Old William Henry Harrison was the first president to campaign actively for office. He did so as the candidate for the new Whig party against President Martin Van Buren, who up until then was a cool-as-cucumber master political tactician. But the economy had gone to pot, and Harrison had a few tricks up his sleeves, not least of which the now-famous slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too."
The populist Whigs, eager to deliver what the public wanted, took advantage of this and declared that Harrison was "the log cabin and hard cider candidate," a man of the common people from the rough-and-tumble West. They depicted Harrison's opponent, President Martin Van Buren, as a wealthy elitist who was out of touch with the people. In fact, it was Harrison who came from a wealthy, prominent family while Van Buren was from a poor, working family.
But as the election was during the worst economic depression to date stemming from the Panic of 1837, and voters blamed Van Buren, seeing him as unsympathetic to struggling citizens. Harrison campaigned vigorously and won. After giving the longest inauguration speech (about 1 hour, 45 minutes) in U.S. history, Harrison served only one month as president before dying of pneumonia on April 4, 1841. People attribute his death to his inaugural speech, saying he caught it while speaking in the rain. That wasn’t the case, however, as he didn’t start getting sick until a few weeks after the inauguration.
A medical analysis made in 2014, based on the notes from the President’s doctor and other records showing the White House water supply being downstream of public sewage, concluded that he likely died of septic shock due to enteric fever. Harrison became the first President to die in office, and to this day served the shortest term.
The image on this shirt is produced from genuine 1840 campaign material sourced from our friends at the United States Library of Congress.