Description

    William Henry Harrison Excellent Autograph Letter Signed: The "Log Cabin and Hard Cider" candidate elected President in 1840 writes in 1834, "I would most cheerfully give one third of all the property I have in the world to put an entire Stop to the Manufacture & the sale of ardent Spirits in our Country."

    Signed: "W. H. Harrison", one page, 7.75" x 6.25". North Bend, May 20, 1834. To Rufus Hodges. In full: "Dear Sir, Your friendly letter of the 17th was delivered to me last evening. The state of my business will not permit me to attend the Meeting of your Society on Friday next to perform the honourable part which has been assigned to me in the contemplated proceedings. I assure you however that you do me justice in supposing that I am an ardent friend to the cause of temperance. I would most cheerfully give one third of all the property I have in the world to put an entire Stop to the Manufacture & the sale of ardent Spirits in our Country. The Societies which have been established have done & will no doubt continue to do much good it is however to the Legislature we must look for measures that will be competent to eradicate the evil. I will most heartily unite in any attempt that may be made upon that body to induce them to act promptly and effectively in the matter. With great respect I am, Dr Sir, your Huml Servt"

    During the Indian wars of 1794, 23-year-old Lieutenant William H. Harrison, aide-de-camp to General Anthony Wayne, observed, firsthand, numerous murders and other crimes committed by drunken Indians. As Territorial Governor of Indiana and Superintendent of Indian Affairs (1800-1813), Harrison persuaded his legislature to ban the sale or trade of liquor to Indians.

    Rufus Hodges was the Recording Secretary of the Hamilton County Temperance Society which had been organized in 1833 as an auxiliary to the Ohio State Temperance Society formed in 1821. By 1835, over one million Americans belonged to temperance societies. After President Harrison's death, with the permission of the Harrison family, a committee of 11 men, including Rufus Hodges, arrived in Washington, D.C., and accompanied Harrison's body to its final resting place in North Bend, Ohio.

    Harrison's belief that "it is to the Legislature we must look for measures that will be competent to eradicate the evil" was temporarily successful. From the late 1830s to the 1850s, Ohio and other state legislatures across the country passed prohibition laws but they were vetoed by the governors, found unconstitutional by the state supreme courts or repealed by future state legislatures.

    On December 14, 1835, a year and a half after Harrison wrote this letter, at a state convention in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Whigs nominated Harrison for President, and, in the next few months, other Whig state conventions followed suit. But New England Whigs nominated Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster and, in the south, Tennessee Senator Hugh L. White and North Carolina Senator Willie P. Mangum received nominations. In the election of 1836, President Jackson's Vice President, Democrat Martin Van Buren, easily defeated his three Whig opponents, winning 170 electoral votes and 15 states, to Harrison's 73 votes from seven states, White's 26 votes from Tennessee and Georgia, Webster's 14 votes from Massachusetts and Mangum's 11 votes from South Carolina.

    Four years later, the Whigs met again in Harrisburg, and this time it was at its first national convention. William Henry Harrison was nominated for President. The Democrats renominated President Martin Van Buren. As the campaign began, Van Buren supporters mocked Harrison, calling the 67-year-old War of 1812 General "Old Granny," accusing him of senility and not having the energy to inspire the people. A pro-Van Buren newspaper in Baltimore editorialized about the Whig nominee: "Give him a barrel of hard cider, and settle a pension of $2,000 a year, and our word for it he will sit the remainder of his days contented in a log cabin by the side of a 'sea coal' fire." Whigs took advantage of this and, even though Harrison was a teetotaler and would never drink hard cider, an alcoholic drink, and his home looked nothing like a log cabin, they declared that Harrison was "the log cabin and hard cider candidate," a man of the common people. They depicted Van Buren as a wealthy snob who was out of touch with the people. The truth was, it was Harrison who came from a wealthy, prominent Virginia family (his father had been Governor of Virginia and signed the Declaration of Independence) while Van Buren was from a poor, upstate New York working family (his father was a farmer and innkeeper). Log cabins and, much to Harrison's displeasure, cider barrels adorned belt buckles, clothing buttons, drinking glasses, metal tokens, bandanas, ribbons, and spoons. Even in Van Buren's own state, the New York Daily Whig published a letter bemoaning that "Log-Cabin Candidate is the term of reproach given...to General Harrison...[by] pampered office holders...[who] sneer at the idea of making a poor man President of the United States." The Whigs' "Log Cabin and Hard Cider Campaign" was a resounding success. Harrison swept the northeast (except for N.H.) and most of the rest of the nation and was easily elected with 234 electoral votes from 19 states to Van Buren's 60 votes from seven states.

    Harrison's has addressed his letter to "Rufus Hodges, Esq./Cincinnati" on the integral leaf attached at the top edge rather than the customary left edge, "Paid" is handwritten in the upper right, and the docket "Gen. W. H. Harrison/May 20, 1834" is penned vertically at the lower left, probably by Hodges.

    Harrison's powerful condemnation, in this letter, of the manufacture and sale of alcohol as an evil which must be eradicated is in sharp contrast to the false image of an old man drinking hard cider by the fire in his log cabin presented six years later by his opponents in the presidential campaign which, unintentionally, was one of the primary reasons for his victory. This impressive letter is in very fine condition with light stains in the blank lower and upper right of the letter. Concerning one of the major domestic issues of the 19th and early 20th century, this letter would be an important addition to any political or presidential collection. From the Gary Grossman Collection.


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