Benjamin Harrison (August 20, 1833 – March 13, 1901) was the 23rd President of the United States, serving one term from 1889 to 1893. Harrison was born in North Bend, Ohio, and at age 21 moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he became a prominent state politician. During the American Civil War Harrison served as a Brigadier General in the XXI Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. After the war he unsuccessfully ran for the governorship of Indiana, but was later elected to the U.S. Senate from that state. Harrison, a Republican, was elected to the presidency in 1888, defeating the Democratic incumbent, Grover Cleveland. He was the first and only president from the state of Indiana. His presidential administration is best known for its economic legislation, including the McKinley Tariff and the Sherman Antitrust Act, and for annual federal spending that reached one billion dollars for the first time. Democrats attacked the "Billion Dollar Congress", and used the issue, along with the growing unpopularity of the high tariff, to defeat the Republicans, both in the 1890 mid-term elections and in Harrison's bid for reelection in 1892. After failing to win reelection he returned to private life at his home in Indianapolis where he remarried, wrote a book, and later represented the Republic of Venezuela in an international case against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1900 he traveled to Europe as part of the case and, after a brief stay, returned to Indianapolis where he died the following year from complications arising from influenza.
Family and educationEdit
The Harrisons were among the First Families of Virginia, with their presence in the New World dating back to the arrival of an Englishman, named Benjamin Harrison, at Jamestown, Virginia in 1630. The future president Benjamin was born on August 20, 1833, in North Bend, Hamilton County, Ohio, as the second of eight children of John Scott Harrison (later a U.S. Congressman from Ohio) and Elizabeth Ramsey Irwin. Benjamin was a grandson of President William Henry Harrison and great-grandson of revolutionary leader and former Virginia governor Benjamin Harrison V. Harrison was seven years old when his grandfather was elected President, but he did not attend the inauguration. Although Harrison's family was old and distinguished, he did not grow up in a wealthy household, as most of John Scott Harrison's farm income was expended on his children's education Despite the meager income, Harrison's boyhood was enjoyable, with much of it spent outdoors fishing or hunting. Harrison's early schooling took place in a one-room schoolhouse near his home, but he was later provided with a tutor to help him with college preparatory studies. Harrison and his brother, Irwin, enrolled in Farmer's College near Cincinnati, Ohio in 1847. Harrison attended the college for two years. In 1850, he transferred to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he was a member of the fraternity Phi Delta Theta and graduated in 1852. Harrison attended Miami University with John Alexander Anderson, who would become a six term congressman, and Whitelaw Reid, who would be Harrison's vice presidential candidate in his reelection campaign. While attending Miami University, was greatly influenced by one his professors, Robert Hamilton Bishop, who instructed him in history and political economy. At Miami, Harrison joined a Presbyterian church and, like his mother, he would remain a member for the rest his life. After completing college Harrison took up the study of law in the Cincinnati law office of Storer & Gwynne, but before completing his law studies he returned to Oxford to marry. While at Farmer's College, Harrison met Caroline Lavinia Scott, the daughter of the University's president, John W. Scott, a Presbyterian minister. On October 20, 1853, they married in Oxford, Ohio, with Caroline's father performing the ceremony. The Harrisons had two children, Russell Benjamin Harrison (August 12, 1854 – December 13, 1936) and Mary "Mamie" Scott Harrison McKee (April 3, 1858 – October 28, 1930).
Early legal careerEdit
After his marriage in 1853, Harrison returned to live on his father's farm where he finished his law studies. In the same year, he inherited $800 after the death of an aunt, using the money to move to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1854. He was admitted to the bar there and began practicing law in the office of John H. Ray. The same year he became a crier for the Federal Court in Indianapolis, making $2.50 per day. He was responsible for passing through the streets and declaring announcements from the court.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Harrison wished to join the Union Army, but initially resisted, as he was concerned that his young family would need his financial support. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for more recruits. While visiting Governor Oliver Morton, Harrison found him distressed over the shortage of men answering the latest call. Harrison told the governor, "If I can be of any service, I will go". Morton then asked Harrison if he could help to recruit a regiment, though he would not ask him to serve. Harrison proceeded to raise a regiment, recruiting throughout northern Indiana. Morton offered its command to Harrison, but he declined because of his lack of military experience, and instead was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. In August 1862, when the regiment left Indiana to join the Union Army at Louisville, Kentucky, Harrison was promoted by Morton to the rank of Colonel, and his regiment was commissioned as the 70th Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry. The 70th Indiana first saw action in the Battle of Perryville, but spent most of the next two years performing reconnaissance duty and guarding railroads in Kentucky and Tennessee. In 1864, Harrison and his regiment joined William T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign and moved to the front lines. On January 2, 1864, Harrison was promoted to command the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the XXI Army Corps. He commanded the brigade at the Battles of Resaca, Cassville, New Hope Church, Lost Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain, Marietta, Peachtree Creek and Atlanta. Harrison was later transferred to the Army of the Cumberland and participated in the Battle of Nashville. On March 22, 1865, Harrison earned his final promotion, to the rank of Brigadier General, and marched in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C. before mustering out of the army on June 8, 1865.
While serving in the army in October 1864, Harrison was reelected reporter of the Supreme Court of Indiana and served four more years. The position was not politically powerful, but did afford Harrison a steady income. Harrison's public profile was raised when President Grant appointed him to represent the federal government in a civil claim brought by Lambdin P. Milligan, whose wartime conviction for treason had been reversed by the Supreme Court. Due to Harrison's advocacy, the damages awarded against the government were minimal. Local Republicans urged Harrison to run for Congress, but he initially confined his political activities to speaking on behalf of other Republican candidates, a task for which he received high praises from his colleagues.
In 1872, Harrison entered the race for the Republican nomination for governor of Indiana. He was unable to get the support of former Governor Oliver Morton, who favored his opponent, Thomas M. Browne, and ultimately Harrison lost his bid for statewide office Harrison returned to his law practice where, despite the Panic of 1873, he was financially successful enough to build a grand new home in Indianapolis in 1874. He continued to make speeches on behalf of Republican candidates and policies. In 1876 Harrison did not initially seek his party's nomination for governor, but when the original nominee dropped out of the race, Harrison accepted the Republicans' invitation to take his place on the ticket. His campaign was based strongly on economic policy, and he was in favor of deflating the national currency. His policies proved popular with his base, but he was ultimately defeated by a plurality to James D. Williams, losing by 5,084 votes out of a total 434,457 cast. Harrison remained a prominent Republican in Indiana following his defeat, and when the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 reached Indianapolis, he helped to mediate between the workers and management and to preserve public order. When Senator Morton died in 1878, the Republicans nominated Harrison to run for the seat, but the party failed to gain a majority in the state legislature, and the Democratic majority elected Daniel W. Voorhees instead. President Hayes appointed Harrison to the Mississippi River Commission in 1879, which was founded to facilitate internal improvements on that river. He was a delegate at the 1880 Republican National Convention the following year.
United States SenatorEdit
After Harrison led the Republican delegation to the National Convention, he was again mentioned as a possible Senate candidate. He gave speeches in favor of Garfield in Indiana and New York, further raising his profile in the party. When the Republicans retook the state legislature, Harrison's election to the Senate was threatened by his intra-party rival Judge Walter Q. Gresham, but the contest was decided in favor of Harrison. After President James Garfield's victory in 1880, Harrison was offered a cabinet position, but he declined in order to begin his term as senator. Harrison served in the Senate from March 4, 1881, to March 4, 1887. He was chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Transportation Routes to the Seaboard (47th Congress) and U.S. Senate Committee on Territories (48th and 49th Congresses). The major issue confronting Senator Harrison in 1881 was the budget surplus. Democrats wished to reduce the tariff, thus limiting the amount of money the government took in; Republicans instead wished to spend the money on internal improvements and pensions for Civil War veterans. Harrison took his party's side and advocated for generous pensions for veterans and their widows. Harrison also supported, unsuccessfully, aid for education of Southerners, especially the children of the slaves freed in the Civil War, believing that education was necessary to make the white and black populations truly equal in political and economic power. Harrison differed from his party in opposing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, believing that it violated existing treaties with China. In 1884, Harrison and Gresham again opposed each other, this time for influence at the 1884 Republican National Convention. The delegation ended up supporting James G. Blaine, the eventual nominee. In the Senate, Harrison achieved passage of his Dependent Pension Bill only to see it vetoed by President Grover Cleveland. His efforts to further the admission of new western states were stymied by Democrats, who feared that the new states would elect Republicans to Congress. In 1885, the Democrats redistricted the Indiana state legislature, which resulted in an increased Democratic majority in 1886, despite an overall Republican majority statewide. Harrison was defeated in his bid for reelection, the result being determined against him after a deadlock in the state senate, with the legislature eventually choosing Democrat David Turpie. Harrison returned to Indianapolis and his law practice, but stayed active in state and national politics.
Election of 1888Edit
The initial favorite for the Republican nomination was the previous nominee, James G. Blaine of Maine. After Blaine wrote several letters denying any interest in the nomination, his supporters divided among other candidates, with John Sherman of Ohio as the leader among them Others, including Chauncey Depew of New York, Russell Alger of Michigan, and Harrison's old nemesis Walter Q. Gresham, now a federal appellate court judge in Chicago, also sought the delegates' support at the 1888 Republican National Convention. Blaine did not choose any of the candidates as a successor, so none entered the convention with a majority of the Blaine supporters. Harrison placed fourth on the first ballot, with Sherman in the lead, and the next few ballots showed little change. The Blaine supporters shifted their support around among the candidates they found acceptable, and when they shifted to Harrison, they found a candidate who could attract the votes of many delegates. He was nominated on the eighth ballot by 544 to 108 votes, winning the Republican presidential nomination. Levi P. Morton of New York was chosen as his running mate.
Election over ClevelandEdit
Harrison's opponent in the general election was incumbent President Grover Cleveland. He ran a front-porch campaign, typical of the era, in which the candidate does not campaign but only receives delegations and makes pronouncements from his home town. The Republicans campaigned heavily on the issue of protective tariffs, turning out protectionist voters in the important industrial states of the North. The election focused on the swing states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Harrison's home state of Indiana. Harrison and Cleveland split these four states, with Harrison winning by means of notoriously fraudulent balloting in New York and Indiana. Voter turnout was 79.3% because of a large interest in the campaign issue, and nearly eleven million votes were cast. Although Harrison received 90,000 fewer popular votes than Cleveland, he carried the Electoral College 233 to 168. Although he had made no political bargains, his supporters had given many pledges upon his behalf. When Boss Matthew Quay of Pennsylvania, who rebuffed for a Cabinet position for his political support during the convention, heard that Harrison ascribed his narrow victory to Providence, Quay exclaimed that Harrison would never know "how close a number of men were compelled to approach...the penitentiary to make him President." Harrison was known as the Centennial President because his inauguration celebrated the centenary of the first inauguration of George Washington in 1789.
Senator John Sherman worked closely with Harrison, writing bills regulating monopolies and monetary policy. Members of both parties were concerned with the growth of the power of trusts and monopolies, and one of the first acts of the 51st Congress was to pass the Sherman Antitrust Act, sponsored by Senator John Sherman of Ohio. The Act passed by wide margins in both houses, and Harrison signed it into law. The Sherman Act was the first Federal act of its kind, and marked a new use of federal government power. While Harrison approved of the law and its intent, there is no evidence he ever sought to enforce it very vigorously. The government successfully concluded only one case during Harrison's time in office (against a Tennessee coal company), although it did pursue cases against several other trusts.
One of the most volatile issues of the 1880s was whether the currency should be backed by gold and silver, or by gold alone. The issue cut across party lines, with western Republicans and southern Democrats joining together in the call for the free coinage of silver, and both parties' representatives in the northeast holding firm for the gold standard. Because silver was worth less than its legal equivalent in gold, taxpayers paid their government bills in silver, while international creditors demanded payment in gold, resulting in a depletion of the nation's gold supply.] Owing to worldwide deflation in the late nineteenth century, however, a strict gold standard had resulted in reduction of incomes without the equivalent reduction in debts, pushing debtors and the poor to call for silver coinage as an inflationary measure. The silver coinage issue had not been much discussed in the 1888 campaign, so Harrison's exact position on the issue was initially unclear, but his appointment of a silverite Treasury Secretary, William Windom, encouraged the free silver supporters. Harrison attempted to steer a middle course between the two positions, advocating a free coinage of silver, but at its own value, not at a fixed ratio to gold. This served only to disappoint both factions. In July 1890, Senator Sherman achieved passage of a compromise bill, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, in both houses. Harrison thought that the bill would end the controversy, and he signed it into law. The effect of the bill, however, was the increased depletion of the nation's gold supply, a problem that would persist until the second Cleveland administration resolved it.
In Harrison's time in office, the United States was continuing to experience advances in science and technology. Harrison was the earliest President whose voice is known to be preserved. That thirty-six-second recording (help·info) was originally made on a wax phonograph cylinder in 1889 by Giuseppe Bettini. Harrison also had electricity installed in the White House for the first time by Edison General Electric Company, but he and his wife would not touch the light switches for fear of electrocution and would often go to sleep with the lights on.
Reelection campaign in 1892Edit
Long before the end of the Harrison Administration, the treasury surplus had evaporated and the nation's economic health was worsening with the approach of the conditions that would lead to the Panic of 1893. Congressional elections in 1890 went against the Republicans, several party leaders withdrew their support for President Harrison, although he had cooperated with Congressional Republicans on legislation, and it was clear that Harrison would not be re-nominated unanimously. Many of Harrison's detractors pushed for the nomination of Blaine, until Blaine publicly proclaimed himself not to be a candidate in February 1892. Some party leaders still hoped to draft Blaine into running, and speculation increased when Blaine resigned as Secretary of State in June.] At the convention in Minneapolis, Harrison prevailed on the first ballot, but not without significant opposition.]
After he left office, Harrison returned to Indiana. From July 1895 to March 1901, Harrison was on the Board of Trustees of Purdue University. Harrison Hall, a campus dormitory, was named in his honor. In 1896 he remarried, to Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, the niece of his deceased wife, and 25 years his junior. Harrison's two adult children, Russell, 41 years old at the time, and Mary (Mamie), 38, did not attend the wedding because they disagreed with their father's marriage. Benjamin and Mary had one child, Elizabeth (February 21, 1897 – December 26, 1955). In 1899 Harrison went to the First Peace Conference at The Hague. He wrote a series of articles about the Federal government and the presidency, which were re-published in 1918 as a book titled This Country of Ours For a few months in 1894, he moved to San Francisco, California, and taught and gave law lectures at Stanford University. In 1896 some of Harrison's friends in the Republican party tried to convince him to seek the presidency again, but he declined and openly supported William McKinley and traveled around the nation making appearances and speeches on McKinley's behalf. In 1900 Harrison served as an attorney for the Republic of Venezuela in their boundary dispute with the United Kingdom. The two nations disputed the border between Venezuela and British Guiana. An international trial was agreed upon and the Venezuelan government hired Harrison to represent them in the case. He filed an 800-page brief on their behalf and traveled to Paris where he spent more than 25 hours arguing in court. Although he lost the case, his legal arguments won him international renown. Harrison developed a heavy cold in February 1901. Despite treatment by steam vapor inhalation, his condition only worsened, and he died from influenza and pneumonia at his home on Wednesday, March 13, 1901, at the age of 67. Harrison is interred in Indianapolis's Crown Hill Cemetery, along with both of his wives.