Presidential candidate William Henry Harrison defends his conduct at the Battle of the ThamesWilliam Henry Harrison Autograph Letter Signed. Two pages, 7.75" x 12.5", North Bend [Ohio], February 14, 1840, to John O'Fallon. Written nine months before his election as the ninth U.S. president, Harrison writes his former aide de camp concerning allegations made in the Ohio State House of Representatives that he was absent during the Battle of the Thames during the War of 1812. Two months before this letter was written, Harrison was nominated by the Whig Party over Henry Clay and Daniel Webster to be its nominee for president. His nomination and subsequent campaign were based primarily on his status as a war hero, symbolized by the popular campaign slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," relating to his success at the Battle of Tippecanoe. For most of the 19th century, presidential candidates did not publicly campaign for votes. They did work in private to get elected, however, as this letters attests. Any attacks upon his military stature were taken seriously by Harrison and his advisors. This letter exemplifies Harrison's concern and shows his quick response to address such political attacks, instructing his former aide de camp on how to assist in his defense. He blamed supporters of his opponent in the election, President Martin Van Buren, for the "vile slanders."
He writes: "The object of this is of a different character. The friends of the administration believing that their cause is desperate are resorting to...the basest means to prop it up. A continual stream of abuse is poured upon me....What do you think of assertions made in our House of Representatives that I was not in the battle of the Thames but skulked some where & not to be found. Col. Johnston made all the arrangements for the fight, won the Battle & then had magnanimity enough to let me have the credit of it & that thus it comes that the histories makes me the commander when it was in fact Col. Johnston. I having actually not been in the battle. Finding that the most authentic documents are rejected my friends... have written to me to inquire for testimony from some living witnesses. I have named to them yourself, Col. Todd, Major Chambers & John Speed Smith. A letter accordingly will be adopted to you from Moses B. Corwin Esq. of the House of Representatives of Ohio asking you questions collected to show by your answers what I did in relation to the arrangements for the battle & ordering up the Army & what Col. Johnston did. What was the position of the troops, the order of battle & where I was with my staff during the conflict. As you were with me at Tippecanoe & Fort Meigs, also you may insert some remarks upon my conduct on those occasions. If rank cowardice is not attributed to me at both places it comes as near to it as possible. The Speaker of the House doubted whether I have ever been in any danger in any battle in my life. As Mr. Corwin's letter cannot reach by at least six days as soon as this, I wish you to prepare your answers immediately & send it to him without waiting for his letter...time is of great importance & it is necessary that these answers to these vile slanders should be made in the House where they uttered & the legislature will not long continue its session."
Harrison ends his letter on a high note, informing O'Fallon of positive election updates he recently received from Daniel Webster and Governor Edward Everett of Massachusetts: "I receive every day information from all part of the Union stating the triumphant support of our cause. Mr. Clay says that so great a change of public sentiment in so short a period was never known. Letters received both from Mr. Webster & Gov. Everett declare that I will receive from 10 to 15000 majority in their state."
Despite Democratic attacks on his war record, Harrison won the 1840 presidential election by a landslide of 170 electoral votes. An important letter demonstrating the Whig presidential candidate's ability to protect his reputation against attacks by his political opponents. He only lived a month after his inauguration, however, to become the first American president to die in office. From the Estate of Malcolm S. Forbes.
Condition: The letter has vertical and horizontal folds, with a small piece missing at the right-hand top corner and chips of loss along the left-hand margin. The bottom of the letter has several small tears and one long one that covers the bottom quarter of the letter; there are two small tears on the right and left hand edges at the middle of the letter. All tears have been repaired by tape on the reverse side of the letter. There is no loss of text.
John O'Fallon (1791-1865) was born in Kentucky and joined the U.S. Army in 1811. He served in the War of 1812 and was wounded in the Battle of Tippecanoe under General William Henry Harrison. During the war he served under Harrison during the siege of Fort Meigs and the attack on Detroit. After the war O'Fallon became a merchant and a lawyer. In 1828, he was named the first president of the St. Louis branch of the Bank of the United States. He was an active Whig and worked hard for Harrison's election in the campaign of 1840.
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