Gail Collins: "William Henry Harrison"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:56
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia just one month after taking office, so he's mostly known for what he did not do. He never appointed a federal judge, and his wife never made it to the White House. But author and New York Times columnist, Gail Collins says his Tippecanoe and Tyler Too campaign set the standard for modern presidential contests. In a new book titled "William Henry Harrison," Gail Collins tells the story of the ninth president's remarkable life and untimely death.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:43
Gail Collins joins me in the studio. We welcome your calls, questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to you, Gail Collins.

MS. GAIL COLLINS

11:08:07
Good morning.

REHM

11:08:08
I'm so glad to have you here.

COLLINS

11:08:10
I'm so happy to be here.

REHM

11:08:11
Thank you. I know you found some connection between your family and William Henry Harrison. Talk about that connection.

COLLINS

11:08:23
Yeah. You know, I wrote a book a long time back about gossip and politics, and sexual scandals and politics, and so on, which are coming in handy again this year, I must say. But I was back in Cincinnati doing a tour for this book, and William Henry Harrison was from Cincinnati, which is my hometown, and I was telling my family that he had been marketed as this humble soldier in a log cabin, where, in fact, he was rather wealthy.

COLLINS

11:08:53
You know, his father signed the Declaration of Independence and that he lived in a big house, and my father is sitting there and said, yes, that was a big house. I said, how do you know, and he said, I tore it down.

REHM

11:09:08
Oh, my gosh.

COLLINS

11:09:09
And the house, it was actually the last of the family houses. They had a compound sort of along the river, and it was on the gas and electric company property. My father worked there. They were afraid it was gonna be landmarked, so one night they sent my father and crew out to tear it down. So I kind of owe William Henry Harrison some little thing, I guess.

REHM

11:09:32
And indeed you write that Harrison reminded you of your own father. How so?

COLLINS

11:09:40
He did in a way, you know. He -- basically, his story, although when we think of it at all, we think of it in terms of either fighting Indians or dying in office or whatever. The basic story of his life was that he had 10 kids. They all had many, many children, then they all died young, so he had this passel of children and grandchildren and widows and everyone else to take care of, and his whole life was basically about trying to get a job.

REHM

11:10:06
How many times was he married?

COLLINS

11:10:10
Only once.

REHM

11:10:10
And ten children?

COLLINS

11:10:12
Yes. And they almost all survived to adulthood, got married, and then suddenly, in a very short period of time really, almost all of them died.

REHM

11:10:20
How?

COLLINS

11:10:21
From one thing or another. One of them was an alcoholic, one of them, um, you know, caught malaria somewhere. I mean, it wasn't any particular thing. It was during that time, of course, people died all the time very suddenly.

REHM

11:10:32
Did his wife stay healthy?

COLLINS

11:10:35
Oh, yes. Yes. She survived him, and by the time she -- by the time he died, she only had one child left...

REHM

11:10:42
Wow.

COLLINS

11:10:43
...and she went to live in that house, the house my father tore down, with that son whose child was Benjamin Harrison who became president, of course, later. So there was quite a lot of action. But if you look at the ark of William Henry Harrison's life, it's all about finding a job, finding a job, finding a job. He was the clerk of courts in Cincinnati when he was picked to be the Whig nominee for president. I mean, this is not a guy who was laying around in a corner sort of enjoying himself.

REHM

11:11:13
But did he need to work?

COLLINS

11:11:16
Yes. He was the youngest child of a very wealthy family. His father, as I said, signed the Declaration of Independence but, you know, by the time you get down -- I think there were seven kids in that family.

REHM

11:11:26
Oh.

COLLINS

11:11:27
By the time you get to the youngest child, there is not a whole of cash left, and he was a very bad manager of money besides. So everything he inherited, he lost in various land deals and things like that.

REHM

11:11:38
How old was he when he married?

COLLINS

11:11:42
He was in his 20s when he married, and they had -- they were both in Ohio at the time. They lived a sort of a semi-frontier life, but in very big houses the whole time.

REHM

11:11:55
But really, I mean, plantation owners, all the rest that goes along with that.

COLLINS

11:12:04
Yeah. He wanted to live the way he was brought up, so when he become governor of Indiana, for instance, he built a big house near Vincennes I think it was, and he imported the bricks and he imported the glass from overseas. It was the seventh wonder of the Indiana world when he finally finished it.

REHM

11:12:21
He was homeschooled.

COLLINS

11:12:23
Yes, he was pretty much.

REHM

11:12:24
How come?

COLLINS

11:12:26
Well, there wasn't -- everybody was kind of at that time.

REHM

11:12:27
Everybody...

COLLINS

11:12:28
He did go to school. He was sent off a couple of times to very -- he went to Hampden-Sydney, I think, for a while, and a couple of other schools, but it was always very brief. He was...

REHM

11:12:37
And then he went into the military.

COLLINS

11:12:41
His parents wanted to train him to be a doctor, and it didn't appear he actually had any unusual affection for the career, but I think it was kind of a cheap thing you could prepare a kid for. They already had one son who was going into politics, and one son who was going into business, so they were running out of things to have their sons do. And he was training to be a doctor when his father died, but rather than continuing to pursue it, which I suspect he could have if he'd wanted to, he then joined the Army.

REHM

11:13:10
And what was that career like?

COLLINS

11:13:13
Well, it was tough. He went to the -- he almost instantly was sent to Ohio to what's now Cincinnati, which was only a fort back then. It was very rough. The army did not have much prestige at that point, you know. The Revolutionary War was over, you were basically fighting Indians and that wasn't considered to be kind of manly and heroic the way fighting Englishmen was, and it was also very dangerous because the Indians were tough.

COLLINS

11:13:41
And, um, it was cold, they had very bad supplies, they didn't have enough horses because the Indians kept stealing them. People fought with one another. Drinking was just outrageous, everybody was drunk all the time and it was a tough life, but he took to it.

REHM

11:13:58
Where do you get information like that?

COLLINS

11:14:02
About William Henry Harrison?

REHM

11:14:03
Yeah.

COLLINS

11:14:04
Well, he used to be more popular. There are a lot of biographies on him that were written in the 19th century and early in the 20th century. I must admit that he hasn't been written about much in recent years.

REHM

11:14:18
Yeah. But it's interesting because one of the questions becomes why these people in Cincinnati were fighting the Indians as hard as they were.

COLLINS

11:14:34
Everybody thought -- and as Harrison went on farther out west and he wound up in the Indiana territory, which basically went up to the Mississippi river, and he was working a lot with Thomas Jefferson who was president for a while there, and their feeling was very strongly that the Indians needed to either become extremely domesticated and sort of sit in very small places and take welfare, or they needed to move past the Mississippi River were nobody else would ever go and they would be fine forever.

COLLINS

11:15:05
And it was really for everybody's benefit to get this organized very quickly, and William Henry Harrison's biggest contribution to American History actually was that he became, when he was governor of Indiana, a champ at writing these treaties with the Indians in which you pick sort of a couple of the smaller tribes and then make a deal with them, which is then applied to everybody who lives in a certain period, certain territory.

REHM

11:15:31
I wonder how the Indians felt about that.

COLLINS

11:15:33
Well, they felt different ways. The Indian who did not feel well about it at all was Tecumseh who was a great chief that I'm really surprised we don't talk more about. He just had an amazing story, an amazing history, and he came out of Ohio too as William Henry Harrison did, and tried to organize all the tribes to say, look, don't sign anymore treaties...

REHM

11:15:58
Right.

COLLINS

11:16:00
….don't wear European clothes anymore, no more drinking. Let's go back to our old ways. We'll stay in our territory, but do not make any more deals, and we're not going to abide by the deals that somebody else makes for us. The American whites found this incredibly threatening. They were terrified that Tecumseh was going to make a deal with the British who were still hanging around at that time, and that they'd align together and toss them out of their territories, and toss them out of their homes. They were scared to death. Tecumseh set up a little group in...

REHM

11:16:35
Sort of a regional counsel.

COLLINS

11:16:36
Yeah. His little sort of group. He had a lot of followers.

REHM

11:16:39
Yeah.

COLLINS

11:16:39
People just came from all the tribes. They joined in, they sort of set up this Utopian community in a place called Tippecanoe, and that was the place that everybody was focused on is how terrible and horrible it was, and of course William Henry Harrison was the one who marched on Tippecanoe and burned it down, and that was the making of his -- he was Tippecanoe and Tyler too.

REHM

11:17:02
And what happened to Tecumseh?

COLLINS

11:17:05
Tecumseh -- I have to say that the Tippecanoe battle was not very inspiring. William Henry Harrison had way more people than the Indians had, and he lost way more soldiers than he should have. He didn't fortify his camp right and the Indians attacked him first, but it was at the time a lot of people thought it was kind of a dicey victory, but they were so desirous to feel safe that they all united in the idea finally that this was great, that this was a huge victory, and it was sort of a mission accomplished moment.

COLLINS

11:17:39
Tecumseh then went north and eventually did align himself with the British and met William Henry Harrison again in the War of 1812 in which he was...

REHM

11:17:50
And he was fighting on the British side.

COLLINS

11:17:53
Yes. He was fighting with the British -- fighting much better than the British were actually fighting back then.

REHM

11:17:59
And did he die?

COLLINS

11:18:01
Yeah. And, you know, I've got to tell you, the thing about that that so interested me was that I've been working on a book about Texas for my next project, and I've been at the Alamo several times, and the idea of sort of staying somewhere even if you know you're going to almost certainly die, and being brave is such a big thing down there. Tecumseh, in his last battle, it was the Battle of the Thames in Canada, had the British with him, but he knew there weren't enough people.

COLLINS

11:18:29
He knew they were going to lose. William Henry Harrison, once again, had tons more people, but he and his -- after the British fled, he and his people stayed and fought to protect the women and children who were trying to get away.

REHM

11:18:42
Gail Collins. Her new book "William Henry Harrison."

REHM

11:20:05
And Gail Collins is here with me. She is, of course, a New York Times op-ed columnist, bestselling author of "When Everything Changed: The American (sic) Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present." That was back in 2009. Her newest book is all about William Henry Harrison, the president who served the shortest term of any president. He died one month after taking the oath of office. Tell us how he died.

COLLINS

11:20:47
Well, he was very excited to be president. I cannot tell you how happy this man was. You know, he'd been looking for a job his whole life and now he's got this job. And he came to Washington. He had just turned 68, which at that time was really, really, really old.

REHM

11:20:59
O ld, yeah.

COLLINS

11:21:02
And he was surrounded by job seekers. Everybody from the beginning of the Jackson presidency who had not been able to get a job because they were out of favor and wanted a job now. This was their moment. He could not move without tons and tons of people surrounding and begging him for jobs. But he, nevertheless, went out. He went out shopping, he went -- was just wandering around, very happy. It was very cold, very wet out. He goes and gives his inaugural address.

COLLINS

11:21:31
He had a thing about very long, long, long, long, long speeches. And I think it was because people kept talking about how old he was and he wanted to show he was vigorous. But anyway, his inaugural address was two hours long and very, very boring. It was cold out, it was raining, it was March, it was inclement weather. And he didn't wear a hat, didn't wear an umbrella, didn't wear a coat and came back. Course you don't normally -- people keep pointing this out -- get colds from being in the cold. But between...

REHM

11:22:01
I do.

COLLINS

11:22:02
...well, between one thing and another, he definitely got sick. And then the doctors, of course, came in and made everything much worse. They bled him...

REHM

11:22:09
Bleeding him.

COLLINS

11:22:10
...and they blistered him and they gave him strange potions. And, you know, the guy had been exhausted for a long time from all this excitement and he died.

REHM

11:22:19
So his wife never got to the White House.

COLLINS

11:22:21
His wife was settling things up at home and never got to Washington.

REHM

11:22:25
I don't quite understand. You need to back up for this, how he got from the military to politics and how he managed to win the nomination.

COLLINS

11:22:38
Well, when he settled in Ohio after he'd -- he sort of left the army not exactly in disgrace because he was a hero of the War of 1812, but he had fights. He was politically out of favor so he went home. He got a couple of jobs. He became ambassador to Colombia for a while. He was writing letters all the time looking for jobs and was sort of available. He ran for various local offices and they sort of sent him places. He was the most famous guy in Cincinnati by far. So whenever there was an opening for somebody in the state senate or, you know, a special senatorial employment, they would ship him off for it. So he kept busy that way.

COLLINS

11:23:14
And then he did become clerk of courts, which got him a lot of money. He actually enjoyed that very, very much. But the Whig Party came along. The Whig Party was the new party. It was united by people who hated Andrew Jackson. But other than that they had no agreement on anything pro-slave, anti-slave, pro-bank, anti-bank. They were all in their together. So in the end they did tend to look to generals for their nominees, the war heroes.

REHM

11:23:42
And of course, as soon as they came to him...

COLLINS

11:23:44
He was sitting there -- William Henry was very vague on slavery. He was from Virginia. He didn't have slaves himself. He was in Ohio, which was not a slave state. And his various actions along the years had been on one side, on the other side, sort of back and forth so it was kind of hard to pin him down. And that was the issue that disqualified Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, all the really big names in the party. So they just sort of jumped on him. And their vision was that they would run things once they got him elected, that Henry Clay was sure that he would run the country once they stuck William Henry in power.

REHM

11:24:20
How big a win was it for him?

COLLINS

11:24:24
It was -- the most interesting thing about this race was that it , A, the dumbest race possibly in American history. It was totally nuts.

REHM

11:24:33
How?

COLLINS

11:24:34
They manufactured William Henry.

REHM

11:24:34
More so than now?

COLLINS

11:24:35
Yes. At least we have a general idea of who this person is that we've got here and there. They manufactured William Henry Harrison as a humble soldier living in a log cabin. It was actually a joke that the other side had made up, but they kind of grabbed on it and they became obsessed with it everywhere you went. There were parades with log cabins on the floats and people were doing the log cabin two step and they were sitting drinking hard cider everywhere you went. I mean, it was a nutty campaign.

COLLINS

11:25:05
They were raising poles, they were rolling huge balls around from town to town trying to steal the other party's big huge ball and destroy it. It was a nutty, nutty, nutty campaign. The Van Buren people decided early on that they were never going to be able to sell Martin Van Buren so they would just attack William Henry Harrison. So they were going crazy. And it was the biggest turnout in the history of American voters.

REHM

11:25:29
Really.

COLLINS

11:25:30
Eighty something percent of the people who were eligible turned out to vote in this election. It turned out people loved this stuff. It was really great. They really had a good time.

REHM

11:25:40
And they had that statement...

COLLINS

11:25:45
Yes.

REHM

11:25:47
...Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.

COLLINS

11:25:48
Canoe and Tyler Too, which went very well.

REHM

11:25:51
And that was one of the first real...

COLLINS

11:25:54
It was the first biggie, the real big, you know, slogans. And also Harrison was the first presidential candidate to actually go out and personally campaign. He really liked that. He would go out. He would give one of those really long speeches that nobody paid any attention to. You couldn't hear them anyway. I'm always amazed. You see these estimates. You know, 10,000 people showed up. Maybe 200 could actually hear what the person was saying. There was no amplification back then.

COLLINS

11:26:21
But then he would go and shake hands with all the veterans. And they would all remember their moments together and that sort of thing. He was very popular doing that sort of thing.

REHM

11:26:30
What about his wife? Was she along with him on any of that?

COLLINS

11:26:36
No. I think it said that she would -- she really felt he was retired and should've been allowed to stay retired. She was not enthusiastic about the whole thing.

REHM

11:26:43
She wasn't.

COLLINS

11:26:44
But I don't think that she -- and she wouldn't let him do any politicking on Sunday. So if you came to the house on Sunday, you were not allowed to discuss politics. That was the rule of the Harrison household.

REHM

11:26:55
There was a postscript to the Tecumseh story, which you told me during the break. Talk about his death.

COLLINS

11:27:07
Well, I thought the -- Tecumseh was with the British army, but the British army was outnumbered and they ran away. They retreated almost instantly as, you know, Harrison was beating down on them. But Tecumseh and his men stayed even though they knew they were going to be killed, because they had to protect their women and children who were getting away trying to escape at that point in time. So they chose to die, to let their families get away.

COLLINS

11:27:35
Nobody has ever been absolutely sure who killed Tecumseh. Richard Johnson who was another officer in the army at that time was there around then shooting a lot of people and he was shot a lot of times. Richard Johnson then went on to become Martin Van Buren's vice-president. And it was supposed to be when somebody said Tippecanoe and Tyler Too, you were supposed to say humpty, umpty, rumpty, dumpty Colonel Johnson shot Tecumseh. And that was just going to totally whither your opposition and send them falling down in total despair.

REHM

11:28:11
Whereas Harrison gets credit for it?

COLLINS

11:28:15
Harrison got credit -- Harrison's, you know, big victories all involved way outnumbering the person he was fighting against. But on his side, I must say, his men always really liked him. They had great confidence in him. He had great relationship with the men who were under him. And he kept them together during all these marches through wintery snow and slush and whatever. So he had his positive points really as a general.

REHM

11:28:40
Was Tecumseh able to protect the women and children?

COLLINS

11:28:45
I think he was. You know, they didn't -- they did burn down a town that was occupied by Christian Indians who had lived there peacefully and had nothing whatsoever to do with this fight, just because they were in the mood, I guess. But I think that the families did get away. But Tecumseh himself, his body was never found, allegedly. Several of the books I read said that he was apparently found by soldiers or at least identified as the person they thought was Tecumseh and then mutilated so deeply that Harrison was totally humiliated by the whole thing and just wouldn't deal with it at all and didn't mention Tecumseh in any of his reports.

REHM

11:29:26
You write in the book that even during Harrison's campaigning for the presidency, several of his children died.

COLLINS

11:29:39
Yeah, there were -- it was a very strange thing. He had ten kids and they almost all lived to adulthood, almost all got married, had children. And in this very rather short period of time terrible things happened to many of them. And by the time Harrison himself had died there were only one or two left. And very soon after that there was just one. It was just -- and that was one of Harrison's problems. He had all these widows and orphans that he was trying to support from all of these various families that had been left bereft.

COLLINS

11:30:08
It was that kind of time, you know. That people who lived back then, people died very suddenly, like William Henry Harrison.

REHM

11:30:16
So in some ways, you think that that presidential campaign really set the stage for the modern campaign.

COLLINS

11:30:26
In many ways. And, you know, something about this campaign this year that's very familiar to me from that one is, you know, one of the things that was very important for the Harrison people was to identify their guy as a very common man. Not a rich guy from Virginia who had been brought up with lots of slaves and servants, but a very common man allegedly living in a log cabin. And apparently his house had once been a log cabin. And if you went into a certain closet and opened the door you can see this little bit of log still sticking there just so people would know it was there once.

COLLINS

11:30:59
But it reminds me a little bit of Mitt Romney, you know, just trying to act as if you're one of the guys.

REHM

11:31:04
Be ordinary.

COLLINS

11:31:05
Although, to be honest, William Henry was much better at being one of the guys than Mitt Romney is.

REHM

11:31:11
Well, somebody has sent a Tweet asking whether Harrison strapped his dog to the top of his stagecoach. I thought you'd be amused by that, and you might just mention that story.

COLLINS

11:31:29
Well, this story which has nothing to do with William Henry Harrison at all was Mitt Romney, when he was raising his family at one point was taking the whole family, and it included four children -- five children -- to Canada for the summer and had this Irish Setter. And put the Irish Setter in a crate on the top of the station wagon and took him off with them to Canada driving down the highways with this poor dog on top of the car. There have been controversies as to whether the dog liked it or not. Mitt Romney claims the dog really enjoyed this.

COLLINS

11:32:04
But he got diarrhea while he was traveling so he couldn't have been that happy. And one of the kids confirmed this story to the Boston Globe that once this was obviously happening, the kids are looking out the back window going, whew, whew, whew. He pulls off -- although he only had designated rest stops that he would stop at, he pulled off at a non-designated rest stop but kept everybody in the car. Jumped out, got a hose, hosed down the dog and the car, jumped back in the car and took back off down the highway, lest anyone get out and use an undesignated rest stop.

COLLINS

11:32:38
I can't believe if the dog was comfortable before he was not comfortable, I'm sure, after he'd been hosed down. But anyway I just love this story. The story of Seamus, the Irish Setter, on the roof of the car and Mitt Romney. And I try to bring it up whenever possible.

REHM

11:32:52
And that is the voice of Gail Collins. Her new book is titled "William Henry Harrison." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got lots of callers. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to North Bend, Ohio. Good morning, Steve.

STEVE

11:33:20
Good morning. I was just calling to say about 15 years ago, I built a house that's actually on land that used to be owned by William Henry Harrison. As we began to clear the land in the back corner, we found an old -- what we were told later was a servant's quarters, a small little -- not even 10X15. Roofs were caving in, wall was caving in. I talked to the city about it and they had no real interest in it so we had to commence the tear down of it. But thought it was just kind of curious that her father tore down his home since I tore down his servant's.

COLLINS

11:33:52
Wow.

STEVE

11:33:54
I did have one question though. I mean, obviously he's my next door neighbor and for years, I've joked he's the quietest neighbor you could have except on federal holidays when they do the 21 gun salute. Do you know any story as far as how is the tomb that's there? I mean, I know it was his family's land but who sort of made the decision to put it there?

COLLINS

11:34:12
I think it was his wife who did it. I've got to tell you that I once, when I was in high school, given the high honor of reading my speech for democracy -- award-winning speech for democracy at the tomb of William Henry Harrison. So I've been in your neighborhood a bunch of times.

STEVE

11:34:27
When we were kids, we used to go (unintelligible) hiking and it was always a mandatory stop with my aunt to stop by the tomb afterwards and we'd pay our respects there.

COLLINS

11:34:36
That's great to hear. I'm sure he really appreciated it, too.

REHM

11:34:38
Thanks for calling, Steve. That's so interesting. To Battleground, Ind. Good morning, Jim.

JIM

11:34:47
Hey, good morning, ladies.

REHM

11:34:48
Hi.

JIM

11:34:49
I live in historic Battleground, which is where the battle took place. And I'd just like to mention that they had the Bicentennial celebration just -- well, on November 4th or 11th, I guess. And they had some reenactments that went on. And I didn't hear it mentioned that there's a state park that's just adjacent to the town called Prophetstown State Park, which was just kind of celebrate the whole event of Harrison and Tyler Too and the Native Americans and so forth.

COLLINS

11:35:27
That's very interesting. You know, Prophet was the brother of Tecumseh. He was called the prophet because he had visions and they named the town after him. That's very interesting. I'm glad they're still celebrating.

REHM

11:35:39
Here's a comment from the website. "What were Harrison's other failed electoral attempts besides his seeking the governorship and his two attempts again to be elected to congress? Why did he fail to get elected then?"

COLLINS

11:36:01
It was -- I have to say it was all politics at the time. There were factions in various places. I don't think any of those things would've been seen as a rejection of William Henry personally. He was always really, really popular. But there were pro-bank factions, anti-bank factions. The parties were having trouble getting themselves organized back then for a long time. There was really just sort of the democrats and tail end federalists. So there were a lot of people fighting one another within. And different guys had different alliances and he just -- he was not a great natural political strategist, to say the least.

REHM

11:36:42
So writing about William Henry Harrison has got to be so different from writing your op-ed column as you tried to inject humor into what is happening in our world. Do you search that out or do you create it?

COLLINS

11:37:07
Well, the column is easier actually than making William Henry Harrison. But I did get fond of William Henry so I tried to give him as much zip as I possibly could in his life story.

REHM

11:37:17
And humanity.

COLLINS

11:37:19
Yes. Yeah, I became very fond of the guy as I went along, for all of his foibles and faults.

REHM

11:37:25
And I'm hoping that someday you'll write a book on Tecumseh. Gail Collins. She has just written a book on William Henry Harrison who served as president for one month. Short break, we'll be right back.

REHM

11:40:02
And welcome back. New York Times columnist Gail Collins is with me. She is also a writer of books, her latest, a biography of William Henry Harrison, our shortest duration President. He served for one month, falling ill, probably from pneumonia, and died even before his wife got to Washington. Here is an email from Allan in Ohio who says "I'd be interested to hear Ms. Collins' thoughts on Harrison's pro-slavery views. I wrote my master's thesis on Harrison. There have been several new books on him including the "Gods of Profits Town" that brings this issue up.

COLLINS

11:41:05
There's been a lot, particularly about his relationship to Native-Americans lately and I shudder to talk to anyone who's just written his dissertation on the subject. But he was, I mean, I think about him and slavery the same way I think about Mitt Romney and abortion. If you look at it, you can pretty well figure out what he actually did feel. But he bounced around about it very carefully along the years. He was from Virginia. His family had tons of slaves, of course. But the time he got to Indiana, he was of that group that believed that you shouldn't be expanding slavery, but you couldn't be punishing the people who already own slaves.

COLLINS

11:41:43
He gave a great deal of sympathy for the large slave owners from the South and kept saying, these were our founding fathers, how can you possibly argue with Madison and, you know, Washington and so on. And when he was in Indiana, he sided with the people who wanted to allow existing slave owners to bring their slaves into the territory. The argument was that this would bring a higher class of settlers because you get rich guys from the South if they can bring their slaves.

COLLINS

11:42:13
He did not -- there was at least one incident in which there was a runaway slave and he basically took the side of the slave and tried to somehow manage to get the guy freed over a long period of time in which he played a rather sympathetic role. His argument in Indiana was that people could be brought in as indentured servants. He would call them indentured servants, but they would be indentured servants for the next 90 years or whatever. So he was very kind of dicey on it, but certainly in the real work, he had no evolutionist sympathies that I could see, whatsoever.

REHM

11:42:49
I see. We have an email from Barbara and you mentioned this before, asking you to explain more fully the political slogan, Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.

COLLINS

11:43:06
Tippecanoe became suddenly a very big thing again when he started running for public office, just because it's such a neat name. You know, I don't think it meant anything more than that. Battle of the Thames doesn't have that ring, you know, Tippecanoe does. And Tyler was his Vice Presidential nominee who nobody knew anything about, at the time, certainly nobody in the North. He was somebody that they thought was a Henry Clay supporter when they nominated him, but he turned out that he actually wasn't. An in fact disagreed with the wigs on everything, except that he didn't like Andrew Jackson either.

COLLINS

11:43:42
And when he got to be President, after a month, which stunned everybody, they'd never had that happen before, you know, none of the other Presidents -- and they were all kind of along in age, most of them. But none of them had died in office. And Tyler was back home in Virginia. He had not even stayed in Washington and had not planned to go back to Washington. But they went and got him and brought him back and were horribly surprised by what he turned out to think about everything.

REHM

11:44:08
What did he think about everything?

COLLINS

11:44:10
Well, he was a Virginia guy. He later became an official in the Confederate Army. He didn't agree with the wigs. He didn't agree with Henry Clay's sort of expansionistic, let's build stuff and build a lot of highways and roads and canals and things to help the economy. He didn't agree about slavery. He was a very conservative Virginia plantation owner.

REHM

11:44:34
All right. To Raleigh, N.C. Good morning, Dennis.

DENNIS

11:44:39
Good morning. I really love your show. And Gail...

REHM

11:44:42
Thank you.

DENNIS

11:44:42
...I can't wait to read your book. It sounds fascinating. One question. What influenced some Latin-American democratic movement would he have had? He had a very short tenure as President and obviously had little, if any, policy. But I'm wondering, I have read that he spoke with Simone Bolivar in Colombia. And I wondered how long he was ambassador and if he had any lasting, enduring effect that you had noticed?

COLLINS

11:45:09
Thank you so much for that question. He had no lasting, enduring effects. The poor man got there -- it took him months, you know, to make his way to Colombia.

REHM

11:45:18
From -- yeah.

COLLINS

11:45:18
This is not an easy thing to do at that point in time. He gets there. He's there for about a month and Andrew Jackson is elected. And immediately appoints somebody else to be ambassador. It was a very -- he was totally dissing William Henry Harrison. He was, maybe, a little bit jealous of him. I don't know, but one of his other...

REHM

11:45:38
You're saying he wanted him out of the way?

COLLINS

11:45:40
He wanted him out, yeah. Yeah. One of his cabinet members, Jackson, said to him something like, if you had been there at the Battle of the Thames watching as I was, you would never have done this to William Henry Harrison. And Jackson said, you're probably right and thank God I wasn't there. And so then he had to turn around and go back. And the process, the only thing that he did manage to do was to get involved in some kind of a plot that was going on to actually topple Bolivar and put -- because there was a sense that he was becoming a dictator. He had enemies and so on.

COLLINS

11:46:14
I don't think he was very active in this, but he certainly seemed to know about it. And then when he left, he issued this great letter to Bolivar saying, you know, be like George Washington, you know, go the other way. I challenge you to be a more democratic person. It was this huge kind of full of himself rant against the guy who was running South America at the time. It was not really well taken although it worked well in the Harrison campaign for President, later.

REHM

11:46:41
All right. To Lake Worth, Fla. Good morning, Richard.

RICHARD

11:46:47
Yes, my question was. I seem to remember the descendents of William Henry Harrison being in some kind of political position in Wyoming when I was growing up. And I'd wondered if any of the descendents still have any political (word?) ?

COLLINS

11:47:08
Can't answer that. But he had so many descendents and of course, Benjamin Harrison became President, his grandson. But with all of the number of descendents that he...

REHM

11:47:20
Gosh.

COLLINS

11:47:21
...I can't conceive that they aren't much involved in everything in the country right now.

REHM

11:47:26
So Wyoming...

COLLINS

11:47:27
Wyoming sounds good.

REHM

11:47:28
...would not be out of the question?

COLLINS

11:47:29
No.

REHM

11:47:30
Yeah. Does that answer it, Richard?

RICHARD

11:47:34
Yes. I think the person I was trying to think of was William Henry Harrison, III.

COLLINS

11:47:41
Wow, how could he be the third?

RICHARD

11:47:42
Yeah, I'm not sure about that.

COLLINS

11:47:43
Well, maybe, he could, yeah, yeah.

RICHARD

11:47:44
I...

COLLINS

11:47:45
The family actually liked to name all of their best sons, Benjamin. You know, so William Henry was already stuck with sort of a loser name.

REHM

11:47:51
Oh, I see.

COLLINS

11:47:52
But now, he's made it a big deal, that's nice. It's very cool.

REHM

11:47:55
Yeah. Okay, to East Providence, RI. Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE

11:48:02
Hi, thank you very much for taking my call.

REHM

11:48:04
Sure.

CHRISTINE

11:48:04
According the PBS series "We Shall Remain," the British actually had thought that the Indians deserved a lot more respect in the form of sovereign lands. And I don't know which governments been the British, you know, decades, really felt this or if it was always consistent. But they felt that the Indians should be able to have the land west of the Mississippi. And one of the things that was mentioned on that series was that, even though that wasn't going to happen, that the British support was there for it to come.

CHRISTINE

11:48:44
So they were there because they were in Canada. But what the series suggested was that Tecumseh's loss on that Canadian border there, that final battle, that it was a much larger loss for all Native-American (word?) come because it just absolutely guaranteed the concept of mans destiny and it just let loose a whole lot of prejudices that might have otherwise seen some sympathy for the Native-Americans amongst the general American population.

CHRISTINE

11:49:22
And that really the larger view of what was to happen to Native-Americans in this country and still continues, the really -- sorry, I have chemo brain, so it's hard to talk, with the reservation system that we have today and incredible poverty that still exists amongst the people who live in the reservations, that really -- that trajectory toward Native-Americans being second class citizens, for sure really had its pivotal point at loss of the Battle. Also, this series on PBS called "Appalachia" has one episode that shows just how many battles there were between the white colonists and (word?) when we were country.

REHM

11:50:12
Yeah.

COLLINS

11:50:13
Yeah, that's all very good points. That they -- Tecumseh was the one guy that, I think, everyone felt was conceivably capable of getting all the tribes to unite. The problem for the Indians, all along, was that they were splintered, just historically, into so many tribes that it was very, very difficult for them to take any kind of effective stand against the colonists when they came in, over the long run. He was the one who was going to bring them together. He spent his life, his later life, trying to unite the tribes, negotiating with them. Certainly when he died, any hope of that died with him. Nobody else every came along that had that kind of stature or capacity.

REHM

11:50:58
And to Hillsborough, Ohio. Hi, Thomas.

THOMAS

11:51:03
How you doing today?

REHM

11:51:04
Good, thanks.

THOMAS

11:51:06
Yes, I was kind of interested when she was talking about William Henry Harrison, just a couple things. It's just, from my studies, he's -- his vanity. And his -- what I understand is that when he went into battle, he'd carry approximately six additional uniforms with him in a trunk. And he had a full length mirror and a valet because he always wanted to be perceived as that general on a horse and never liked getting dirty and, you know, he was always in a kind of a portrait pose.

THOMAS

11:51:41
And then also, he's the one that gave or changed the name or pronunciation of the name Tecumtha to Tecumseh. And he did that to insult Tecumseh because that with the s-e-h would make it -- would refer to a female and T-e-c-u-m-t-h-a. And at the meeting they had at Vincennes, that's where Tecumseh met. And Tecumseh took much umbrage toward being addressed that way.

REHM

11:52:22
Interesting.

COLLINS

11:52:24
That's the -- the first things that you talked about his -- the vanity, I suspect that was anti-Harrison propaganda. The one thing he was sort of known for, as a general -- and as I said, as a general, he did not strike me as being the most genius general in the history of the world. But of living with his men, of taking whatever -- eating whatever they ate, sharing whatever hardships they shared, I never in my various research ran into any evidence that he was troubled in that way as so many other generals were at that time. He was really a very man of the people, easy going kind of guy.

REHM

11:53:07
Gail Collins. Her book is titled "William Henry Harrison" and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. I can't let you go without asking, what do you make of this current republican race?

COLLINS

11:53:26
Wow, pretty good.

REHM

11:53:30
Pretty good to write about.

COLLINS

11:53:31
Yeah, pretty good for us. It works for us.

REHM

11:53:32
Yeah.

COLLINS

11:53:33
The writers, a whole lot. I think it's all about not wanting Mitt Romney. It's very interesting. I mean, although I still think he's going to be the nominee, that every one of these later contests has just been sort of about people not wanting it to be Mitt Romney. The base of the party would rather it be somebody that has kind of a hotter blood boil, you know, then -- and it's so weird that the whole vision of this as one big debate has become, you know, the -- we're going to elect -- we're going to nominate the person who's best at debates.

REHM

11:54:09
But the feelings of...

COLLINS

11:54:10
It's kind of fascinating.

REHM

11:54:11
...the feelings against Romney seem so strong.

COLLINS

11:54:16
It's true. And I think the whole tea party thing was founded, basically, from my estimate anyway, as a reaction against George W. Bush, a sense that they'd been betrayed by their own party. That, you know, you got in power and then, look, this guy passes entitlements. He does all these things. And Mitt Romney, I think, to them, feels very much in that tradition.

REHM

11:54:40
Untrustworthy.

COLLINS

11:54:41
Untrustworthy in the true right agenda. And I -- then they're probably right. So I don't -- you know, we'll see what happens over the long run. My money is still on Mitt Romney.

REHM

11:54:51
Well, you've got lots of states ahead.

COLLINS

11:54:55
Can't wait.

REHM

11:54:56
And these states are so different from New Hampshire, from Iowa, from South Carolina.

COLLINS

11:55:04
You've got so many states coming up that, A, have caucuses, the crazy caucuses again will be heard from, Maine, Nevada, all these places. And Caucus states really favor the people who have great organization, which is certainly something Newt Gingrich doesn't have. And then you've got a lot of other states that are very expensive, coming up. And you've got some states in which Newt Gingrich is not even on the ballot because he didn't get organized in time...

REHM

11:55:29
Virginia.

COLLINS

11:55:29
...including Virginia.

REHM

11:55:30
Yeah.

COLLINS

11:55:30
So -- and it's just looking out at the future. It just seems to me, we get all hot and bothered about these things, but then as the time slogs on, it's very hard for sort of a populist uprising kind of guy to win.

REHM

11:55:42
If you could wave a wand, how would you change this primary season?

COLLINS

11:55:49
Well, from my purposes, I would not touch it. It's been really great. But I've been...

REHM

11:55:53
From the public's point of view.

COLLINS

11:55:55
...from the public's point of view. I would say, public out there, stop with the caucuses. The Iowa caucus is crazy. And now we don't even really know who won the Iowa caucus besides everything else. The idea that you start these things in January and that you're going to go -- we're going to go on for nine months, 10 months, doing this over and over and over again. I mean, it's going to drive people completely nuts.

REHM

11:56:18
Have the debates served any good purpose?

COLLINS

11:56:22
I don't know. You know, it's fair to the rest of the nation. I mean, the theory that everybody in South Carolina and Iowa and New Hampshire gets to meet these people, may be all well and good but the rest of the country's not going to get to do that. And the fact that they can watch the debates and judge, I think, is reasonable. The thing that is so interesting is that there is actually so little policy discussion in these debates.

REHM

11:56:46
Exactly.

COLLINS

11:56:46
Because there really isn't much to raise.

REHM

11:56:48
And that's what worries me, the most. New York Times op-ed columnist, bestselling author, Gail Collins. Her newest book, a biography titled "William Henry Harrison." Thank you so much for joining me.

COLLINS

11:57:08
It's a pleasure.

REHM

11:57:09
My pleasure. And thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.

ANNOUNCER

11:57:14
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