At the age of sixty-eight, William Henry Harrison had already lived twice as long as the average American; been elected, in 1840, the oldest president yet; and in a stunning display of vigor and health, dared deliver bareheaded, sans overcoat or gloves, an hour and forty-five minute Inaugural Address on a freezing cold day. Now, four weeks later, he lay dying, mostly of pneumonia. Whether he took ill on Inauguration Day, or later, from walking in the rain; whether stress, overwork, and natural frailty caused his collapse; or whether, even, a series of medical outrages, masquerading as cure, surely set to kill him – on Saturday night, April 3rd, there was no doubt his end was near.
I[t] becomes my melancholy duty to apprise you that Gen. Harrison is drawing his last breath - in a few minutes he will doubtless be among the dead. He is now as low as possible. This is to go by the express which carries the intelligence to Mr. Tyler
That the post carrying this spot-on prediction of Harrison’s demise would also take the news to Vice President Tyler in Virginia is a vivid reminder that Vice-Presidents, while always a heart-beat away from the presidency, were rarely, in the first half of the 19th century, anywhere near the beating heart. Tyler, having been duly Inaugurated – prudently taking the Oath inside – chaired a session of the Senate which approved President Harrison’s choice of cabinet officers, and went home to Virginia; there he expected, to spend the next four years in peace, quiet, and obscurity.
Autograph Letter Signed, in the hand of Harrison’s secretary and relation Henry Harrison, 1 page, quarto, Washington, Saturday night, 10:00 p.m., no date [April 4, 1841.) To Benjamin Harrison at Berkeley in Virginia. With integral address leaf, headed “express” and co-signed by Postmaster General Francis Granger.