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Future President, General William Henry Harrison, Successfully Defends Himself Against Graft Charges
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During a Congressional inquiry that he requested to clear his name, Harrison answers criticism regarding an incident during his command of the Northwestern Army during the War of 1812. Here, the future president provides lengthy details to the Department of War about “supplying the troops at Detroit under orders given by General Cass & Colo Butler” in order “to supply the neglect of the contractor in furnishing the troops then.”

WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON. Autograph Letter Signed as Congressman, to Peter Hagner. Northbend, [Ohio], September 18, 1816. 3 pp, 7½ x 12½ in., On two conjoined sheets.

Inventory #23213.03       Price: $15,000

Partial Transcript

“When I received your letter containing a Statement of Certain Claims made by Mr. Orr against the Government I appointed a day to meet Capt. Oliver in Cincinnati for the purpose of examining the statements together that we might write in affording you all the light on the Subject which it was in our power to afford. But when I expected to meet him, I found that he had taken a trip to some part of Virginia. Two absences from home since that period and the illness of my wife has prevented me from attending heretofore to your request. I enclose you the statement with the several items numbered & here follow my remarks on each....

No.1 I made in the course of the last Winter a long statement containing all the circumstances which authorised this purchase to be laid before a Committee of Congress. This statement together with my letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives was referred by that House to the Secretary of War amongst the documents which accompanied it were the original letters from Gen Gano to me describing his situation & that of the Garrisons of Sandusky & Put in Bay & the neglect of the Contractor to broker the necessary supplies. A referrence to these documents will furnish all the information which I can give. Capt. Olliver says that the documents which accompanied his accounts will also shew the Correctness of his proceedings....

No 2 & 3 I do not know from the manner in which these two charges is made to what purchases they refer. I suppose however that they refer to the purchase of Beef Cattle made by Mr. Piatt in the fall of 1813 & to the Purchases made by him in the Winter following winter for the supplying the troops at Detroit under orders given by General Cass & Colo Butler in the first instance & afterwards repeated by me. The statement to which I have referred above in the possession of the Secretary of War will shew that in June 1813 I offered to deliver to Mr. Orr the whole of the public provisions, he refused to take them upon the only terms which I thought proper to offer them....

In the Month of September following when the Army was about to embark on the lake in prosecution of the objects of the campaign I believe he would have taken them - but at that period I thought it proper to retain them & to continue to issue them by means of the Commissariat which had been previously organized for the following reasons. - After the Contractor had refused to take them in June I did not think that the Government were obliged to deliver them When they had been bought at great expense, difficulty & risque to the very margin of the lake From a calculation which was made by Col. Bartlett the Quarter Master General it appeared that the United States would gain a considerable sum by pursuing this course - as the state in which the provisions then were would enable the commissioner to issue them with little or no loss ... The other considerable purchase of provisions made by the Commissary was done by the direction of Gen Cass & Col. Butler (who successively commanded at Detroit) to supply the neglect of the contractor in furnishing the troops then…

7. The march of the Army up the Thames was certainly rapid but I cannot conceive why it should be called Desultory. - the rear of the Army was safe & the Contractors proper I should suppose might have taken care of the Hides - Altho not within my own knowledge I think it very probable that beaver were often taken in the way here stated & the Hides lost to the Contractors...

I shall be at Washington in December & will then settle the account and will also give any further information in my power on the subject of Mr. Orr’s claims.

I am very Respectfully yr Hum Servt

Willm Henry Harrison.”

Historical Background

 “Old Tippecanoe” William Henry Harrison followed orders to provide for his troops when government suppliers failed to fulfill their contracts during the War of 1812. In Harrison’s command, “there was such a scarcity of provisions, in the winter of 1813-‘14, due to the failure of the contractors to keep up an adequate supply, that officers of the United States were ordered to make purchases.” Harrison’s actions upset the contractors, who accused the general of antagonism towards them and charged him with improper personal financial gain from the transactions. Incensed, Harrison wrote to the War Department requesting an investigation to vindicate him.

Here, now-Congressman Harrison writes to Peter Hagner detailing his side. President Madison appointed Hagner an “additional Accountant” to the War Department in April 1816, around the time Harrison was elected fill the vacancy left by Ohio Congressman John McLean, who took a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court. Harrison took his seat when the Second Session of the 14th Congress convened on December 2, 1816.

Harrison was exonerated early in the new year. In January 1817, the House of Representatives heard the report of the committee assigned to investigate Harrison: “the committee are unanimously of opinion that general Harrison stands above suspicion as to his having had any pecuniary or improper connexion with the officers of the commissariat for the supply of his army; that he did not want...or improperly interfere with the rights of the contractors, and that in his whole conduct, as the commander of the said army, he was governed by a laudable zeal for, and devotion to, the public service and interest. ...Whereupon, it was, Ordered, That the committee be discharged from the further consideration of the subject.”

Congressman Harrison was present in the House Chamber to hear Kentucky Congressman Richard M. Johnson make his report. Coincidentally, Johnson had served under Harrison in the October 5, 1813, Battle of the Thames, where Major General William Henry Harrison defeated the British and Indians. Shawnee Chief Tecumseh was killed, and although his remains were never identified, some witnesses claimed (after the fact) that Tecumseh was killed by Congressman / Colonel Johnson, who led two mounted Kentucky regiments that joined Harrison’s Northwestern Army. Johnson returned to Congress a hero. The Battle of the Thames effectively destroyed the coalition of tribes led by Tecumseh and led to the reestablishment of American control over the Northwest frontier.

Condition

Expertly strengthened at folds. Fine condition.

Sources

“Legislative History of the Subsistence Department of the United States Army from June 16 1775 to August 15 1876” (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1877).

Journal of the House of Representatives, January 23, 1817.


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