War of 1812: Hats off to HarrisonWritten by Frank Kuron | | email@example.com
Once on vacation, my friends and I popped into a little Manhattan hat shop. We all got a kick out of taking on the persona of the different styles as we tried them on. A fine suede number had one friend looking for his horse, pardner. A velvet beret gave his girlfriend a yearning for brushes, paint and a trip to France. I left the shop sporting both a narrow-brimmed straw hat and a newfound Spanish accent, bragging that my coffee was 100 percent Colombian.
Well, due to the heroic wearing of many figurative hats during his career, William Henry Harrison would eventually rise to become the ninth president of the United States. And one of his campaign stops was right here in Perrysburg in 1840.
Before all the presidential politicking began, Harrison wore the governing hats of Ohio State Senator, U.S. Representative and Senator from Ohio, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, and Governor of Indiana. Prior to his governance years, Harrison wore both military and diplomatic hats.
Back in 1791, a young Harrison enlisted into the still adolescent American army at Fort Washington in the new city of Cincinnati. Just three years into his military career, he found himself fighting as an ensign to Mad Anthony Wayne along our Maumee River at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. As Wayne negotiated the peace treaty after that fight, Harrison studied the emotions, tact and personalities involved. Some espouse that Harrison’s most-valued service might have been in the years after this episode, when his diplomat hat was firmly in place. He endured some fiery encounters but negotiated several Indian treaties and diffused many other heated situations throughout our region.
Perhaps his most stellar performances while wearing his military hat occurred right here in our backyards from 1811-13. He was involved in confrontations at Tippecanoe (Indiana), Fort Meigs (Perrysburg), Fort Seneca (Tiffin), Fort Stephenson (Fremont), and finally at the infamous Battle of the Thames (Chatham, Ontario.).
On June 11, 1840, Ol’ Tippecanoe, as he became known after his defeat of Tecumseh’s village along the Indiana river of that name, sailed into Perrysburg aboard the Commodore Perry, and was transported in a two-horse carriage to the ruins of the fort he had defended 27 years earlier. It was a tremendous campaign rally. His was one of the slickest efforts for the highest office to date.
How adroit were Harrison’s spin doctors? Very! First they molded Harrison’s reputation and nickname into one of the first slogans ever used in a presidential race, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” At that time, the country was generally disgruntled with Democrat incumbent Martin Van Buren, many dubbing him Martin Van Ruin because of the depression they were suffering through. (Tricky Dick was not the first derogatory political nickname!)
So, Van Buren, who was a bit of a dandy — dressing in stylish clothes and known to drink fine wine — had to divert the electors’ attention away from his poor record. His handlers thus portrayed Harrison as a backwoods farmer living in a lowly log cabin and preferring cheap hard cider over the good wine of cultured society. Harrison’s spinners took this intended slam and spun it right back, creating the Log Cabin and Hard Cider campaign which successfully toured the country from city to city, including Perrysburg.
The common man ate it up, and drank it up too. Hard cider was freely dispensed to the crowd that day. Harrison’s campaign roadies donned their coonskin caps and proceeded as they did at most rallies, to build a 25-by-40-foot log cabin from local buckeye trees. Harrison, et al., paraded through the streets amid the cheering and singing of the local “Buckeyes,” a term solidified for Ohioans by Harrison’s use of buckeyes extensively in his campaign. Attendees even participated in contests, like bringing to town the largest log. A team from Swanton won with a 50-footer! Finally, there were the speeches, concluding with Harrison’s. This gala event is still celebrated in downtown Perrysburg every September as Harrison Rally Day.
Curiously, Harrison had the shortest presidency in history, dying of pneumonia after only one month in office. This was due in part to his giving the longest inauguration speech in history, nearly two hours, in a blustery snowstorm, without wearing an overcoat, gloves … or a hat!
Frank Kuron is author of the War of 1812 book, “Thus Fell Tecumseh.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.