HARRISON, William Henry, President. Autograph endorsement as President, n.p. [Washington, D.C.], ca. 31 March 1841, comprising five lines on the cover sheet of a letter to Harrison from William M.K. Lambdin, Wheeling, Virginia, 17 March 1841. 2 pages, 4to. [With:] Address leaf (neatly separated from letter) addressed to "Gen. W.H. Harrison President of the U.S.," marked in red ink "free," red circular "Wheeling Va." datestamp, small seal hole, neatly double-matted and enclosed in a fine giltwood frame.
LESS THAN A WEEK BEFORE HIS UNTIMELY DEATH, HARRISON ENDORSES A REQUEST FOR AN APPOINTMENT
Harrison's endorsement, boldly written across the address panel of the cover sheet, reads: "Wm. Lambdin wants a commission in the Army or Navy for his brother Oliver Spencer Lambdin." On the flap, in a secretary's hand is a record of the date the letter was answered: March 31, 1841. Lambdin's deferential letter gives a detailed account of his brother's service at sea and in the army, and expresses the hope that, since "there is now some prospect of usefulness under your administration, my brother respectfully desires you to give him a commission..." He adds, on behalf of his father, "congratulations upon your auspicious entry upon the duties of the Chief Magistracy of our beloved Country....Prayers will not be withheld for the success of the measures of your administration...."
Harrison, though, would not long carry out the duties of the "Chief Magistracy." Less than a week after the present letter was answered, Harrison died, on April 4, as a direct result of his inaugural day activities. Exactly a month earlier, he had delivered what is still the longest Presidential inaugural address, a massive, rambling speech that took an hour and 40 minutes. The day was chilly, with a brisk wind. Harrison wore no coat, hat, or gloves. Later the same day, while walking, he was drenched in a 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 severe form of pneumonia). As his condition steadily worsened, the signing of appointments slowed to a trickle, then ceased, as did his correspondence. (It is quite possible that the wavering hand of this endorsment reflects his worsening condition.) 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 dozen or so Harrison documents signed as President have been offered at auction. Most were simple DS, sometimes undated, plus one LS and one ALS. (Several examples have changed hands privately.) The Forbes Collection contained two DS (Christie's, 15 December 1995, lot 179, $70,000; and 17 May 1996, lot 136, $75,000); plus a fine LS (Christie's, 27 March 2002, lot 63 $127,000) and one of the only known ALS, dated 10 March 1841 (Christie's, 9 October 2002, lot 75, $273,500).
Provenance: Creighton C. Hart