Politics

Who Was The First President To Die In Office?

The death of William Henry Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, prompted a constitutional crisis regarding presidential succession.

Eight American presidents have died while in office. Four died of natural causes while the rest were assassinated. William Henry Harrison was the first president to die in office. Harrison assumed power on March 4, 1841, and died on April 4, 1841, 31 days after taking over making him the shortest serving president. Harrison is believed to have contracted pneumonia while delivering a lengthy inaugural address to the nation on a cold stormy day.

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison served as the 9th President of the United States. He took office on March 4th, 1841, succeeding Martin Van Buren. At the time, he was the oldest person to assume the presidency as 68 years and 23 days. Harrison was also the first Whig to win the presidency.

Inauguration and Presidency

Harrison is commonly suspected of contracting pneumonia on the day of his inauguration. Although it was a cold, wet day, Harrison declined to travel to his inauguration by carriage, instead opting to ride on horseback. He also did not wear an overcoat. He delivered the longest inaugural address in US history at nearly two hours long. He then road through the streets for the inaugural parade and later that night attended three inaugural balls. Harrison was exceptionally busy during his short presidency. He received many visitors at the White House, visited each of the six executive departments, and sent numerous nominations for office to the Senate. 

Illness and Death

After being caught in the rain, Harrison fell ill on March 26, 1841. Over the next two days, he grew progressively worse and doctors were called in to treat him. He was diagnosed with pneumonia of the lower right lobe. Although the doctors attempted various treatments, his condition grew worse. His disappearance from the public eye and lack of official announcement of his illness attracted large crowds to the White House. On April 4, 1841, just nine days after becoming ill and one month after taking office, Harrison died. He was buried in a family tomb in North Bend, Ohio on July 7, 1841. 

Constitutional Crisis

Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution clearly outlaid the succession to the presidency upon death, resignation, inability, or removal. However, it was unclear whether the Vice President became the succeeding President or only temporarily overtook presidential duties. It was decided that John Tyler would be sworn in as the succeeding president. Tyler was sworn in as the 10th president on April 6, 1841, setting a precedent.

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