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HARRISON, William Henry. Autograph letter signed (signature clipped away), AS PRESIDENT-ELECT and AS PRESIDENT, to his wife Anne Harrison, "White House," Washington, 4 and 5 March 1841. 3 pages, 4to, a small strip (1/2 x 2¼ in.) cut from bottom edge of first leaf, neatly mended but with loss of signature and several words on verso, very slight fold tears discreetly reinforced, otherwise in excellent condition.
HARRISON, William Henry. Autograph letter signed (signature clipped away), AS PRESIDENT-ELECT and AS PRESIDENT, to his wife Anne Harrison, "White House," Washington, 4 and 5 March 1841. 3 pages, 4to, a small strip (1/2 x 2¼ in.) cut from bottom edge of first leaf, neatly mended but with loss of signature and several words on verso, very slight fold tears discreetly reinforced, otherwise in excellent condition.

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HARRISON, William Henry. Autograph letter signed (signature clipped away), AS PRESIDENT-ELECT and AS PRESIDENT, to his wife Anne Harrison, "White House," Washington, 4 and 5 March 1841. 3 pages, 4to, a small strip (1/2 x 2¼ in.) cut from bottom edge of first leaf, neatly mended but with loss of signature and several words on verso, very slight fold tears discreetly reinforced, otherwise in excellent condition.

THE ULTIMATE PRESIDENTIAL RARITY: A HARRISON AUTOGRAPH LETTER AS PRESIDENT

HARRISON TO HIS WIFE, ON THE DAY OF HIS INAUGURATION AND THE DAY AFTER, DESCRIBING HIS FIRST NIGHT IN THE WHITE HOUSE

The most poignant and certainly the richest content Presidential letter of the unfortunate William Henry Harrison, a letter acquired by Forbes directly from descendants of the 9th President and hitherto entirely unpublished (and never previously offered at auction). Despite the barbaric excision of Harrison's familiar signature by an ignorant collector (probably in the 19th century), this letter provides a most remarkable and intimate portrayal of the ill-starred 9th President. Written at two sittings, it spans the momentous 24-hours when Harrison made the transition from President-elect to President, mentioning the completion of his inaugural address, the excitement in the capital (Washington "is overflowing with people"), describing the inaugural carriage and his first (sleepless) night in the presidential mansion, with its "imposing" furniture. Harrison was to serve the shortest term of any President, dying--of pneumonia probably contracted at the Inaugural ceremonies mentioned here --on April 4, 1841, after a mere one month in office.

Only a few hours before the ceremonies began, Harrison writes to his wife (who was not present for the Inauguration as she was attending the birth of a grandchild): "I have just risen at the dawn of day & having paid my devotions to my Maker & asked his blessings on my endeavors to perform the important duties which this day devolve upon me." Knowing that as President he will have the right of free-franking his letters, "I have sat down to write to you, being determined to avail myself of the priviledge [sic] of franking first in a letter to you." Washington has filled with spectators for the event: "Everything is still around me altho' the city is overflowing with people, & there will be in it by 12 o'clock thousands of others." Concerning his health he writes "I have been...unwell for two days (altho' my general health is excellent, & I am much fatter than when I left home) but this morning I feel quite well, & its well that it is so for I have much fatigue to go through before night...."

The Inaugural address is finished: "I was two days at Berkley and slept in my mother's room and there wrote the last of my Inaugural speech which some of my friends think the best part of it." He adds news of family members whom he has visited in Virginia, and mentions that "my sister Sally's daughters...are both married to wealthy men and I was never with more agreeable people...very pious and humble..." He reports that "Mrs. K and son are here," and "I am going at 8 o'clock to take them to the White House...."

The President-elect exclaims over his new celebrity: "The people shower presents on me. I have no less than five suits of cloth of the very finest cloth...The carriage [in which he is to ride to the Inauguration] arrived yesterday & is, notwithstanding plain in appearance, the finest piece of workmanship ever done in America...." He lists certain articles he wants his son, John Scott Harrison, to send to him as soon as possible at the White House, including "some bacon hams," all "directed to the care of Thomas Finley of Baltimore...." He concludes: "I am obliged to finish my letter, but will write again in a few days. I want you to come on as soon as you can [Mrs. Harrison had been attending a sick relative] for many reasons. I will send you some money in a few days. My love to all & kisses to the children your affectionate husband..."

Heading a new page "White House, 5th March," Harrison--now the 9th President--resumes his letter: "I followed up this letter yesterday morning & intended to have sent it to the Post Office after the Inauguration but was kept employed until after the mail hour." He passes additional instructions on to his son Scott, then describes his first night in the White House: "I have slept one night in this house or rather I have been in bed for one night but I slept but little. The room is a very fine one & all the furniture imposing..." He mentions friends who are present including "Ben Harrison & his son Henry who is to be my private secretary," and notes "the latter is a young man of the finest character and attainments, but he unfortunately stammers so that I think it will be impossible for him to deliver a message to Congress."

In fact, there would be no messages from President Harrison to Congress. The day of his Inauguration was chilly and blustery. After taking the oath of office the 68-year-old Harrison delivered what is still the longest inaugural address, a rambling speech that took an hour and 40 minutes to read. Harrison wore neither hat, coat, nor gloves. A bit later, a sudden shower drenched him. Predictably, Harrison fell ill and eventually took to his bed with what his doctor termed "bilious pleurisy." As his condition steadily declined, he signed fewer and fewer appointments and wrote no letters. Finally, on 4 April he uttered his last words: "I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more." Harrison remains the sole president to die in the White House (probably in the bed and in the room mentioned in this letter), and his demise led to the first application of Article 2, section 1 of the Constitution, providing for the succession of the Vice-President.

In the last quarter century a handful of Harrison presidential documents have been sold at auction: 8 documents (mostly appointments), one letter signed and one autograph letter signed. This therefore constitutes ONE OF ONLY TWO EXTANT PRESIDENTIAL AUTOGRAPH LETTERS OF HARRISON, and is the only one to mention his ill-starred inauguration or the White House. The other autograph letter signed, dated 10 March, complaining about office-seekers, was also part of the Forbes Collection (sale, Christie's, 9 October 2002, lot 75, $273,500).
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