Miller Center

William Harrison: Foreign Affairs

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Because his term in office lasted only thirty-two days, it is likely that William Harrison had next to no foreign policy. The United States had seen no international wars for a quarter century, and the depression at home was absorbing the vast majority of the new President's attention. His inaugural address yields few clues, only vagaries about a firm defense, minimal presidential interference in military affairs, and the right of Americans to make their own way in the world. "It is the part of wisdom for a republic to limit the service of that officer at least to whom she has entrusted the management of her foreign relations, the execution of her laws, and the command of her armies and navies to a period so short as to prevent his forgetting that he is the accountable agent, not the principal; the servant, not the master . . . Long the defender of my country's rights in the field, I trust that my fellow-citizens will not see in my earnest desire to preserve peace with foreign powers any indication that their rights will ever be sacrificed or the honor of the nation tarnished by any admission on the part of their Chief Magistrate unworthy of their former glory."

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

William Freehling

Professor Freehling is a senior fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the emeritus Singletary Professor of the Humanities at the University of Kentucky. His writings include:

The Road to Disunion, 1776–1861 (2 volumes; Oxford University Press, 1990 and 2007)

The Reintegration of American History: Slavery and the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 1994)

Prelude to Civil War: the Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816–1836 (Oxford University Press, 1992)