Benjamin Harrison was the Twenty-third President of the United States.
Served: 1889 to 1893.
Born: 1833, Ohio River below Cincinnati.
Attended Miami University in Ohio.
Practiced law in Indianapolis.
Married Caroline Lavinia Scott in 1853.
Later, he served in the United States Senate.
As President, Harrison submitted to the Senate a treaty to annex Hawaii.
Harrison died in 1901.
Benjamin Harrison Biography:
Benjamin Harrison (August 20, 1833-March 13, 1901) was the twenty-third 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.
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. He maintained a membership in the Sons of the American Revolution. His early schooling took place in a one-room schoolhouse near his home. In 1845 he was provided with a tutor to help him with college preparatory studies. In 1847 he was enrolled in Farmer's College, previously known as Carey's Academy, near Cincinnati, Ohio, which he attended for two years. In 1850 Harrison 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, 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. On October 20, 1853 Harrison, at the age of 20, married Caroline Lavinia Scott, 21, in Oxford, Ohio. She was the daughter of the University's president, Rev. John W. Scott, a Presbyterian minister who performed the wedding 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).
After marriage, 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. While in Indianapolis, Benjamin Harrison was both the first President of the University Club, a private gentlemen's club, and the first President of the Phi Delta Theta Alumni Club of Indianapolis, the fraternity's first such club. Both clubs were still in existence in 2008. Harrison grew up in a Whig household and was himself a supporter of Whig politics in his early life. 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. He won election to become Indianapolis City Attorney in the same election, a position that paid an annual salary of $400. In 1858 Harrison entered into a law partnership, opening an office as Wallace & Harrison. Harrison was the Republican candidate for the position of reporter of the Indiana Supreme Court in 1860, his first foray into politics. Although this office was not political, he was an active supporter of his party's platform. During the election he debated Thomas Hendricks, the Democratic candidate for governor and future Vice President of the United States, on behalf of the Republican Party. After his law partner William Wallace was elected county clerk in 1860, Harrison opened a new firm with William Fishbank, named Fishback & Harrison, where he worked until his entry into the army.
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. 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 Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment. 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. e 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 James D. Williams, losing by 5,084 votes. 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.
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.
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. 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. Harrison was known as the Centennial President because his inauguration celebrated the centenary of the first inauguration of George Washington in 1789.
Civil service reform was a prominent issue following Harrison's election. Harrison had campaigned as a supporter of the merit system, as opposed to the spoils system. Although some of the civil service had been classified under the Pendleton Act by previous administrations, Harrison spent much of his first months in office deciding on political appointments. Congress was widely divided on the issue and Harrison was reluctant to address the issue in hope of preventing the alienation of either side. Harrison quickly saw the enactment of the Dependent and Disability Pension Act in 1890, a cause he had championed while in Congress. In addition to providing pensions to disabled Civil War veterans (regardless of the cause of their disability,) the Act depleted some of the troublesome federal budget surplus.
The issue of tariff levels had been a major point of contention in American politics since before the Civil War, and tariffs became the most prominent issue of the 1888 election. The high tariff rates had created a surplus of money in the Treasury, which many led many Democrats (as well as the growing Populist movement) to call for lowering the rates. Most Republicans wished the rates to remain high, and to spend the surplus on internal improvements as well as the elimination of some internal taxes. Representative William McKinley and Senator Nelson W. Aldrich framed the McKinley Tariff that would raise the tariff even higher, including making some rates intentionally prohibitive. At Secretary of State James Blaine's urging, Harrison attempted to make the tariff more acceptable by urging Congress to add reciprocity provisions, which would allow the President to reduce rates when other countries reduced their rates on American exports. The tariff was removed from imported raw sugar, and sugar growers in the United States were given a two cent per pound subsidy on their production. Even with the reductions and reciprocity, the McKinley Tariff enacted the highest average rate in American history, and the spending associated with it contributed to the reputation of the Billion-Dollar Congress.
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.
The First International Conference of American States met in Washington in 1889, establishing an information center that later became the Pan American Union. The conference failed to achieve any diplomatic breakthrough, but that failure led the Secretary of State Blaine to focus on tariff reciprocity with Latin American nations, which was more successful. Harrison sent Frederick Douglass as ambassador to Haiti, but failed in his attempts to establish a naval base there. The first international crisis Harrison had to face occurred over fishing rights on the Alaskan coast. Canada claimed fishing and sealing rights around many of the Aleutian Islands, in violation of U.S. law. As a result, the United States Navy seized several Canadian ships. In 1891, the administration began negotiations with the British that would eventually lead to a compromise over fishing rights after international arbitration, with the British government paying compensation in 1898.
In 1890, a diplomatic crisis arose in Chile, later called the Baltimore Crisis. The American minister to Chile, Patrick Egan, granted asylum to Chileans who were seeking refuge from Chilean Civil War. This raised tensions between Chile and the United States, and when sailors from the Baltimore took shore leave in Valparaiso, a fight broke out, resulting in the deaths of two dozen American sailors and three dozen arrested. With Blaine out of town, Harrison himself drafted a demand for reparations. The Chilean minister of foreign affairs replied that Harrison's message was "erroneous or deliberately incorrect," and said that the Chilean government was treating the affair the same as any other criminal matter. Tensions increased as Harrison threatened to break off diplomatic relations unless the United States received a suitable apology. Ultimately, after Blaine returned to the capital, the administration made conciliatory overtures to the Chilean government. After the letter was withdrawn, war was averted. In the last days of his administration, Harrison dealt with the issue of Hawaiian annexation. Following a coup d'état against Queen Liliuokalani, the new government of Hawaii led by Sanford Dole petitioned for annexation by the United States. Harrison was interested in expanding American influence in Hawaii and in establishing a naval base at Pearl Harbor but had not previously expressed an opinion on annexing the islands. The United States consul in Hawaii John L. Stevens recognized the new government on February 1, 1893 and forwarded their proposals to Washington. With just one month left before leaving office, the administration signed a treaty on February 14 and submitted it to the Senate the next day with Harrison's recommendation. The Senate failed to act, and President Cleveland withdrew the treaty shortly after taking office.
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 return 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.
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.
The Democrats renominated former President Cleveland, making the 1892 election a rematch of the one four years earlier. The issue of the tariff had worked to the Republicans' advantage in 1888, but the 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, even though no federal action was involved. Just two weeks before the election, on October 25, Harrison's wife Caroline died after a long battle with tuberculosis. Harrison did not actively campaign on his own behalf during his reelection bid and remained with his wife. Their daughter Mary Harrison McKee continued the duties of the First Lady after her mother's death. Neither Harrison nor Cleveland actively campaigned during the election, the first time no candidate campaigned in a presidential election. Cleveland ultimately won the election with 227 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 returned to Indianapolis. 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). 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 wrote a book titled This Country of Ours about the Federal government and the presidency that was published posthumously in 1918. 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 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.
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