Benjamin Harrison (August 20, 1833 – March 13, 1901) was the 23rd President of the United States (1889–1893). Harrison, a grandson of President William Henry Harrison, was born in North Bend, Ohio, and moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, at age 21, eventually becoming a prominent politician there. During the American Civil War, he served the Union as a brigadier general in the XX Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. After the war, he unsuccessfully ran for the governorship of Indiana and was later elected to the U.S. Senate by the Indiana legislature.
Harrison, a Republican, was elected to the presidency in 1888, defeating the Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland. His administration is remembered most for 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." They used the issue, along with the growing unpopularity of the high tariff, to defeat the Republicans, in both the 1890 mid-term elections and in Harrison's bid for re-election in 1892. Harrison advocated, although unsuccessfully, for federal education funding and legislation to protect voting rights for African Americans. He also saw the admittance of six states into the Union.
Defeated by Cleveland in his bid for re-election in 1892, Harrison returned to private life in Indianapolis. He later represented the Republic of Venezuela in an international case against the United Kingdom. In 1900, he traveled to Europe as part of the case and, after a brief stay, returned to Indianapolis.
He died the following year from complications from influenza. He is to date the only U.S. president from Indiana and the only one to be the grandson of another president.
Harrison's paternal ancestors, the Harrisons, were among the First Families of Virginia. Their immigrant ancestor was Benjamin Harrison, who arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1630. The future president Benjamin was born on August 20, 1833, in North Bend, Ohio, as the second of eight children of John Scott Harrison from Ohio) and Elizabeth Ramsey (Irwin). Benjamin was a grandson of President William Henry Harrison and the great-grandson of Benjamin Harrison V, a Virginia governor and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Harrison was seven years old when his grandfather was elected President, but he did not attend the inauguration. Although Harrison's family was distinguished, his parents were not wealthy. John Scott Harrison spent much of his farm income on his children's education. Despite the meager income, Harrison's boyhood was enjoyable, with much of it spent outdoors fishing or hunting.
Benjamin Harrison's early schooling took place in a one-room schoolhouse near his home, but his parents later arranged for 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. While there, he met Caroline Scott, one of the daughters of the science professor, John Witherspoon Scott.
In 1850, he transferred to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He joined the fraternity Phi Delta Theta, which he used as a network for much of his life. He graduated in 1852. He was also a member of Delta Chi, then a law fraternity, which permitted dual membership. Classmates included John Alexander Anderson, who became a six-term congressman; and Whitelaw Reid, who ran as Harrison's vice presidential candidate in his presidential reelection campaign. At Miami, Harrison was strongly influenced by his professor Robert Hamilton Bishop, who instructed him in history and political economy. Harrison joined a Presbyterian church at college and, like his mother, remained a member for the rest of his life.
After completing college, Harrison took up the study of law as a legal apprentice in the Cincinnati, Ohio law office of Storer & Gwynne.
Before completing his law studies, Harrison returned to Oxford to marry Caroline Lavinia Scott. She was the daughter of the college president, John Witherspoon Scott, a Presbyterian minister. On October 20, 1853, they married 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 (April 3, 1858 – October 28, 1930)
Harrison returned to live on his father's farm while finishing his law studies. That same year, he inherited $800 after the death of an aunt. He used the money to move with Caroline to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1854. There he was admitted to the bar and began practicing law in the office of John H. Ray. The same year he became a crier for the Federal Court in Indianapolis, for which he was paid $2.50 per day. He walked around while making announcements from the court.
While in Indianapolis, Harrison became a founding member and first president of both the University Club, a private gentlemen's club; and the Phi Delta Theta Alumni Club of Indianapolis, the fraternity's first such club. Having grown up in a Whig household, he favored that party's politics while young.He joined the Republican Party shortly after its formation in 1856, and that year campaigned on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate John C. Frémont. Harrison was elected as the Indianapolis City Attorney that year, a position that paid an annual salary of $400.
In 1858, Harrison entered into a law partnership with William Wallace, and they opened their office called Wallace & Harrison. In 1860, Harrison ran as the Republican candidate for reporter of the Indiana Supreme Court, his first in partisan politics. Although this office was not political, he was an active supporter of his party's platform. During the election, he represented the Republican Party in debating Thomas Hendricks, the Democratic candidate for governor. (He was a future Vice President of the United States.) His law partner Wallace was elected as county clerk in 1860, and Harrison opened a new firm with William Fishback, named Fishback & Harrison. They worked together until he entered the Army after the start of the American Civil War.
Harrison wanted to enlist, but worried about how to support his young family. 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".
While serving in the army in October 1864, Harrison was reelected reporter of the Supreme Court of Indiana and served four more years. Although not politically powerful, the position provided Harrison a steady income. 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.
With his increasing reputation, local Republicans urged Harrison to run for Congress. 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.
After Harrison led the Republican delegation at the National Convention, he was discussed 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 Harrison was ultimately chosen. After Garfield's election as president in 1880, his administration offered Harrison a cabinet position. He declined as he preferred to serve 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)
In 1881, the major issue confronting Senator Harrison was the budget surplus. Democrats wished to reduce the tariff and limit 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 freedmen. He believed that education was necessary to help the black population rise to political and economic equality with whites. Harrison opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which his party supported, as he thought it violated existing treaties with China.
In 1884, Harrison and Gresham competed 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.
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.
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.
Harrison was sworn into office on Monday, March 4, 1889 by Chief Justice Melville Fuller. Harrison's Inauguration ceremony took place during a rainstorm in Washington D.C.. Outgoing U.S. President Grover Cleveland attended the ceremony and held an umbrella over Harrison's head as he took the oath of office. His speech was brief and half as long as that of his grandfather, William Henry Harrison, who held the record with the longest Inaugural Address. In his inaugural address Harrison credited the nation's growth to the influences of education and religion, urged the cotton states and mining territories to attain the industrial proportions of the eastern states and promised a protective tariff. During his speech Harrison also urged early statehood for the territories and advocated pensions for veterans, a statement that was met with enthusiastic applause. In foreign affairs, Harrison pledged vigilance of national honor and reaffirmed the Monroe Doctrine as a mainstay of foreign policy, while also urging the building of a modern navy and a merchant marine force. He reaffirmed his commitment to international peace through noninterference in the affairs of foreign governments. John Philip Sousa's Marine Corps band played at the Inaugural Ball inside the Pension Building with a large crowd attending.
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 19th 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.
After regaining the majority in both Houses of Congress, some Republicans, led by Harrison, attempted to pass legislation to protect black Americans' civil rights. Harrison's Attorney General, William H. H. Miller, through the Justice Department, ordered the prosecutions for violation of voting rights in the South; however, white juries often failed to convict or indict violators. This prompted Harrison to urge Congress to pass legislation that would "secure all our people a free exercise of the right of suffrage and every other civil right under the Constitution and laws." Harrison endorsed the proposed Federal Elections Bill written by Representative Henry Cabot Lodge and Senator George Frisbie Hoar in 1890, but the bill was defeated in the Senate. Following the failure to pass the bill, Harrison continued to speak in favor of African American civil rights in addresses to Congress. In 1892, Harrison went before Congress and declared, "the frequent lynching of colored people is without the excuse...that the accused have an undue influence over courts and juries." While Harrison believed the Constitution did not permit him to end the practice of lynching, he did question the states' civil rights records, arguing that if states have the authority over civil rights, then "we have a right to ask whether they are at work upon it." Harrison also supported a bill proposed by Senator Henry W. Blair, which would have granted federal funding to schools regardless of the students' races. He also endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the 1883 Supreme Court rulings that declared much of the Reconstruction-era Civil Rights Acts unconstitutional. None of these measures gained congressional approval.
During Harrison's term, the Lakota Sioux, previously confined to reservations in South Dakota, grew restive under the influence of Wovoka, a medicine man, who encouraged them to participate in a spiritual movement called the Ghost Dance. Not understanding the exact nature of the religious beliefs surrounding the Ghost Dance, many in Washington thought it was a militant movement being used to rally Native Americans against American rule. On December 29, 1890, troops from the Seventh Cavalry clashed with the Sioux at the Battle of Wounded Knee. The result was a massacre of at least 146 Sioux, including many women and children. The dead Sioux were buried in a mass grave. Harrison was concerned and ordered Major General Nelson A. Miles to investigate. Harrison also ordered 3500 federal troops to South Dakota, and the uprising ended. Wounded Knee is considered the last major American Indian battle in the 19th century. Harrison's general policy on American Indians was to encourage assimilation into white society and, despite the massacre, he believed the policy to have been generally successful. This policy, known as the allotment system and embodied in the Dawes Act, was favored by liberal reformers at the time, but eventually proved detrimental to American Indians as they sold most of their land at low prices to white speculators.
When Harrison took office, no new states had been admitted in more than a decade, owing to Congressional Democrats' reluctance to admit states that they believed would send Republican members. Early in Harrison's term, however, the lame duck Congress passed bills that admitted four states to the union: North Dakota and South Dakota on November 2, 1889, Montana on November 8, and Washington on November 11. The following year two more states held constitutional conventions and were admitted: Idaho on July 3 and Wyoming on July 10, 1890. The initial Congressional delegations from all six states were solidly Republican. More states were admitted under Harrison's presidency than any other since George Washington's.
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, and several party leaders withdrew their support for President Harrison, although he had cooperated with Congressional Republicans on legislation. It was clear that Harrison would not be re-nominated unanimously. Many of Harrison's detractors pushed for Blaine, but he announced that he was not a candidate in February 1892. Some party leaders still hoped to draft Blaine into running, and speculation increased when he resigned as Secretary of State in June. At the convention in Minneapolis, Harrison prevailed on the first ballot, but encountered significant opposition.
The Democrats renominated former President Cleveland, making the 1892 election a rematch of the one four years earlier. The tariff revisions of the past four years had made imported goods so expensive that now many voters shifted to the reform position. Many westerners, traditionally Republican voters, defected to the new Populist Party candidate, James Weaver, who promised free silver, generous veterans' pensions, and an eight-hour work day. The effects of the suppression of the Homestead Strike rebounded against the Republicans as well, although the federal government did not take action.
Two weeks before the election, on October 25, Harrison's wife Caroline died after a long battle with tuberculosis. Harrison did not campaign on his own behalf during his reelection bid and remained with his wife. Their daughter Mary Harrison McKee served as the First Lady after her mother's death.
Cleveland ultimately won the election with 277 electoral votes to Harrison's 145. Cleveland also won in the popular vote: 5,556,918 to 5,176,108.
After he left office, Harrison visited the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in June 1893, where the nation's first commemorative postage was introduced, an initiative of his Postmaster General, John Wanamaker. After the Expo, Harrison returned to his home in Indianapolis.
For a few months in 1894, Harrison lived in San Francisco, California, where he 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. In support of the candidate William McKinley, he traveled around the nation making appearances and speeches in his behalf.
Among the activities he became involved in, from July 1895 to March 1901, Harrison served on the Board of Trustees of Purdue University. Harrison Hall, a campus dormitory, was named in his honor.
In 1896, Harrison at age 62 remarried, to Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, the niece and former secretary of his deceased wife. A widow, she was 37, a full 25 years his junior. Harrison's two children were adults, Russell, 41 years old at the time, and Mary (Mamie) McKee, 38, disapproved of the marriage and did not attend the wedding. Benjamin and Mary had one child together, Elizabeth (February 21, 1897 – December 26, 1955).
In 1889, Harrison was elected an honorary member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati. Harrison was also a veteran companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and an honorary companion of the Military Order of Foreign Wars. His wife served as the first President General of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) from 1890 to 1891.
He wrote a series of articles about the Federal government and the presidency, which were republished in 1897 as a book titled This Country of Ours. In 1899 Harrison attended the First Peace Conference at The Hague.
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 for them 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 what was thought to be influenza or grippe in February 1901. He was treated with steam vapor inhalation and oxygen, but his condition worsened. He died from pneumonia at his home on Wednesday, March 13, 1901, at the age of 67. Harrison is interred in Indianapolis's Crown Hill Cemetery, next to Caroline. After her death, Mary Dimmick Harrison was buried next to him.
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