HARRISON, William Henry (1773-1841), President. Letter signed ("W. H. Harrison"), to John Taylor, Cornelius Hansen, Millard Fillmore, and John Jay, Cincinnati, 20 February 1836. 3 pages, 4to.
HARRISON'S LETTER OF ACCEPTANCE TO THE WHIG PARTY NOMINATING CONVENTION IN NEW YORK
A very rare example of a 19th-century Presidential candidate's letter of acceptance to his party. Before there were televised conventions, banks of cameras a teleprompter, candidates for the nation's highest office signaled their acceptance with ceremonial letters like this one, which Harrison penned to the leaders of the Whig Party conclave in New York. The medium was different, but the purpose was similar to today's convention addresses. The nominee's positive attributes are asserted with due modesty; the contrast with the lamentable qualities of the opponent made abundantly clear. It's interesting to see Harrison trying to wrap himself in the mantle of the first soldier-president, George Washington, and to decry the poisonous influence of faction. He promises to "carry into the chair of the Chief Magistracy a mind uninfluenced by the passions and the prejudices which the heat and violence of the late contests have unfortunately produced." From his tranquil retirement, Harrison "could not fail to remark that the spirit of party was daily increasing; that it had reached a degree much beyond that which had been considered wholesome and sanative for free Governments, and that from its rapid progress and increasing violence, it was approximating the point where nothing would be considered right which had a tending to arrest its march."
The Whigs made the unconventional choice in 1836 of running three candidates, normally a recipe for disaster. But given America's Electoral College system, there was something to be said for it: by running regional favorite sons in the South and New England along with Harrison, the Whig leaders hoped to siphon off enough Democratic votes to deny Van Buren an Electoral College majority, thus throwing the contest into the House of Representatives, where the anti-Jackson men thought they stood a better chance. Harrison certainly would have lost even if all of Daniel Webster's and Hugh Lawson's White's votes had gone to him instead. As it happened, the strategy failed. White carried Tennessee and Georgia, and Webster won Massachusetts. But Van Buren bested Harrison everywhere except for Vermont, a few middle states and part of the Ohio Valley. Harrison's run, however, paved the way for his successful re-match against Van Buren in 1840.