Did Tecumseh’s Curse Kill Seven US Presidents?

William Henry Harrison
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Tecumseh’s Curse, also called the Curse of Tippecanoe, stems from an 1809 dispute between U.S. President William Henry Harrison and Shawnee Indigenous leader Tecumseh. Some believe the curse is the reason that Harrison, and every following president up to Kennedy who was elected in a year ending in zero, died in office.


In 1840, William Henry Harrison won the presidency with the slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," which referenced Harrison's role in the American victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. While Tecumseh was the leader of the Shawnee, the opposing side in the battle, his hatred for Harrison actually dated back to 1809.

While governor of the Indiana Territory, Harrison negotiated a treaty with Indigenous peoples in which the Shawnee ceded large tracts of land to the U.S. government. Angered by what he considered Harrison’s unfair tactics in negotiating the deal, Tecumseh and his brother organized a group of local tribes and attacked Harrison’s army, thus starting the Battle of Tippecanoe.

During the War of 1812, Harrison furthered reinforced his anti-Indigenous reputation when he defeated the British and the tribes that aided them in the Battle of the Thames. This additional defeat and the loss of more land to the American government is purportedly what drove Tecumseh's brother, Tenskwatawa—known by the Shawnee as “The Prophet”—to place a curse of death on all future U.S. presidents elected in years ending in a zero.

Harrison's Death

Harrison was elected president with almost 53% of the vote, but he barely had a chance to settle in to the office before his death. After delivering a very long inaugural address on a cold and windy day, he was stuck in a rainstorm and caught a serious cold which would eventually turn into the severe pneumonia infection that killed him only 30 days later—Harrison's inauguration was on March 4, 1841, and he died on April 4. His death was first in a series of tragedies that struck presidents winning an election at the start of a new decade—a pattern that would become known as Tecumseh's Curse, or The Curse of Tippecanoe.

Other Victims

Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 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.

James Garfield was elected to the presidency in 1880. 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.

William McKinley was elected to his second term in 1900. 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.

Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920, 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.

Franklin Roosevelt was elected to his third term in 1940. 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.

John F. Kennedy became the youngest elected president upon his victory in 1960. 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. Reagan was the first to foil Tecumseh's curse and, some hypothesize, the president who finally broke it for good.

George W. Bush, elected in the curse-active year of 2000, survived two assassination attempts and several alleged plots during his two terms in office. The next president elected in a year ending in zero is Joe Biden, elected in 2020. While some devotees of the curse suggest that the assassination attempts themselves were the Tecumseh's work, every President since Nixon has been the target of at least one assassination plot.

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Kelly, Martin. "Did Tecumseh’s Curse Kill Seven US Presidents?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/tecumsehs-curse-and-the-us-presidents-105440. Kelly, Martin. (2021, February 16). Did Tecumseh’s Curse Kill Seven US Presidents? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tecumsehs-curse-and-the-us-presidents-105440 Kelly, Martin. "Did Tecumseh’s Curse Kill Seven US Presidents?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tecumsehs-curse-and-the-us-presidents-105440 (accessed June 2, 2023).