The Ultimate Presidential Rarity: An Autographed Letter of the Sick, Soon to Die, William Henry Harrison

March 10, 1841

Add to History Board Share Print
Back to The Collection
See full images and transcript
The Ultimate Presidential Rarity: An Autographed Letter of the Sick, Soon to Die, William Henry Harrison
Autograph Letter Signed
2 pages | SMC 1558

Quick Reference


      William Henry Harrison caught cold at his inauguration, and died a month later: that’s the simple version of his untimely demise. More complicated, and truthful, is that Harrison lasted only weeks in office because he was frail, ulcerous, immediately beset by the worries and pressures of office and, when he did fall ill, as good as murdered by his physicians. Standing coatless on a freezing day, to deliver the longest Inaugural address in history, only served to grease the skids of his rapid descent into illness. A chill first, a fever later, and then, three weeks into his presidency, came the regimen of cure that surely killed him. Bled, purged and dosed, alternately, with ipecac, calomel, castor oil and snakeroot; given even crude petroleum; treated with camphor, brandy, and opium; politicians and officials in and out of his bedroom all hours of the day and night – Harrison might well have survived his “cold,” and even served out his presidency, had he been but left alone.

      Among Harrison’s White House effects were three handwritten letters, one or two dictated letters, and perhaps a dozen or so signed documents. The autograph, in office, is the rarest of any president. This autograph letter was written a scant six days after his ill-fated Inauguration and as such, is the ultimate presidential rarity. Here he complains that he is so besieged with office-seekers and well-wishers that he cannot attend his personal financial affairs. “I am so much harassed by the multitude that call upon me,” he says, “that I can give no proper attention to any business of my own.” This hurried and oddly garbled letter – full of dropped or duplicated words – concerns his personal indebtedness

      The letter exhibited here is one of only three that Harrison wrote in his own hand, as President. Its rarity, in fact, is legend.

      Autograph Letter Signed (“W.H. Harrison”), as President, 2 pages, recto and verso, quarto, Washington, March 10, 1841. To R. Buchanan.

      One of three autograph letters in office extant; the only one, in fact, to ever be offered at public auction. Of legendary rarity.
      Read More

      all pages and transcript

      Page 1/3

      Page 1 transcript

      Page 2/3

      Page 2 transcript

      Page 3/3

      Page 3 transcript