What Hillary and Harrison Have in Common

September 13th, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s collapse into the arms of Secret Service agents during a September 11th event raises a question bound to come up in any race for the White House.

Is the candidate healthy enough for the job?

This is one topic where I feel uniquely qualified to discuss the issue. That’s because I’m related to not one but two former United States presidents and both of them had famous health issues of sorts.

The first is William Henry Harrison.  If you know anything about presidential trivia you will instantly recognize him as the shortest serving American president. That’s because about a month after taking office he died of pneumonia.  Yes, the very ailment reportedly afflicting Hillary Clinton ended Harrison’s term in office faster than you can say “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”

If you’ve ever bothered listening to an Inaugural Address all the way through you’ll realize that most are so mind numbing that they generally bore the audience to death.  In Harrison’s case, his speech was so long (8,445 words) and delivered in cold and wet weather that the combined effects of it all eventually killed him.

Some historians believe that Harrison’s initial illness was a gastrointestinal disorder brought on by the nasty water conditions around the White House in that era.  Eventually, that illness supposedly brought on the pneumonia from which he died.  All the various “cures” attempted, including the ever popular bleeding and even an attempt to use live snakes, failed to cure the ailing president and he quickly succumbed to his illness.

He was 68-years-old.

Interestingly, Hillary Clinton is 68-years-old.  Lucky for her, modern medicine has antibiotics available which should get her back on her feet in a few weeks.

My other presidential relative is Harrison’s grandson, Benjamin Harrison.  He never became famously ill (until he died, of course), but he was well known for a germ phobia which caused him to avoid shaking hands or at least to wear gloves when he did encounter the public.  When you’re a politician, blatantly broadcasting to your constituents that they make you sick (or at least have the potential to do so) isn’t the best way to win votes.  This fact is borne out by the results in his case.

He was a one term president.

On a positive note, his diligence paid off and he never contracted pneumonia from all those germy people he met.

Being president is a stressful job.  Just look at photos of even the youngest presidents when they take office compared to four years later.  The White House takes its toll on even the healthiest soul.

Given that, a president’s health is always going to be an issue.  Those seeking the office should expect the scrutiny.

Obviously, not every president has been the picture of health and some who the public might have expected to be very healthy (e.g., John F. Kennedy) upon taking office really were rather unwell.  A few attempted to hide their health (e.g., Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and some hid their surgeries (e.g., Grover Cleveland).

As we all know, staying healthy can be tricky business.  Even a candidate who is the picture of health on Inauguration Day can fall prey to some unfortunate illness down the road.  That doesn’t mean, however, that we can simply ignore a candidate’s health, particularly when there is a red flag that something might be wrong.

Whatever the circumstances, one thing is certain for anyone who actually becomes the president.

On Inauguration Day, take it from William Henry Harrison.

Keep it short and simple and absolutely dress for the weather!



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