Monday, April 7, 2008

Tecumseh's Curse

Our discussion of the McKinley assassination in class today reminded me of something many of you may have heard of: the fabled Tecumseh's Curse. In 1811, William Henry Harrison helped defeat Native American forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. It is rumored that after this battle, a curse was put on the presidency in retaliation for the U.S. military's brutal treatment of the Indians. Any president elected in a year ending in zero would die while in office. Check out the history:

1840 - "Tippecanoe" Harrison is elected to office and dies within a month of beginning his presidency from a cold/stomach flu.

1860 - Abraham Lincoln: assassinated by John Wilkes Booth

1880 - James Garfield: assassinated by Charles J. Guiteau

1900 - William McKinley: assassinated by Leon F. Czolgosz

1920 - Warren G. Harding: died from a stroke while still in office

1940 - Franklin D. Roosevelt: only president to be elected to a third term in office, dies in his third term from a cerebral hemorrhage

1960 - John F. Kennedy: assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald


1980 - Ronald Reagan: survives an assassination attempt

So those are the facts. I personally am not sure what to believe, but it is pretty interesting in itself to see the kinds of superstitions people come up with. Perhaps it is another way of painting Native Americans as "Noble Savages" - mystic people, deeply connected with nature and spirituality which we can never hope to understand. If nothing else it certainly speaks to the atrocities of the U.S. government in their interactions with Native Americans.

1 comment:

Robert Gottlieb said...

This curse also has a weak connection to George W. Bush, the next president in line for it. While he was in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, a man lobbed a grenade at him. However, the would-be assassin's aim was terrible and the grenade was a dud. He was quickly taken away by authorities. If we're stretching the curse to included failed assassination attempts, it misses some presidents elected at the "wrong" time, such as Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon.

I'm not sure what the name of the curse means, but Tecumseh's name also lived on as the middle name of Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, so somebody liked Tecumseh. Sherman's trademark was burning everything in his path, but that's unrelated.

I remember an interesting note about Garfield's assassination from history class (with a little help from Wikipedia). Garfield died 11 weeks after he was shot. During this time doctors probed his body to extract the bullet. They failed even while using a metal detector. The problem was that Garfield was resting on one of the first beds in America to use metal bedsprings, which the doctors did not know.

If anyone is interested in learning more about presidential assassinations, they should check out the play Assassins. I haven't actually seen it, but it has music by Sondheim and it won five Tony Awards, so that's something.

Also, I have a small correction to make. FDR died in his fourth term in office.