“Old Tippecanoe”


"The times are bad and want curing, They're getting past all enduring, Let us turn out old Martin Van Buren, And put in old Tippicanoe." A political song, this piece points out the depressed economic conditions and Tippicanoe's humble origins.

Supplemental text

Old Tippecanoe
  Complete text(s)

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From Anne Warner, Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne &
Frank Warner Collection, #63, pp, 178-179. From the singing of
Lena Bourne Fish of New Hampshire. Collected 1940.

The times are bad and want curing,
They're getting past all enduring,
Let us turn out old Martin Van Buren,
And put in old Tippecanoe.

So the best thing we can do
Is to vote for old Tippecanoe!
We've had of their humbug a-plenty,
Now all of our pockets are empty,
We've not one dollar now where once we had twenty,
So we'll vote for old Tippecanoe.

He was born in a humble log cabin,
Was raised up on hoe cake and bacon,
But the spirit of valor still dwells in
The heart of old Tippecanoe!

Our daring and dauntless brave rider,
His fame's growing deeper and wider,
Let us drink with a glass of hard cider
To the health of old Tippecanoe!


When Andrew Jackson stepped down as President, he hand-chose Martin Van Buren as his successor. It was Van Buren's misfortune to suffer the consequences of Jackson's questionable economic policies. May 10 is traditionally considered the first day of the Panic of 1837, in which hundreds of banks failed. The economic consequences lasted until the early 1840s, and made Van Buren extremely unpopular.

Harrison's campaign was far from honest. He ran as a frontiersman (his election strategy is referred to as the "Log Cabin and Cider" campaign) even though he was a southern aristocrat. He also ran as a successful soldier, even though his only military exploits were the slaughter of Tecumseh's Shawnee and allies on the Tippecanoe River (and that only because Tecumseh himself wasn't present and in his absence the warriors attacked Harrison's defensive position; see John K. Mahon, _The War of 1812_, pp. 24-27; also p. 63, which notes that Harrison actually resigned his commission due to the controversy over the battle) and some minor maneuverings on the Great Lakes during the War of 1812 after the Battle of Lake Erie (for which see "James Bird" [Laws A5]) had opened the way.

But it didn't matter; people would have taken anything in preference to Van Buren. This song, sung to the tune of "I Won't Be Home Until Morning/The Bear Went Over the Mountain," betrays the simplistic popular view of the campaign.

To be as fair as I can (probably fairer than Harrison deserves), his exploits against the Indians did open the way for much American expansion. Pierre Berton, _The Invasion of Canada [Volume I], 1812-1813_, Atlantic-Little Brown, 1980, pp. 53-68, tells how the great Shawnee Tecumseh, and his brother the Prophet, were gradually building a coalition of tribes that might be strong enough to halt American expansion. Harrison was determined to stop it -- and his timing was brilliant: He waited until Tecumseh was too far away to interfere, and then lured the Prophet into battle.

According to Berton, p. 69, "The Battle of Tippecanoe is not the glorious victory that Harrison, down through the years, will proclaim. It is not even a battle, more a minor skirmish, and indecisive, for Harrison, despite his claim, loses far more men than the Indians. Overbolown in the history books, this brief fracas has two significant results: it is the chief means by which Harrison will propel himself into the White House... and, for the Indians, it will be the final incident that provokes them to follow Tecumseh to Canada, there to fight on the British side in the War of 1812.

"Tippecanoe is unnecessary. It is fought only because Harrison needs it to further his own ambitions." Furthering his own ambitions is something at which he was always amazingly successful.

Berton, pp. 75-76, describes the casualties of Tippecanoe as follows: "Harrison has lost almost one-fifth of his force [pf roughly a thousand men].Thirty-seven white corpses lie ssprawled on the battlefield. One hundred and fifty men have been wounded of whom twenty-five will die of their injuries.... No one can be sure how many Indians took part in the skirmish. Nobody know howmany died. Harrison, like most military commanders, overstimates the enemy's losses, declar[ing] that the Prophet's casualties run into the hundreds. This is wishful thinking; only thirty-six Indian corpses are found." Harrison did, however, hold the field, and as a result was able to burn the Prophet's settlement -- and the food supplies left there; he may have caused more casualties by starvation than he did in the battle.

But he also increased Tecumseh's desire for blood, and Tecumseh is a much more formidable leader than his brother the Prophet could ever hope to be. - RBW

Historical references

  • Dec 2, 1840 - William Henry Harrison defeats Martin Van Buren
  • Mar 4, 1841 - Harrison (the first Whig to be elected President) is inaugurated. He gives a rambling inaugural address in a rainstorm and catches cold
  • April 4, 1841 - Harrison dies of pneumonia, making him the first president to fail to complete his term. After some hesitation, Vice President John Tyler is allowed to succeed as President

Cross references


  1. Warner 73, "Old Tippecanoe" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. ST Wa073 (Full)
  3. BI, Wa073


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1940 (Warner)
Found in: US(NE)