“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
In his campaign, William Henry Harrison was portrayed as a simple, home spun kind of guy. Contrary to his campaign image, Harrison was a college educated aristocrat who is still the only president to have studied medicine.
At 68, there were certainly concerns about Harrison’s age when he assumed office. To combat those concerns, Harrison gave what is still the longest inaugural address in history, clocking in around two hours. The address, edited by Daniel Webster, showed that while Harrison was nationalistic in his outlook, he would emphasize obedience to the will of the people as expressed through Congress.
Harrison issued his inaugural address without a hat or overcoat on a cold, blustery Washington day. He caught a cold which eventually turned into pneumonia and died one month into his term on April 4, 1841. Vice President John Tyler assumed the presidency, but there was no clear constitutional guideline for succession to the presidency, which would ultimately be the source of great controversy. After becoming president, Tyler refused to name a Vice President and served entire term without one.
First Lady Anna Harrison, who outlived her husband by two decades, became the first presidential widow to receive a pension from Congress, a one-time payment of $25,000, the equivalent of one year of her husband’s White House salary. She was also given free postage on all her mail.
William Henry Harrison
It turns out the only bitching Harrison faced concerning his age may have indeed been valid. Harrison clearly tried to overcompensate for his age to ease people’s concerns. As a result, he caught an infection, from which he would die, only a month into his presidency. Vice President Tyler earned the nickname “His Accidency” through no fault of his own. We would see age concerns for recent presidential candidates Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, John McCain and likely 2016 candidates Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.
John Tyler would follow William Henry Harrison
Martin Van Buren preceded William Henry Harrison
It all started with George Washington.