Well kiddies, it’s that time of year again. Got big plans with the family? Perhaps a leisurely day of rest and repose? The tail end of a mid-Winter 3-day weekend? Waiting in vain for the mail that will not come until Tuesday? Thwarted in renewing your license by the closed DMV?
Whatever your plans are, take a moment to consider a grave injustice. Sure, Washington and Lincoln were born in February, but two other Presidents also have February birthdays. And sure, George and Abe were among our greatest Presidents, but two other Presidents…well…also have February birthdays.
Is it right to focus the entire celebration on just two Presidents? I think not.
Ronald Reagan was also born in February. Okay, perhaps it’s too soon to let him in on a national holiday. But surely…surely…there is room for William Henry Harrison.
You don’t need me to remind you of Harrison’s legacy. But allow me to direct your attention to a few critical facts.
- The only President to have studied to become a doctor.
- The first sitting President to have his picture taken.
- The son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
- The grandfather of Benjamin Henry Harrison, the 23rd President.
- The first President to die in office.
It’s that last fact that makes Harrison worthy of remembrance on this day. His is a cautionary tale for anyone who goes out in the cold without proper headgear, as well as long-winded politicians.
March 4, 1841, was a cold and rainy day in Washington DC. Eager to show that he was a tough guy, he eschewed the closed carriage and rode on horseback to the Inaugural ceremony without an overcoat or hat. He then proceeded to deliver the longest
He wore neither an overcoat nor hat, rode on horseback to the ceremony rather than in the closed carriage that had been offered him, and delivered the longest inaugural address in history: 8,578 words (twice as long as the nearest other verbose President.) It took Harrison one hour and 45 minutes to read.
Interesting side note: his pal Daniel Webster (who, you’ll undoubtably remember, negotiated the he negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty that established the definitive eastern border between the United States and Canada) had edited Harrison’s address for length. One can only wonder how long the first draft was.
At any rate, once he was done talking, Harrison rode through the streets, and later attended three inaugural balls, apparently ignoring the early signs of pneumonia. As he grew sicker, his doctors tried cures of opium, castor oil, leeches, and Virginia snakeweed, yet oddly, the patient only got worse. On April 4, just 30 days after taking office, William Henry Harrison was dead.
But he wasn’t done serving the public, for his untimely death set off a constitutional crisis: Was Vice President John Tyler now the President, or merely the Acting President? The constitution was murky on the point, and remained so until 1967, when the 25th Amendment cleared things up once and for all.
Congress voted to give his widow a one-time payment of $25,000 equal to one year of her late husband’s Presidential salary. But before you think they were tightwads, consider this: they also gave her the right to mail letters free of charge. So she had that going for her. She lived 23 more years, and if there’s any justice, sent a whole lot of letters.
So, as you carouse your way through this President’s Day, take a moment to remember WHH. It’s the least we can do.
Today’s Fact Cetera
The President of the United States has a secret Zip Code for receiving personal mail.