April 22, 2010

what a tool

in fact, the title of our biography is "mr. jefferson's hammer," which is to say that when indiana split off from ohio as a new state, and that state needed a governor, WHH got the job because he had proven himself so adept at obtaining "cessions" from native american tribes. "cessions" being when an indian chief signs away his tribe's lands for some alcohol and "munitions" that may or may not be paid.

it is easy to dislike WHH for this. but the sad fact of the matter is that if he didn't do it, somebody else would have. this biography has been really interesting because it shows what was going on in the west of the country while dave and i were reading merrily through the first 8 east coast presidents. general washington gave harrison his first commission. john adams appointed him governor of indiana. thomas jefferson was the one who wrote him letters at the turn of the 19th century that said, in effect, "do what you have to do." we've jumped way back in time to watch the birth of the nation from a whole other side. the ugly side.

the american west (which at that point obviously was like illinois) was often referred to as the back country. as someone quoted at the time very wisely said, the fact that it was called the back country makes it obvious which way they were facing (a: europe). for all the lip service paid to treating the indians fairly (and there was a mountain of it), the revolutionary generation saw them as an obstacle to their destiny as a new and better version of europe. so the government's men in the west were commissioned to either bring the indians in line or get them out of the way.

WHH was born in virginia. his father, benjamin harrison, was a signer of the declaration of independence. as owens sees it, WHH was always trying to make himself into a gentleman farmer/statesman equal to his father. this is grouseland, the original indiana governor's mansion that he had built near vincennes (still there). it looks a lot like the virginia plantation homes he had grown up with, and it was also designed as a workable fortress. this just about sums up WHH's political philosophy in territorial and then stated indiana - move the revolutionary ideal west, build up the arts and agriculture and education, and try to look leisurely doing it. if anybody gets in your way, get rid of them.

in this way harrison was a good soldier, a tool of the system. his superiors liked him because he got the job done, so he kept his job running indiana for a long time.

on the other hand, as dave pointed out, his baldly pro-slavery hijinks in a territory that was conceived to be anti-slavery were really despicable. in that way he was just a tool.

1 comment:

  1. I could totally take that fortress, I bet they don't even lock that side door. Keep up the good work guys!