National Commentary

The Assassination Of Tippecanoe, Part 1

As I and others have insisted from the moment the Mueller Report was released, wait until you’ve read the actual report to judge.

In the meantime, for reasons entirely unclear to me, the Washington Post published an article by Williamsburg, Va., author Ronald G. Shafer this week on the first U.S. president to die in office and the questions of succession that were raised as a result.

It was the 68-year-old hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe and lifelong Whig Party and Henry Clay ally who died: William Henry Harrison. He famously died exactly one month after being sworn in as the ninth U.S. president in April 1841, and the official cause was pneumonia, ostensibly contracted while delivering a two-hour inauguration speech outdoors on a snowy day.

Harrison’s father signed the Declaration of Independence. His grandson became president 48 years later. He won the Battle of Tippecanoe and more against the Native American phalanx of British assets in Indiana during the War of 1812 and became a governor, congressman, senator and diplomat running unsuccessfully for president in 1836, then winning in 1840.

In death, Harrison was succeeded by his vice presidential running mate, John Tyler, who was a “Southern Whig,” sewn onto the ticket in order to achieve a necessary majority. Tyler was no true Whig in the John Quincy Adams-Henry Clay-Abraham Lincoln mould, as Harrison was, but a slave-owning, pro-slavery snake in the grass.

In the lengthy period between the election in November 1840 and the inauguration in March 1841, Harrison had met frequently with Clay, the leader of the Whigs in Congress, who’d won control that year and were set, with Harrison, to call a special session of Congress and usher in a pro-domestic development agenda centered on railroad expansion and economic growth through infrastructure development.

They’d been stymied by 12 years of Democratic misguidance under the savage Andrew Jackson, who killed the means by which the U.S. federally funded its internal improvements, and his New York controller Martin Van Buren that led to the Panic of 1837.

But the entire Whig agenda was wiped out when, following the untimely death of Harrison, Tyler assumed the presidency and proceeded to veto every facet of the Whig program that Clay got passed in Congress.

The Harrison cabinet was dumb-struck and resigned en masse. Tyler was expelled from the Whig party and became a man without support from either party during his one sad term. His sole achievement was to arrange the entry of Texas as a slave state into the Union, thereby moving the country one step closer to Civil War. When Civil War broke out in 1861, Tyler sided with the south and became a member of the Confederate House of Representatives.

If the country was, as Shafer pointed out, ill equipped to address the issue of the succession of the presidency at the time of Harrison’s death, it was not only because the death was the first of a sitting president in office, but also because the sharp ideological differences between Harrison and Tyler were well known and a great disruption was caused in anticipation of the huge political shift that was coming.

I took a keen interest in all of this in the wake of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981, and my research quickly brought me to what I think would have been an appropriate hypothesis. Given what was at stake, given how the death of Harrison so sharply changed the political landscape, wouldn’t it be plausible to explore whether or not Harrison was done in by foul play?

My research only further confirmed the validity of this hypothesis, and I presented my fascinating findings in an article in early 1981 entitled, “Qui Bono? The Assassination of William Henry Harrison,” published in an obscure politically marginal newspaper (par for the course for me then).

I reprinted it in my own newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press in 2005, which now owns the copyright, and it can be read in full on my website at, for anyone interested.

The case is a compelling one. To be continued.