Called the Twenty-Year Curse, the Presidential Curse or the Zero-Year Curse, the pattern seems to have lasted 120 years and ended with Jimmy Carter, who was elected in 1980.
The Indian Wars
The curse originated with a conflict between William Henry Harrison, the Indian fighter, and the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, who opposed the white expansion into the land bounded by the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
Tecumseh argued that the Creator gave the land to all the Indians and that they could not sell it or give it away without the consent of all the people. He and his brother, Tenskwatana (aka The Prophet) tried to convince their people not to adopt the white culture. They wanted to form an independent tribal alliance or confederacy among all the native peoples that extended from the Great Lakes to Mexico. The alliance of Native Americans generally included the Shawnee, Canadian Iroquois, Wyandot, Mingo, Ottawa, Chickamauga, Miami, Kickapoo, Lenni Lenape, Ojibway, Potawatomi, Fox, Sauk, and Mascouten nations.
Harrison defeated the Prophet at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Tecumseh joined forces with the British in the War of 1812 and died at the Battle of the Thames in northern Canada in 1813. After his death, the tribes of his confederacy surrendered to Harrison at Detroit. Today Canada honors Tecumseh as a tragic hero and a brilliant war chief.
The future President Harrison treated the Native Americans brutally and slaughtered any undefended women and children that he found.
Tecumseh, who once successfully predicted an eclipse, and had a reputation for generosity and honesty, did not kill his prisoners. When he released the American prisoners, he sent a message with a curse back with them. The Shawnee chief predicted that Harrison would die in office and each “Great Chief” chosen every 20 years would also die in office in remembrance of the deaths of the Native American people.
So began the curse:
1840: Harrison was elected and died within a month of his inauguration.
1860: Abraham Lincoln was elected and reelected but assassinated in 1865.
1880: After his election James A. Garfield was assassinated in 1881.
1900: William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.
1920: Warren G. Harding died of a heart attack 30 months after his election.
1940: Franklin D. Roosevelt died of natural causes during his third term in office.
1960: John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
1980: Jimmy Carter survived his presidency.
To date, William Henry Harrison holds the record for the shortest term in office–approximately one month. It appears that the curse has ended.