View from Lodi, CA: Remember Obscure Presidents Day?

In 1971 President Richard Nixon proclaimed one single
federal holiday, the

Presidents` Day
, to be observed on the third
Monday of February. The new holiday would honor all past
presidents of the United States.

Until 1971, both

February 12
and

February 22
were observed as federal holidays to
honor the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George
Washington.

Thirty-two years later, the country still hasn`t
caught on. We`re still hung up on Lincoln and Washington
to the exclusion of most of the other presidents,
especially those from the 18th and 19th
Century.

As Nixon envisioned it, Presidents` Day
would pay tribute as much to

William Howard Taft
and

John Quincy Adams
as it would to any of our
better-known leaders.


Rutherford B. Hayes
, our 19th President,
came into the spotlight briefly in

2000
. Hayes, like George W. Bush, became president
despite losing the

popular vote
to Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden.
But Hayes assumed office because all of the disputed

Electoral College votes
went to him. Forever after,
Hayes was referred to as “His Fraudulency.”

We should know more about those early presidents.
They were, for the most part, colorful characters not
burdened down by the constraints of focus group polls
and

political correctness.

In the interests of carrying out President Nixon`s
concept of equal time for all former presidents, I`d
like to re-introduce you to

William Henry Harrison
, our 9th.

Harrison is one of twelve presidents who held the
rank of general in the U.S. Army. The others,
alphabetically, were: Chester A. Arthur, Dwight D.
Eisenhower, James Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin
Harrison, the aforementioned Hayes, Andrew Jackson,
Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, Zachary Taylor and, of
course, George Washington.

Harrison`s impressive military credentials won him
the Whig nomination in 1840 to run against incumbent
Democrat Martin Van Buren. The Whigs, who had finally
learned a valuable lesson from their old archenemy
Andrew Jackson, chose Harrison over three-time loser
Henry Clay.

What the Whigs realized is that if the choice for the
nominee is between a veteran politician like Clay and a
distinguished soldier like Harrison, go with the
soldier.

And Harrison was a legitimate hero. Having soundly
routed the Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811
and having then defeated the British during the War of
1812 at the Battle of the Thames, Harrison was a perfect
foil to the aristocratic Van Buren.

Van Buren, who was unable to disassociate himself
from the financial

Panic of 1837
(he tried to blame it on his
predecessor, Jackson), had picked up the nickname
“Martin Van Ruin.”

The 1840 campaign may have been the first on record
wherein political spin played a major role. To
capitalize on Van Buren`s reputation as a pantywaist,
the Whigs portrayed Harrison as a folksy fellow who like
to sit in front of his log cabin, drink hard cider and
whittle.

The Whigs wore log cabin badges, sang log cabin songs
and, rumor persisted, poured a considerable amount of
cider down the gullets of prospective voters.

In truth, Harrison was of patrician stock, was the
son of a

signatory
of the Declaration of Independence and had
been raised in an elegant plantation mansion.

Furthermore, Harrison thought cider too vile to
drink.

Harrison`s running mate, John Tyler, played the
violin and had an extensive wine cellar. Some thought
Tyler more sissified than Van Buren.

A few months into the campaign, Harrison adopted the
nickname

“Old Tippecanoe.”
And when the Whigs expanded that
to “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too,” Van Buren`s hopes went
out the window.

“Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” was the first slogan ever
used in a presidential race. Whatever else you may think
about the Whigs, give the party credit for creativity.
“Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” is catchier than “Re-elect
President Clinton” or “Gore-Lieberman in 2000.”

Long-windedness did Harrison in. After standing in a
freezing Washington D.C. March rain for nearly two hours
as he delivered the longest inaugural address—8,445
words—Harrison contracted pneumonia and died on month
later.

Harrison`s 30-day term in office is the shortest of
any president. He was the first to die in office.

The only other matter of note about Harrison is a
personal one. The Harrison and his wife Anna Tuthill
Symmes had more children than any other presidential
couple—10.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.