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Tippecanoe and Tyler Too: Meaning, History & Significance

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  • 0:01 1840 Presidential Campaign
  • 0:35 Tippecanoe
  • 2:14 Harrison's Political Career
  • 3:57 The Slogan
  • 6:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
'Tippecanoe and Tyler Too' was a campaign slogan for William Henry Harrison and John Tyler in the presidential election of 1840. It helped to catapult the Whig Party to the presidency for the first time in American history.

The 1840 Presidential Campaign

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.'

Tippecanoe

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 Political Career

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.

The Slogan

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.

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