Monday, January 22, 2007

1841: beginning and end of shortest US presidency

William Henry Harrison was president only 30 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes. He was the first president to die in office, and served the shortest term of any American president

When Harrison arrived in Washington, he wanted to show that he was still the mighty hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, an extremely cold and windy day. He wore no overcoat and delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. It took nearly two hours to read, even after his friend Daniel Webster had shortened it.

Harrison later caught a cold, which then got much worse. His doctors tried everything, applying opium, castor oil, plants, and even snakes. The treatments made Harrison worse and he went into delirium. He died on April 4, 1841, of pneumonia, jaundice, and septicemia.

  • When Harrison died, there was no 25th Amendment to the Constitution to specify the vice president's actions when the president became disabled or when there was a vacancy before the end of the incumbent's term.
  • An episode of the fourth season of The Simpsons, "I Love Lisa", includes a song titled "We are the Mediocre Presidents", which was a tribute to lesser-known presidents. It included the lyric: "There's Taylor, there's Tyler, there's Fillmore and there's Hayes. There's William Henry Harrison, 'I died in thirty days!'"
  • According to a legend which has no historical basis, Tecumseh (who was defeated by Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811), placed a curse on Harrison, claiming that every president elected in a year ending with zero (which happens every 20 years) would die in office. Harrison, Lincoln (elected 1860), Garfield (elected 1880), McKinley (elected 1900), Harding (elected 1920), Roosevelt (elected 1940), and Kennedy (elected 1960) all died in office, falling prey to the Curse of Tecumseh, sometimes called the "zero-year curse." Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, broke the curse, though there was an assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981.
  • Harrison is the first -- but not the only -- American president to have no military vessel named after him. (info from Wikipedia)
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