The Acquisitions Table: A Sketch of the Life and Public Services of William Henry Harrison

Jackson, Isaac R., d. 1843. A sketch of the life and public services of William Henry Harrison. Philadelphia, Jan. 1836.

The Making of the President, 1840 style. By the 1824 presidential election, the printed campaign biography had become a key component of any serious presidential run. Hence when William Henry Harrison consented to run against Martin Van Buren in 1836, several biographies were cobbled together from existing sources and published. The leading account was penned by Isaac R. Jackson and printed in at least half a dozen editions. Jackson’s work proved so helpful in painting Harrison as a military hero and man of the people, in stark contrast to Van Buren, that for the 1840 campaign it was revised, considerably expanded, and printed in nearly two dozen full or abridged versions, usually with significant text alterations to suit the pamphlet’s intended audience.

This copy offers a unique window into the process of shaping a candidate’s public persona. A copy of one of the 1836 editions has been revised for the 1840 campaign through erasures, manuscript deletions and additions, and even printed sections cut from other 1840 revised editions (or different biographies!) and pasted where the new text should be inserted. The title and imprint have been altered (with added directions for the typesetter) to: “The Life of General Harrison of Ohio, the people’s candidate for the presidency … Philadelphia: 1840.” The revisions were not made by Jackson, but by an unknown Harrison supporter. No 1840 edition with this exact title is known, but various of the editions now at AAS contain some of the textual alterations and not others, and a few proposed alterations may not have seen print at all. In other words, the text of this particular campaign biography may exist in a dozen or more versions, depending on which edition(s) a Whig Party hack used as printer’s copy for the local edition he was charged with preparing. Purchased from David Lesser. Hugh Amory Memorial Fund.

Published by

David Whitesell

Curator of Books, American Antiquarian Society

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