By William J. Federer
“Tippecanoe and Tyler too” was the campaign slogan of our ninth president, William Henry Harrison, hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe where the confederation of Chief Tecumseh was disrupted in 1811.
Harrison was the first president to die in office, serving the shortest term of only 30 days, yet he had a greater grasp on the dangers of despotism than today’s Oval Office.
The son of Benjamin Harrison, a signer the Declaration of Independence, he was also the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President. William Henry Harrison was aide-de-camp to Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne, who defeated the British and Indian forces at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, 1794.
Secretary, then governor, of the Northwest “Indiana” Territory – 260,000 square miles – from which was formed Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, William Henry Harrison was elected President in 1841.
In his Inaugural Address, he cautioned:
“The great danger to our institutions … appear to me to be … the accumulation in one of the departments of that which was assigned to others.
“Limited as are the powers which have been granted, still enough have been granted to constitute a despotism if concentrated in one of the departments … particularly … the executive branch.
… The tendency of power to increase itself, particularly when exercised by a single individual … would terminate in virtual monarchy. …”
Harrison explained the corruption of the “love of power”:
“Republics can commit no greater error than to … continue any feature in their systems of government which … increase the love of power in the bosoms of those to whom necessity obliges them to commit the management of their affairs. …
“When this corrupting passion once takes possession of the human mind, like the love of gold it becomes insatiable. It is the never-dying worm in his bosom, grows with his growth and strengthens with the declining years of its victim.
“… It is the part of wisdom for a republic to limit the service of that officer at least to whom she has intrusted the management of her foreign relations, the execution of her laws, and the command of her armies and navies to a period so short as to prevent his forgetting that he is the accountable agent, not the principle; the servant, not the master. …”
Harrison warned of growing federal government’s power:
“The great dread … seems to have been that the reserved powers of the States would be absorbed by those of the Federal Government and a consolidated power established, leaving to the States the shadow only of that independent action for which they had so zealously contended. …
“There is still an undercurrent at work by which, if not seasonably checked, the worst apprehensions of our anti-federal patriots will be realized, and not only will the State authorities be overshadowed by the great increase of power in the executive department…but the character of that Government, if not its designation, be essentially and radically changed. … The never-failing tendency of political power to increase itself …”
Harrison warned of the president controlling the Treasury:
“It is not by the extent of its patronage alone that the executive department has become dangerous, but by the use which it appears may be made of the appointing power to bring under its control the whole revenues of the country. …
“There was wanting no other addition to the powers of our Chief Magistrate to stamp monarchical character on our Government but the control of the public finances. …
“It was certainly a great error in the framers of the Constitution not to have made the officer at the head of the Treasury Department entirely independent of the executive. …”
Harrison warned of “class warfare” tactics:
“As long as the love of power is a dominant passion of the human bosom, and as long as the understanding of men can be warped and their affections changed by operations upon their passions and prejudices, so long will the liberties of a people depend on their constant attention. …
“The danger to all well-established free governments arises from the unwillingness of the people to believe in its existence or from the influence of designing men. …
“The old trick of those who would usurp the government of their country … in the name of democracy they speak, warning the people against the influence of wealth and the danger of aristocracy.
“History, ancient and modern, is full of such examples.
“Caesar became the master of the Roman people and the senate under the pretense of supporting the democratic claims of the former against the aristocracy of the latter;
“Cromwell, in the character of the protector of the liberties of the people, became the dictator of England, and Bolivar possessed himself of unlimited power with the title of his country’s liberator. …
“The tendencies of all such governments in their decline is to monarchy. …”
Harrison recognized the Saul Alinsky type “faction” during times of “great excitement”:
“The antagonist principle to liberty … is the spirit of faction – a spirit which assumes the character and in times of great excitement imposes itself upon the people as the genuine spirit of freedom, and, like the false Christs whose coming was foretold by the Savior, seeks to, and were it possible would, impose upon the true and most faithful disciples of liberty.
“It is in periods like this that it behooves the people to be most watchful of those to whom they have intrusted power.”
Comparing the equivalents of Occupy Wall Street and the tea party, Harrison stated:
“There is at times much difficulty in distinguishing the false from the true spirit, a calm investigation will detect the counterfeit. …
“The true spirit of liberty … is mild and tolerant and scrupulous … whilst the spirit of party, assuming to be that of liberty, is harsh, vindictive, and intolerant, and totally reckless as to the character of the allies which it brings to the aid of its cause. …
“An intolerant spirit of party amongst a free people seldom fails to result in a dangerous accession to the executive power introduced and established amidst unusual professions of devotion to democracy.”
Harrison concluded his Inaugural:
“I deem the present occasion sufficiently important and solemn to justify me in expressing to my fellow citizens a profound reverence for the Christian religion, and a thorough conviction that sound morals, religious liberty, and a just sense of religious responsibility are essentially connected with all true and lasting happiness.
“And to that good Being who has blessed us by the gifts of civil and religious freedom … let us unite in fervently commending every interest of our beloved country.”
William J. Federer is the author of “What Every American Needs to Know About the Quran: A History of Islam and the United States.”