Monday, July 26, 2010

The First President Harrison

now finished:
Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time
by Freeman Cleaves

Most of us know little to nothing about the ninth U.S. president, William Henry Harrison. Those of us who held onto anything from U.S. History class remember the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!" which would help us remember that John Tyler was the tenth president if only we even remembered that "Tippecanoe" refers to Harrison in the first place. Others may recall that W.H. Harrison had a grandson, Benjamin, who also became prez, and that W.H. was the president who served the shortest term in office because he got sick and died one month in, often blamed on delivering his long inaugural speech in the freezing cold rain with no hat, coat, or gloves.

Friends, country folk, listen up: there is so much more to William Henry Harrison! The presidency was an afterthought for him. Seriously. It came after a long, productive life, in which he was a successful military general on the frontier (uh...that would be Indiana/Michigan/Illinois) a legislator, an ambassador, and a judicial employee (all 3 branches of government!) He was basically kickin' it back home in the Ohio/Indiana area and taking care of his various wayward children, sons' widowers, and the like when his friends who hated Jackson/Van Buren rustled up a presidential campaign for him.

W. Harrison is fascinating. He made friends with a bunch of the Indians on said Midwest "frontier." They respected him and he them, although as a general for the U.S. he was in charge of taking their land. Side note: Tecumseh is thoroughly awesome and my new hero. I'm talking, to the point that I would name a kid after him hero. I cannot wait to learn more about him. (Like, by reading this.) So, our boy William H. H. could be said to have dealt somewhat "honestly" with the Indians, in comparison with others. Question for discussion: would it have been worse for him to bribe/hire/manipulate the Indians into being mercenaries as the British did, or to pretend to deal fairly with them while really taking their land (I'm looking at you, Jackson!), as opposed to what he did do, which was fight them "fairly" for it (to the extent that any war/killing is fair, but you know what I mean) as well as to honor peace agreements that were made as he tried to scoop up as much land as possible for the U.S.?

I mean - obviously, "Manifest Destiny," as the westward expansion eventually came to be known, is kind of a crock of shite, another blatant attempt of those who have power to use God propaganda to make the masses submit to their will while getting fired up about it. But, if one believes that the U.S. or whoever has a "right" to explore/fight for land instead of just backing off and leaving Indians alone, and that person goes about it with all the accepted "rules of warfare" and such, how can that be any worse than, say, blitzkrieging into any country with oil under its sands while convincing the masses that "they" all want to hurt "us" and "our way of life"? Also, taking land really doesn't begin to explain W.H. Harrison. He was in the army and on the frontier for quite sometime and rose to be a beloved general, but he did a bunch of stuff in the War of 1812 - telling the British to stop encroaching. And those British were using the Indians to fight their war against the Americans for them. William Harrison totally invited chiefs over to his house and chatted.

Anyway, he was seriously famous way before anyone thought to randomly make him president at age 68. We always hear the story of his one-month presidency as a kind of "Oh, too bad, he died before he could do anything." Hardly!

It was also fun to read about him going to Colombia, as U.S. ambassador to the newly independent country that had kicked out Spain. I've been there! He even traveled to visit my favorite sight, the salt cathedral Zipaquira, outside of Bogota. And, get this, on the way there he stopped off at Curacao, where I've also been! ('Cause he was on a ship of course, duh. But he spent some time there.) How many Americans, besides me and William Henry Harrison, have been to Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Washington D.C., Curacao, and Colombia? I bet it's a small group of us!

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