Family Politics#2: Harrison Campaign of 1840 and Col. William Cochran

The great uprising of the people at once began to shape the course of events that were to give to the county a campaign unequaled for monster meetings, doggerel verses and carnival pomp.

That sentence from The History of Guernsey County hints at the excitement in Guernsey County in 1840. It must have been particularly exciting for my 3x great-grandfather, Col. William Cochran and his family, including my 2x great grandmother Emmeline Cochran.

Did you have ancestors who would have been affected by the great Depression of the 1830s and the presidential campaign of 1840?

When I told the story of Col. William Cochran, grandfather of my great-grandfather Doctor William Cochran Stout, I promised to get back to his political involvement in the history-making Harrison campaign for president in 1840.

William Henry Harrison

“Old Tippecanoe”, William Henry Harrison, painted by Rembrandt Peale in 1814

Earlier, I talked about my mother and father (Harriette Anderson and Paul Kaser) who spent a good deal of their courtship campaigning for political candidates. Since we’re in a presidential campaign year in 2016, it is an appropriate time to look at ancestors’ political activities, so this is the second in a monthly series.

Col. William Cochran 1793-1898

As I mentioned in the biographical sketch of Col. Cochran, he was part of a pioneering family in Guernsey County, having arrived when he was about nine years old. (The family settled in a section of Belmont County that soon became part of the new Guernsey county, carved out of Washington and other counties.) His family would have known most everybody in the territory, which helped William when he become involved in political activity. His service in the Ohio Militia would have expanded his contacts. The two paragraphs below are copied from my earlier biographical sketch:

As a young man, William enlisted in the Ohio Militia.  According to an article about the history of the county in The Guernsey Times (1893) “He received his title of colonel in the Second brigade of the Fifteenth division of Ohio Militia, General James M. Bell commanding the division.”

Although none of the articles about him, including his obituary refer to the War of 1812, there is a War of 1812 marker with his gravestone in the Stout farm cemetery in Guernsey county. And there is a Pvt. William Cochran listed as being a member of Captain Cyrus Beatty’s Company from Guernsey County who served from October 23, 1812 to February 22, 1813. William would have been nineteen at that time. I assume that was his company, but how he got from private to Colonel, I’m not sure. And I have found no evidence that William, Captain Beatty, or Major General Bell saw military action during their time in the militia.

William Cochran served as a tax collector before Ohio’s 1852 constitution formalized the collection of taxes, and might well have received his appointment from the Whig politicians, numerous in the county. As a tax collector, he certainly must have been intimately aware of the economic woes of the farmers of the country.  Under Martin Van Buren’s presidency, the country was experiencing a horrendous depression. That lit a fire under the Harrison campaign for president.

William Henry Harrison


The 1840 election of William Henry Harrison was notable for several reasons.

The new Whig Party had formed in opposition to Andrew Jackson in the 1830s, By 1836 they were ready to run a candidate against the only other major party, The Democratic party. However, the Whigs could not quite get their act together and the party ran three candidates–William Henry Harrison, Hugh White and Daniel Webster. With the opposition vote splintred,  the Democratic presidential candidate, Martin Van Buren won.

During Van Buren’s presidency, a severe depression wracked the country, and the Whigs took advantage of discontent with the incumbent by uniting around William Henry Harrison in the 1840 election.

The oldest candidate to run for president up to that time, Harrison was 67 years old. This led the opponents to brand him as over the hill, and satirize him by saying give him a pension and a jug of hard cider and he would retire to his log cabin.

A campaign image of the ‘common man’  was embraced by the astute Harrison campaign as The Log Cabin Campaign, and images of log cabins, coon skin caps, and hard cider appeared everywhere.  They built a log cabin for campaign headquarters in Ohio, put log cabins on wagons for parades, and handed out hard cider at rallies.

Harrison log cabin

Whig campaign poster of Harrison log cabin Image from Library of Congress.*See notes on research for more information.

This was totally deceptive, as Harrison had been born to a patrician Virginia family and his father had signed the Declaration of Independence and served in the Continental Congress. The candidate himself had served as Governor of Indiana Territory and Superintendent of Indian affairs, a General in the War of 1812, and a two-term Congressman from Ohio. Nevertheless the Harrison campaign firmly established a practice in American politics of painting candidate with humble roots to relate to the common man.

The first presidential candidate to actively campaign, Harrison no stranger to military campaigns and political manueverings, did not follow the example of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and sit humbly at home.

His campaign pioneered several now familiar campaign tactics to make their candidate stick in the mind of the voter, including an effective political slogan and a memorable song in addition to the log cabin image.  Today all that most people remember about Harrison is the slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too”. Tippecanoe–the battle where Harrison led troops who attacked and destroyed an Indian village in the Northwest territory, the beginning of the end for Indians in that area.  Tyler–John Tyler, the vice presidential candidate.

We are familiar with the “earworm” campaign songs, like FDR’s Happy Days are Here Again.  (Note the reference to the opponent as “Little Van”.  Sound like something from 2016’s Republican primary?)

What’s the cause of this commotion, motion, motion,
Our country through?
It is the ball a-rolling on
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too.
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too.
And with them we’ll beat little Van, Van, Van,
Van is a used up man.
And with them we’ll beat little Van.

It goes on for 17 three-line verses, each ending with the five-line chorus, beating “little Van.”

Guernsey County in Ohio was packed with Whigs, and because William Cochran’s home township, Oxford, was a large township, it warranted not one but three committeemen for the Whig’s battle in the Harrison campaign.  William was given the responsibility of the Middletown area.  Enthusiasm was nearly overwhelming.

In nearby Cambridge, a flagpole was raised by the Whigs for a campaign banner.  According to The History of Guernsey County,

A large poplar pole more than one hundred feet high was proposed and a call issued for the Whigs of the County to assemble at Cambridge, Ohio on the day fixed (22 Feburary 1840) to give a lift at the Tippecanoe flag raising.

(The flag stood until just before the November election when the Democrats stole out and cut it down in retaliation for a similar prank by the Whigs).

You can bet that William Cochran was there, as the flag raising was presided over by his former commander, General James Bell.

As part of a series of Articles in The Guernsey Times in 1893, Col. Cyrus P. B. Sarchet wrote the following about election activities.

The grand Whig rally at Fairview was on Thursday, October 8 1840.  Of the meeting The Guernsey Times said; “The day was beautiful, and at an early hour the roads leading to town were thronged with the multitudes of the bone and sinew of the county coming out to hear and see Tom Corwin, the eloquent “Wagon Boy.” The number could not fall short of 8,000. The procession (which embraced only a part of the people there) was more than two miles long.

Note: Thomas Corwin had served five terms in Congress from Ohio as a Whig and in 1840 was running for Governor, as well as campaigning for Harrison.  He was known for his clever debate and great speeches.

The same series of articles says of Oxford Township, “As the township was large it needed a good deal of stirring up to get the voters out.”

In The History of Guernsey County, the same gentleman writes this.

The Whig Central Committee stirred up the woods of old Guernsey as never before nor since making the great mass meeting at Cambridge on the 12th of September 1840 the largest gathered by any party, taking into consideration the county population at the time.  They came from east and west, north and south and returned to their homes singing, “What has caused this great commotion, motion, motion…..”

Elsewhere, I have seen a drawing of a log cabin on a wagon that was used in that parade.

So my 3 times great-grandfather was indeed busy “stirring up” voters for Harrison, and I’m sure there was a lot of singing going on from the Harrison song book. My 2x great grandmother, Emmeline Cochran (Later to marry Isaiah Stout) would have been twelve years old at the time. What fun she must have had!

Apparently some of those 8,000 people were out for the parade just for the fun of a parade–and of course that number includes women and children who could not vote– but the final result was Van Buren: 2186 and Harrison 2606.  A healthy margin in a campaign that swept the country and elected the ill-fated Harrison. He died less than a month after taking office.  The story has been that his extremely long inauguration speech, delivered outside in bad weather did him in and he died of pneumonia.

A recent podcast by the Washington Post includes an interview with a doctor who has reviewed the cause of Harrison’s death. First, the weather was not that bad. Second, the symptoms of his death point to typhoid fever, probably from a tainted water supply in the White House.  But because medicine in 1840 would not have recognized the finer points, the attending physician wrote pneumonia as the cause of death.

The death of his hero, Harrison, certainly would have been a blow to William Cochran.  Even worse, the man chosen as Vice President, John Tyler, did not really believe in the Whig principles.  The Whig party only lasted another twelve years, done in by inter-party disagreements between northern abolitionists and southern pro-slavery people.

RESEARCH NOTES

Hear more songs from the Harrison songbook at Smithsonian.

University of Virginia Miller Center  for information on Presidents and presidential campaigns.

Valuable outline of Ohio militia in War of 1812 at this Ohio History site. http://www.warof1812.ohio.gov/_assets/docs/notesonohiomilitia.pdf

Image of campaign poster from Library of Congress. They give this further information:  Summary: A Whig campaign print, showing William Henry Harrison greeting a wounded veteran before a log cabin by a river. The cabin flies an American flag with the words “Harrison & Tyler” and with a liberty cap on its staff. A coonskin is tacked to the side of the cabin, two barrels of hard cider stand by, and a farmer ploughs a field in the distance. The text below the image describes the scene: “This Log Cabin “was the first building erected on the North Bend of the beautiful Ohio River, with the barrel of cider outside and the door always open to the traveller. The wounded soldier is one of” Gen. Harrison’s comrades, “meeting him after his celebrated Victory of Tippecanoe and not only does the brave old Hero give his comrade a hearty welcome, but his dog recognizes him as an old acquaintance, and repeats the welcome by a cordial and significant shake of his tail! If the looker-on will only watch close enough he can see the tail absolutely shake in the picture, particularly on a clear day, and if it is held due East and West, so, as to feel the power of the” magnetic attraction “from the Great West.” The closing statement is a reference to Harrison’s broad base of support in the western United States.

  • A genealogy of Alexander Cochran and family by George C. Williston, (unfortunately this geneaology has been removed from RootsWeb.
  • Information about the Harrison campaign in 1840 is in History of Guernsey County, Ohio by Col. Cyrus P. B. Sarchet, Illinois, (1911)The Campaign of 1840: A Series of Articles in The Guernsey Times, 1893 Compiled by Kurt Tostenson. Original author Col. Cyrus P. B. Sarchet in 1893. In my possession a photo copy of part of the compilation of articles from the Guernsey Times for the Guernsey County Genealogical Society in August 1994.

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