November 5th, 2013
On June 9, 1840, Peter Garnall of Wheeling, [West] Virginia, wrote a letter to his nephew Mordecai Garnall in Pensacola, Florida. He wrote about the importance of staying in touch with one’s family, his curio cabinet, and predictions for the upcoming presidential election, which pitted General William Henry Harrison (“Tippecanoe”) and his running mate John Tyler against then-President Martin Van Buren.
Excerpt from Garnall’s letter (A&M 2543):
The approaching Presidential election has produced an excitement far beyond anything of the kind I have ever witnessed. The people assemble in thousands. We have on the vicinity of this place four very large meetings. That at West Alexander is said to have numbered from eight to ten thousand. They had one yesterday of some three thousand at a small village eight miles above Wheeling & there is to be another … on the 3rd September, which will in all probability number many thousands, but so far they [all] gone off in harmony, the prevailing opinion amaze many of the [?] who have been collecting information that Gen. Harrison will get two hundred & forty eight electoral votes out of the two hundred & ninety five. The Whigs are very sanguine of success. Senator Tallmadge in a letter I read yesterday says that Gen. Harrison’s majority will exceed that of General Jackson in his palmiest days, he says that N. York will give the former a majority over Mr. VanBuren of fifteen thousand at least. In & about Wheeling an overwhelming majority of the men women and children are all alive to the success of Harrison.
Mr. Garnell’s sources were very nearly correct: Harrison won 234 out of 294 electoral votes, and he won the popular vote in New York, Van Buren’s home state, by over 13,000 votes. The popular vote in Virginia was close, with a little over 1000 votes swinging all of the state’s electoral votes in favor of Van Buren.
Harrison’s election was unique for many reasons. First, he broke with tradition and became the first president to actively campaign. However, his first campaign, for the presidency in 1836, failed. Harrison’s campaign tours were not the type of campaigning Americans usually see today— Harrison was trying to show people that he was healthy enough for the presidency. Unfortunately, he became the first president to die in office, holding his presidency for only one month.
HarpWeek has more information on the evolution of presidential campaigning here.
Blog post by Jane Metters.