||20 Aug 1833
||North Bend, Hamilton, Ohio 
||13 Mar 1901
||Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana 
||Aft 13 Mar 1901
||Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana 
||Noyes Family Genealogy
||02 Apr 2005 |
- Benjamin Harrison, (1833-1901), 23rd President of the United States. Inaugurated 100 years after George Washington, Benjamin Harrison was known as the "Centennial President." He inherited a distinguished name. His grandfather, William Henry Harrison, was the 9th president of the United States. In colonial Virginia five successive generations of Benjamin Harrisons (1632-1791) compiled almost identical records as gentlemen of education and wealth, burgesses, councillors, and militia colonels.
Fearless independence, a strong sense of justice, and high intelligence marked Harrison as a soldier, lawyer, humanitarian, and statesman-president. Ranked today as an average chief executive, in his own era he compiled a strong record of constitutional government that enabled the country to approach world power with prudence and caution. Compared with strong, appealing leaders like Jackson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, Harrison was greater as a man than as a president..
Early Life and Education
President Benjamin Harrison's father was John Scott Harrison (1809-1878), the only American to be the son of one president and the father of another. After college, John Scott Harrison managed a 2, 000-acre (800-meter) family estate at North Bend, Ohio. In 1831, his first wife having died, he married Elizabeth Irwin, from Pennsylvania. The new bride eventually reared nine children.
Their second child, christened Benjamin, was born at North Bend on Aug. 20, 1833. Ben grew into a chubby, square-shouldered boy with blond hair. He was bright but stubborn, eager to hunt, fish, and swim after school was out and the farm chores were completed. At the age of 14, Ben went to Cincinnati to attend Cary's Academy (later Farmers' College).
In the fall of 1850, Ben registered as a junior at Miami University, the "Yale of the West," at Oxford, Ohio. Here he renewed a romance, begun at Cary's Academy, with Caroline (Carrie) Scott, the charming daughter of John W. Scott, who had taught Ben the physical sciences. Harrison managed to master Latin, Greek, and the natural sciences while courting Carrie. He made friends easily, excelled in studies, and held office in the forensic society. In 1851 he joined the Presbyterian Church.
At graduation in June 1852, Miami awarded Harrison first honors. Though attracted to theministry, he finally decided to read law with Storer and Gwynne, a Cincinnati firm. The texts of Blackstone, Coke, and Littleton engaged him for 16 months. Then, on Oct. 20, 1853, Ben married Carrie at Oxford. Her father officiated. Six weeks later Ben's father, recently elected a Whig congressman from Ohio, left for Washington and turned over his North Bend home to the newlyweds.
Indianapolis: Law and Politics
Admitted to the bar in 1854, Harrison moved to Indianapolis with his bride and a total cash capital of $800. Relatives and neighbors who had known his grandfather made them feel at home. He won his first case and augmented his income by earning $2.50 a day as a court crier. The increment was especially welcome when a son, Russell Benjamin, arrived. In 1858 a daughter, Mary, was born, but the Harrisons lost a third child at birth in 1861.
A year after Harrison's arrival in Indianapolis, William Wallace, the brother of the soldier and author Lew Wallace and the son of former Indiana governor David Wallace, had invited Ben to form a law partnership. Until the Civil War the firm of Wallace and Harrison enjoyed a moderate success.
Politics ran in the family, and Benjamin could have traded politically on the Harrison name. From Congress his father warned, however, that only knaves "ever enter the political arena." He counseled his son to give the newly formed Republican Party a wide berth. Ben demurred, broke politically with his father, and campaigned for Republican presidential candidate John C. Frémont in 1856. As a Republican upstart he ran successfully for city attorney of Indianapolis in 1857, served as secretary of the party's state central committee in 1858, and was elected reporter of the state supreme court in 1860. He was twice reelected to this lucrative office.
The War Years (1861-1865)
In July 1862, at the request of Governor Oliver P. Morton, Harrison raised the 70th Indiana Regiment, drilled the recruits in tactics, and emerged as a strict disciplinarian. His men called him "Little Ben" because he was only 5 feet 6 inches tall. Under his colonelcy, the 70th achieved fame on the eve of the Atlanta campaign. At Resaca, Golgotha, and New Hope Church, Harrison served gallantly. For heroism at Peach Tree Creek, duly noted by Gen. Hooker, President Lincoln made Harrison a brigadier general. Later he fought at Nashville before rejoining his command for the march through the Carolinas and Virginia.
The Path to the Presidency
Harrison returned to Indianapolis a war hero, but his true forte was not as a soldier. He gained wide fame and some fortune at the Indiana bar. In 1876 he ran unsuccessfully for the governorship of Indiana, but his campaign helped elect President Rutherford B. Hayes, who appointed him to the Mississippi River Commission (1879-1881). After the death of Sen. Oliver P. Morton in 1877, Harrison became the Republican leader in Indiana. During the national convention of 1880 he supported James Garfield, but he refused an offer to enter Garfield's cabinet because he had just been elected U. S. senator.
In the Senate (1881-1887), Harrison enhanced his national reputation as a public speaker and gained fame by his workmanship in drafting legislation. He advocated civil service reform, civil rights for blacks, federal regulation of railroads and trusts, and a high tariff to protect American industry. His stringent criticism of President Grover Cleveland's vetoes of veterans' pension bills made him the "soldiers' friend," and the Grand Army of the Republic backed him politically. But in 1887, Indiana's Democratic legislature blocked his reelection by one vote.
Election of 1888
In 1888, James G. Blaine, the Republican party's most prominent figure, declined to seek the presidential nomination. The national convention then nominated Harrison as the soldier-citizen who combined fitness with availability. The call came on the 8th Ballot. Levi P. Morton, a New York City banker, received the vice-presidential nomination. Cleveland was renominated by the Democrats.
Harrison conducted a unique and unexpected front-porch campaign, delivering more than 80 extemporaneous speeches to nearly 300,000 people who visited him at Indianapolis. He made "high tariff" the chief issue, while Cleveland called for lower tariffs and even free trade. On election day, Harrison trailed Cleveland by more than 90,000 popular votes, but he carried Indiana, New York, and several "doubtful states" and won the presidency by an electoral vote of 233 to 168.
Promising the country a "Legal Deal," Harrison named six lawyers and two businessmen to his cabinet. With a Republican majority in both houses of Congress until 1891, the president won enactment of most of his legislative program, including broader civil service law coverage.
The administration attempted to solve pressing economic and social problems by passing four important laws in 1890. The Sherman Antitrust Act, outlawing trusts and monopolies that hindered trade, met the demands of farmers and small businessmen who sought protection from corporations that controlled market prices and destroyed competition. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act, increasing the amount of silver that could be coined, reassured farmers who believed that the freer coinage of silver would avert bankruptcy and foreclosures, which were threatening because of failing farm prices. The McKinley Tariff Act, setting tariffs at record highs, was designed mainly to protect American manufacturers during a periodof rapid industrialization. The Dependent Pension Act, which benefited all Civil War veterans who could not perform manual labor, was passed despite the fact that the resulting cost of pensions would rise from $88 million in 1889 to $159 million in 1893.
Harrison supported construction of a two-ocean Navy and a more efficient merchant marine as ingredients of his foreign policy. The first Pan American Conference in Washington in 1889 paved the way for active cooperation between the United States and Latin America. Harrison negotiated reciprocal trade agreements as a middle road between free competitive markets and trade regulated by high tariffs.
He settled some old quarrels by arbitration. Agreement was reached with Britain over fur seals in the Bering Sea, and war with Britain and Germany over control of Samoa was avoided. Grave diplomatic crises with Italy (the lynching of three Italian nationals in New Orleans) and with Chile (the killing of two U.S. sailors in Valparaiso) were solved without resort to arms. All in all, a firm defense of American interests in foreign affairs and a general promotion of industry and governmental effectiveness characterized the administration. Only the failure to annex Hawaii annoyed Harrison.
Return to Private Life
The Republicans renominated Harrison in 1892 but chose Whitelaw Reid, American minister to France and editor of the New York Tribune, to replace Vice President Morton as his running mate. The Democrats once again nominated Cleveland.
In a dull campaign GOP bosses Matthew Quay, Thomas Platt, Thomas Reed, and others--all active in 1888--sulked in silence. As Harrison paid the price for being his own boss, he lost ground steadily. Farmers voted the Populist ticket in protest against falling prices. Workers, angered by the steel strike at Homestead (Pa.) and other labor disputes, also bolted the GOP. Discontent with the McKinley Tariff also helped to defeat Harrison, who trailed Cleveland by more than 350,000 votes, while the Populist candidate, James B. Weaver, received more than a million votes. In the electoral college Cleveland had 277, Harrison 145, and Weaver 22. Neither major candidate took to the stump, Harrison because of his wife's illness (she died two weeks before the election) and Cleveland out of respect for his rival's personal plight.
Back home in Indianapolis, Harrison became a lecturer and writer and managed a lucrative law practice that took him before the Supreme Court. In international law he brilliantly upheld Venezuela's claims against Britain in a boundary dispute with British Guiana. In 1896 he married Mary Lord Dimmick, niece of his first wife. They had one child, Elizabeth. In 1897, Harrison published This Country of Ours, a book explaining how the federal government operates. Harrison died in Indianapolis on March 13, 1901. His Views of an Ex-President, edited by his widow, appeared posthumously. His widow survived him by nearly 47 years.