DESCRIPTION: "The times are bad and want curing, They're getting past all enduring, Let us turn out old Martin Van Buren, And put in old Tippicanoe." A political song, this piece points out the depressed economic conditions and Tippicanoe's humble origins.
EARLIEST DATE: 1940 (Warner)
KEYWORDS: political hardtimes derivative
Dec 2, 1840 - William Henry Harrison defeats Martin Van Buren
Mar 4, 1841 - Harrison (the first Whig to be elected President) is inaugurated. He gives a rambling inaugural address in a rainstorm and catches cold
April 4, 1841 - Harrison dies of pneumonia, making him the first president to fail to complete his term. After some hesitation, Vice President John Tyler is allowed to succeed as President
FOUND IN: US(NE)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Warner 73, "Old Tippecanoe" (1 text, 1 tune)
ST Wa073 (Full)
cf. "We Won't Go Home Until Morning" (tune) and references there
cf. "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" (subject)
cf. "Tippecanoe" (subject)
cf. "Harrison Campaign Song" (subject)
NOTES [914 words]: When Andrew Jackson stepped down as President, he hand-chose Martin Van Buren as his successor. It was Van Buren's misfortune to suffer the consequences of Jackson's questionable economic policies (Jameson, p. 480). May 10 is traditionally considered the first day of the Panic of 1837, in which hundreds of banks failed. Almost all halted specie payment at least for a while (Morison, p. 455). The economic consequences lasted until the early 1840s, and made Van Buren, and indeed the whole Democratic party, extremely unpopular.
Harrison's campaign, on the Whig ticket, was far from honest. (Morison, p. 456, calls the election of 1840 the "jolliest and most idiotic presidential contest in our history"). He ran as a frontiersman (his election strategy is referred to as the "Log Cabin and Cider" campaign) even though he was a southern aristocrat -- born in Virginia (DeGregorio, p. 139) although he spent much of his later life in the Midwest (he was Governor of Indiana Territory 1800-1812 and congressman and senatory from Ohio 1819-1828; DeGregorio, pp. 141-142). As Holt says on p. 106, "William Henry Harrison was neither poor nor the resident of a log cabin." But the Democrats had tried what we would now call negative campaigning, and the Whigs responded by making "log cabins, hard cider, and the accompanying coonskins... the dominant symbols of a symbol-laden campaign."
Holt notes (p. 100) that the Whigs, having been trounced by Van Buren in 1836, had little choice: "Harrison, recognizing the potential damage of [Whig defeats in local elections in 1838-1839], moved astutely to separate himself from the party's loosses and to reemphasize his popularity among non-Whig voters. His message was clear. The Whig part could no longer win on its issues, but Harrison could still win on personal charisma." And he had a point: The Whigs in their roughly two decades of existence (they formed to oppose Jackson and fell apart after the election of 1852) managed to elect only two candidates, both generals: Harrison in 1840 and Zachary Taylor in 1848.
Harrison ran as a successful soldier, even though his only military exploits were the slaughter of Tecumseh's Shawnee and allies on the Tippecanoe River (and that only because Tecumseh himself wasn't present and in his absence the warriors attacked Harrison's defensive position; Mahon, pp. 24-27; also p. 63, which notes that Harrison actually resigned his commission due to the controversy over the battle) and some minor maneuverings on the Great Lakes during the War of 1812 after the Battle of Lake Erie (for which see "James Bird" [Laws A5]) had opened the way.
But it didn't matter; people would have taken anything in preference to Van Buren. This song, sung to the tune of "I Won't Be Home Until Morning/The Bear Went Over the Mountain," betrays the simplistic popular view of the campaign.
To be as fair as I can (probably fairer than Harrison deserves), his exploits against the Indians did open the way for much American expansion. Berton, pp. 53-68, tells how the great Shawnee Tecumseh, and his brother the Prophet, were gradually building a coalition of tribes that might be strong enough to halt American expansion. Harrison was determined to stop it -- and his timing was brilliant: He waited until Tecumseh was too far away to interfere, and then lured the Prophet into battle.
According to Berton, p. 69, "The Battle of Tippecanoe is not the glorious victory that Harrison, down through the years, will proclaim. It is not even a battle, more a minor skirmish, and indecisive, for Harrison, despite his claim, loses far more men than the Indians. Overbolown in the history books, this brief fracas has two significant results: it is the chief means by which Harrison will propel himself into the White House... and, for the Indians, it will be the final incident that provokes them to follow Tecumseh to Canada, there to fight on the British side in the War of 1812.
"Tippecanoe is unnecessary. It is fought only because Harrison needs it to further his own ambitions." Furthering his own ambitions is something at which he was always amazingly successful.
Berton, pp. 75-76, describes the casualties of Tippecanoe as follows: "Harrison has lost almost one-fifth of his force [pf roughly a thousand men].Thirty-seven white corpses lie ssprawled on the battlefield. One hundred and fifty men have been wounded of whom twenty-five will die of their injuries.... No one can be sure how many Indians took part in the skirmish. Nobody know howmany died. Harrison, like most military commanders, overstimates the enemy's losses, declar[ing] that the Prophet's casualties run into the hundreds. This is wishful thinking; only thirty-six Indian corpses are found." Harrison did, however, hold the field, and as a result was able to burn the Prophet's settlement -- and the food supplies left there; he may have caused more casualties by starvation than he did in the battle.
But he also increased Tecumseh's desire for blood, and Tecumseh was a much more formidable leader than his brother the Prophet could ever hope to be.
The 1840 election was full of rather silly campaign songs; Holt, p. 106, quotes another:
Farewell, dear Van,
You're not our man;
To guide the ship
We'll try old Tip.
According to Holt, p. 111, the Democrats responded with
Daddy's a Whig,
Before he comes home
Hard Cider he'll swig.
Then he'll be Tipsy
And over he'll fall;
Down will come Daddy,
Tip, Tyler and all. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Berton: Pierre Berton, The Invasion of Canada [Volume I], 1812-1813, Atlantic-Little Brown, 1980
- DeGregorio: William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U. S. Presidents, fourth edition, Barricade Books, 1993
- Holt: Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War, Oxford, 1999
- Jameson: J. Franklin Jameson's Dictionary of United States History 1492-1895, Puritan Press, 1894
- Mahon: John K. Mahon, The War of 1812, 1972 (I used the undated Da Capo paperback edition)
- Morison: Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People (Oxford, 1965)
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