HARRISON, William H. Letter signed ("W.H. Harrison") AS PRESIDENT to Former Attorney General Benjamin Franklin Butler (1795-1858), Washington, D.C., 5 March 1841. 1 page, 4to (10 x 7 15/16 in.), integral blank with recipient's docket: "President Harrison March 5 1841." In extremely fine condition.
HARRISON IN OFFICE: A SUPERB EXAMPLE OF A LEGENDARY RARITY: ONE OF A VERY FEW LETTERS SIGNED BY THE 9TH PRESIDENT IN HIS SCANT 30 DAYS AS PRESIDENT
HARRISON WRITES THE DAY AFTER HIS INAUGURATION TO BUTLER, THE FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL IN THE JACKSON AND VAN BUREN CABINETS. An excellent example of one of the legendary rarities in the field of American Presidential documents, with interesting political overtones. President Harrison, who achieved national fame as the victor over Chief Tecumseh in the Battle of Tippecanoe (1811) and the Battle of the Thames (1813), campaigned as the candidate of the western frontier with the memorable slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." Elected in the first modern Presidential campaign over the unpopular Martin Van Buren, Jackson's hand-picked successor, he died in office after a lingering illness a month after his inauguration, having served the shortest term of any of the 43 Presidents. Here, writing the day after his ill-starred inauguration, at which he may have contracted his fatal illness, he responds to Butler's recent letter of resignation: "Sir, Your resignation of the Office of Attorney of the United States for the Southern District of New York is received. Permit me to thank you for the offer to continue in the discharge of the duties of the Office until I can appoint your Successor and to request that you will do so."
The political implications of this, no doubt one of Harrison's first official acts as President, are of considerable interest. Butler, a successful New York attorney, was a Jacksonian Democrat and the former law partner of Martin Van Buren. He had been appointed Attorney General of the U.S. in 1833 at the suggestion of Van Buren and, despite his desire to return to New York and his practice, had agreed to continue at that post until 1838. At that time, he acccepted the influential appointment as Attorney for the Southern District of New York. With the victory of Harrison (who even carried Van Buren's home state of New York), Butler obviously anticipated his inevitable replacement by a Whig appointee and submitted his resignation just before Harrison took office.
LETTERS AND DOCUMENTS SIGNED BY HARRISON AS PRESIDENT ARE OF THE GREATEST RARITY. The day before this letter, after being sworn in as Chief Executive, the 68-year-old Harrison had delivered what is still the longest inaugural address of any President, a massive, rambling speech which took an hour and 40 minutes to read. The day was chilly, with a brisk wind blowing. Harrison wore no coat, hat, or gloves. A bit later the same day, while walking, he was drenched in a sudden rainshower. Predictably, he caught a cold, and took to his bed. His physician, Dr. Thomas Miller, diagnosed the President's condition as "bilious pleurisy" (a sever form of pneumonia). As his condition steadily worsened, the signing of appointments slowed to a trickle, then ceased, as did his correspondence. According to reports, Harrison began to drift in and out of reality, and experienced fever hallucinations. Finally, on April 4, 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 is the only President to have died in the White House.
In the last quarter century only 8 Harrison documents as President (simple appointments, at least one undated), one letter signed (the present example) and one autograph letter signed have been offered at auction. (To which must be added two documents signed and a single ALS, sold privately.) The Forbes Collection contained multiple examples including two documents signed (both sold at Christie's: an order to affix the seal, sold 15 December 1995, lot 179, $70,000; and a ship's passport, sold 17 May 1996, lot 136, $75,000). The most recent example offered for sale, from the Coyne Collection, was a pardon (sale, Sotheby's, 5 June 2001, lot 119, $126,750).
Provenance: George Pollack (sale, Daniel F. Kelleher, 11 March 1982, lot 92).