April 4, 1841: William Henry Harrison became first President to die in office

April 4, 2019

William Henry Harrison died on April 4, 1841, 31 days after his inauguration as president of the United States.

Perhaps during the cold and rainy inauguration in which Harrison delivered the longest speech in inauguration history, perhaps from a well-wisher, Harrison caught a cold. The cold developed into pneumonia. Perhaps the pneumonia killed him.

Or, perhaps he caught typhoid fever from the notoriously bad water at the White House in 1841. Modern historians and medical specialists suspect Harrison had some form of typhoid, and not pneumonia from a cold. It’s likely his physicians at the time did everything just wrong to treat typhoid, much as George Washington’s physicians probably killed him 42 years earlier.

Harrison may have been the first president photographed, with a portrait taken in 1841, about four years after photography was invented. But the photo didn’t survive, and Harrison didn’t live for another sitting. Oil paintings and engravings are what we have of Harrison. Caption from Smithsonian: William Henry Harrison / Albert Gallatin Hoit / Oil on canvas, 1840 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Any way it went down, Vice President John Tyler succeeded to fill 47 months of Harrison’s 48-month term.

Harrison, a Whig, was the first president to die in office. His vice president, John Tyler, was a converted Democrat who quickly abandoned the Whig platform as president.

Harrison won fame pushing Indians off of lands coveted by white settlers in the Northwest Territories. Harrison defeated Tecumseh’s Shawnee tribe (without Tecumseh) at the Battle of Tippecanoe, then beat Tecumseh in a battle with the English in which Tecumseh died, in the War of 1812.

Schoolchildren of my era learned Harrison’s election slogan: “Tippecanoe, and Tyler, too!” Schoolchildren should learn that slogan today, too, as a touchstone to 19th century history and presidential politics. Some say it was the first slogan used by a candidate for president. See Mo Rocca’s piece for CBS Sunday Morning.

On Harrison’s death, Tyler found himself in uncharted territories. While the Constitution and the title suggested a vice president would fill in for a president when the president was absent, the Constitution did not explicitly say the vice president would succeed to the presidency if the president should die. There was some controversy at the time, about whether Tyler should act as caretaker until a new, special election was called.

Tyler took the oath of office as president, effectively putting the controversy to bed. No one sued to stop him. Tyler established the precedent of peaceful and quick transition of power to the vice president, upon the death of a president

Congress voted Harrison’s widow a one-time payment of $25,000, since he had died nearly penniless. This may be the first example of a president or his survivors getting a payment from the government after leaving office. It’s a precedent Congress didn’t quite follow through on, and presidents left office without pensions for many more years, a story told with pain about the later years and death of President U. S. Grant.

In the annals of brief presidencies, there is likely to be none shorter than Harrison’s for a long time. As you toast him today, you can honestly say he did not overstay his White House tenure. Others could have learned from his example.

No president had died in office before; all the pomp and ceremony for a president’s funeral had to be invented when William Henry Harrison died, just 31 days into his administration. Proper music included a funeral dirge composed by Henry Dielman, cover shown here from the collection of the White House Historical Association.

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Beto’s convention speech

February 13, 2019

Beto O’Rourke, to the Texas State Democratic Convention in Fort Worth, Texas.

Sound feed came from a microphone on the camera, and not from the arena sound system — so it’s rather crummy.

But I’m not finding the official Texas Democratic Party version of this speech all the way through. And I think it ought to be preserved.

It’s not a usual “thanks for supporting me; let’s go win” convention speech. It demonstrates what happens when a thinking candidate tailors remarks to the audience in the hall, somethings thinking as she or he goes.

It’s why Texas should have sent him to the Senate.

Beto O'Rourke keynote at the Texas State Democratic Party Convention in Fort Worth, in June 2018. Fort Worth Star-Telegram video, screen capture.

Beto O’Rourke keynote at the Texas State Democratic Party Convention in Fort Worth, in June 2018. Fort Worth Star-Telegram video, screen capture.


Election day encore: VOTE, then enjoy the art

November 6, 2018

I hope you’ve voted already. If not, go vote.

Then come back and contemplate U.S. art about voting, and what it tells us about us.

Interesting contrasts, at least.

I love the “County Election” painting of George Caleb Bingham, showing an election in 1852, the year incumbent President Millard Fillmore could not get even the nomination of his party. I love the tension of Norman Rockwell’s painting of the 1944 election in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with tensions we see only in retrospect. (That post also shows real tensions in a family, in the election of 1948, in another Rockwell painting).

What else does the world of art show about elections in America? What do you think?

Illustration from Harper's Weekly, showing election persuasion at the polls. Library of Congress collection

Illustration from Harper’s Weekly, November 7, 1857, showing election persuasion at the polls – politicians trying to buy votes. Library of Congress collection

If bribery didn’t work, there was always plain old fisticuffs.

Fighting at the polls. Illustration from Harper's Weekly, November 7, 1857. Library of Congress collections

Fighting at the polls. Illustration from Harper’s Weekly, November 7, 1857. Library of Congress collections

Here’s an unusual ritual, portrayed about the 1892 contest between William Henry Harrison and Grover Cleveland. Did this really happen? Did the loser pull the winner on a cart through the city?

“Lost Bet,” by John Klir, Library of Congress. Pearson’s education materials say this was common in the 19th century.

Louis Dalrymple noted a twist on the tradition four years later.

Puck Magazine, November 11, 1896.

Puck Magazine, November 11, 1896. “Print shows a bloated businessman holding an American flag labeled ‘Victory,’ riding in a wheelbarrow being pushed by another man; in the background, a young boy is telling a stranger that his Dad had a bet with the other man regarding the outcome of the presidential election. The stranger is uncertain who lost the bet.” Drawing by Louis Dalrymple for Puck. Library of Congress collections

Not sure how long that tradition of the loser pushing or pulling the winner hung on, but by 1904 election night was an occasion to walk about, socialize, and watch fireworks, if this print from the William Randolph Hearst organization is accurate. Teddy Roosevelt won the presidency on his own that year.

“Election night illumination at the Flatiron Building [New York City].” New York Sunday American & Journal, a Hearst newspaper. Library of Congress collections

“Politics in the Oyster House,” 1848 by Richard Caton Woodville. Image found at Wikiwand

George Caleb Bingham's

George Caleb Bingham’s “Stump Speaking,” 1853-54. Image from Wikiwand

Not all election work involves a crowd.

George Caleb Bingham,

George Caleb Bingham, “Canvassing the Vote”

George Caleb Bingham,

George Caleb Bingham, “The Verdict of the People,” 1854-55. Wikiwand image

This looks more like the campaign party of a victorious candidate in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, though I’m not really sure this tradition survived much past the 2000 election.

John Sloan,

John Sloan, “Election Night,” 1907, an image from a New York drinking establishment. Collection of the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester.

Janie Price’s Evolution of American Painting said:

Here is the scene of Election Night written in Sloan’s Journal:

“Took a walk in the afternoon and saw boys in droves, foraging for fuel for their election fires this evening. . . . after dinner . . . out again and saw the noisy trumpet blowers, confetti throwers and the “ticklers” in use—a small feather duster on a stick which is pushed in the face of each girl by the men, and in the face of men by the girls. A good humorous crowd, so dense in places that it is impossible to control one’s movement.” (John French Sloan)

Women voted for the first time nationwide in 1920, after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. J. F. Kernan’s painting for The Country Gentleman magazine in 1922 shows some of the tensions that remained after the national amendment.

J. F. Kernan in Country Gentleman magazine, November 4, 1922

J. F. Kernan in Country Gentleman magazine, November 4, 1922. Wikimedia image

Rockwall made great use of his time and photographs in Cedar Rapids. In addition to the painting there, he used the setting for his famous “Undecided,” which became the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. 1944 was the last time prior to 2016 that both major candidates came from New York.

“Undecided,” Norman Rockwell, 1944. Copyright Curtis Publications

One might wonder if Rockwell considered himself undecided, when one sees this “son” of the painting, from 1960, featuring Rockwell in the same voting booth.

“Norman Rockwell at the Voting Booth” painted in 1960, based on his 1944 studies in Cedar Rapids, it seems to me. Image from The Easel

“Norman Rockwell at the Voting Booth” painted in 1960, based on his 1944 studies in Cedar Rapids, it seems to me. Image from The Easel

One last Rockwell to close out, one of my favorites, showing the happy candidate Casey, after having gotten the news that the voters were not so happy with him.

Norman Rockwall,

Norman Rockwall, “Elect Casey,” or “Before and After,” November 1958 for the Saturday Evening Post.

Legendary election jokester Dick Tuck once ran for the state legislature in California, on the slogan, “The job needs Tuck, and Tuck needs the job.” He lost, and he said what I can imagine the fictional Casey saying, “The people have spoken. The bastards!”

What are your favorite election day images? What are your memories of elections past?

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.


New Beto ad features Willie Nelson, appropriately, “On the Road Again”

November 5, 2018

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for the U.S. Senate features travel prominently. Beto’s started out with a listening tour of all 254 Texas counties — something no other politician I can find has done — and continues with visits to every odd corner of the state. Beto’s been on the road constantly for almost two years.

It shows in his rallies, which tend to bring in hundreds where others get a few dozen, and thousands where others may have got a hundred.

To Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” Beto O’Rourke.


Willie Nelson’s new song, “Vote ’em Out!”

November 2, 2018

Willie Nelson and Beto O'Rourke (but not at the Austin concert, I think) Image: Rick Kern / WireImage

Willie Nelson and Beto O’Rourke (but not at the Austin concert, I think) Image: Rick Kern / WireImage

Willie says we should vote for Beto, to change things.

Willie: “Take it home with you, spread it around.” Willie Nelson’s live premiere of Vote ‘Em Out performed 9/29/18 at the rally for Beto O’Rourke.

Willie Nelson headlined a rally for Beto O’Rourke in Austin, Texas, that pulled in a crowd of 55,000 people. It’s the largest political rally ever held in Texas.

Republicans call it a mob. Your children and your friends were there.


Vote! What really matters to you? Then vote!

November 2, 2018

Your vote counts. Every vote counts, but your vote counts for you.

Vote!

Advertising from the Independence USA PAC

 


Beto O’Rourke: Texas doesn’t need a wall

October 29, 2018

U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Tex (El Paso), explains how his name came to be Beto, to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Tex (El Paso), candidate for U.S. Senate, explained how his name came to be Beto, to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.

From his appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Beto explains how he got the name Beto more than 30 years ago in El Paso, and why Texas does not need a wall against Mexico:


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