William Henry Harrison
Ninth President of the United States
Freeman Cleaves presents an interesting and insightful look into the life of William Henry Harrison. The shortest termed president of our nation, Harrison added little to the American presidency but furthered the cause of
the American West more than any other man of his time. At the close of this book, I came away wondering if the relations and tragic story of the struggles between the “white men” and the Native Americans would have been dramatically different if Harrison had lived long enough to fulfill his term of office.
Born into the Virginian aristocracy of the 1700s, Harrison grew up with much in common with his fellow Virginian aristocratic culture. Well versed in land speculation, plantations, slave ownership and high levels of education, Harrison started his life in the same vein as that of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Receiving a college education through the good wishes of family relations and friends following his father’s death, Harrison initially started training to become a doctor before changing directions and entering into what would become a brilliant military career. His timing for entering the military proved both advantageous and dangerous, but it ultimately came to define him as a true patriot of his nation.
During the early days in his military service, Harrison developed a strong affinity for the Western frontier and eventually married and bought land for settlement in the Indiana Territory, where he would serve in the military, lead the militia and become Governor of the Territory. Throughout this time in his life, Harrison developed a strong ability to deal with people. It was this ability that allowed him to turn the troublesome local militias into effective fighting units, who would ultimately serve with distinction in the battles between the Natives – at the British instigation – and the white communities.
Harrison was also able to capitalize on this ability in his conversing with the Native Americans. Cleaves demonstrates that he was truly interested in dealing fairly with them, and working for peace between them and the white settlers. However, he was also realistic in understanding that the American drive to move westward would ultimately lead to potential conflicts if fairness and open lines of communications were not established and maintained. Harrison always made sure his home was open to any who sought him out. He would frequently invite both Native Americans and white settlers into his home in the furtherance of inter-relations. He also hosted many peace negotiations and established numerous treaties and land acquisitions successfully at his home while serving as the Indiana Territory Governor.
Cleaves covers Harrison’s military campaigns extensively throughout this book. Not only does he provide great detail of the war of 1812, but Harrison’s efforts in the conflicts between the white settlers and Chief Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet, of Prophetstown. It was through these wars that Chief Tecumseh ultimately met his death and Harrison inherited the name he would carry through the remainder of his life – “Old Tippecanoe.” This book is particularly interesting for those who are readers of the military history, and or the rise of the old west. Cleaves provides and in-depth look into the military man. However, there is much not presented. While it is mentioned that Harrison had a huge family with ten children, there is almost nothing about his home life. The book mainly focuses on the military career with small snippets about Harrison’s political career thrown in. However, written in 1939, the book is dated, and limited to the records available from that era.
This dating of the book is particularly evident in the dealing with the death of Harrison. Listed as pneumonia as the cause of death, the evidence presented in more recent years was little known at the time. Little consideration is given to any of the other symptoms surrounding Harrison’s final illness, and therefore the book is limited in some details. The writing isn’t the best, but it is and engrossing look into an idealized portrayal of the man who was for a very short period of time, the ninth president of the United States.