In honor of Presidents’ Day, I bring you the Harrisons: William Henry and his grandson Benjamin. Known as the only grandfather and grandson ever to be elected president, the two also shared strong ties to the state of Indiana.
William Henry Harrison (1773-1841)
- Harrison, a Virginia native, served as governor of Indiana Territory from 1801 to 1812. While in office, he founded Vincennes University, one of only two universities founded by U.S. presidents.
- Governor Harrison supervised 11 treaties with the Indians, and in 1811 defeated an Indian coalition force, led by Shawnee chief Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Later in life he ran for president on the slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” referring to his victory in this battle, and his vice-president, John Tyler.
- Harrison defeated President Martin Van Buren to win the presidency in 1841. He won the popular vote by only 150,000 votes, but that translated to a decisive 234 votes in the Electoral College. He lived in Ohio, not Indiana, at the time of his election.
- President Harrison is notorious for giving the longest inaugural address (8,445 words and nearly two hours), and having the shortest presidency (30 days). Contrary to popular belief, the two facts are not related. Though many held that Harrison’s two-hour speech on a cold, wet day caused him to contract pneumonia, he did not fall ill until three weeks later. He died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841.
Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901)
- Benjamin Harrison grew up in Ohio, but moved to Indianapolis in 1854 to practice law, making him officially the only U.S. President from Indiana. His home in Indianapolis is now the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.
- Harrison defeated President Grover Cleveland to win the presidency in 1888. He lost the popular vote by 90,000 votes, but won the Electoral College with 233 votes.
- In the election of 1892, President Harrison’s opponent was again Grover Cleveland, the only time in U.S. history two candidates have run against each other twice. This time Cleveland won a decisive victory over Harrison.
- Benjamin Harrison worked to protect African-Americans’ civil rights. He endorsed measures to safeguard their voting rights and to ensure federal funding for schools, regardless of the students’ race. However, his efforts were defeated by Congress at every turn.
Neither Harrison is highly rated by presidential historians, yet each one made his mark on the history of the United States, and on the State of Indiana.