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While researching today’s #onthisday Tweet (also on Facebook!), I turned up an interesting little fact. Read on to learn more about War of 1812 hero–oh, and president–William Henry Harrison.

portrait of William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison, c. 1840, print attributed to John Sartain. (Library of Congress)

Born in Virginia, William Henry Harrison first made his name in the army fighting campaigns against Indians. He found his way to posts in the territorial governments of the midwest and served as governor of the Indiana Territory for twelve years. When Tecumseh and other Indian leaders resisted white incursions more and more stridently, Harrison managed to get himself in command of the troops once again. The 1811 battle near Tippecanoe started badly for Harrison and his men, but in end, the U.S. Army won the fight; white Americans generally celebrated the widely-known victory.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. and Britain returned to a state of outright war. In Harrison’s area, many Indians, such as those in Tecumseh’s alliance, were fighting alongside the British to drive the Americans back east. On October 5, 1813, Harrison led his forces to a significant–and rare–American victory against the British and their allies in Ontario at the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh was killed and his alliance fatally damaged. Soon, Harrison was traveling the east and enjoying the admiration of Americans starved for good news from the war’s fronts.

1818 CGM for Harrison

From the Statutes at Large (see below for citation/link.)

In 1818, Congress chose to honor Harrison, along with Isaac Shelby of Kentucky, with a Congressional Gold Medal for their part in the 1813 victory. They were the among the last of the those honored for their roles in the War of 1812. Harrison served two terms in the U.S. House and most of a term in the Senate, and he held various territorial, state, and federal posts before being elected president in 1840. He gave his lengthy inaugural address on March 4, 1841 and died of pneumonia on April 4. When elected, he was the oldest man to have been elected president, and he still holds the title for the shortest time in the office.

The Miller Center biography of Harrison points out that he was quick to strive for plaudits and praise as well as lucrative appointments, so it’s interesting to note that Harrison’s short time in the House and the awarding of his Congressional Gold Medal coincide. Harrison represented Ohio from 1815-1819 in the House and thus had the opportunity to vote on the resolution honoring himself. The Annals of Congress (page 1648) note only that the resolution was passed in the House–no mention of debates or congratulations. However, several days later, the House was debating the merits of a similar resolution honoring other War of 1812 officers; the Annals record that now Harrison rose to “bear testimony to the gallant services of the gentlemen of the Northwestern army, and took the opportunity of expressing briefly his sense of the distinguished honor to which he had recently himself received at the hands of Congress–a reward more dear to him than any other that could be conferred on him, but which he must look on as due to the gallant army which he had the honor to command rather than to his merits, etc.” (page 1671)

A Congressional Gold Medal is no small honor. Intriguing that it came Harrison’s way while he was serving in the body that grants it!

To learn more about William Henry Harrison, see:
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
Miller Center biography, including the essay on “Life Before the Presidency” for information about Harrison’s military and congressional careers.
White House, History and Grounds, William Henry Harrison.

Additional sources:
Glassman, Matthew Eric. Congressional Gold Medals, 1776-2010. Congressional Research Service. Page 21.
Statutes at Large, 15th Congress, First Session, page 476.

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