HARRISON, William Henry (1773-1841), President. Autograph letter signed ("W.H. Harrison") AS PRESIDENT, to Charles Macalester (1798-1873, of Gaw, Macalester & Company, bankers), Washington, 24 March 1841.
1¼ pages, 4to, integral address leaf with recipient's docket: "W.H. Harrison . Prest. of the United States March 24, 1841 Received 25th." In exceptionally fine, fresh condition.
A NEWLY DISCOVERED AUTOGRAPH LETTER OF HARRISON, IN SUPERB CONDITION, WRITTEN ELEVEN DAYS BEFORE HIS DEATH IN OFFICE
The unfortunate Harrison served the shortest term of any President, dying--of pneumonia contracted at the elaborate Inaugural ceremonies--on April 4, 1841, after a mere one month in office. 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 on record, 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 virtually 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, and his demise led to the first application of Article 2, section 1 of the Constitution, providing for the succession of the Vice-President.
Here, obviously annoyed, and writing in a noticeably shaky hand, Harrison scrawls a letter concerning his troubled financial affairs.
INDENT WHOLE LETTER "My dear Sir, There are other grounds upon which the Agents of the Bank of the U. S. if they had the right even to make the ruinous & unjust charge of double instead on my indorsement [sic] debt like those I inumerated [sic] in my former letter, viz. 1st No exertion whatever was used to obtain the debt of Thomson, Neal[?] the surviving partner. Every body behind that there was left by J.N. a considerable property either as his own or belonging to the firm knowing that I was solvent. The agent was satisfied when he fixed the responsibility upon me & escaped the trouble & risk of expense in searching for the means of payment from those from whom the debt was due. 2nd. Burnet Lindlay & Harrison paid a debt to the Bank of $60,000 in lands out of the sale of which it is believed the Bank made at least one Hundred from [illigible] out of the sales."
"But at any rate my friend I will not pay the claim of Compound interest. All my friends here, men of the highest standing in Society, insist that I shall not do it. I had no hand in the appt. of M-- but to sanction it. Had I known that he was offended & another wanted the Appt. who was struggling for eminence & of talents to fill the office properly he should have received it. Let me know when I may wish you joy. Yours truly W.H. Harrison."
The recipient, Charles Macalester, was the son of a Philadelphia banker and ship-owner. The son spent some years in frontier Cincinnati, whence his connection with Harrison may have begun. He was named a director of the second Bank of the United States in 1834, 1835 and 1837. In 1835 he was a partner in the banking firm of Gaw, Macalester and Company. Highly successful in his land investments in the northeast and the Midwest, Macalester was an active philanthropist, supporting various educational and charitable institutions; he donated the land in Minneapolis on which Macalester College is situated.
In the last quarter century a handful of Harrison presidential documents have been sold at auction: 8 documents (mostly appointments), one letter signed and no more than two autograph letters signed. This letter, PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN, constitutes ONE OF ONLY THREE EXTANT PRESIDENTIAL AUTOGRAPH LETTERS OF HARRISON. One letter, dated 10 March, complaining about office-seekers, was part of the Forbes Collection (sale, Christie's, 9 October 2002, lot 75, $273,500), as was another to his wife dated 4-5 March 1841, unfortunately with Harrison's signature clipped away (sale, Christie's, 15 November 2005, lot 58, $262,400).
Provenance: Charles Macalester (1798-1873)--by descent to his great-great grandson, the present owner, resident in Spain.