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In American politics, often the key to a winning campaign is a witty phrase, saying, or motto. In 1840, this was no different. The 1840 presidential campaign was one of the most fascinating in American history. That year, for the first time, a member of the Whig Party was elected president. William Henry Harrison became the ninth president of the United States, and he did so with a winning campaign slogan: 'Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.'
The origins of this phrase are linked with William Henry Harrison's background. Born in Virginia, Harrison joined the army at a young age and served in the Northwest Territory, fighting against Native American tribes. His services in modern day Ohio and Indiana led to a political career. In 1799, he became a Congressional delegate representing the Northwest Territory. He became the governor of the Indiana Territory in 1801, further increasing his profile.
As governor, Harrison negotiated and signed numerous treaties with Native American tribes. It was during his tenure that the Shawnee tribe began rebelling and resisting against U.S. expansion and oversight. Harrison had negotiated to acquire significant lands from the Miami tribe, and the Shawnee thought some of that land rightfully belonged to them. In 1810, the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh led a terse negotiation with Harrison to attempt to reclaim some of their lands. The discussions did not go well and it appeared an Indian war was on Harrison's hands.
In 1811, after being given permission to do so by the Secretary of War, Harrison led a small army of 1,000 men toward the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers, where several Native American tribes had formed their camps in a confederation. On November 6, 1811 Native American warriors attacked Harrison's force, and the Battle of Tippecanoe was fought. Harrison's American troops defeated the Indian warriors. The battle was fought near the Native American camp Prophetstown. It helped to secure parts of Indiana and Ohio for those states and their American settlers.
Harrison's victory at Tippecanoe catapulted him into even greater fame. He became a general in the War of 1812, a U.S. Senator from Ohio, and entered into presidential politics in the 1830s. In 1840, the newly formed Whig Party was looking to win its first national election, having put forward only regional candidates in the presidential election of 1836, and choose Harrison to carry forward their banner. He accepted the position as the party's nominee.
During the 1840 campaign, many attacks against Harrison were based on his age. Democrats tried as hard as they could to paint him as too old for the office of president. They also decried him as a political general and an uneducated backwoodsman. In contrast, the Whigs tried to highlight various aspects of Harrison's personality and background. His military service was a perfect example for Whigs to fall back on to refute the Democrat attacks.
Despite Harrison being born to a wealthy family in Virginia, he had spent numerous years in the Northwest Territory, Indiana, and Ohio fighting against Native Americans and the British. The Whigs would play up the rougher aspects of Harrison's personality. When Democrats claimed Harrison only wanted to sit around in a log cabin and drink hard cider, the Whigs claimed he was a frontiersman of the people and, thus, the log cabin and hard cider campaign began.
The 1840 campaign became, in many ways, a contest of personalities. While the Whigs nominated Harrison, the Democrats ran incumbent President Martin Van Buren. Van Buren was hampered by a bad economy and negative effects left over from the Andrew Jackson presidency.
Harrison and the Whigs did everything they could to overcome Van Buren, using personality and slogans to their fullest effect. For vice president, the Whigs chose John Tyler, also from Virginia and a conservative Whig, to balance out the ticket. Harrison had already been referred to by some during the campaign as 'Old Tippecanoe.' Now, with John Tyler as his vice president, the phrase 'Tippecanoe and Tyler Too' was born. It became an enormously famous, popular, and effective slogan. It harkened back to Harrison's victory over the Shawnee at Tippecanoe in 1811, the basis for his career as a general and politician, reminding the people of his successes in the past on the frontier.
During the campaign, 'Tippecanoe and Tyler Too' was even transformed into a song. Alexander Coffman Ross, a Whig in Ohio, wrote the song, and it debuted at a Whig campaign meeting in Ohio. Because the song was never copyrighted, it spread like wildfire, and Ross had a difficult time establishing ownership over it. The song's lyrics praised Harrison and his running mate Tyler, relying upon the phrase 'Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.' It also mocked and denigrated Van Buren, the incumbent Democrat running for reelection.
Ultimately, 'Tippecanoe and Tyler Too' proved a winning ticket. Harrison won the presidency with a strong margin in late 1840. Unfortunately, when he took office in 1841, Harrison only served a few weeks before dying from pneumonia. Tyler, the man whose name had rounded out one of the most famous campaign slogans in American history, was launched into the presidency. For the first time in American history, the vice president became the president because of death. Tyler disagreed with some of his party's positions, and Whigs in Congress were frustrated that they could not control Tyler and the presidency.
Tyler's presidency would go down as one of the most ineffective and combative in American history. While his name had been a part of a promising campaign slogan, Harrison's death led to an ineffective administration under Tyler. The phrase 'Tippecanoe and Tyler Too' reminds us today that in the 1800s electoral politics in America were very much a broad competition involving all of society and, as it is today, having a witty, succinct campaign slogan was a vital part of American electoral politics.
Whig Party candidate William Henry Harrison and his running mate John Tyler won the 1840 presidential election thanks in part to their effective campaign slogan, 'Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.' The slogan referenced Harrison's military career, including his victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Though the people were excited about the Harrison presidency, it didn't last long.
President Harrison died of pneumonia just a few weeks after taking office. Tyler took his place, becoming the first vice president to succeed a deceased president, but his combative nature led to what historians regard as one of the most ineffective presidencies in American history. Still, the legacy of the 1840 campaign remains important, and you can remember that whenever you hear a pithy slogan during election season.
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Back To CourseAP US History: Tutoring Solution
29 chapters | 360 lessons
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