Harrison and Reform

The Birth of the American Political Campaign

William Henry Harrison, the 9th President of the United States

As Americans approached the 1840 presidential election, they were grappling with the myriad effects of the Panic of 1837: failing banks, rising unemployment, and overall economic depression, to name just a few. It was a crisis in large part caused by President Andrew Jackson and his successor, Martin Van Buren. William Henry Harrison, who had recently gained renown as a war hero after battling Native Americans in what is now Indiana, saw his chance to grasp political greatness and ran against Van Buren as a Whig (a political party created in the 1830s in opposition to President Andrew Jackson). Harrison’s persona as a candidate was a fabrication and became the template for almost every political operation from that year forward.

Though born into wealth and privilege, Harrison presented himself as the humble, everyday American working man and portrayed Van Buren as a decadent and perfumed snob. Harrison’s slogan, “Harrison and Reform,” was printed on banners, flags, and pins, easily dispersed to the masses. He won the election and would soon go on to leave his own mark on American history, albeit in an unlikely way; Harrison died of pneumonia 32 days after being sworn in, making him the first President to die in office and, to this day, serving the shortest term of any U.S. President.