Monday, September 24, 2007

Old Tippecanoe

by Freeman Cleaves

In the past, when I've been seeking out Presidential biographies, I've been looking for the most modern versions I could find. I figure that if you go back to the fifties or earlier, all you'll get is a rah-rah tale of "America right or wrong" hero worship. And if you try for the sixties or seventies, all you'll get is a "let me tell you the truth about this so called hero" tale. Well, when it came to the 9th U.S. President, my choice was Inter-library Loan, or this 1939 volume. (not counting the juvenile biographies, of course.) Old Tippecanoe was not quite the propaganda piece I envisioned, but it certainly was not written for 21st Century sensibilities. William Henry Harrison was a man of the frontier, living most of his life in Indiana and Ohio. As Mr. Cleaves described the events of Harrison's life, he did mention the shortcomings of the European settlers, but never questioned their right to be in territory that belonged to other people.Nor did he hesitate to call the Native Americans "savages" while at the same time reporting how American soldiers were also collecting enemy scalps during the War of 1812. On the other hand, every era has its own bias, and it does me good to read an author that might call our modern beliefs into question. But, cultural biases aside, this wasn't a satisfying book. I would have preferred a volume with more analysis of the motivations and settings of our forebears, rather than one that focused so closely on the details of Harrison's life. It might have made the book more interesting and informative. Of course, one can hardly blame a biographer for focusing on his subject. Ah, well. I suppose if I insist on reading a bio for every president, I'll have to accept a few disappointments. (The books, I mean, not the presidents. The presidents I can always hope to vote out of office.)
'Tis only waiting room material.
LibraryThing link

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