William Henry Harrison served as the ninth president of the United States. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841. On a cold, wet day, he refused to wear an overcoat or a hat when he delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. Harrison died of pneumonia just thirty-one days later and had the shortest presidency in U.S. history.
Letter to the Editor
from the President-elect
Published in the Washington Whig
March 3, 1841
On tomorrow’s inauguration day, I will ascend the Capitol steps, raise my right hand for the oath of office, and rise to the challenge we face in our great country. I will keep the promises made during the campaign. I will move away from the Jackson Spoils system, and I will reverse the economic policies of the “Van Ruin” administration. Also, on tomorrow’s inauguration day, I will be coatless.
Farmer’s Almanac predicts a cold and wet day, yet tomorrow I will open my closet, say, “Eff this!” and then close that door. Because, as president, I will forbid the teachings of inherently divisive concepts such as coat-wearing on winter days. Warmth is a choice. Tomorrow, I choose to be coatless. And as president, I will fight for your choice to be coatless, to be hatless, or to wear cargo shorts all winter if you and your frat brothers want to. That is my promise to you, fellow citizens.
There are some who say, “It’s cold out here. You should put on a coat!” To them I say, “You’re cold? I feel fine.” And when they say, “Put on a coat or you’ll catch a cold.” I say, “That old myth?” And to those who say, “You’re not leaving this house without a coat, little mister!” I say, “Mom, I won the election! I don’t want a coat!” And, yes, I understand our dear mothers worry about their children and have the right to decide what’s best for them. But when those children grow into election-winning war heroes, those mothers must back off. Because, though our mothers mean well, they often overstate the usefulness of coats.
How effective are coats? I have people studying this issue, and you won’t believe what they’re finding. For instance, were you aware that coats do nothing to warm the legs? That they only protect the upper 60 percent of the body? My cousin has a friend who wore his warmest coat and walked barefoot in the snow for eight miles. His right foot? Amputated. What did a coat do for him? He was weeks away from getting married, and his girl called off the wedding because he couldn’t walk down the aisle. When it comes to coats, don’t be bullied. Do your research. Draw your own conclusions.
A coat often disguises the body of its wearer. To spend a crisp autumn day flirting with a charming companion before knowing whether their body is worth it? Is this the world you want to live in? The dangers are immense. I will protect you.
You’ve heard it’s safe to wear a coat today. Is it? What are the long-term consequences of coat-wearing? What happens in five years when the lack of chill catches up to you? Does uneven warming of the body cause infertility? I’m just asking questions.
So tomorrow, when I stand on the Capitol Steps and deliver a modest two-hour speech, I shall be coatless. And that’s a decision I, and I alone, can make. And as I look out from that hallowed place, I will see many coat wearers. And, yet, I will not judge them for the choice they, and they alone, have the right to make. I will not judge, but simply take note of the fear in the coat wearers’ eyes. The fear of chills. The fear of mortality. The fear of death. And I will look out from the Capitol steps and know that I will never die. Not for years and years. And when that sad day comes, I will look back on my first inauguration, and I will be proud of my choice. My choice to be coatless. A choice that never killed anyone. I’ll also be hatless, but hats don’t matter.