Tippecanoe and Tyler Too and Tecumseh’s Curse
This week I’m spending some time lounging on the beach with a cold drink and my lovely wife, Michele. The relaxing ambiance is simply not conducive to thinking about crooked politicians or social ills, so as a respite from current events in our nation’s capitol, I will regale you with a story about one of my favorite subjects from presidential history, William Henry Harrison. President Harrison was a character who might have become a household name and one of our greatest leaders if he had only stayed around long enough. The shrewd and charismatic former soldier was well known throughout the new nation as one who helped to open up the west (that being what is now Ohio and Indiana) for settlers and as a hero in the French and Indian War. He is credited with running the first modern political campaign…that is, his campaign was very shrewdly managed, and introduced image-management and manipulation of the public into politics…just as it is today! Also like today, his campaign was heavy on creating an image and very light on substance. Songs and slogans replaced discussing issues.
One of his famous slogans “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” came from part of Harrison’s distinguished career as a soldier before getting into politics. In 1811, at the direction of President Thomas Jefferson, then Colonel Harrison led his troops against the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh at his village on the Tippecanoe River in what is now northern Indiana. Harrison destroyed the village and soon opened the region for new settlers. He acquired the nickname “Ole Tippecanoe” from his victory over the Shawnee. The “Tyler” part of the slogan was for John Tyler, his running mate.
Harrison and Tecumseh weren’t finished fighting. Tecumseh joined forces with the British in the War of 1812. In a battle on the US/Canadian border, with the British and Tecumseh’s warriors fighting Harrison’s troops, Tecumseh was killed, reportedly from a ricocheted bullet.
Now fast forward 24 years to the 1836 Presidential race. Harrison was considering entering the race for the Presidency. Chief Tecumseh had a brother whose name is an unpronounceable ten or twelve syllables, but who was known as “The Prophet.” When The Prophet heard that his hated enemy Harrison, the man whom he blamed for his brother’s death, was running for President, he placed a curse on the man and on the office.
This is what “The Prophet” said in 1836: “If Harrison runs for President this year he will not win, but if he runs next time (which would be in 1840) he will win. If he becomes “Great Chief” of your people, he will die while he is in office. When he dies, you should remember my brother, Tecumseh. After Harrison dies, each Great Chief elected every 20 years will also die while in office. When they die, you should remember my slain people.”
Now, there are curses and then there are curses, but this one was a doozie! Here is what happened:
- Harrison was elected in 1840. He only served 31 days before he died of illness.
- Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, and was assassinated in office.
- James Garfield was elected in 1880, and was assassinated in office.
- William McKinley was elected in 1900, and was assassinated in office.
- Warren G. Harding was elected in 1920, and died of a probable heart attack in office.
- Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1940, and died of illness while in office.
- John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, and was assassinated in office.
- Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, and was shot by a would-be assassin while in office, but he survived the attack. I have read that First Lady Nancy Reagan was aware of the curse before her husband took office, and made certain that ministers and spiritualists were brought in to do everything possible to lift this blight from the presidency. Reagan did many great things while President, but possibly among his greatest deeds was to break “Tecumseh’s Curse” on the Presidency. I don’t know if George W. Bush ever thanked the Reagan’s, but since he was elected in 2000, he owes them a great debt for relieving him of facing the curse.
I’m not certain why my teachers, both high school and college, passed up telling us this story in lieu of teaching us things like, “The Battle of the Bulge started on December 16, 1944 and lasted until January 25, 1945.” I have always thought that stories like “Tecumseh’s Curse” made history much more interesting and presented historical figures in a light that made them a little less iconic and more like the rest of us. To throw in just a little present day political speculation, consider this:
Barack Obama is from Chicago, which is not too far from the Tippecanoe River and the historical home of Tecumseh and the Shawnee. Do you think it is possible that, unknown to American voters and, naturally, unreported by the leftist press, some latter day Indian shaman placed a curse on Obama and all the generations subsequent to his presidency?
I suspect the curse went something like this…”If Obama is elected Great Chief of America, he will create a national debt that is sufficient to crush the economy, cause massive unemployment, devastate the housing and stock markets, and destroy all semblance of the American way of life. The children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the generation of Obama will labor hopelessly against the national tragedy he creates. ”
Sorry to end on such a glum note. Enjoy your week! I’m about to take a brief break from the beach and take my lovely wife out for a sumptuous lunch at Chick-fil-A, a place where all Americans can speak their mind without fear of censorship from the evil left.