It will be hard to forget the election of 2016. There’s a hard split between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump supporters, not to mention a notable rift in the very parties themselves — and it’s not hard to see where the division comes from. No one can blame you for wanting a drink after an endless cycle of election scandals and outrage.
It’s easier to instead think of a simpler time, and a president who is mostly remembered for having the shortest time in office: President William Henry Harrison, who was only in office for 32 days. His campaign for office, however, was another campaign that made people want to drink — although in a much different way.
Harrison had an impressive resume going into the election of 1840. He attended college, served in the military and had experience in public office. He was also born into a wealthy upper-class family, making him an easy target for the opposing Democratic press (nearly all press was partisan in those days).
Harrison’s opponents went straight for his privilege. The press made him out as lazy and “wanting nothing other than to hide in a log cabin and drink alcoholic cider for his remaining years,” the blog Our Whitehouse writes. The White House Archives kept the full quote:
“Give him a barrel of hard cider and settle a pension of two thousand a year on him, and my word for it, he will sit … by the side of a ‘sea coal’ fire, and study moral philosophy.”
In the face of adversity, Harrison’s campaign did what every self-respecting campaign would do. It flipped the message.
“Whigs, eager to deliver what the public wanted, took advantage of this and declared that Harrison was ‘the log cabin and hard cider candidate,’ a man of the common people from the rough-and-tumble West,” the government website America’s Story writes. “They depicted Harrison’s opponent, President Martin Van Buren, as a wealthy snob who was out of touch with the people. Though in truth it was Harrison who came from a wealthy, prominent family while Van Buren was from a poor, working family.”
Trinkets galore followed. The campaign gave out mini log cabins, put cabins in the newspaper ads, built real log cabins for the Whig headquarters and gave out cider mugs shaped like log cabins. Harrison’s campaign welcomed the everyman to the campaign cabins with a firm shake and a mug of cider. The country was in the midst of full-blown cabin fever.
Van Buren, on the other hand, was depicted as too good for cider. A political cartoon at the time showed Van Buren happy with “a beautiful goblet of Whitehouse Champagne.”
Harrison fully embraced the everyman candidate, and campaign strategy hasn’t been the same since. Harrison rode that popularity right into the White House with both the popular and the electoral vote. Then he gave the longest inauguration speech in American history, at an hour and 45 minutes, and soon after came down with pneumonia and died on April 4, 1841.
Moral of the story: Cider can get you elected, but it doesn’t guarantee a positive presidency.