Tecumseh's Curse and the US Presidency

Coincidence or Something More?

William Henry Harrison
Kean Collection / Getty Images

I​n 1840, William Henry Harrison won the presidency with the slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." That slogan referred to his participation in the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, when Harrison led the Americans to defeat the Shawnee, led by Tecumseh. As a result, Harrison was celebrated as a war hero. 

While Harrison was elected with almost 53% of the vote, he never really had a chance to take office.

After delivering a very long inaugural address on a cold, windy day in March, he was stuck in a rainstorm and caught the cold which would eventually turn to pneumonia and kill him. He served as president for just a few short weeks, from March 4 to April 4, 1841. His death was first in a long series, a pattern that would become known as Tecumseh's Curse, or The Curse of Tippecanoe: Presidents elected in a year ending in a zero would die in office.

Presidents Affected by Tecumseh's Curse

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as the first person to run under the Republican party. The United States quickly moved into a Civil War which would last from 1861-1865. On April 9th, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, thereby ending the rift that was tearing apart the nation. Only five days later on April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated by Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.

In 1880, James Garfield was elected to the presidency. He took office on March 4, 1881. On July 2, 1881, Charles J. Guiteau shot the president, which eventually led to his death on September 19, 1881. The mentally unbalanced Guiteau was upset because he had been denied a diplomatic post by the Garfield administration.

He was eventually hung for his crime in 1882.

In 1900, William McKinley was elected to his second term as president. Once again, he defeated his opponent, William Jennings Bryan as he had in 1896. On September 6, 1901, McKinley was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz. McKinley died on September 14th. Czolgosz called himself an anarchist and admitted to killing the president because, "...he was the enemy of the people..." He was electrocuted in October, 1901.

In 1920, Warren G. Harding is widely known as one of the worst presidents of all time. Scandals such as the Teapot Dome and others marred his presidency. On August 2, 1923, Harding was visiting San Francisco on a cross-country Voyage of Understanding to meet people across the nation. He suffered a stroke and died at the Palace Hotel.

In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt was elected to his third term as president. He would be elected again in 1944. His presidency began in the depths of the Great Depression and ended shortly after the fall of Hitler in World War II. He died on April 12, 1945, of a cerebral hemorrhage. Since he was elected during one of his terms in a year that ended with a zero, he is considered part of Tecumseh's curse.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy became the youngest elected president.

This charismatic leader suffered some highs and lows during his short term in office, including the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the creation of the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was riding in a motorcade through Dallas and was assassinated. Lee Harvey Oswald was found to be guilty as a lone gunman by the Warren Commission. However, many people still question whether more individuals were involved in a conspiracy to kill the president.

Breaking the Curse?

In 1980, Ronald Reagan became the oldest man to be elected president. This actor-turned-politician also suffered highs and lows during his two terms in office. He is seen as being an important figure in the breakdown of the former Soviet Union. However, his presidency was tarnished by the Iran-Contra Scandal.

On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley attempted to assassinate Reagan in Washington, D.C. Reagan was shot but was able to survive with quick medical attention. President Reagan was the first to foil Tecumseh's curse and, some hypothesize, the president who finally broke it for good.