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Benjamin Harrison (August 20 1833March 13 1901) was the twenty-third President of the United States, serving one term from 1889 to 1893. He had previously served as a senator from Indiana. His administration is best known for a series of legislation including the McKinley Tariff and federal spending that reached one billion dollars. Democrats attacked the "Billion Dollar Congress" and defeated the Republican Party in the 1890 mid-term elections, as well as defeating Harrison's bid for reelection in 1892. He is to date the only president from Indiana.

Early life and Civil War

A grandson of President William Henry Harrison and great-grandson of Benjamin Harrison, V, 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. In his early childhood days he was rarely seen without his older brother Matthew Harrison. He attended Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, where he was a member of the fraternity Phi Delta Theta and graduated in 1852. He studied law in Cincinnati, Ohio, then moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1854. He was admitted to the bar and became reporter of the decisions of the Indiana Supreme Court. He was made an honorary member of Delta Chi (which at the time was a legal professional fraternity) at Michigan.[1]

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"Come on boys!" General Benjamin Harrison in the Battle of Resaca, May, 1864.

On October 20 1853, Harrison, 20, married Caroline Lavinia Scott, 21, in Oxford, Ohio. The wedding was performed by her father, Rev. John W. Scott. 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). On June 13 1861, they suffered the tragedy of a miscarriage.

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Brig. Gen. Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison was the only president's grandson to become president


Harrison served in the Union Army during the Civil War and was appointed Colonel of the 70th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment in August 1862. The unit performed reconnaissance duty and guarded railroads in Kentucky and Tennessee until Sherman's Atlanta Campaign in 1864. Harrison was brevetted as a brigadier general, and commanded a Brigade at 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 Siege of Nashville and the Grand Review in Washington D.C. before mustering out in 1865.

Politics

While in the field in October 1864, he was elected reporter of the Indiana State Supreme Court and served four years. He was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Governor of Indiana in 1876, being defeated by James D. Williams. He was appointed a member of the Mississippi River Commission, in 1879, and elected as a Republican to the United States Senate, where he served 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).

Presidency 1889-1893

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Inauguration of Benjamin Harrison, March 4, 1889.

Policies

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The Raven
An 1890 Puck cartoon depicts Harrison at his desk wearing his grandfather's hat which is too big for his head, suggesting that he is not fit for the presidency. Atop a bust of William Henry Harrison, a raven with the head of Secretary of State James G. Blaine gawks down at the President, a reference to the famous Edgar Allan Poe poem "The Raven." Blaine and Harrison were both at odds over the recently proposed McKinley Tariff.

After beating John Sherman for the Republican presidential nomination, Harrison was elected President of the United States in 1888 in notoriously fraudulent balloting in New York and Indiana. In the Presidential election, Harrison received nearly 100,000 fewer popular votes than incumbent President Grover Cleveland but carried the Electoral College 233 to 168. Although he had made no political bargains, his supporters had given innumerable pledges upon his behalf. When Boss Matthew Quay of Pennsylvania 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." He was inaugurated on March 4 1889, and served through March 4 1893. Harrison was also known as the "centennial president" because his inauguration was the 100th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington.

For Harrison, Civil Service reform was a no-win situation. Congress was split so far apart on the issue that agreeing to any measure for one side would alienate the other. The issue became a popular political football of the time and was immortalized in a cartoon captioned "What can I do when both parties insist on kicking?" (featured below)

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Political football "What can I do when both parties insist on kicking?"

Harrison was proud of the vigorous foreign policy which he helped shape. The first Pan-American Congress met in Washington, D.C. in 1889, establishing an information center which later became the Pan American Union. At the end of his administration, Harrison submitted to the Senate a treaty to annex Hawaii; to his disappointment, President Cleveland later withdrew it.

The most perplexing domestic problem Harrison faced was the tariff issue. The high tariff rates in effect had created a surplus of money in the Treasury. Low-tariff advocates argued that the surplus was hurting business. Republican leaders in Congress successfully met the challenge. Representative William McKinley and Senator Nelson W. Aldrich framed a still higher tariff bill; some rates were intentionally prohibitive.

Harrison tried to make the tariff more acceptable by writing in reciprocity provisions. To cope with the Treasury surplus, the tariff was removed from imported raw sugar; sugar growers within the United States were given two cents per pound bounty on their production.

In an attempt to battle trusts and monopolies, Harrison signed into effect the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in order to protect trade and commerce. This was the first Federal act of its kind.

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President Harrison rowed ashore at Wall Street, April 29 1889.

Long before the end of the Harrison Administration, the Treasury surplus had evaporated and prosperity seemed about to disappear. Congressional elections in 1890 went against the Republicans, and party leaders decided to abandon President Harrison, although he had cooperated with Congress on party legislation. Nevertheless, his party renominated him in 1892, but he was defeated by Cleveland. Just two weeks earlier, on October 25, 1892, Harrison's wife, Caroline died after a long battle with tuberculosis. Their daughter, Mary Harrison McKee, continued the duties of the First Lady.

Significant events

Administration and Cabinet

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Official White House portrait of Benjamin Harrison
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President Benjamin Harrison

Supreme Court appointments

Harrison appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

States admitted to the Union

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Grave of President Harrison and his two wives in Indianapolis, Indiana.

When North and South Dakota were admitted to the Union, Harrison covered the tops of the bills and shuffled them so that he could only see the bottom. Thus, it is impossible to tell which was signed first, and which was the 39th and the 40th.

Harrison also made a push to have Hawaii annexed by the United States, but the annextion was not completed until after Harrison's time in office.

Post-presidency

After he left office, Harrison returned to Indianapolis. He married a widow, Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, on April 6, 1896, in New York City. She was also his deceased wife's niece. His 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, which they viewed as inappropriate. Their mother had only died three and a half years earlier. Benjamin and Mary had one child, Elizabeth (February 21, 1897 - December 26, 1955), who later married James Blaine Walker, a grandnephew of James G. Blaine. Their daughter, Jane Harrison Walker, later married Newell Garfield, the great-grandson of President James A. Garfield and his wife Lucretia Garfield and the grandson of James R. Garfield. Harrison went to the First Peace Conference at The Hague. He served as an attorney for the Republic of Venezuela in the boundary dispute between Venezuela and the United Kingdom in 1900. He also wrote a book entitled This Country of Ours about the federal government and the presidency.

Harrison developed the flu and a bad cold in February 1901. Despite treatment by steam vapor inhalation, Harrison's condition only worsened. Benjamin Harrison eventually died from influenza and pneumonia on Wednesday, March 13, 1901 and is interred in Crown Hill Cemetery. Incidentally, Crown Hill Cemetery also holds the remains of three United States Vice-Presidents: Charles W. Fairbanks, Thomas A. Hendricks, and Thomas R. Marshall.

Legacy

Trivia

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Media

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See also

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References

Secondary sources

  • Charles W. Calhoun, Benjamin Harrison (2005), short biography. ISBN 0805069526.
  • Davis R. Dewey. National Problems: 1880-1897 (1907)
  • H. Wayne Morgan, From Hayes to McKinley: National Party Politics, 1877-1896 (1969)
  • Harry J.Sievers, Benjamin Harrison: v1 Hoosier Warrior, 1833-1865; v2: Hoosier Statesman From The Civil War To The White House 1865-1888 (1959); v3: Benjamin Harrison. Hoosier President. The White House and After (1968) the major scholarly biography
  • Homer E. Socolofsky, The Presidency of Benjamin Harrison (1987) (ISBN 0-7006-0320-4) detailed narrative of 1888-92

Primary sources

External links

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