In its effort to defeat the incumbent Democrat Martin Van Buren, the Whig Party decided to hold a presidential nominating convention in Harrisburg at the end of 1839. The only building available that was large enough to serve their needs was the newly re-constructed Zion Lutheran Church. Meeting here from December 4th to 7th of 1839, the convention resulted in the nomination of William Henry Harrison of Ohio for president and John Tyler of Virginia for Vice President. A disparaging remark against Harrison concerning a log cabin and hard cider was spun by his campaign into a winning slogan, casting him as a man of the people. Read more about the convention on wikipedia.
Today, visitors to Zion can see where the actual convention took place, along with many artifacts relating to the 1839 convention and the campaign of 1840.
On Aug 11, 1953, historical markers were dedicated for the Old Brick Capitol(1892-1897), the State Capitol (current), and the site of the presidential convention. These markers are part of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission's (PHMC) Historical Marker Program
The marker reads:
The Whig Convention of Dec. 1839 met in this church and nominated Wm. Henry Harrison for president, John Tyler for vice-president. Popularized as "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," they were elected, 1840.
175th Anniversary Celebration
The 175th anniversary of the Whig National Convention was celebrated on Saturday, December 6, 2014 from 2:00pm-4:00pm.
The celebration included:
- Presentaion by local historian Howard Parker
- Tour of the 2nd floor sanctuary where it all took place
- Period music, both seasonal and patriotic
- Displays of actual campaign, convention, and mid-19th century items
- Reception to end the event
The celebration was covered by local news station, WHTM (ABC27). You can read the original article in PDF form
The Press Release
(PDF) and Event Flyer
(PDF) are also available to view.
Featured Speaker Howard J. Parker
Howard Parker was a local historian, reenactor, and long-time docent at the John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion. He has portrayed Thomas Elder, 19th century Harrisburg attorney, bank president, entrepreneur, and behind the scenes politician, at “An Evening with Thomas Elder” at the Harris-Cameron Mansion, at the anniversary commemoration at the historic Peace Church, and at events held by the Historical Society of Dauphin County. He researched the pivotal role of central Pennsylvanians in the watershed presidential election of 1840 including the Whig Convention at Zion Lutheran Church.
C-SPAN Visits Zion
In 2016, C-SPAN came to Harrisburg for its “Cities Tour” series. Aired in January 2017, Zion was fortunate to be featured in a segment with local historian Howard Parker as he recounted the Whig Convention held here in 1839. The segment can be found at https://www.c-span.org/video/?422270-1/1839-whig-convention