version of the song: Continue Reading

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The Curse of Tippecanoe

An odd coincidence in American history is the death of every President in office beginning with William Henry Harrison and ending with John F. Kennedy elected in a year ending in zero.  A myth was developed ascribing this to a curse put on William Henry Harrison by the brother of the great Indian leader Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa, better known as the Prophet: Continue Reading