- Hardcover: 176 pages
- Publisher: Times Books; 1 edition (Jan. 17 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805091181
- ISBN-13: 978-0805091182
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 0.1 x 21.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 113 g
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #443,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
William Henry Harrison: The American Presidents Series: The 9th President,1841 Hardcover – Jan 17 2012
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“A surprisingly entertaining biography. . . . [that] tells everything the average reader might want to know about our ninth president. . . . While he accomplished nothing as president, [Harrison's] earlier achievements are well served in this excellent addition to the American Presidents series.” ―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Gail Collins is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, where she previously served as editorial page editor―the first woman to hold that position. She is the author of When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present; America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines; and Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celebrity, and American Politics. She lives in New York City with her husband, Dan Collins.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
Harrison biographers focus of necessity on his earlier life due to his uneventful thirty-one day presidency. I became interested in Collins' book after reading a recent and longer study, "The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier" (2012), by the Auburn University historian, Adam Jortner. The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier Jortner's somewhat unfocused book is a double biography of Harrison and a Shawnee religious leader known as Tenskwatawa, the older brother of the more famous Tecumseh. Jortner's book explores Harrison's life through the Battle of Tippecanoe and the War of 1812. I found it valuable to compare Collin's portrayal of Harrison with the picture that emerges from Jortner.
Born to an aristocratic Virginia family, Harrison used his family connections to become an Army officer and to rise to the position of Governor of the Indiana terrritory 1n 1800. In that capacity, Harrison negotiated large cessions of land from the Indian tribes at pennies per acre. Some of the Indians resisted including Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief. His older brother. Tenskwatawa, claimed to have a prophetic vision in which he was told to lead the Indians in an effort to unite, give up alcohol, and preserve their lands. Both Jortner's and Collins' books recount a pivotal incident in which Harrison taunted Tenskwatawa. If you are a prophet, Harrison said, prove it by making the sun stand still.
Unfortunately for Harrison, he issued his challenge on the eve of a solar eclipse. Almanacs of the day precisely predicted the time and day of the eclipse, but Harrison seemed unaware. Tenskwatawa apparently knew about the almanacs and seized his chance. At the appropriate time, he went outside in the presence of his followers and "stopped" the sun. Collins treats this event briefly and sensibly, while it becomes the major incident underlying Jortner's study.
Collins explores Harrison's controversial tenure as the Indiana governor and his even more controversial role in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe which ultimately won him the presidency. In the War of 1812, which followed the Battle of Tippecanoe, Harrison did better as a general. Following the War of 1812, Harrison spent his time importuning for various political jobs to support his large estate and family. He served in Congress and as envoy to Columbia before Andrew Jackson uncerimoniously dumped him.
In 1836, Harrison ran for president as the northern candidate of the badly split Whig party and made a respectable showing in defeat. In 1840, he secured the nomination of the momentarily united Whigs, wresting the nomination from perennial Whig candidate Henry Clay. Collins describes a campaign notable for its vacuity. Harrison became the first presidential candidate to campaign aggressively and to meet and mingle with a broad constitutency. He then became the first American president to die in office.
While Jortner's book emphasizes Harrison's harshness as Indiana governor, his support of slavery, his unfair Indian treaties, and his sham victory at Tippecanoe, Collins is kinder to her subject. She sees Harrison as an early moderate who was friendly, educated, and willing to compromise. She has a more positive view of Harrison than does Jortner. In general, the American Presidents series emphasizes the virtues of its subjects rather than their deficiencies. Collins wisely avoids speculating on what Harrison might have done as president if he had lived.
Collins has written a readable short book which offers a good overview of a president whose life will be unfamiliar to most Americans. She offers a portrayal as well of frontier life in the Indiana territory, the Battle of Tippecanoe, and presidential campaigning in early America. For all the brevity of Harrison's presidency, this book is a good addition to the American Presidents series.
The author also gives the reader a clear picture of the personality of her subject. Despite the fact that she portrays a positive picture of Harrison, it is not a sycophantic or fawning description. We come away with a picture of Harrison as a devoted family man, not only for his wife Anna and their nine children who lived past infancy, but as the supporter of the children of other relatives who lost parents, and later as the supporter of the offspring of those of his children who predeceased him. He is portrayed as a commander who is brave in battle, egalitarian towards his men, applying the same standards to himself that he expects of them. As a General he makes mistakes, but the charges of cowardice which will later be made against him in the heat of the campaign are clearly undeserved. He is portrayed as a sensible governor, and as a congressman concerned with the welfare of old soldiers. In all of his dealings he is portrayed as polite, personable and likeable.
Harrison the candidate is portrayed as subservient, believing that the President must be respectful of the will of Congress, who are after all the representatives of the people. Harrison vows never to veto legislation unless it violates the constitution or tramples on the rights of a minority. To Harrison though, minority means slaveholders, not slaves. He claims to be personally opposed to slavery (while being a slaveholder) but supports the institution of slavery so long as it remains a constitutional right. His relationship with Whig leader Henry Clay is interesting. Having defeated Clay for the nomination for President in 1840, he mends his fences with Clay once Clay believes that Harrison will be a weak President. But when Clay tries to impose his choices for cabinet and other offices on the new President, he finds Harrison to be made of sterner stuff.
Collins gives a nice description of Harrison's brief time in Washington as President: his battle with the incessant demands of office seekers, how he related with cabinet and how he likely would have governed if he had lived longer. Collins concludes that Harrison likely wouldn't have made a difference in the path that the nation was taking. From what we learn of Harrison, he was a good man, though not above playing politics to get elected. This is a wonderful window on the man and the times that he lived in. The brief time it takes to read this book is time well spent for anyone with an interest in American history.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
In the run-up to the winning of the highest political office by "regional candidate" Harrison, we get very interesting overviews of political intrigue, military battles, and the life of citizens, Native Americans, slaves and freemen. Along the way there are log cabins, Indiana Territory vs Indian Territory, treaties, Whigs and Democrats, the great Native American leaders Tecumseh and The Prophet, the War of 1812, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too", epic mudslinging, and much more, with enough detail that it kept my interest to the end. This edition in the series reveals the complexities of William Henry Harrison, who was taking a decidedly different view of how the presidency would operate. A wonderful feat of scholarship that is Very Definitely Recommended. Four ABSORBING Stars. (176 pages; this review is based on a Kindle download in text-to-speech mode.)