On April 4, 1841 William Henry Harrison became the first US President to die in office.
Now, the death of a leader is an enormous event at any time, but this was a really big deal.
Not much thought had been put into what the boys in D C would do if the POTUS were to buy the farm, and his death caused a short and not so sweet constitutional crisis. Seems there wasn’t all that much in the Constitution should the President die, and the resolution chosen at the time left many questions unanswered.
As a matter of fact, we really wouldn’t nail it down until 1967 when the 25th Amendment to the Constitution was passed.
You know what they say about sausage and laws!
Harrison and his VP, John Tyler, defeated Martin Van Buren in the 1840 election and Harrison took office on March 4, 1841. Note: the January 20th thing wouldn’t come into play until later on.
Upon his death, John Tyler assumed the office and duties of the Presidency much to the chagrin of most of Washington who referred to him as “His Accidency.”
Politics is a mean game!
Harrison, wanting to show that he was A. still the hero of Tippecanoe, B. wanting to prove he was better educated than most thought, AND C. because he was a windbag, gave an inaugural address to beat them all.
The 8,445 word speech took him nigh on to two hours to read. He wore no overcoat, no hat, and rode to the ceremony on horseback and delivered the still to this day longest inaugural address ever outside on a cold, windy, and wet day.
He went on to attend three balls that evening.
22 days later, he “came down with a cold,” which everyone blamed on the bad weather three weeks before at his inauguration.
His doctors recommended he rest, but he was too busy making America Great Again after the mess
Van Buren had left. Plus there were office seekers day and night trying to get positions in the government, and he being rarely alone, was unable to rest.
The cold turned to pneumonia.
Let me just add, pneumonia sucks. I have fought it since the first of March, been to the doctor three times, and medical definitions aside, all I can say is, “it sucks!”
His doctors tried all modern medical science afforded: applying opium to the chest, castor oil, leeches, and Virginia snakeweed.
Shockingly, these only made things worse. There is no doubt that Granny Clampett could have done a better job!
Nine days after pneumonia set in, he died and his cause of death was listed as pneumonia of the lower lobe of the right lung.
How they knew this I’ve no clue, the invention of X rays being 50+ years in the future.
In 2014, because we have nothing else to spend our tax dollars on, the government did a study and decided he probably died of septic shock due to enteric fever because the White House water supply was downstream from “night soil.”
Please don’t make me explain that.
And…This Just In…He’s still Dead!
His last words were spoken to his physician, but were probably intended for the VEEP. He said, “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.”
After that, he promptly died.
To date, he holds the record for the shortest presidency in American History.
His funeral took place in Cincinnati’s Wesley Chapel and he was interred in North Bend’s William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial.
Mrs. Harrison, the mother of his 10 children, was not as his bedside when he died. She was detained by illness and never resided in the White House, but she was packing for the move to Washington when notified of his death.