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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

William Henry Harrison Portraits

W. H. Harrison official White House portrait, a copy of a 1835 portrait by James Reid Lambdin

William Henry Harrison, 1840,
Albert Gallatin Hoit, now in the
National Portrait Gallery
Two-hundred, forty-seven years ago, was born the 9th President of the United State, William Henry Harrison, February 9, 1773. I mentioned his name to my wife, who admitted she'd never heard of the man (she's not a big history buff). However, in this case, she can be forgiven. Harrison was President for only thirty-two days before dying of pneumonia. He was sixty-eight years old. Until Ronald Reagan was inaugurated 140 years later, he was the oldest president to ever take office. (Reagan was 69 years, 341 days old when he began his term). March 4, 1841, was a cold and wet day. Harrison's death was the result of an outdoor inaugural address, the longest in American history. He wore neither an overcoat nor hat, rode on horseback to the ceremony rather than in the closed carriage that had been offered him, and at 8,445 words, his address took nearly two hours to deliver, even though his friend, Daniel Webster, had edited it for length. Harrison then rode through the streets in the inaugural parade, later attending three inaugural balls, including one at a saloon known today as the "Tippecanoe Ball" which, at a price of ten-dollars per person ($229 today), attracted 1000 guests. It must have been a BIG saloon.

Harrison on his death bed, April 4, 1841
The James Reid Lambdin official White House portrait of Harrison (top) gives no hint of a man in anything other than robust health. The same is true of Albert Gallatin Hoit's 1840 pre-inaugural portrait (above, right) now in Washington's National Portrait Gallery. The 1841 etching (above) tells a different story, however. It's one of outrageous ego, poor judgment, grief, and dying. Vice-president, John Tyler served the remainder of Harrison's term, during which time the remorse resulting from Harrison's untimely death only deepened. Harrison had been a Whig. John Tyler, turned out to be a "closet" Democrat.

Harrison, having won the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, the Whigs adopted the campaign slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." Later the party came to regret the second half of the slogan.
Portrait of William Henry Harrison,
1841, Bass Otis
The Whig Party in the United States grew out of opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson during the 1830s. The Whigs supported the supremacy of Congress over the Presidency and favored a program of modernization, banking, and economic protectionism to stimulate manufac-uring. It appealed to entrepreneurs and wealthy planters, but had little appeal to farmers or unskilled workers. It was mostly Protestant and voiced a mor-alistic opposition to Jacksonian Indian removal policies--in some ways com-parable to the Republican Party today. Democrats of that time stood for the 'sovereignty of the people' as expressed in popular demonstrations, constitutional conventions, and majority rule as a gen-eral principle of governing. Whigs advo-cated the rule of law, and a written, unchanging constitution. The Whigs split over the slavery issue in the 1850s, the northern branch of the party largely joining the newly formed Republican Party while the Civil War nearly destroyed the Democratic Party.  

William Henry Harrison in Uniform. Rembrandt Peale, National Portrait Gallery
Without doubt, the best portrait painted of William Henry Harrison came from the hand of Rembrandt Peale, son of the Philadelphia painting family patriarch, Charles Wilson Peale. Inasmuch as it depicts a fairly youthful countenance, it was probably painted around 1811 during the time Harrison was territorial governor of Indiana. The sword, epaulets, and profusely rendered, gold embroidery of the uniform were added sometime later. It presents a markedly different image as compared to that of Bass Otis (above, left) painted (probably after Harrison's death) in 1841. Only the prominent, elongated nose seems similar. The portraits of Eliphalet Frazer Andrews (below) are interesting in that they seem to present "before and after" images--before the fatal, inaugural debacle, and afterwards as Harrison's health rapidly declined.

Before and after? We're left to conjecture in that no dates accompany either portrait.
Anna Symmes Harrison
So far as I've been able to find, only one painted portrait of First Lady, Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison exists. It's by an unknown artist (apparently a government employee) painted at some unknown date, (probably in the latter half of the 19th-century), and currently resides in some unknown location (somewhere other than in the White House). Three-dimensionally, William Henry Harrison is well represented in numerous monu-mental memorials in Ohio, Indiana, South Dakota (below-right), Virginia, and Wash-ington, D.C. Not quite so massive, is a miniature version of the short-term president carved from wood by a Ger-man pipe carver (below-left), one of many in a series soon to include all the former presidents.

William Henry Harrison comes in your choice of sizes.

President William Henry Harrison
by Tara, age 9.


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