How are you celebrating William Henry Harrison's birthday?

Zachary TaylorRepublican PartyMartin van BurenWilliam Henry HarrisonJohn Tyler

Old Tippecanoe, the ninth president of the United States, was born 240 years ago today.

He remains the president with the shortest term in office, having died a month after his inauguration. An elderly gentleman, he insisted on making a prolonged and unremarkable inaugural address in bad weather, caught a bad cold, and succumbed, bequeathing executive authority to John Tyler, "His Accidency," who would later distinguish himself as the only former president to make his allegiance to the Confederacy.

Martin Van Buren was a marked man in the election of 1840, carrying on his back the burden of the Panic of 1837. The Whigs would have done better to nominate Henry Clay, a man of parts, to run against him, but they chose instead a war hero, a mistake they repeated in 1848 with Zachary Taylor, another aged general who died in office. Taylor, at least, had done some real generaling in the Mexican War. Harrison's victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe was little more than a skirmish, inflated for publicity.

I have been leafing through The Yale Book of Quotations, which I have coveted for some time and now possess as a gift from my exemplary sister-in-law, Linda Capcara. Coming across the entry on political slogans, I saw "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too" listed as a Republican catchphrase. There was no Republican Party in 1840; it was Whigs all the way down.

 

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