On this day in history, 180 years ago, the greatest president our country has ever had, died in office. William Henry Harrison (aka “Old Tippecanoe”) was our 9th president, and our first to perish before completing his elected term.
I believe he was our greatest president because he only served in office for one month, so he had no time to get anything accomplished. Thus, he left our country alone, and didn’t mess anything up.
I have the highest admiration for anyone who fails to accomplish anything significant. And so I regard President Tippecanoe as an exemplum, a role model, that I encourage everyone to follow. I say, be like Old Tippecanoe and you won’t mess with anyone’s lives, and you can die peacefully, having been harmless to our world.
I rate the severity of common colds on a scale of 1 to 10. But there’s another designation, that goes off the charts. I call them Harrison colds. President Harrison caught a cold on March 26th, 1841, and died nine days later, on April 4th. That’s one whopper of a cold.
It’s a popular myth that Harrison caught his deadly cold on his Inauguration Day. No, all he caught was hell from his audience, for giving a long speech during foul weather. He delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. It took him nearly two hours, heroically standing in a cold rain without an overcoat or hat, to tell the American people about all the things he planned to do as president.
He didn’t catch a cold from this, as one might expect, and as many have assumed. But it does illustrate his intentions to screw around with everyone. I think his untimely death saved his soul.
After assuming office, he met with throngs of White House visitors, to the point where he complained in a letter dated March 10th, “I am so much harassed by the multitude that call upon me that I can give no proper attention to any business of my own.” Perhaps this is another reason he didn’t accomplish anything. He was too busy schmoozing with the public, to attend to matters of the nation.
He also called Congress into a special session, to deal with a problem he couldn’t handle himself. The federal government was running out of money, and he hadn’t the slightest clue what to do about it. I guess the concept of borrowing against future generations hadn’t been invented yet.
Calling this special session is considered to be his only official act of consequence. He made the call on March 17th, 9 days before catching his cold, but the special session wasn’t scheduled to begin until May 31st, nearly two months after he died. So I give Harrison the benefit of the doubt, and don’t count this as an accomplishment.
On March 26th he caught his deadly cold. I’ll bet he contracted it from one of his unwanted guests. And the fucking intruder probably wasn’t wearing a face mask, or practicing social distancing. May his soul be condemned to rot in hell forever!
This cold was a doozy. It rapidly progressed into pneumonia and pleurisy. Our sniffling, sniveling, snotty president sought a nice, quiet place to rest and recover, but his many visitors rudely occupied all available space in the White House.
Then his doctors made his condition worse by prescribing unhelpful and dangerous treatments such as opium, castor oil, leeches, and snakeweed (a tranquilizing herb). He went over the edge and died on April 4th, 1841, having accomplished absolutely nothing of consequence, with or without his cold.
Except one thing. His death sparked a brief constitutional crisis over the title of his successor, Vice-President John Tyler.
Many politicians, including Tyler’s own Cabinet, thought he should be called “Vice-President acting President.” Tyler would have none of it, and insisted upon being called “President.” He won. Tyler was a forceful asshole, and didn’t take shit from anyone. Perhaps that’s how he was able to complete his predecessor’s term of office without catching a Harrison cold.
Too bad for Tyler. He learned nothing from the man he succeeded.