March 31, 2016

William Henry Harrison


The ninth president of the United States was William Henry Harrison. He died on April 4. I know this thanks to a big billboard on State Street that I've been driving by for the past couple of months.

Brett Hein/Standard-Examiner.

Curiosity got the best of me and and I looked up the URL. As the Ogden Standard Examiner explains,

Visitors to 9thpresident.com find the methodology of the four-phase study, which, simply put, randomly surveys people asking them to name the ninth President of the United States at different intervals of time after the billboards were placed. As a control, survey participants are also asked to name the Utah Lieutenant Governor (Spencer J. Cox).

In short, the site is part of a marketing study for Reagan Outdoor Advertising. A pretty ingenious one. Frankly, a better experiment than most published studies in the social sciences these days.

The problem is, I remembered a billboard about William Henry Harrison because the whole history thing intrigued me. Off the top of my head, I couldn't tell you the content of any other billboard on State Street. You have to be interested in what the ad is selling to be sold on the ad.

On this point, Rush Limbaugh is exactly right when he insists that he doesn't tell his listeners what to do think. Rather, he articulates what they already believe or want to believe (an effort  harder to sustain than most people imagine). Hence the popularity of both Sanders and Trump.

But now that I've got your attention, William Henry Harrison was the last U.S. president born a British subject and the first president to die in office, from pneumonia. Having served only 32 days, his term remains the shortest in the history of the Republic.

Alas, Harrison wouldn't be around to appreciate his contribution to constitutional law. But his death resulted in the "Tyler Precedent," named after his vice-president. Over a century later, the process of presidential succession was finally codified in the 25th Amendment.

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