Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison


Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd President of
the United States; he was the grandson of the ninth President, William Henry Harrison.
Harrison had become a prominent local attorney, Presbyterian church leader and politician
in Indianapolis, Indiana. During the American Civil War, he served the Union for most of
the war as a colonel and on February 14, 1865 was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a brevet
brigadier general of volunteers to rank from January 23, 1865. Afterwards, he unsuccessfully
ran for the governorship of Indiana but 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. Hallmarks of his
administration included unprecedented economic legislation, including the McKinley Tariff,
which imposed historic protective trade rates, and the Sherman Antitrust Act; Harrison facilitated
the creation of the National Forests through an amendment to the Land Revision Act of 1891.
He also substantially strengthened and modernized the Navy, and conducted an active foreign
policy. He proposed, in vain, federal education funding as well as voting rights enforcement
for African Americans during his administration. Due in large part to surplus revenues from
the tariffs, federal spending reached one billion dollars for the first time during
his term. The spending issue in part led to the defeat of the Republicans in the 1890
mid-term elections. Harrison was defeated by Cleveland in his bid for re-election in
1892, due to the growing unpopularity of the high tariff and high federal spending. He
then returned to private life in Indianapolis but 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 of complications from influenza. Early life
Family and education Harrison’s paternal ancestors were the Virginia
Harrisons. 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 to John Scott Harrison and Elizabeth Ramsey. 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 family’s meagre resources,
Harrison’s boyhood was enjoyable, 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. He attended the college for two years and while there met his future wife, Caroline
Lavinia Scott, one of the daughters of the science professor, John Witherspoon Scott.
In 1850, Harrison transferred to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and graduated in 1852. He
joined the fraternity Phi Delta Theta, which he used as a network for much of his life.
He was also a member of Delta Chi, 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 history and political economy professor Robert
Hamilton Bishop. Harrison joined a Presbyterian church at college and, like his mother, became
a lifelong member. After completing college, Harrison took up
the study of law as a legal apprentice in the Cincinnati law office of Storer & Gwynne.
Marriage, family and early career Before completing his law studies, Harrison
returned to Oxford to marry Caroline Scott. On October 20, 1853, Caroline’s father, also
a Presbyterian minister, performed the ceremony. The Harrisons had two children, Russell Benjamin
Harrison, and Mary “Mamie” Scott Harrison. 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, and used the funds to move with Caroline to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1854.
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. 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. Harrison and his
wife joined and assumed leadership positions at the First Presbyterian Church.
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 Two years hence, Harrison successfully ran as the Republican
candidate for reporter of the Indiana Supreme Court. He was an active supporter of his party’s
platform, and served as Republican State Committee Secretary. His law partner Wallace was elected
as county clerk in 1860; Harrison established 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. Civil War In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued
a call for more recruits for the Union Army; Harrison wanted to enlist, but worried about
how to support his young family. 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 asked Harrison if he could help recruit
a regiment, though he would not ask him to serve; Harrison recruited throughout northern
Indiana to raise a regiment. Morton offered him the command, but Harrison declined, as
he had no military experience. He 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 Infantry. For much of its first two years, the 70th
Indiana performed reconnaissance duty and guarded 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 XX Corps. He commanded the brigade at the Battles of Resaca, Cassville,
New Hope Church, Lost Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain, Marietta, Peachtree Creek and Atlanta. When
Sherman’s main force began its March to the Sea, Harrison’s brigade was transferred to
the District of Etowah and participated in the Battle of Nashville. On January 23, 1865,
President Lincoln nominated Harrison to the grade of brevet brigadier general of volunteers,
to rank from that date, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination on February 14, 1865.
He rode in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C. before mustering out on June 8, 1865.
Post-war career Indiana politics
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. In 1872, Harrison campaigned for the Republican
nomination for governor of Indiana. Former governor Oliver Morton favored his opponent,
Thomas M. Browne, and Harrison lost his bid for statewide office. He returned to his law
practice and, 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, the original Republican nominee for
governor dropped out of the race and Harrison accepted the Republicans’ invitation to take
his place on the ticket. He centered his campaign on economic policy and favored deflating the
national currency. He was ultimately defeated in a plurality by James D. Williams, losing
by 5,084 votes out of a total 434,457 cast. Following his defeat, Harrison was able to
build on his new prominence in the state. When the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 reached
Indianapolis, he helped to mediate between the workers and management and to preserve
public order. When United States 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, which at that time elected senators; the Democratic
majority elected Daniel W. Voorhees instead. In 1879 President Hayes appointed Harrison
to the Mississippi River Commission, which worked to develop internal improvements on
the river. As a delegate to the 1880 Republican National Convention the following year, he
was instrumental in breaking a deadlock on candidates, and James A. Garfield won the
nomination. United States Senator After Harrison led the Republican delegation
at the National Convention, he was considered a presumptive 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 which he declined in favor of continued service as senator.
Harrison served in the Senate from March 4, 1881, to March 4, 1887 and chaired the U.S.
Senate Committee on Transportation Routes to the Seaboard and the U.S. Senate Committee
on Territories. 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. He 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 thereby defeated in his bid for reelection;
this resulted after a deadlock in the state senate, with the legislature eventually choosing
Democrat David Turpie. Harrison then returned to Indianapolis and his law practice, but
stayed active in state and national politics. Election of 1888 Nomination
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 publicly
endorse any of the candidates as a successor; however, on March 1, 1888 he privately wrote
that “the one man remaining who in my judgment can make the best one is Benjamin Harrison.”
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 among candidates they
found acceptable, and when they shifted to Harrison, they found a candidate who could
attract the votes of many other delegations. He was nominated as the party’s presidential
candidate on the eighth ballot, by a count of 544 to 108 votes. Levi P. Morton of New
York was chosen as his running mate. Election over Cleveland Harrison’s opponent in the general election
was incumbent President Grover Cleveland. He reprised a more traditional front-porch
campaign, abandoned by his immediate predecessors; he received visiting delegations to Indianapolis
and made ninety plus pronouncements from his home town. The Republicans campaigned heavily
in favor 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 in New York and Indiana. Voter turnout was 79.3%,
reflecting a large interest in the campaign; nearly eleven million votes were cast. Although
Harrison received 90,000 fewer popular votes than Cleveland, he carried the Electoral College
233 to 168. Allegations were made against Republicans for engaging in irregular ballot
practices; an example was described as Blocks of Five.
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. In congressional elections, the Republicans increased their
membership in the House of Representatives by nineteen seats. Presidency 1889–1893 Inauguration and cabinet
Harrison was sworn into office on Monday, March 4, 1889 by Chief Justice Melville Fuller.
At 5′ 6″ tall, he was only slightly taller than Madison, the shortest president, but
much heavier; he was the fourth president to sport a full beard 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 – half as long as that
of his grandfather, William Henry Harrison, who holds the record for the longest inaugural
address. In his speech 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. Concerning commerce,
he said, “If our great corporations would more scrupulously observe their legal obligations
and duties, they would have less call to complain of the limitations of their rights or of interference
with their operations.” 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 reaffirmed the Monroe Doctrine as a mainstay of foreign policy, while urging
modernization of the Navy and a merchant marine force. He gave 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. After moving into the White House, Harrison noted, quite
prophetically, “There is only a door – one that is never locked – between the president’s
office and what are not very accurately called his private apartments. There should be an
executive office building, not too far away, but wholly distinct from the dwelling house.
For everyone else in the public service there is an unroofed space between the bedroom and
the desk.” Harrison acted quite independently in selecting
his cabinet, much to the dismay of the Republican bosses. He began by delaying the presumed
nomination of James G. Blaine as Secretary of State so as to preclude Blaine’s involvement
in the formation of the administration, as had occurred in President Garfield’s term.
In fact, other than Blaine, the only Republican boss initially nominated was Redfield Proctor,
as Secretary of War. Senator Shelby Cullom’s comment symbolizes Harrison’s steadfast aversion
to use federal positions for patronage: “I suppose Harrison treated me as well as he
did any other Senator; but whenever he did anything for me, it was done so ungraciously
that the concession tended to anger rather than please.” Harrison’s selections shared
particular alliances – such as their service in the Civil War, Indiana citizenship and
membership in the Presbyterian Church. Nevertheless, Harrison with these choices had alienated
pivotal Republican operatives from New York to Pennsylvania to Iowa and prematurely compromised
his political power and future. Harrison’s normal schedule provided for two full cabinet
meetings per week, as well as separate weekly one-on-one meetings with each cabinet member.
Civil service reform and pensions 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. The issue became a political football of the time and was immortalized in a cartoon
captioned “What can I do when both parties insist on kicking?” Harrison appointed Theodore
Roosevelt and Hugh Smith Thompson, both reformers, to the Civil Service Commission, but otherwise
did little to further the reform cause. 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, the Act depleted some
of the troublesome federal budget surplus. Pension expenditures reached $135 million
under Harrison, the largest expenditure of its kind to that point in American history,
a problem exacerbated by Pension Bureau commissioner James R. Tanner’s expansive interpretation
of the pension laws. Harrison, who privately believed that appointing Tanner had been a
mistake, due to his apparent loose management style and tongue, asked Tanner to resign and
replaced him with Green B. Raum. Raum was also accused of accepting loan payments in
return for expediting pension cases. Harrison, having accepted a dissenting Congressional
Republican investigation report that exonerated Raum, kept him in office for the rest of his
administration. One of the first appointments Harrison was
forced to reverse was that of James S. Clarkson as an assistant postmaster. Clarkson, who
had expected a full cabinet position, began sabotaging the appointment from the outset,
gaining the reputation for “decapitating a fourth class postmaster every three minutes”.
Clarkson himself stated, I am simply on detail from the Republican Committee…I am most
anxious to get through this task and leave.” He resigned in September 1890.
Tariff The tariff levels had been a major political
issue since before the Civil War, and they became the most dominant matter of the 1888
election. The high tariff rates had created a surplus of money in the Treasury, which
led many Democrats to call for lowering them. Most Republicans preferred to maintain the
rates, spend the surplus on internal improvements and eliminate 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.
Antitrust laws and the currency 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, his administration was not particularly vigorous
in enforcing it. However, the government successfully concluded a case during Harrison’s time in
office, and had initiated several other cases against trusts.
One of the most volatile questions 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 and Harrison is said to have favored a bimetallist position.
However, 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 failed to facilitate a compromise between the factions. In July 1890, Senator Sherman
achieved passage of a 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. Civil rights 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. Most notably, on December 3, 1889, Harrison had gone before
Congress and spoken, “The colored people did not intrude themselves
upon us; they were brought here in chains and held in communities where they are now
chiefly bound by a cruel slave code…when and under what conditions is the black man
to have a free ballot? When is he in fact to have those full civil rights which have
so long been his in law? When is that quality of influence which our form of government
was intended to secure to the electors to be restored?” He severely questioned 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. National forests
In March 1891 Congress enacted and Harrison signed the Land Revision Act of 1891. This
legislation resulted from a bipartisan desire to initiate reclamation of surplus lands theretofore
granted from the public domain for potential settlement or use by railroad syndicates.
As the law’s drafting was finalized, Section 24 was added at the behest of Harrison by
his Secretary of the Interior John Noble, which read as follows: “That the President of the United States may,
from time to time, set apart and reserve, in any State or Territory having public land
bearing forests, in any part of the public lands wholly or in part covered with timber
or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not, as public reservations, and the President
shall, by public proclamation, declare the establishment of such reservations and the
limits thereof.” Within a month of the enactment of this law
Harrison authorized the first forest reserve, to be located on public domain adjacent to
Yellowstone Park, in Wyoming. Other areas were so designated by Harrison, bringing the
first forest reservations total to 22 million acres in his term.
Native American policy During Harrison’s administration, 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. Many in Washington did not understand the predominantly religious
nature of the Ghost Dance, and thought it was a militant movement being used to rally
Native Americans against the government. 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. In reaction Harrison directed Major General Nelson A. Miles to investigate
and ordered 3500 federal troops to South Dakota; the uprising was brought to an end. 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.
Technology and naval modernization 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  was
originally made on a wax phonograph cylinder in 1889 by Gianni 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.
Over the course of his administration Harrison marshaled the country’s technology to clothe
the nation with a credible naval power. When he took office there were only two commissioned
warships in the Navy. In his inaugural address he said, “construction of a sufficient number
of warships and their necessary armaments should progress as rapidly as is consistent
with care and perfection.” Harrison’s Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy spearheaded
the rapid construction of vessels, and within a year congressional approval was obtained
for building of the warships Indiana, Texas, Oregon and Columbia. By 1898, with the help
of the Carnegie Corporation, no less than ten modern warships, including steel hulls
and greater displacements and armaments, had transformed the United States into a legitimate
naval power. Seven of these had begun during the Harrison term.
Foreign policy Latin America and Samoa
Harrison and Secretary of State Blaine were often not the most cordial of friends, but
harmonized in an aggressive foreign policy and commercial reciprocity with other nations.
Blaine’s persistent medical problems warranted more of a hands-on effort by Harrison in the
conduct of foreign policy. In San Francisco, while on tour of the United States in 1891,
Harrison proclaimed that the United States was in a “new epoch” of trade and that the
expanding navy would protect oceanic shipping and increase American influence and prestige
abroad. The First International Conference of American States met in Washington in 1889;
Harrison set an aggressive agenda including customs and currency integration and named
a bipartisan delegation to the conference, lead by John B. Henderson and Andrew Carnegie.
The conference failed to achieve any diplomatic breakthrough, due in large part to an atmosphere
of suspicion fostered by the Argentinian delegation. It did succeed in establishing an information
center that became the Pan American Union. In response to the diplomatic bust, Harrison
and Blaine pivoted diplomatically and initiated a crusade for tariff reciprocity with Latin
American nations; the Harrison administration concluded eight reciprocity treaties among
these countries. On another front, Harrison sent Frederick Douglass as ambassador to Haiti,
but failed in his attempts to establish a naval base there.
In 1889, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany were locked in a dispute over
control of the Samoan Islands. Historian George H. Ryden’s research indicates Harrison played
a key role in determining the status of this Pacific outpost by taking a firm stand on
every aspect of Samoa conference negotiations; this included selection of the local ruler,
refusal to allow an indemnity for Germany, as well as the establishment of a three three
power protectorate, a first for the U.S.. These arrangements facilitated the future
dominant power of the U.S. in the Pacific; Secretary of State Blaine was absent due to
complication of lumbago. European embargo of U.S. pork
Throughout the 1880s various European countries had imposed a ban on importation of United
States pork out of an unconfirmed concern of trichinosis; at issue was over one billion
pounds of pork products with a value of $80 million. Harrison engaged Whitelaw Reid, minister
to France, and William Walter Phelps, minister to Germany, to restore these exports for the
country without delay. Harrison also successfully asked the congress to enact the Meat Inspection
Act to eliminate the accusations of product compromise. The president also partnered with
Agriculture Secretary Rusk to threaten Germany with retaliation – by initiating an embargo
in the U.S. against Germany’s highly demanded beet sugar. By September 1891 Germany relented,
and was soon followed by Denmark, France and Austria-Hungary.
Crises in Aleutian Islands and Chile The first international crisis Harrison faced
arose from disputed 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 1891, a diplomatic crisis emerged in Chile, otherwise known as the Baltimore Crisis. The
American minister to Chile, Patrick Egan, granted asylum to Chileans who were seeking
refuge during the 1891 Chilean Civil War. Egan, previously a militant Irish immigrant
to the U.S., was motivated by a personal desire to thwart Great Britain’s influence in Chile;
his action increased tensions between Chile and the United States, which began in the
early 1880s when Secretary Blaine had alienated the Chileans in the War of the Pacific. The crisis began in earnest when sailors from
the USS Baltimore took shore leave in Valparaiso and a fight ensued, resulting in the deaths
of two American sailors and the arrest of three dozen others. The Baltimore’s captain,
Winfield Schley, based on the nature of the sailors’ wounds, insisted the sailors had
been bayonet-attacked by Chilean police without provocation. With Blaine incapacitated, Harrison
drafted a demand for reparations. The Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Manuel Matta 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 to the brink of war – Harrison threatened to break off diplomatic relations
unless the United States received a suitable apology, and said the situation required,
“grave and patriotic consideration”. The president also remarked, “If the dignity as well as
the prestige and influence of the United States are not to be wholly sacrificed, we must protect
those who in foreign ports display the flag or wear the colors.” The Navy was also placed
on a high level of preparedness. A recuperated Blaine made brief conciliatory overtures to
the Chilean government which had no support in the administration; he then reversed course,
joined the chorus for unconditional concessions and apology by the Chileans, who ultimately
obliged, and war was averted. Theodore Roosevelt later applauded Harrison for his use of the
“big stick” in the matter. Annexation of Hawaii
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.
Cabinet Judicial appointments Supreme Court Harrison appointed four justices to the Supreme
Court of the United States. The first was David Josiah Brewer, a judge on the Court
of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Brewer, the nephew of Justice Field, had previously
been considered for a cabinet position. Shortly after Brewer’s nomination, Justice Matthews
died, creating another vacancy. Harrison had considered Henry Billings Brown, a Michigan
judge and admiralty law expert, for the first vacancy and now nominated him for the second.
For the third vacancy, which arose in 1892, Harrison nominated George Shiras. Shiras’s
appointment was somewhat controversial because his age—sixty—was older than usual for
a newly appointed Justice. Shiras also drew the opposition of Senator Matthew Quay of
Pennsylvania because they were in different factions of the Pennsylvania Republican party,
but his nomination was nonetheless approved. Finally, at the end of his term, Harrison
nominated Howell Edmunds Jackson to replace Justice Lamar, who died in January 1893. Harrison
knew the incoming Senate would be controlled by Democrats, so he selected Jackson, a respected
Tennessee Democrat with whom he was friendly to ensure his nominee would not be rejected.
Jackson’s nomination was indeed successful, but he died after only two years on the Court. Other courts
In addition to his Supreme Court appointments, Harrison appointed ten judges to the courts
of appeals, two judges to the circuit courts, and 26 judges to the district courts. Because
Harrison was in office when Congress eliminated the circuit courts in favor of the courts
of appeals, he and Grover Cleveland were the only two Presidents to have appointed judges
to both bodies. States admitted to the Union
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.
Vacations and travel Harrison attended the three-day grand Centennial
Celebration of the country in New York City on April 30, 1889. He made the following remarks
“We have come into the serious but always inspiring presence of Washington. He was the
incarnation of duty and he teaches us today this great lesson: that those who would associate
their names with events that shall outlive a century can only do so by high consecration
to duty. Self-seeking has no public observance or anniversary.”
The Harrisons made many trips out of the capital, which included speeches at most stops – including
Philadelphia, New England, Indianapolis and Chicago. The President typically made his
best impression speaking before large audiences, as opposed to more intimate settings. The
most notable of his presidential trips, theretofore unequaled, was a five week tour of the west
in the spring of 1891, aboard a lavishly outfitted train. Harrison quite enjoyed a number of
short trips out of the capital, usually for hunting – to nearby Virginia or Maryland.
On one such trip the game of choice was coon – for which Harrison was not well experienced
– he shot and killed one Gilbert Wooten’s hog, having mistaken it for a coon; while
Mr. Wooten was thereby made happily famous, the president was not.
During the dreadfully hot summers of Washington, favorite locations to which the Harrisons
made refuge were Deer Park, Maryland and Cape May Point in New Jersey. In 1890 John Wanamaker
joined with other Philadelphia devotees of the Harrisons and made an entirely unsolicited
gift to them of a summer cottage at Cape May. Harrison, though appreciative, was most uncomfortable
with the ethical appearance; a month later he wrote Wanamaker a $10,000 personal check
for reimbursement to the various donors of the gift. Nevertheless, Harrison’s opponents
made the gift the subject of national ridicule, in which Mrs. Harrison and the president were
both vigorously criticized. Reelection campaign in 1892 The treasury surplus had evaporated and the
nation’s economic health was worsening – precursors to the eventual Panic of 1893. Congressional
elections in 1890 had gone against the Republicans; and although Harrison had cooperated with
Congressional Republicans on legislation, several party leaders withdrew their support
for him because of his adamant refusal to give party members the nod in the course of
his executive appointments. Specifically, Thomas C. Platt, Mathew S. Quay, Thomas B.
Reed and James Clarkson quietly organized the Grievance Committee, the ambition of which
was to initiate a dump-Harrison offensive. They solicited the support of Blaine, without
effect however, and Harrison in reaction resolved to run for re-election – seemingly forced
choose one of two options – “become a candidate or forever wear the name of a political coward”.
It was clear that Harrison would not be re-nominated unanimously. Many of Harrison’s detractors
persisted in pushing for an incapacitated Blaine, though 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 at the 11th hour 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. Harrison’s wife Caroline began a critical
struggle with tuberculosis earlier in 1892 and two weeks before the election, on October
25, it took her life. Their daughter Mary Harrison McKee assumed the role of First Lady
after her mother’s death. Mrs. Harrison’s terminal illness and the fact that both candidates
had served in the White House called for a low key campaign, and resulted in neither
of the candidates actively campaigning personally. Cleveland ultimately won the election by 277
electoral votes to Harrison’s 145, and also won the popular vote by 5,556,918 to 5,176,108;
this was the most decisive presidential election in 20 years.
Post-presidency and death 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. He traveled around
the nation making appearances and speeches in support of William McKinley’s candidacy
for president. From July 1895 to March 1901 Harrison served
on the Board of Trustees of Purdue University, where Harrison Hall, a dormitory, was named
in his honor. 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 1896, Harrison at age 62 remarried, to
Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, the widowed 37-year- old niece and former secretary of his deceased
wife. Harrison’s two adult children, Russell, 41 years old at the time, and Mary McKee,
38, disapproved of the marriage and did not attend the wedding. Benjamin and Mary had
one child together, Elizabeth. In 1900, Harrison served as an attorney for
the Republic of Venezuela in their British Guiana boundary dispute with the United Kingdom.
An international trial was agreed upon; he filed an 800-page brief and traveled to Paris
where he spent more than 25 hours in court on their behalf. 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. Historical reputation and memorials Following the Panic of 1893, Harrison became
more popular in retirement. His legacy among historians is scant, and “general accounts
of his period inaccurately treat Harrison as a cipher”. More recently, “historians have recognized the importance
of the Harrison administration—and Harrison himself—in the new foreign policy of the
late nineteenth century. The administration faced challenges throughout the hemisphere,
in the Pacific, and in relations with the European powers, involvements that would be
taken for granted in the twentieth century.” Harrison’s presidency belongs properly to
the 19th century, but he “clearly pointed the way” to the modern presidency that would
emerge under William McKinley. Harrison’s reputation for integrity was largely intact
after leaving office in 1893. The bi-partisan Sherman Anti-Trust Act signed into law by
Harrison remains in effect over 120 years later and was the most important legislation
passed by the Fifty-first Congress. Harrison’s support for African American voting rights
and education would be the last significant attempts to protect civil rights until the
1930s. Harrison’s tenacity at foreign policy was emulated by politicians such as Theodore
Roosevelt. Harrison was memorialized on several postage
stamps. The first was a 13-cent stamp issued on November 18, 1902. The engraved likeness
of Harrison was modeled after a photo provided by Harrison’s widow. In all Harrison has been
honored on six U.S. Postage stamps, more than most other U.S. Presidents. Harrison also
was featured on the five-dollar National Bank Notes from the third charter period, beginning
in 1902. He is to date the only U.S. president from Indiana and the only one to be the grandson
of another president. In 1908, the people of Indianapolis erected
the Benjamin Harrison memorial statue, created by Charles Niehaus and Henry Bacon, in honor
of Harrison’s lifetime achievements as military leader, U.S. Senator, and President of the
United States. The statue occupies a site in University Park overlooking the Birch Bayh
Federal Building and United States Courthouse across New York Avenue.
In 1942, a Liberty Ship, the SS Benjamin Harrison, was named in his honor. In 1951, Harrison’s
home was opened to the public as a library and museum. It had been used as a dormitory
for a music school from 1937 to 1950. The house was designated as a National Historic
Landmark in 1964. In 2012, a dollar coin with his image, part of the Presidential $1 Coin
Program, was issued. Fort Benjamin Harrison, located in suburban
Lawrence, Indiana, northeast of Indianapolis, was named in his honor. The base was closed
and the site has been redeveloped to include residential neighborhoods and a golf course.
Part of the property is within Fort Harrison State Park.
Notes References Sources Further reading External links
Recording of an 1889 Harrison speech Benjamin Harrison at the Biographical Directory
of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-08-15
Benjamin Harrison: Resource Guide, from the Library of Congress
Works by Benjamin Harrison at Project Gutenberg Views of an ex-president by Benjamin Harrison
at archive.org Benjamin Harrison at C-SPAN’s American Presidents:
Life Portraits

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