The Life of Benjamin Harrison

The 23rd President of the United States

The 23rd President of the United States

The 23rd President of the United States

Nominated on the eighth ballot at the 1888 Republican convention, Benjamin Harrison conducted one of the first front porch campaigns.

At only 5’6”, the Democrats dismissed Harrison as “Little Ben.” However, Republicans countered by arguing that Harrison was big enough to wear the hat of his grandfather, “Old Tippecanoe,” William Henry Harrison.

Benjamin Harrison’s Early Years

Benjamin Harrison was born in 1833, on a farm on the Ohio River south of Cincinnati. When he was older he attended Miami University in Ohio, where he studied law. Later he moved to Indianapolis and set up a law practice, in addition to campaigning for the Republican Party. In 1853, Harrison married Caroline Livinia Scott. During the American Civil War, Harrison served as a colonel with the 70th Volunteer Infantry. After the war, Harrison returned to his law practice in Indianapolis where he gained a reputation as an outstanding lawyer.

In 1876, Harrison ran for Governor of Indiana. He was defeated by the Democrats, who unfairly stigmatized him as “Kid Gloves Harrison.” Despite this, Harrison went on to serve in the US Senate in the 1880s, where he became a champion of the Indians, homesteaders and Civil War veterans.

During the presidential election, Harrison received less of the popular vote than the incumbent, Grover Cleveland. Harrison made no political promises, but his supporters made numerous pledges on his behalf. Despite this, however, Harrison was able to secure enough of the Electoral College to win the election. Benjamin Harrison became the 23rd President of the United States.

Benjamin Harrison’s Administration

When he was informed of his victory, Harrison attributed it to divine intervention. However, one of his supporters, Boss Matt Quay said that Harrison would never now how close some of his supporters came to going to prison in order to see Harrison win.

While in office, Harrison crafted a strong foreign policy. In 1889, the first Pan American Congress was held in Washington DC. One of the results of this meeting was the establishment of an information centre that would eventually become the Pan American Union. Harrison also introduced a bill calling for the annexation of Hawaii. However, this bill was later withdrawn by President Cleveland in his second term.

The Billion Dollar Congress

Harrison also signed a number of substantial appropriations bills. These bills provided money for internal improvements, the expansion of the Navy and government subsidies to American steamship lines. It was the first time in American history that Congress had appropriated a billion dollars while the United States was not at war. Newspapers attacked the measures, ridiculing what they called “the Billion Dollar Congress.” House Speaker Thomas Reed fought back saying, “this is a billion-dollar country.” Harrison also signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which was meant to protect American consumers from monopolies. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was the first attempt to control trusts in the United States.

One of the most difficult issues of Harrison’s Administration was that of tariffs. High taxes had created a large surplus of government revenue, which low tariff advocates argued was bad for business. Despite this opposition, Senator William McKinley and Senator Nelson Aldrich were able to push through still higher taxes, some of which were meant to be intentionally prohibitive.

Harrison tried to make the McKinley-Aldrich Bill more palatable by writing in a reciprocity clause. Some industries were exempted from the tax increases. Sugar growers, for example, were given a bounty of two cents a pound for every pound of sugar cane they grew.

Benjamin Harrison’s Defeat

By the time Harrison’s Administration came to an end, the Treasury surplus was gone. Additionally, the 1890 Congressional elections went in favour of the Democrats. Even though Harrison co-operated with Congress and signed much of the party legislation put before him, the party leaders abandoned him. In spite of this, however, Harrison received the Republican nomination at the 1892 convention. His own party’s decision to abandon him did not augur well for Harrison’s chances of winning a second term, however, and he was defeated by his predecessor, Grover Cleveland.

After leaving office, Harrison returned to Indianapolis. In 1896, he married again, this time to widow Mary Dimmick. Harrison died, as a distinguished, elder American statesman in 1901.


Benjamin Harrison. The White House. The US Government, Aug.24/09


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