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Episode 29: Indiana - President Of The Month with Sharon McMahon

podcast Sep 21, 2021

In this episode, Sharon shares the story of the shortest American presidency in our nation’s history. William Henry Harrison was an American military officer and politician who served as the ninth president of the United States, elected during the 1840 election. Harrison became the first president to die in office just one month after taking the Oath of Office. Harrison was the last U.S. president born under British rule and became a pioneer of the American Whig Party during his presidential campaign. Not only was William Henry Harrison’s untimely death caused a riff controversy in the capital about the role of the vice president upon the death of the president, and the decisions that resulted ultimately set a precedent we still uphold in our democracy today.

Link to Full Episode:

This Episode Will Teach You:

  • The man who holds the record for the shortest presidential term in U.S. history
  • What is the Whig party?
  • The rise and fall of American political parties
  • Westward expansion and tension with the Native Americans
  • Learning the difference between a delegate and a representative
  • The Curse of the Tippecanoe
  • How many presidents have died in office?

3 Biggest Takeaways:

  • William Henry Harrison’s claim to political fame was a combination of his governorship over the northwest territories and commanding success at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Americans were nostalgic for the idea of a western frontiersman leading the country, and the newly formed Whig party selected him as their presidential nominee for the 1936 election. Despite an initial loss, Harrison ran again victoriously in 1940 with the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” a tribute to his military reputation and running mate, John Tyler. 
  • Just 22 days after assuming office in 1941, William Henry Harrison reported symptoms of a cold. Doctors diagnosed Harrison with Pneumonia and used experimental treatments of the time to cure him. Those included heated suction cups, bloodletting,  mustard plasters, and castor oils. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, William Henry Harrison passed away on April 4, 1841, exactly one month in his presidential term. Historians now assume he passed from septic shock due to ingesting contaminated water at the White House. Harrison was the first sitting president to die in office. There was a lot of debate among congress, the cabinet, and the supreme court about the role of the vice president in response, but ultimately, John Tyler was sworn in as president. 
  • After William Henry Harrison died, the Curse of Tippecanoe garnered attention among historians. This theory exposed the pattern of deaths among United States presidents who died in office who had coincidentally all won elections precisely twenty years apart from 1840-1960. This phenomenon begins with Harrison then carries on with Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Roosevelt, and Kennedy.

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