The shortest term for a U.S. President was only one month.

  • William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison
Credit: GL Archive/ Alamy Stock Photo

William Henry Harrison didn’t accomplish much during his time in the White House, but there’s a good reason for that: He died after just one month in office. The ninth President of the United States caught a cold after getting stuck in a rainstorm on March 24, 1841, just 20 days after his inauguration, and made the fateful decision not to change his wet clothes upon returning to the White House. He developed a “severe chill” the next day, complained of “fatigue and mental anxiety,” and underwent bloodletting before being diagnosed with pneumonia on March 29. His illness was kept from the public, which began to worry — and speculate — about the newly elected commander in chief.

Harrison’s condition worsened, and on April 3 he spoke his last words, directed at Vice President John Tyler: “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.” He succumbed to the illness at 12:30 in the morning on April 4, the first President to die in office, setting off a brief constitutional crisis, as presidential succession had yet to be clearly defined. Harrison’s wife Anna, who was still in Ohio, never moved into the White House. Tyler was sworn into office two days later once the confusion was resolved, earning the unfortunate nickname of “His Accidency.”

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