Harrisburg Events Before the Civil War-I

2012 the Bicentennial of Harrisburg becoming  the Capitol of Pennsylvania.  The city always had a significant economic base, since  the Susquehanna River crosses the Blue Mountain.  Five significant  events occurred in Harrisburg before the Civil War. Here are the first two.

I.  President George Washington slept over in Harrisburg on October 3, 1794, on his way west to put down the Whiskey Rebellion near Pittsburgh. He spoke to a crowd gathered in Market Square, calling Harrisburgers “zealot and efficient patriots” even though he knew a majority of these people sympathized with the whiskey makers who did not want to pay taxes.   In distance, terrain, and commerce, Harrisburg is much closer to Philadelphia than Pittsburgh.  Going west to Pittsburgh, it’s all mountainous.  East to Philadelphia, it mostly flat.  Nevertheless, not wanting to pay taxes overrides everything.

II.  The Whig Party gradually rooted and the Federalist Party dwindled  after the War of 1812.   The Whig Party had no policy, no specific ideas,  and certainly  program.  Their common bond was hostility to legacy of President  Andrew Jackson.  In December of 1839, the Whigs held their  Political Convention at the Zion Lutheran Church in Harrisburg on Fourth Street just off Market.  The church is still there next to the Alva Restaurant.   Harrisburg is the smallest city ever to hold a political convention.

The front runners were Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky.  As you know, outstanding legislators seldom get the Presidential Nomination. They have records that the opposition can use against them.  Their supporters often believe they do not go far enough.  Compromise is often necessary to get anything done.  As a result,  a Dark Horse emerges.  In this case it was William Henry Harrison of Indiana.

While military Governor of Indiana, Harrison put down an Indian Rebellion at Tippecanoe and later fought in the War of 1812.  The Whigs chose John Tyler of Virginia as Vice President.  The party created the best campaign publicity line, at least up to that time “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” The Whigs easily defeated the incumbent, Martin Van Buren, a Democrat from New York.   In frontier days, things moved slowly.  The election occurred in November 1840,   11 months after the convention. 

Add to that  the inauguration day of March 4,  four months after the election,  made the process slow and dangerous.  William Henry Harrison, at 68, was the oldest man to assume the Presidency until Ronald Reagen, 120 years later.   Harrison gave a 90 minute address on a rainy and cold day days. He caught pneumonia and died one month later.   The longest address made for the shortest administration in history.



Whigs easily defeated the incumbent Martin Van Buren, a Democrat from  New York.   Things moved slowly in frontier days.  The election was 11 months later than the convention.  William Henry Harrison, at 68,  was the oldest man to assume the presidency until Ronald Reagen, 120 years later.  Harrison gave a 90 minute speech on a rainy day on March 4, 1841.  He caught pneumonia  and died after being in office only one month.















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