Election 1840 – Ohio Was Battleground Then Too

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The season of politicking is with us once again. As the capital of the state of Ohio, Columbus and the area around it probably sees more politics and politicians – national, state and local – in an average year than most other places of comparable size. But every four years, the pace picks up as presidential candidates join the fray as well. For the past several years, national political figures have come early and often to Ohio.

And it is not hard to see why. Ohio has been particularly important to the success or failure of presidential candidates in the past few years and shows every sign of being important once again.

There is nothing really new about this.

Ohio has been important to presidential politics for a very long time. Virginia has provided America with at least seven Presidents over the years – as has Ohio. There is some dispute over an eighth President. William Henry Harrison was born in Virginia but spent most of his adult life in Ohio. Both states claim him and the debate can get rather heated at times.

If we remember William Henry Harrison at all today it is usually because of his success in battle against Native Americans and during the War of 1812. But in 1840, his campaign for the Presidency changed the way politics was practiced in America.

Harrison had been hoping to be President for quite some time. He felt his claim on the office was at least as good as that of Andrew Jackson – the victor of the Battle of New Orleans – and a two term President.

By 1840, William Henry Harrison – at sixty-eight – was the oldest man ever to seek the office. And with the Democrats previously presiding over a long economic depression, he felt he had a chance to win. But to do that, he and his Whig Party, had to convince America that he was the best man for the office.

They did just that.

A political enemy noted rather derisively that Harrison probably would be happiest swilling from a barrel of hard cider while sitting in his log cabin.

Now Harrison was not all that much of a “swiller” and he never had owned a log cabin in his life. But he soon became the “Log Cabin” candidate.

In February, 1840, 5000 supporters of Harrison gathered in Columbus for a convention. Twenty full bands of music marched through the town to accompany an alcoholically well-lubricated parade which included parade floats consisting of giant canoes carrying forty to eighty men each. One of the canoes featured a portrait of the good general and a forty foot emblem of a Buckeye tree. All of this was undertaken in a driving rain storm and along streets that were nothing but mud.

Harrison won the election, gave what is still the longest inaugural address on record, caught a cold and died a month later. It was the shortest presidency in American history – but one of the best campaigns ever.

It would be followed by many more.

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