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Point of View Journalism

Lisa Goff · Fall 2016

Log Cabin Campaign, 1840

William Henry Harrison and John Tyler vs. Martin Van Buren

From the Library of Congress website, “America’s Story”:

Having tried unsuccessfully to become the new Whig Party's only candidate for president in 1836 (he ended up being one of three), William Henry Harrison continued campaigning for the nomination until the next election cycle. At the December 1839 Whig convention, Harrison became the party's official nominee for president.

To attract support in the South, former Virginia Senator John Tyler was named the Whig nominee for vice president. The Whig strategy was to win the election by avoiding discussion of difficult national issues such as slavery or the national bank. 

Harrison was the first president to campaign actively for office. He did so with the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." Tippecanoe referred to Harrison's military defeat of a group of Shawnee Indians at a river in Ohio called Tippecanoe in 1811. Democrats laughed at Harrison for being too old (at age 67) for the presidency, and referred to him as "Granny," hinting that he was senile (lost his mental capacity). Said one Democratic newspaper: "Give him a barrel of hard cider, and ... a pension of two thousand [dollars] a year ... and ... he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin."

Whigs, eager to deliver what the public wanted, took advantage of this and declared that Harrison was "the log cabin and hard cider candidate," a man of the common people from the rough-and-tumble West. They depicted Harrison's opponent, President Martin Van Buren, as a wealthy snob who was out of touch with the people. In fact, it was Harrison who came from a wealthy, prominent family while Van Buren was from a poor, working family.

But the election was during the worst economic depression to date, and voters blamed Van Buren, seeing him as unsympathetic to struggling citizens. Harrison campaigned vigorously and won. After giving the longest inauguration speech (about 1 hour, 45 minutes) in U.S. history, Harrison served only one month as president before dying of pneumonia on April 4, 1841.