HARRISON, William Henry. Autograph letter signed ("W.H.Harrison") AS PRESIDENT, to R. Buchanan Esq., Washington D.C., 10 March 1841. 2 pages, 4to (10¾ x 7 7/8 in.), integral blank with recipient's docket, numerical inscription (with date of Buchanan's reply) in red ink at top left-hand corner of page 1, otherwise in very fine condition.
THE ULTIMATE PRESIDENTIAL RARITY: AN AUTOGRAPH LETTER OF PRESIDENT HARRISON, WRITTEN JUST AFTER HIS ILL-FATED INAUGURAL CEREMONY: "I AM SO MUCH HARASSED BY THE MULTITUDES THAT CALL UPON ME THAT I CAN GIVE NO PROPER ATTENTION TO ANY BUSINESS OF MY OWN"
THE ONLY AUTOGRAPH PRESIDENTIAL LETTER OF HARRISON EVER TO BE OFFERED AT AUCTION.
A letter written a scant 6 days after Harrison's inauguration as President, at which he is likely to have contracted the illness which resulted in his untimely death only one month later. The new President complains that he is so beseiged with visitors--well-wishers and office-seekers--that he has been unable to attend to his personal financial affairs. Harrison's hurried, oddly garbled letter, full of dropped or duplicated words, asks an attorney to verify his personal indebtedness to the Bank of the United States. Six days before, on a blustery, unseasonably chilly day, after being sworn in as Chief Executive, the 68-year-old Harrison delivered what is still the longest inaugural address of any President, a massive, rambling speech which took an hour and 40 minutes to read. Harrison wore neither coat, hat, or gloves. A bit later the same day, while walking, he was drenched in a sudden rainshower. "Harrison was tired when he arrived in Washington, but bouyed by the excitement of being president, he was constantly on the move, visiting outgoing Democrats, dropping by all the departments, meeting with hordes of office seekers" (N.L. Peterson, The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison & John Tyler, 1989, p.41). Predictably, the President came down with a cold and eventually took to his bed. His physician, Dr. Thomas Miller, diagnosed the President's condition as "bilious pleurisy, with symptoms of pneumonia and intestinal inflammation." As his condition steadily worsened, the signing of appointments slowed to a trickle, then ceased, as did his already sparse correspondence (the duplicated and dropped words in the present letter, may be traceable to Harrison's health). Later Harrison began to drift in and out of reality, and experienced feverish hallucinations. Finally, on April 4, a few hours shy of a month after his inauguration, 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 still the only President to have died in the White House. His demise led to the first application of Article II, section 1 of the Constitution, whose provision for the succession of the Vice-President was subject to variable interpretations.
To an attorney, Harrison writes: "I enclose herewith a letter to you from our friend Charles Macallister [not present] & I also enclose his letter to me on the subject which which [sic] I ask the [illegible] of y[ou]r friendship. I said to Macallister that the balance of my debt to the Bank U.S. was about $4,000. I am however certain[?] that it cannot be any thing like that unless they charge compound interest which I believe they have done. Will you before you close the matter with the Agent have the goodness critically to examine the account from the beginning. If they have been in the habit of adding the interest to the principles at fixed periods, I will not pay it. Perhaps it is imposing too much upon you to request you to attend to this Matter if it is [possible] to employ some competent person to make the examination."
"You will see from Macallisters letter to me that he thinks U.S. bank notes will fall lower than they are. If this is so it would XXLINE THROUGH NEXT 9 WORDS answer no purpose as he suggested to delay toXX be evidently wrong to settle the business on him....& take the receipts from the Agent & give him a Sight draft for the am[oun]t. But in this I may be mistaken, The fact is that I am so much harassed by the multitudes that call upon me that I can give no proper attention to any business of my own. You will understand it & so arrange it as not to prevent Macallister from postponing the payment for a further fall of the notes. I must refer you to the papers for all the news."
Records of American auctions of books and manuscripts begin in 1897 with the first annual index of American Book Prices Current. In the 105 years since the inception of that publication, the present letter, first sold in 1983, constitutes THE SOLE PRESIDENTIAL AUTOGRAPH LETTER OF HARRISON EVER OFFERED AT AUCTION. In the last quarter century only 8 Harrison documents signed as President (simple appointments, at least one undated), one letter signed and one autograph letter signed have been offered at auction. (To which must be added two documents signed and a single autograph note signed, sold privately.) The Forbes Collection contained several examples: an order to affix the seal, sold at Christie's on 15 December 1995, lot 179, $70,000; a ship's passport, sold at Christie's on 17 May 1996, lot 136, $75,000; and a letter signed, sold at Christie's on 27 March 2002, lot 63, $127,000).
Provenance: The Robert Adam Ramsdell Jr. Collection of Presidential Autographs, property of the Nichol's School, Buffalo, NY (sale, Sotheby's, 26 April 1983, lot 33).