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William Henry Harrison



Biography of
William Henry Harrison

Source: "Biographical Sketches of Preeminent Americans", Vol 1;
By Frederick G. Harrison; Publ. 1895

Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack

William Henry Harrison; was born February 9, 1773, at Berkeley, Va. His father was Benjamin Harrison, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and several times governor of Virginia. William Henry graduated from Hampden-Sidney College at the age of seventeen. Like many other young men, in his first choice of a profession he made a mistake. He went to Philadelphia to study medicine, but soon found that he was not to be a physician. He was a born soldier. Among his earliest recollections were the struggles of the old Continental Army and the final glorious triumph at Yorktown. He was too young to take any active part in the Revolution, yet he longed for an opportunity to imitate the example of his patriotic fellow-countrymen. That opportunity was at hand, and he eagerly embraced it. Soon after the close of the Revolutionary War, the great tide of emigration began to roll westward into the unsettled country between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi, north of the Ohio . This North-western Territory, as it was then called, and which now constitutes the rich and populous States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, began to be dotted over with the farms and hamlets of the industrious settlers. No slave could exist in all the vast domain. But the unscrupulous British traders of Canada were jealous of this invasion of what had been hitherto their exclusive field of traffic with the natives, and so they began to incite the savages to make war on the settlers. In this nefarious design they received countenance and aid from the British Commander at Detroit, which post, in open violation of the treaty of 1783, had never been given up to the Americans. When young Harrison entered upon his professional studies, the war had broken out with all the attendant horrors of savage barbarity. General Harmer was sent against the Indians in 1790, with a large force, but was routed by them near the present city of Fort Wayne, Indiana. In the following year, new troops were sent out, but the Indians continued their ravages, in spite of occasional checks and the destruction of many of their villages. Harrison was frail in body, but valiant at heart, and, against the entreaties of friends, he bade farewell to his medical studies, and offered his services in defense of the settlers. He was commissioned as ensign by Washington, being then but nineteen years old. Crossing the Alleghenies on foot to Pittsburgh, he proceeded from thence down the Ohio to Fort Washington, now Cincinnati, and here joined the army under General St. Clair, who had recently suffered a terrible defeat. He soon obtained the especial approbation of his commander for the manner in which he performed important duties assigned to him, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. General St. Clair was succeeded by General Wayne, the "Mad Anthony" of the Revolution, who conducted successful campaigns during the years 1793 and 1794, in which Lieutenant Harrison bore a conspicuous part. For his bravery at the great battle on the Maumee, August 20, 1794, in which the savages were finally brought into submission, he was highly commended by General Wayne in his official report, and was raised to the rank of captain. Shortly afterward he was placed in charge of Fort Washington, and entrusted with the duty of occupying the frontier posts upon then' evacuation by the British according to the terms of Jay's treaty. During this period he was married to Anna Symmes, the daughter of a frontiersman. In 1797 he resigned his commission, and was appointed Secretary of the Territory. While acting in this capacity, he proposed a modification of the United States land laws, in the interest of the poorer settlers, so that they could purchase small farms directly from the government; they having been heretofore compelled to buy from rich speculators, as the government had only disposed of land in tracts of four thousand acres. Mr. Harrison was chosen Territorial Delegate to Congress in 1799, and secured the passage of a law embodying these reforms. In 1800 the North-west Territory was divided into two portions. The western part, including the present States of Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois, was erected into the territory of Indiana, and Mr. Harrison was appointed to the governorship by President Adams. He was invested with extensive powers both over the white settlers and also over the Indians. So faithfully did he discharge the duties of his office, that he was several times re-appointed, by successive administrations of opposite parties. Twelve years he held his important post, and few men in any position have gained so brilliant a reputation for ability and just dealing as he did during that period. But even the most upright of men cannot escape the voice of calumny. He made many treaties with the Indians, mutually advantageous for both natives and settlers; but he was charged by a foreigner, named Mcintosh, with having defrauded the Indians in one of these treaties. The Governor promptly had the matter well aired in a court of justice, was triumphantly acquitted, and obtained four thousand dollars' damages from his false accuser. One third of this sum he gave to the children of soldiers who had been killed in battle, the remainder he restored to the wretched Mcintosh. He declined to make any use whatever of his official position to further his private fortune, even in cases where he might have done so with perfect propriety.
In 1810 occurred his famous interview at Vincennes with the great Indian chief, Tecumseh. This chief, who afterward held the rank of brigadier-general in the British Army, had acquired, together with his brother "the Prophet," a wonderful influence over his people, by whom he was regarded with feelings of veneration, and had fomented a general conspiracy for the destruction of the American settlers. Anxious for a peaceful settlement of these troubles, if such were possible, Harrison sent for Tecumseh to meet him at Vincennes . He came, attended by a much greater force than the Governor had expected, and to meet which he was but poorly prepared. The proud chief refused to enter a house or seat himself upon a chair. He began an eloquent harangue, demanding the restoration of the lands of the settlers to their original owners. As he grew more earnest, he charged the Governor with dishonesty in dealing with the Indians, flourishing his tomahawk as he spoke. His action was imitated by his followers, who were sufficiently numerous to overpower the force under Harrison 's command at the time. Harrison drew his sword, but remained immovable. His small guard came up, but he ordered them not to fire. Then, in firm tones, he refused to hold any further converse with Tecumseh, on account of his insolence, and the council broke up without bloodshed. But war could not be avoided, and Harrison made his preparations accordingly. The savages renewed their outrages. Governor Harrison warned Tecumseh that he would inflict severe punishment upon the Indians unless they desisted. He collected a large force, while the Indians looked for aid to the tribes of the South. In September, 1811, he took command of a body of Indiana militia, and United States regulars, and marched toward the Prophet's Town. His force consisted of about a thousand men, all told, and was well drilled and disciplined. Early in November he encamped near the Indian Town . On the morning of the seventh, his camp was attacked by the savages. A fierce battle ensued, in which Harrison exposed himself fearlessly and was several times struck by the bullets of the enemy, who had been well supplied with ammunition and fire-arms by the British in Canada . The Indians fought with desperation, but could not withstand the bayonet charge, and the onslaught of the American dragoons. They were routed and scattered, and the next day Governor Harrison destroyed the Prophet's camp. This was the renowned battle of Tippecanoe, so called from the river on whose banks it was fought. The title of "Hero of Tippecanoe" ever afterward clung to the victor, and was used as a watchword in the presidential campaign of 1840. The aid which the savages received from the English in these outrages was one of the prominent causes of the war which in the following year was declared against Great Britain by President Madison. The impostor who had prophesied a great victory for the Indians was now rejected by them, but his great brother Tecumseh entered the British service with his followers. August 16, 1812, the cowardly General Hull surrendered Detroit, and with it the whole of Michigan, to the British. Soon afterward, Governor Harrison was commissioned major-general in the regular army and placed in command of all the forces in the North-west. His instructions from the War Department left him to act according to his own best judgment, and he was promised ten thousand troops. He was to drive back the British and Indians who were swarming into the country from Canada, and to retake Detroit . To do this he was compelled to lead his army through hundreds of miles of morass and tangled wilderness. This he accomplished after a long series of weary marches, encampments, and battles with the inhuman foe. By the summer of 1813 he had his force on the shores of Lake Erie, ready to cooperate with Perry's fleet. September 10, that gallant officer performed his renowned exploit of capturing an entire English fleet. Harrison at once began a movement of the land forces, and on September 20th entered Detroit without resistance, the British under Proctor having fled. They were pursued by the Americans, and overthrown October 5th, at the battle of the Thames, in which engagement the Indian chief Tecumseh was slain. Harrison bore all the hardships of a private soldier, and was idolized by his men. This last victory secured peace on the north-western frontier, and Harrison led his forces to Buffalo, from whence he was ordered to Sackett's Harbor, where an expedition was being formed against Montreal . And now occurred one of those cases of stupid interference by the civil authorities with a victorious general's movements which are so exasperating when viewed in the light of subsequent history. For some unknown reason, the Secretary of War became unfriendly to General Harrison, and removed him from his command under the pretext of a leave of absence, and, in consequence, the General resigned his commission May 11, 1814. His high renown as a warrior was evinced by the enthusiasm with which he was everywhere greeted during his homeward progress. For the victory on the Thames, he received from Congress a gold medal. In the following summer General Harrison was appointed to cooperate with Governor Cass of Michigan in settling the matters in dispute between the government and the Indian Tribes. In 1816, he was elected to the National House of Representatives from Ohio . When the resolutions of censure upon General Jackson's course in the Seminole War were before the House, they received Harrison 's support. He could not sanction insubordination; but he fully recognized and acknowledged Jackson 's worth and ability as a soldier. But of course Jackson never forgave him; he never forgave anyone whom he took it into his head to consider as an enemy, unless, as it is said, he forgave them all in a lump shortly before his death. General Harrison was a member of the Ohio State Senate in 1819, and was a Presidential Elector in 1824, casting his vote for Henry Clay. In the latter year he was also elected to the United States Senate. Late in the year 1828, he was appointed Minister to the Republic of Colombia . His stay in South America was only a brief one, for upon President Jackson's accession, in the following year, he was recalled. He now remained in retirement at his farm at North Bend, Ohio, for some eleven years. He lived in comfort, but not in affluence, passing his time in agricultural pursuits, making speeches before farmers' societies, inculcating temperance, and dealing with slavery in the usual gingerly manner of the Whigs of his day. In 1836, he received seventy-three votes for the presidency, but Mr. Van Buren was elected. Four years later came the memorable hard-cider and log cabin campaign, and the tables were turned. He received two hundred and thirty-four electoral votes, and Mr. Van Buren only sixty. General Harrison's honorable career was nearly ended. He was sixty-eight years of age, older than any other president before or since, at the time of his inauguration, His journey to the Capitol from his log-cabin home was one continued ovation. On the fourth of March, 1841, he took the oath of office, and in exactly one month from that day he died, sincerely mourned by an entire nation.
[Source: Biographical Sketches of Preeminent Americans, Volume 1; By Frederick G. Harrison; Publ. 1895; Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack]



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