• Mr. Jefferson's Hammer

  • William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy
  • By: Robert M. Owens
  • Narrated by: Doug McDonald
  • Length: 11 hrs and 2 mins
  • 3.8 out of 5 stars (120 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Often remembered as the president who died shortly after taking office, William Henry Harrison remains misunderstood by most Americans. Before becoming the ninth president of the United States in 1841, Harrison was instrumental in shaping the early years of westward expansion. Robert M. Owens now explores that era through the lens of Harrison’s career, providing a new synthesis of his role in the political development of Indiana Territory and in shaping Indian policy in the Old Northwest. 

Owens traces Harrison’s political career as secretary of the Northwest Territory, territorial delegate to Congress, and governor of Indiana Territory, as well as his military leadership and involvement with Indian relations. Thomas Jefferson, who was president during the first decade of the nineteenth century, found in Harrison the ideal agent to carry out his administration’s ruthless campaign to extinguish Indian land titles. 

More than a study of the man, Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer is a cultural biography of his fellow settlers, telling how this first generation of post-Revolutionary Americans realized their vision of progress and expansionism. It surveys the military, political, and social world of the early Ohio Valley and shows that Harrison’s attitudes and behavior reflected his Virginia background and its 18th-century notions as much as his frontier milieu.

Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer offers a much needed reappraisal of Harrison’s impact on the nation’s development and key lessons for understanding American sentiments in the early republic. 

The book is published by University of Oklahoma Press. The audiobook is published by University Press Audiobooks.

"A cogent and compeling addition to the scholarship....” (Journal of America’s Military Past)

©2007 University of Oklahoma Press (P)2019 Redwood Audiobooks

What listeners say about Mr. Jefferson's Hammer

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Title = Truth in Advertising

I picked this book in part because there are so few on presidents from roughly Harrison through Pierce. It is read very very well, and the author has a dry sense of humor that comes from time to time. It's clearly an academic work of a professor (or perhaps deriving from a PhD dissertation), but the text is well written and with as good as narrative as one can imagine for the topic. The strength and weakness is how well the book adheres to the the subtitle.

Anyone really interested in Indian policy in the early 19th century will love the detail here. As one with more casual interest in that topic in particular, I was pleased to learn the big picture particularly well, but I got a little bogged down here and there with all the names, etc. A more general interest study of Harrison would have spent some more time on the latter part of his life, for example.

In any case, I can strongly recommend this book to anyone who finds the title intriguing ... others looking for a more general biography of Harrison should just be aware of what they are getting into.

8 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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An informative analysis of Harrison's early career

This book was not meant to be a thorough biography on William Henry Harrison and that is unfortunate given the fact that such books are scarce. However, what it sets out to do, it does well enough. The book gives an in-depth, academic, unapologetic and sometimes highly critical view of US expansionist policy from the late 1790s to the mid 1810s through the events in Harrison's life. This covers the period of time when Harrison was the principal executive of US policy in the old Northwest Territory and when he served as the Indiana Territory's governor from 1801 to 1812.

After reading it, I feel I have a much better understanding of what transpired between the Native Americans and the expanding population of the United States as they pushed inexorably Westward. It is without a doubt a very sad chapter in our history and one that deserves critical analysis. The author does a good job of illuminating the best and worst of what happened without dwelling in either pointless self-loathing or hero-worship for the principals involved.

What the book lacks is any serious attempt to look into the type of man William Henry Harrison was and what made him tick. The same could be said for other principal characters in the narrative like Tecumseh and Tenskatawa. Because of this, it reads a bit like an academic paper. But one can get a rough idea of the personalities in the narrative through their actions. Harrison comes across as a driven and calculating individual with a deep devotion to his country.

I was disappointed in the lack of any details on Harrison's long political life from 1815-1841 which culminated in two important national campaigns for President against Martin Van Buren. Harrison won the second one and changed the very nature of political campaigns in the process ("Tippecanoe and Tyler Too"). Overall, I am glad to have learned a bit more about the man most people simply know for having the shortest Presidential term in US History. We owe him more than that.

1 person found this helpful

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Appreciate the fine insights

The attitudes of Americans toward Britain and the tribes of the Old Northwest had lasting impact on American culture. W H Harrison played an important role during this time. I really enjoyed the measured treatment of the players on this stage. Keep up the great work.

1 person found this helpful

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Not much of a presidential biography

It's a self described "cultural biography" about how the early Americans treated the Indians using Harrison's life as a vehicle.
Additionally the story is told and judgements made through the values of today. This creates a sense of mocking "quaintness" about the culture and people of that time.

1 person found this helpful

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Solid for a relatively unknown American figure

Outside of the slogan "Tippy Canoe and Tyler Too," I can't imagine there's all that many people that know much about William Henry Harrison. I mean, he was only president for like 30 days. However, what I found most interesting about his story was what led him to even be considered for president. Considering the time and place of Harrison's life, I also thought the author did a pretty good job of limiting his bias, which gets quite irritating anytime we crack open a history book. Sure, America hasn't always done great things throughout our history, but I would argue we still have a lot to be proud of, doing far more good in the world and people’s freedom, in general, than we have ever done bad. If America hadn’t done at least some of the things it did in relation to the Native Americans back when the country was expanding, another people group and country would've come in and done far worse ... and the western world would not have looked anywhere near what it does now as a result. This biography of Harrison does an excellent job of painting the canvas of the country and the dynamics of expansion of his younger years, when he was a governor, just don't expect to find yourself super informed about much else as it relates to anything about Harrison himself, or who he was on a very personal level.

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Tough to get through

While this is not technically a presidential biography, it is why I chose it as I love to learn about the presidents. I have now read or listened to 25 of them and this was the hardest one to get through. Now that I’m done there is no doubt in my mind I should’ve quit listening to it I just kept thinking it would get better. It doesn’t. If you’re interested in a history of Indian battles you might like it. If you want to learn something about Harrison don’t bother.

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Should Have Been More

The author seems torn between telling a narrative about Native American culture and a biography of William Henry Harrison, and instead tries to do both. At times, it seems to work, such as the Battle of Tippecanoe, but for the most part, I wish it was either a one or the other. Because of this, its not a good biography, nor a good cultural account. It brings out the key players, such as Tecumseh and his brother, "the Prophet," but I didn't feel like I understood them any better after reading the book than I did before. The same is true with Harrison. I will say, that his time as a governor and military leader was more significant than his one-month presidency, but there's a lot more to his story that's not found in the book. The author makes it clear that he did not intend to write a comprehensive biography of Harrison, so I shouldn't fault the book on what it is not trying to be, but at the same time, I can't help but think there could have been more.

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it was more about Indiana territory than Harrison

the amount of attention spent laying names of people and Indian tribes was distracting. so was the lack of a chronological pregression.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting

This is an interesting analysis of the U.S.'s Native American policy on the frontier through the lens of Harrison's actions.

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