William Henry Harrison Fed Voters Squirrel Stew On Election Day

The unfortunate thing about William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, is that he is most remembered for his death. Elected by a landslide victory in 1840, he delivered his inaugural address in February 1841. Shortly after (but not related to the speech itself, despite urban legend), Harrison developed what many historians believe was a cold that turned into pneumonia. As a result, he died just 32 days into his presidency. This makes him not only the first president to die in office but, so far, the shortest office holder in American history (via National Constitution Center). As this is the best-known fact about President Harrison with his other achievements often glanced over.

Still, Harrison is worth remembering not so much for his death and short term in office but as one of the most popular public figures of his time. An aristocratic Virginian who became a symbol of America's westward expansion, Harrison served as Governor of the Illinois Territory, was a member of both the Senate and House of Representatives, and was the ambassador to Colombia. So when the Whig Party needed a candidate to run against the deeply unpopular Martin van Buren, Harrison was a natural choice, per the National Constitution Center. There is a historical note of interest regarding President Harrison's diet. It involved a particular stew, popular at the time, whose main ingredient was the gray menace that destroys many a suburban bird feeder: The squirrel.

Savvy politics and savory stew

Like any competent politician, Harrison knew that keeping voters fed was a key to keeping them happy (and perhaps more inclined to vote for him). Each president had their favorite food. George Washington had hoecakes (an early version of pancakes), Abe Lincoln loved his bacon, Grover Cleveland craved anchovies, and Barack Obama chose nachos. Incidentally, the two presidents with the shortest times in office, our friend Harrison and 20th president James Garfield — who, like Lincoln, was assassinated — shared a penchant for squirrel stew (via The White House and Insider).

In the mid-19th century, when Harrison was elected, going to your local polling place to vote was not as simple as it is today. According to The Daily Beast, over the mountains and through the woods to the polling place we go was a reality for 19th century Americans, as opposed to a clever ditty. Naturally, the long journey would leave voters hungry, and Harrison saw this as an opportunity to fill their stomachs. On Election Day at a West Virginia polling place, Harrison's campaign fed no less than 30,000 voters with a big pot of burgoo. According to USA Today, this stew of Kentucky origin is a great one-pot meal where the squirrel is the main protein (though mutton and pigeon can also be used). Apparently, it did the trick. Though Harrison's presidency was short-lived, he certainly made an impact on his constituents with savvy politics and savory stew.