7 Presidential Facts About William Henry Harrison

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Some American presidents have their faces on currency, some get memorialized in films and epic monuments. Then there are the others, whose all-but-forgotten names are unceremoniously attached to middle schools and parks across the country. Our ninth president, William Henry Harrison, is firmly in the latter category, but it’s still worth knowing a little more about him.

1. He turned a Native American "prophet" into an actual prophet.

Harrison served as governor of the Indiana Territory, which consisted of the future states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and eastern Minnesota, from 1801 to 1812. As governor, Harrison spearheaded the acquisition of land that belonged to Native American tribes. This duty ratcheted up the already high tensions between tribes and the American government’s expansion plans, which drove Harrison into a quarrel with the legendary Shawnee leaders Tecumseh and his brother, the self-proclaimed prophet Tenskwatawa.

Harrison wrote a letter denouncing Tenskwatawa and dared him to “cause the sun to stand still-the moon to alter its course-the rivers to cease to flow-or the dead to rise from their graves” to prove his prophetic abilities. The letter reached Tenskwatawa, who said he would demonstrate his powers by darkening the sun in the summer of 1806. A few weeks later, a solar eclipse occurred, and the prophet claimed his knowledge of the event provided the requisite proof of his powers.

2. He became famous for winning the Battle of Tippecanoe.

Harrison would have the last word against these tribes, though. In November 1811, Harrison attempted to use force to negotiate a peace treaty with a confederation of Native American tribes. He marched U.S. forces to the village of Prophetstown, near the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers in Indiana, where he met his old foe. Tenskwatawa, in charge of the tribal forces while Tecumseh was away, led an early-morning attack that startled Harrison and his men, but the tribal warriors were badly outnumbered. Though the two sides suffered almost equal losses, the settlers claimed victory, and Harrison’s reputation as a military hero grew. Later, during the War of 1812, Harrison defeated a coalition of British and Native allies in Indiana and Ohio, re-took the previously captured Detroit, and won the Battle of the Thames, where Tecumseh was ultimately killed.

3. He came from, and produced, a prominent political family.

Harrison’s father, Benjamin Harrison V, signed the Declaration of Independence, served three terms as governor of Virginia, and was a member of a prominent family that had close ties to George Washington. Harrison’s son, John Scott Harrison, was a Congressman and fathered another Benjamin, who would go on to become the 23rd President of the U.S. in 1889.

4. Harrison's supporters gave away booze during his presidential campaign.

Harrison briefly returned to private life after resigning as a general during the War of 1812 but later served in the Ohio State Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate. He ran unsuccessfully for President as a Whig in 1836 and returned to the campaign trail four years later. His second time around, which has since been called the first modern presidential campaign, produced a mythical image of Harrison as a hardscrabble frontiersman. When a newspaper seemingly ridiculed him by saying that he’d prefer to sit in a log cabin with a barrel of hard cider, Whig supporters began calling him the “Log Cabin and Hard Cider candidate.” They also handed out whiskey in branded bottles that were shaped like log cabins and other promotional knickknacks, including cigar tins, sewing boxes and pennants.

Harrison actively campaigned for himself, unheard of at the time, while incumbent Martin Van Buren remained in the White House. The very first presidential campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” a reference to Harrison’s military heroism and running mate John Tyler, adorned the various odds and ends handed out by supporters. Harrison’s campaign rally at the site of Tippecanoe drew an estimated 60,000 people, and numerous songs and jingles, like “Good Hard Cider,” “The Gallant Old Hero,” and “The Log Cabin” were written about him.

5. His inauguration speech was the longest to date.

On a wet, winter day in 1841, the 68-year old Harrison eschewed a coat, hat, or gloves and dove into the longest inauguration speech ever given. His 90-minute talk, written by himself and edited by former Senator Daniel Webster, spanned 8445 words and covered not only political but personal issues in an attempt to make the “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” candidate seem more presidential.

6. His tenure as president lasted 33 days.

Just three weeks after taking office, Harrison, feeling ill and complaining of fatigue and anxiety, summoned his doctor, Thomas Miller, to the White House. Miller treated Harrison with the standard medications and practices of the day, including opium and enemas. Miller reported Harrison had a sinking pulse and cold, blue extremities, and after eight days of delirium and pain, Harrison became the first American President to die in office. Some historians speculate Harrison caught a cold during his interminably long inauguration speech that developed into an ultimately fatal form of pneumonia.

7. Pneumonia may not have been what killed Harrison.

Miller listed Harrison’s cause of death as pneumonia of the lower lobe of the right lung … complicated by congestion of the liver.” Modern scholars think the explanation may be more complicated. In those days, Washington, D.C. had no sewer system, and the White House and its water supply sat mere blocks from a marsh that held a depository of “night soil,” human excrement and waste hauled in every day. Harrison likely suffered from enteric fever caused by one of two bacteria, Salmonella typhi or S. paratyphi, that devastated his gastrointestinal system. Two other presidents, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor, also suffered severe gastroenteritis while living in the White House, and Taylor, like Harrison, passed away in office.

When Abraham Lincoln Turned Down the Chance to Fill America With Elephants

Getty Images
Getty Images

When a new president takes office, it’s normal to get showered with diplomatic greetings, gifts, and political overtures. But when Abraham Lincoln’s administration moved into the White House, they turned down what could have been the greatest gift of all: the chance to populate the United States with wild elephants.

In 1861, Lincoln received a pile of swag from King Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut of the country then known as Siam. You might know him better for his role in the hit musical The King and I, which fictionalized his relationship with English governess Anna Leonowens. What is true is that Mongkut was eager to “get to know” the West better—during his reign, he managed to open up and begin modernizing Siam.

The gesture wasn’t actually meant for Lincoln: In fact, Mongkut had sent the presents to “whomsoever the people have elected anew as chief ruler in place of President Buchanan.” He sent along a pile of lavish gifts, from a precious handmade sword to photos of himself and his daughter to two gigantic elephant tusks. But much more meaningful was the king’s offer to send along a generous stock of elephants that could be bred on American soil.

It’s no wonder Mongkut offered that gift: Pachyderms were not only native to what is now Thailand, but were also prized as important and valuable creatures. “It has occurred to us that, if on the continent of America there should be several pairs of young male and female elephants turned loose in forests,” the king wrote, “after a while they will increase till there be large herds as there are here on the continent of Asia until the inhabitants of America will be able to catch them and tame and use them as beasts of burden making them of benefit to the country.” Mongkut acknowledged that he hadn’t yet figured out how best to ship over some elephants, but that it sounded like a good idea to him.

In a master stroke of diplomacy, Lincoln’s administration disagreed. In Lincoln’s reply, which was penned by Secretary of State William Seward, he deftly informed Mongkut that his gifts belonged by rights to the American people and would be placed in the National Archives (where they remain to this day). As for the elephants, the administration deftly dodged the issue altogether.

"This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States,” wrote Lincoln via Seward. “Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.”

By refusing the elephants, Lincoln’s government managed to honor the far-away king without taking on a complicated burden. It was a move that acknowledged not only the king’s respectful gesture, but gave him a much-needed nod. Mongkut realized that in order to survive, Siam would need to engage in trade with the West—and that kindness would go much further than the fear displayed by some of his closest neighbors.

There’s no telling what would have happened if the Lincoln administration had said yes to Mongkut’s gift. Perhaps to this day, the United States would be a place where herds of wild elephants roamed free.

5 Facts About Larry the Cat, the UK’s Chief Mouser

Chris J Ratcliffe, Getty Images
Chris J Ratcliffe, Getty Images

In February 2011, then-Prime Minster David Cameron adopted a tabby cat from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to help control 10 Downing Street’s rodent population. The shelter recommended Larry based on his "sociable, bold, and confident nature," and now, besides rat catching, Larry “spends his days greeting guests to the house, inspecting security defenses, and testing antique furniture for napping quality,” according to the 10 Downing Street website.

Since receiving the esteemed title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—the first Downing Street cat to carry the title—he has outlasted Cameron and PM Theresa May, has had scuffles with his nemesis Palmerston (more on that later), and may have caused a security issue for Donald Trump.

It’s unclear if new PM Boris Johnson will keep Larry around or possibly replace him with a dog, which will probably not go over well with Palmerston and Gladstone, Chief Mouser of HM Treasury. Here are some things you might not know about the photogenic feline.

1. On his first day on the job, Larry scratched a journalist.

ITV News reporter Lucy Manning paid a visit to 10 Downing Street on Larry’s first day. Media attention was a new thing for Larry at the time, and he didn't immediately take to it. Instead, he lashed out and scratched Manning on the arm four times, then hid under a table and refused to come out.

2. Larry wasn't a natural mouser.

Larry the Cat wearing a collar with a bow on it and sitting on a green table.
James Glossop, WPA Pool/Getty Images

Though Larry supposedly had a "very strong predatory drive and high chase-drive and hunting instinct," according to a spokesperson, it wasn't until two months into his tenure that he started showing Downing Street's mice he meant business. As The Guardian reported in April 2011, Larry "preferred hanging out in the corridors of power to stalking in the grass" and the building's staff was forced to train the cat "by giving him a toy mouse to play with when he failed to catch any prey for two months." Finally, on Good Friday, “Larry appeared through a window from the Downing Street garden with a mouse in his mouth. He is believed to have dropped his swag at the feet of the prime minister's secretaries.” Larry continued his duties between daily cat naps.

3. Larry may or may not have caused problems for Donald Trump.

During Donald Trump’s June 2019 visit to 10 Downing Street, Larry—who is allowed outside—decided to hang out under Trump's limo (nicknamed "the Beast") to take shelter from the rain ... and reportedly wouldn't move. According to The Washington Post, "It wasn’t immediately clear whether Larry’s presence halted Trump’s movement ... Earlier, the cat appeared in a photo of Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May in front of 10 Downing Street." He did eventually mosey off (hopefully in search of mice).

4. Larry has a nemesis.

Palmerston, a black and white cat, sits outside a black and gold gate.
Leon Neal, Getty Images

In 2016, Palmerston—a black-and-white tuxedo cat named after 19th-century Prime Minister Lord Palmerston—was hired as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's Chief Mouser. Like Larry, Palmerston was a rescue who came from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Soon after Palmerston moved in, the cats had a couple of rows, including a major one in August 2016, during which they "were at each other hammer and tongs," according to a photographer. Larry lost his collar in the fight and messed up Palmerton’s ear as they “literally [ripped] fur off each other.” The turf war was so bad that police had to step in, and Larry needed medical treatment. Thankfully, the two seem to have ceased the cat fighting.

5. Larry has a parody twitter account.

"Larry" has an active Twitter parody account, where he comically posts political articles and photos (and has even begun poking fun at his new Downing Street flatmate, Boris Johnson). Sometimes he provides educational information: “England is part of Great Britain (along with Wales and Scotland), which in turn is part of the United Kingdom (along with Northern Ireland).” Other times he just makes cat jokes (see above).

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