23. BENJAMIN HARRISON
Nominated for President on the eighth ballot at the
1888 Republican Convention, Benjamin Harrison conducted one of
the first "front-porch" campaigns, delivering short speeches to
delegations that visited him in Indianapolis. As he was only 5
feet, 6 inches tall, Democrats called him "Little Ben";
Republicans replied that he was big enough to wear the hat of
his grandfather, "Old Tippecanoe."
Born in 1833 on a farm by the Ohio River below Cincinnati,
Harrison attended Miami University in Ohio and read law in
Cincinnati. He moved to Indianapolis, where he practiced law and
campaigned for the Republican Party. He married Caroline Lavinia
Scott in 1853. After the Civil War--he was Colonel of the 70th
Volunteer Infantry--Harrison became a pillar of Indianapolis,
enhancing his reputation as a brilliant lawyer.
The Democrats defeated him for Governor of Indiana in 1876 by
unfairly stigmatizing him as "Kid Gloves" Harrison. In the
1880's he served in the United States Senate, where he
championed Indians. homesteaders, and Civil War veterans.
In the Presidential election, Harrison received 100,000 fewer
popular votes than Cleveland, but carried the Electoral College
233 to 168. Although Harrison had made no political bargains,
his supporters had given innumerable pledges upon his behalf.
When Boss Matt Quay of Pennsylvania 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
Harrison was proud of the vigorous foreign policy which he
helped shape. The first Pan American Congress met in Washington
in 1889, establishing an information center which later became
the Pan American Union. At the end of his administration
Harrison submitted to the Senate a treaty to annex Hawaii; to
his disappointment, President Cleveland later withdrew it.
Substantial appropriation bills were signed by Harrison for
internal improvements, naval expansion, and subsidies for
steamship lines. For the first time except in war, Congress
appropriated a billion dollars. When critics attacked "the
billion-dollar Congress," Speaker Thomas B. Reed replied, "This
is a billion-dollar country." President Harrison also signed the
Sherman Anti-Trust Act "to protect trade and commerce against
unlawful restraints and monopolies," the first Federal act
attempting to regulate trusts.
The most perplexing domestic problem Harrison faced was the
tariff issue. The high tariff rates in effect had created a
surplus of money in the Treasury. Low-tariff advocates argued
that the surplus was hurting business. Republican leaders in
Congress successfully met the challenge. Representative William
McKinley and Senator Nelson W. Aldrich framed a still higher
tariff bill; some rates were intentionally prohibitive.
Harrison tried to make the tariff more acceptable by writing
in reciprocity provisions. To cope with the Treasury surplus,
the tariff was removed from imported raw sugar; sugar growers
within the United States were given two cents a pound bounty on
Long before the end of the Harrison Administration, the
Treasury surplus had evaporated, and prosperity seemed about to
disappear as well. Congressional elections in 1890 went
stingingly against the Republicans, and party leaders decided to
abandon President Harrison although he had cooperated with
Congress on party legislation. Nevertheless, his party
renominated him in 1892, but he was defeated by Cleveland.
After he left office, Harrison returned to Indianapolis, and
married the widowed Mrs. Mary Dimmick in 1896. A dignified elder
statesman, he died in 1901.