The tone for the campaign was set, and pundits quickly fell into step. The Louisville Journal reported that when [Martin] Van Buren read this outrageous attack, “he actually burst his corset.” Davy Crockett penned an incendiary faux biography of Van Buren, Damning the President as traveling in “an English coach”…”He is laced up in corsets, such as women in town wear, and, if possible, tighter than the best of them,” wrote Crockett, so that “[i]t woudl be difficult to say from his personal appearance, whether he was man or woman, but for his large red and gray whiskers.”
The strategy paid off handsomely, sending an incumbent to defeat for only the third time in American history…and it set a dubious precedent: Since 1840 the president’s manhood has always been a question, his manly resolve, firmness, courage, and power equated with the capacity for violence, military virtues, and a plain-living style that avoided cultivated refinement and civility.
The campaign of 1840 had a sad, if well-known, coda. Harrison apparently believed his own hype. Taking the oath of office on one of the most bitterly cold days on record in Washington, Harrison refused to wear a topcoat lest he appear weak and unmanly. He caught pneumonia as a result, was immediately bedridden, and died one month later – the shortest term in office of any president in our history.