Tippecanoe and Slavery Too: Jonathan Jennings, William Henry Harrison, and the Battle for Free Labor in Indiana
Southern New Hampshire University
In the first few decades of the nineteenth century, the expansion of the young United States beyond those original thirteen began to take shape. In the development of the Old Northwest and the states that would eventually emerge from the region, some of the nation’s first real debates on expanding slavery beyond the states where it already existed commenced. In what would become the Indiana Territory, and later the State of Indiana, political divisions regarding slavery were largely embodied by two men. William Henry Harrison was the first Governor of the Indiana Territory. A Virginian, Harrison grew up as a member of the planter class in his home state. The politics and economics of the plantation system would have seemed to work well in the new territory north of the Ohio River, and Harrison, in an effort to more quickly populate the region with proper men of means, especially those wanting to import slavery, would advocate for its legalization. Leading the free-soilers in Indiana was Jonathan Jennings. An arch enemy of aristocratic themes in politics, and therefore a consistent opponent to William Henry Harrison, Jennings would spend two decades in public life in Indiana, working to eradicate slavery from within the territory’s borders and ensuring that Indiana’s first constitution would prohibit the practice. Though Indiana entered the Union as a free state, the story of Jennings and the battle for free labor is not widely known, even in the Hoosier state. This essay examines the story and its main characters, as well as how the story has been told over the years and has almost been forgotten.