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William Henry Harrison was the ninth president of the United States (1841) and the first to die in office.
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Born in Virginia on February 9, 1773, William Henry Harrison became the ninth president of the United States in 1841. Elected at age 67, he was then the oldest man to take the office, and became the first U.S. president to die in office. His one-month tenure was the shortest. His father, Benjamin, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his grandson, also Benjamin, became the 23rd president.
"The chains of military despotism, once fastened upon a nation, ages might pass away before they could be shaken off."
"I contend that the strongest of all governments is that which is most free."
William Henry Harrison was born on February 9, 1773, on a Virginia plantation. He was born into a well-connected family who had deep roots in the "planter aristocracy." (His father, Benjamin Harrison, signed the Declaration of Independence and was a member of the Continental Congress. His brother, Carter Harrison, served in the U.S. House of Representatives.) Harrison studied classics and history at Hampden-Sydney College and then studied medicine in Richmond with another co-signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush.
In 1791, Harrison changed career paths, joining the First Infantry of the Regular Army and heading to the Northwest. He served under General Anthony Wayne in his struggle against the Northwest Indian Confederation, which culminated in the Battle of Fallen Timbers (August 1794)
Harrison left the army in 1798 and held various government jobs before being named secretary of the Northwest Territory--a huge tract of land composed of most of the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin--by President John Adams in 1798. As the territory's first congressional delegate, Harrison helped obtain legislation that divided the land into the Northwest and Indiana territories, the latter of which he served as governor of from 1801 until 1813.
As governor, Harrison oversaw the efforts to gain access to and control of Indian lands so settlers could extend their presence and establish new territories. The Indians usually resisted the process, so it became Harrison's task to defend the fledgling settlements.
In 1809, the native populations became fierce in their resistance. They were led by Tecumseh, who proved to be a tenacious adversary. In 1811, Harrison received permission to attack Tecumseh and his confederacy, but before he could fully proceed, on November 7, the Indians attacked Harrison's camp on the Tippecanoe River. Harrison and his men repelled the attacked but sustained 190 dead and wounded. The stand at Tippecanoe would do little to stem the Indian revolts, but it would serve as a touchstone for Harrison and his future political career. (The call for "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" would echo throughout his and running mate John Tyler's 1840 campaign, becoming the most famous political saying in U.S. history).
During the War of 1812, Harrison further built his reputation commanding the army in the Northwest, defeating the British and Indian forces and killing Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames, north of Lake Erie. This sent the Indians scrambling for good, and their presence in the region would never again pose a threat.
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The first U.S. president, former military leader George Washington, took his oath of office on April 30, 1789, on the balcony of Federal Hall. From that moment onward, the United States' highest office has been filled regularly by elected officials who aim to serve the people under the guidance of the U.S. Constitution. Learn more about the 43 men who have served as America's chief executive.
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