William Henry Harrison was born February 9, 1773 on the Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia. Benjamin was the third son born to Benjamin and Elizabeth Bassett Harrison. Young Benjamin received his early education at home. In 1787 he entered Hamden-Sidney College and took up the study of medicine. After only a few months Harrison proceeded to Philadelphia where he studied under Dr Benjamin Rush. After his father's death in August 1791, his interest shifted and Harrison entered the army where he was granted a commission of ensign in the First United States Infantry. This began the career that was to span a half century of public service.
Harrison made quick advance in the military rising to the rank of lieutenant and acting as aide-de-camp to General "Mad" Anthony Wayne in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Upon the conclusion of the Treaty of Green Ville in 1795, Harrison was stationed on guard duty at North Bend and subsequently at Fort Washington (now Cincinnati). In that same year he married Anna Symmes. In 1798 he resigned his commission in the military and was appointed secretary of the Northwest Territory. The following year the territory advanced to the second grade of Government and Harrison was elected as its first delegate to the Congress. As chairman of the committee on public lands, Harrison was instrumental in the passing of the act that provided for the division of the Northwest Territory into Indiana and Ohio. He likewise reported the bill out of committee which became the land act of 1800. On May 12, 1800, Harrison was appointed Governor of Indiana and for the next twelve years his career runs parallel to the history of this region.
The career of Harrison during this period has come under close scrutiny. It is a matter of record that Harrison favored a policy of modified slavery. Moreover, he was instrumental in shifting the government's policy of acquisition of lands by treaty to one of acquisition by force. The original policy of land acquisition was in the spirit of Jeffersonian Democracy, a policy followed by Madison. Harrison's role as Governor of Indiana was to intercede on behalf of Indians. The responsibilities of the job were contradictory. It was virtually impossible for Harrison to ensure the rights of Indians and look out for the interest of his government. The latter was most important to him. During his tenure in office, Harrison gained millions of acres of land in the present States of Indiana and Illinois. With the influx of white settlers, Indian resentment led to violence against white encroachment. Harrison quickly attributed these outburst of hostilities to the intervention of the British, not recognizing the influence of the sessions of Indian lands.
Having lived among whites and recognizing the threats of white cultural amalgamation, Tecumseh, a Shawnee Chieftan, began to preach the idea of an Indian confederation of all nations which would bind them in agreement not to sell any future lands. However, Harrison in 1809 acquired by treaty some two million acres of land along the Wabash River. Tecumseh warned that he would face settlers with force. Thus were planted the seeds of the Battle of Tippecanoe in which Harrison and a force of 1,000-men defeated the Prophet, Tecumseh's brother, and ended the hopes of Tecumseh for an Indian federation.
Convinced of the necessity for war, Harrison repeatedly inculcated in President Madison the urgency of conflict. When war came, Harrison sought a commission in the military. Having Henry Clay to intercede on his behalf, Harrison was finally made a major-general in the Kentucky militia. By August 22, 1812, he was made a brigadier general in the regular army. Harrison then began the campaign for the capture of Fort Mackinac and other northern British fortresses. These efforts proved disastrous and Harrison was forced into winter quarters at the newly erected Fort Meigs. In May 1812, General Proctor began an attempted siege of the fort which lasted a week. On October 5, 1813, Harrison gained revenge. At Moravian, Harrison overtook Proctor's forces and in the ensuing battle his lifelong nemesis, Tecumseh, was killed. This was without question a most important victory, for the death of Tecumseh marked the end of great violence and resulted in the pacification of the Indians of the Old Northwest. This lead to a greater influx of settlers into this region.
In 1814, Harrison resigned his post, now major general, in order to return to North Bend. From 1816 to 1819, he served as congressmen from Ohio to no great acclaim simply following the patterns of Henry Clay. In 1819, he was elected to the Ohio State Senate but did not gain reelection because of his views on slavery. He tried to gain the ambassadorship to Mexico in 1824 but was passed over. Then in 1824 he was elected to the United States Senate where he distinguished himself as Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. He served in the Senate for three years and on May 24, 1828, was confirmed as Minister to Columbia. This appointment came to an ignominious conclusion as Harrison was forced out the country due to his support of anti-government rebels.
Upon his return, Harrison faced a number of years of financial difficulty. His total income was earned from his position as county recorder in 1834 and the small income from his farm. In 1835, an attempt was made to nominate him for the presidency in an anti-Van Buren move. This effort, though gaining support in New York, Kentucky and Ohio, was fruitless. Harrison gained electoral estates and the plans were laid for success in 1840.
The election of 1840 has gained much attention for its emphasis placed on emotionalism and demagoguery. The Harrison forces played upon the nations remembrances of their military hero and the phrase "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." Harrison was overwhelmingly elected but was president only a short time succumbing to pneumonia on April 4, 1841 without having instituted any major programs. - NRHP, 22 May 1976