Old Tippecanoe – William Henry Harrison and His Time

William Henry Harrison was the ninth president of the U.S. Harrison’s 1840 election slogan is like a song that sticks in your head – Tippecanoe and Tyler Too. If you have ever heard that slogan perhaps you wondered like I did about Tippecanoe and its meaning.

I am in the process of reading a biography of each American president. This is a multi-year project!  You can see the list of other presidential biographies I have read here.

Before reading Old Tippecanoe – William Henry Harrison and His Time by Freeman Cleaves I only knew of Harrison as the first president to die in office. He only lived for a month after being inaugurated. Up until Ronald Reagan he was also the oldest president ever elected. Another unique fact about Harrison is that he is the only president to have a grandson also elected president.  Benjamin Harrison the 23rd American President was Old Tippecanoe’s grandson.

One might think that the story of a one month president would be boring and short Harrison’s presidency may have been short and un-noteworthy but his life was just the opposite. As I have discovered reading other presidential biographies you learn a lot about American history by studying our presidents. Harrison lived and served on the American frontier much of his life. He was the first governor of the territory of Indiana. When Harrison and his family moved to Vincennes the capital of the territory it was a tiny town on the edge of Indian country. The whole population of the territory included only 5,540 whites. Harrison built a brick home there, the first in the region. It was called Grouseland. From it he negotiated a series of treaties at President Jefferson’s request to acquire land from the Indians for settlers.

“Nearly all the Illinois country as well as southern Indiana had now been opened to the whites and before attaining his thirty-third birthday, Governor Harrison could survey many millions of acres peacefully acquired in accordance with Jefferson’s wish.”

Prior to being Governor of Indiana Territory Harrison had enlisted in the army in 1790. He moved up quickly. He must have been a charismatic and inspiring leader because his popularity both with his men and with the country are what led to him becoming president.

I think the story of the battle of Tippecanoe from which he got his nick name would make a great movie full of conflict and nuanced motives. There were not bad guys and good guys. The Indians, Tecumseh and his brother The Prophet built a confederation of Indians who were against ceding  lands to the U.S. They were terrorizing the settlers. I can see their point of view but I can also see the point of view of Harrison, Jefferson and the settlers. They felt that they had fairly received the land from the Indians. Harrison tried to steer a middle ground. The conflict with maneuvering and rights and wrongs on both sides culminates in the Battle of Tippecanoe.

“Two Shawnee brothers, one a statesman, the other a “Prophet,” were at the spearhead of a movement, and duly encouraged by the British they  threatened for a time  to check the entire scheme of land acquisition and Territorial advance”

On November 7, 1811 Harrison with his army of 950 officers and men had camped outside Prophetstown the Indian town founded by Tecumseh and the Prophet in 1808. Harrison planned to meet with the Indians the next day. Tecumseh had gone south to enlist the  Creeks and Cherokees in his confederacy. The Prophet told his warriors that they were invulnerable and that his spell had rendered the Americans harmless. The Indians attacked the army’s encampment during the night and a fierce battled ensued. The army’s victory was not a sure thing but they eventually prevailed. Harrison lost about a fifth of his men, 37  dead and 151 wounded. Indian losses were proportionately as large. They had between 500 and 700 men fighting.

Harrison’s roll in the Battle of Tippecanoe was debated for the rest of his life. He spent a lot of time defending it and his tactics. But his role as the victorious general of Tippecanoe contributed greatly to his eventual election almost 40 years later. Harrison’s election in 1840 at the age of 68 culminated a long and varied life. Harrison served as ambassador to Columbia in 1829 and as a senator from Ohio from 1825 to 1828.

Old Tippecanoe was a fascinating book. William Henry Harrison wasn’t the first or the last American military general hero to be elected President but he served our country well. I enjoyed learning about the role Harrison played in the expansion and development of the United States and the insight this book provides into what was then the west and its influence on American politics.


Dancing to the Precipice by Caroline Moorehead

I just finished reading Dancing to the Precipice – The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin.

Lucie Dillon, the Marquise de la Tour was a French aristocrat born in 1770. Her father fought with the Americans during the revolutionary war. She was a lady in waiting to Marie Antoinette, witnessed the French revolution, and barely escaped being imprisoned and possibly guillotined. She and her family escaped France on a ship for America and ended up farming in upper New York state. Eventually they returned to France. She knew Napoleon and Lucie's husband was part of Napoleon's government. She was friends with the Duke of Wellington and had played with him as a child. You can see why the subtitle of this book is eyewitness to an Era.

Lucie wrote a memoir and Caroline Moorehead used it as the foundation for this biography. I found parts of the book fascinating and at times even riveting. At other times Dancing to the Precipice dragged a bit. It is a classic example of how a biography can educate you about a period in history. I learned a lot from Dancing to the Precipice about French history, the revolution and Napoleon and I definitely enjoyed reading it.

This is book number 34 for me this year. If you would like to see a list of all the books I have read in 2009 you can find it here.

Two more Books

I recently finished reading Sense and Sensability by Jane Austin and Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. I have seen and enjoyed movies made from both of these books.

I like to read Jane Austin books. Having seen the movie of Sense and Sensability made reading the book even more fun than it would have been otherwise. There are differences between the book and the movie which allowed the book to surprise me and I was able to visualize Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet as Elinor, Marianne, and Edward.

While I enjoyed both the movie and the book of Julie and Julia I thought the movie was wonderful and book just OK. In the book  Julie often seemed silly and annoying but in the movie she is likable. In both movie and book Julia Child is awesome. Meryl Steep IS Julia Child. I greatly admire her passion, hard work and dedication. Over a year ago I read My Life in France, Julia Child's memoir. I highly recommend it.

I've added these two books to my list of books read this year.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I just finished reading Outliers by Malcom Gladwell on my Kindle. It is a fascinating book about why some people are so successful. Contrary to what most people think brains and talent play a small roll compared to luck and hard work.

It was fascinating to see how this applied to Bill Gates, The Beatles, and Gladwell himself.

I can't decide what to read next on my Kindle. I have a couple traditional books going but I need a new Kindle book. I almost always have my Kindle with me so I am never left without something to read.

Catherine de Medici – Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda

I speed read Catherine de Medici – Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda last week in order to finish it in time for the Newcomers Club Book Club. It is not an easy read and the author who is Swedish by birth and apparently speaks five languages loves using unusual words like bobbish, chimera and  tergiversations. In spite of the fact that reading the book is a bit of a slog, it reads like a text book, I did find it very interesting.

Renaissance France is fascinating. Catherine De Medici lived from 1519 to 1589, during the reigns of 5 French kings. One of them was her husband and three of them were her sons. This was a particularly violent period. There were constantly recurring religious wars (at least six), the St Bartholomew's Day massacre (for which Catherine was blamed), Burnings of protestants, and  political assassinations. Catherine survived and perhaps even thrived, shaping French politics through most of this period.

I am glad I read this book. I learned a lot about this period in history in general and French history in particular. It certainly helped me better understand the renaissance and the reformation.

Thanks to my friend Linda here are a few of the obscure words, their meanings and the page references.

Page 25:  tergiversations – changes in opinion or course

Page 107:  shambolic – disorderly or chaotic

Page 337: bobbish – healthy, in good spirits (this word wasn't even in my dictionary. it is in dictionary.com)

Page 337: chimera – an illusion or fabrication of the mind

Page 352:  extirpate – exterminate