Before election as president, Harrison served as the first congressional delegate from the Northwest Territory and the first Governor of Indiana Territory. He gained national fame for leading U.S. forces against Native Americans at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, where he earned the nickname "Old Tippecanoe". He was promoted to major general in the subsequent War of 1812, and served in the Battle of the Thames the following year. This battle resulted in the death of Tecumseh and the dissolution of the Indian coalition which Tecumseh had led.
After the war, Harrison moved to Ohio, where he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1824, the state legislature elected him to the United States Senate. He served a truncated term after being appointed as Minister Plenipotentiary to Gran Colombia in May 1828. In Santa Fe de Bogotá, he spoke with president Simón Bolívar, urging Bolívar to guide his nation toward American-style democracy. Harrison returned to private life on his farm in Ohio until he was nominated for the presidency as one of several Whig Party candidates in the election of 1836. He received more votes than any other Whig, but was defeated by Democrat Martin Van Buren, and returned again to his farm.
Van Buren soon became a major target of criticism from the Whigs following the Panic of 1837. Seeking to run a non-controversial and less ideological war hero who could defeat Van Buren based on popularity, a unified Whig Party nominated Harrison over party founder Henry Clay and fellow general Winfield Scott. John Tyler of Virginia was selected as his running mate, and Harrison and Tyler defeated Van Buren in the 1840 election. At the time, he was the oldest president ever elected. However, Harrison died of pneumonia in April 1841, at the age of 68, a month after taking office. Tyler then assumed the presidency, setting a major precedent. Due to the short length of Harrison's presidency, scholars and historians often forgo listing him in rankings of U.S. presidents.
William Henry Harrison, the seventh and youngest child of Benjamin Harrison V and Elizabeth Bassett Harrison, was born on February 9, 1773, at Berkeley Plantation, the Harrison family home in Charles City County, Virginia. He was a member of a prominent political family of entirely English descent, whose ancestors had been in Virginia since the 1630s. Harrison was also the last U.S. president born as a British subject before the American Revolution. William's father was a Virginia planter who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress (1774–1777) and who signed the Declaration of Independence. The senior Harrison also served in the Virginia legislature, and as the fifth governor of Virginia (1781–84) in the years during and after the American Revolutionary War. William's older brother, Carter Bassett Harrison, represented Virginia in the U.S. House (1793–99).
Harrison was tutored at home until age 14 when he entered Hampden–Sydney College, a Presbyterian college in Virginia. He remained there for three years, receiving a classical education that included Latin, Greek, French, logic, and debate. Harrison's Episcopalian father removed him from the college, possibly for religious reasons, and he then briefly attended a boys' academy in Southampton County, before his father had him transfer to Philadelphia for medical training in 1790. He boarded with Robert Morris and entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied medicine under Doctor Benjamin Rush.; Harrison later told his biographer that he did not enjoy the subject. In the spring of 1791, shortly after he began his medical studies, his father died. When the eighteen-year-old Harrison, who was left in the guardianship of Morris, discovered that his family's financial situation left him without funds for further schooling, he abandoned medical school in favor of a military career.