The Presidents of the USA


 
 
 

Biography

 
23
Benjamin Harrison
R R R R R
 
1889-1893
 
Grandson of president W. H. Harrison and possibly the dullest personality ever in the White House. Six more states joined the union. He was an efficient executive, but the economy deteriorated and his lackluster personality made his administration seem colorless.


Born Aug. 20, 1833, North Bend, Ohio
Political partyRepublican
EducationMiami University (Ohio), B.A., 1852
Military service 70th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, 1861-65
Previous public office ♦ crier of the federal court, 1854
♦ Indiana Supreme Court reporter, 1860-62
♦ member, Mississippi River Commission, 1879
♦ U.S. Senate, 1881-87
Died Mar. 13, 1901, Indianapolis, Ind.
picture of Benjamin Harrison



Early Life

Harrison was descended from a family of Ohio politicians that included his great-grandfather, Virginia governor Benjamin Harrison (a signer of the Declaration of Independence); his grandfather, President William Henry Harrison; and his father, Whig congressman John Scott Harrison. A lawyer by vocation, Benjamin Harrison became a member of the newly formed Republican party in the 1850s and held various state party positions. During the Civil War his regiment saw fierce fighting in Georgia, and Harrison led his men several times in successful charges against enemy positions. After the war he resumed the practice of law. He tried but failed to win the nomination for Indiana governor in 1872, then lost a close election for governor in 1876.



Early Career

In 1880 Harrison chaired the Indiana delegation to the Republican national convention. His switch to Garfield decided the nomination. He declined a cabinet position in order to serve in the U.S. Senate for one term but was defeated for reelection. At the Republican convention of 1888, the delegates could not decide between Ohio's John Sherman and Indiana's Walter Gresham. Harrison was the compromise choice. Although he received 100,000 fewer popular votes than President Grover Cleveland, Harrison defeated Cleveland in the electoral college.



Presidency

Harrison opened Oklahoma to settlement in 1889 under the Homestead Act, and in a single day 20,000 settlers claimed all the acreage available. During his term six states (Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota) entered the Union, completing the westward expansion of the nation.

Harrison almost secured the annexation of Hawaii as well. American settlers and plantation owners overthrew the government of Queen Liliuokalani, established a new regime, and were recognized by U.S. minister John L. Stevens, who sent 150 marines to protect the new government. Harrison denied any interference in the internal affairs of the islands, but the Senate delayed until 1898 action on a treaty of annexation offered by the revolutionary government.

The most powerful man in the Harrison administration was Secretary of State James G. (“Jingo”) Blaine, and its most notable accomplishments were in foreign affairs. The first Pan American Conference, a meeting of the nations of the Western Hemisphere, was held in 1889, leading to the formation of the Pan American Union.

A dispute over trading privileges in Samoa resulted in an international conference and creation of a three-power protectorate (British, German, and American) so each could receive the same trading rights in the islands.

An October 16, 1891, riot in Valparaso, Chile, involving sailors from the U.S.S. Baltimore, left 2 American sailors dead, 17 injured, and many others imprisoned. In a special message to Congress on January 25, 1892, Harrison warned of war. Blaine had sent an ultimatum to Chile on January 21 requiring an apology. Chile did so and paid a $75,000 reparation, even as Harrison's message was sent off, ending the crisis.

Harrison influenced legislation and was an efficient executive, but his lackluster personality made his administration seem colorless. In conjunction with the Republican-controlled "Billion Dollar Congress" of 1890, his administration was remarkably productive

During Harrison's administration Congress was dominated by “Czar” Thomas Reed, the Speaker of the House, and several Republican senators. They included John Sherman, who in 1890 got Congress to pass the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. It was supposed to allow the government to bring lawsuits against organizers of business enterprises that acted to restrain competition, but it was not vigorously enforced. It was by far the most influential law passed during his administration.

The last battle with Indians took place in his presidency. A battle fought on December 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota that was the last major encounter between Native Americans and the U.S. Army. The Army had surrounded a village of Lakota Sioux while attempting to disarm a party of them who had been captured. The accidental discharge of a firearm led to panic, and the Army opened fire on the village, massacring nearly all its inhabitants. The battle is remembered today as one of the great injustices perpetrated against Native Americans by the U.S. government.

The Sherman Silver Purchase Act (1890) was designed to help the silver industry and to secure votes in the West and among farmers favoring cheap money by having the government buy silver and then increase the amount of coins in circulation.

Pensions for Civil War veterans increased by 50 percent under the Pension Act of 1890, but the McKinley Tariff increased the rates on most imports of industrial goods and was so unpopular with farmers and consumers in the 1890 election that Congress went over to Democratic control. Two years later, with the country reeling from labor unrest, Harrison was defeated for reelection by Grover Cleveland.



Retirement

Harrison returned to his law practice in Indiana and wrote two books, This Country of Ours and Views of an Ex-President.

He was a strong critic of U.S. colonial policies after the Spanish-American War.

He served as counsel to Venezuela from 1898 to 1899 in its negotiation of a boundary dispute with Great Britain. In 1900, he traveled to Europe as part of the case and, after a brief stay, returned to Indianapolis.

He died the following year from complications from influenza.



Legacy

Though possibly the dullest personality ever to inhabit the White House, was nevertheless a competent enough president during one of the most eventful administrations of the late 19th century.

His administration is remembered most for 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."

Also remembered for the admittance of six states into the Union.

He is to date the only U.S. president from Indiana and the only one to be the grandson of another president.

"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




 
 
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