Friday, July 6, 2012

William Henry Harrison - Shortest Presidency and Much More

William Henry Harrison is perhaps best remembered for his death. Harrison was the first President to die in office, just 30 days after giving his inaugural address in 1841. He chose to not wear a hat or overcoat during his record-setting 1 hour and 45 minute inaugural address (which remains the longest to date). The day of the inaugural address has been described as windy, cold, and wet. Despite feeling quite ill after the address, Harrison still attended three inaugural galas before retiring for the evening. Over the next few weeks, Harrison's condition deteriorated from a cold to pneumonia, eventually resulting in his death. Harrison's Presidency still stands as the shortest in U.S. History.

Yet, Harrison's presidency is remarkable for more than just its brevity, untimely end, and record-setting inaugural address. At 68 years of age, Harrison became the oldest person to assume the office of President, a title which he kept until Ronald Reagan was elected at 69 some 140 years later. Harrison was also the last President born prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He probably seemed even older when standing next to his Vice President John Tyler, who was 18 years his junior. This remains the largest age gap between a President and Vice President.

It is tempting to link two of Harrison's records - namely the oldest President and the shortest Presidency. Perhaps his old age made him more susceptible to becoming ill. One wonders if 48 years later, Benjamin Harrison connected those two of his grandfather's records when he decided to run for President at the (relatively) young 55 years of age. Much like his grandfather's inauguration day, March 4, 1889 was marked by torrential rainstorms in Washington, D.C. The older Harrison's inauguration must have been on his mind when Benjamin decided to wear a coat and utilize outgoing President Grover Cleveland as an umbrella man during the speech. Yet, with such cautionary measures in place, Benjamin reverted to the Harrison way and delivered what stands as the third-wordiest inaugural address of all time - behind only his grandfather and James Monroe.

Benjamin Harrison's Inaugural Address.

Additional Resources

Image and Brief Account of William Henry Harrison's Inauguration (Library of Congress)

Account of William Henry Harrison's Death (U.S. Senate)

William Henry Harrison: The Presidents Series: The 9th President, 1841 (Edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger & Sean Wilentz)


  1. Actually... wouldn't he have three records... with longest inauguration speech? (time wise)

    one of the great stories in US history... thanks for sharing.

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    1. Yes, you are right. He holds several records, including longest inauguration speech. I was just mentioning that Benjamin may have taken heed of two of his grandfather's records in particular (oldest age and shortest presidency), but was clearly not put off by his grandfather's third (longest speech), which nearly almost matched.

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