Benjamin Harrison

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Benjamin Harrison (1897)
Harrison's signature

Benjamin Harrison (born August 20, 1833 in North Bend , Ohio , † March 13, 1901 in Indianapolis , Indiana ) was an American politician and from 1889 to 1893 the 23rd  President of the United States of America .


Education and training

Benjamin Harrison came from the politically influential Harrison family . He was the son of the relatively wealthy farmer and later MP in the House of Representatives John Scott Harrison and grandson of the ninth President William Henry Harrison , in whose house he was born in 1833. His great grandfather, Benjamin Harrison V , was a co-signer of the Declaration of Independence . This was a direct descendant of Thomas Harrison , of the death sentence against Charles I signed. Harrison's mother, Elizabeth Irwin Harrison, was a devout Presbyterian . Harrison grew up with three brothers and four sisters in a rural environment. Initially he received lessons from private tutors. He later attended a two-year prep school in Cincinnati . Harrison then studied law at Miami University in Oxford , Ohio, which he graduated in 1852 as one of the best of his semester. The following year he married Caroline Lavinia Scott , the daughter of a preacher whom he had met in college. This marriage resulted in two children. In 1853 he continued his studies at the law firm Storer & Gwynne . A year later he successfully passed his bar exam and was then in Indianapolis , Indiana , where he settled at home with his wife, until 1860 in his profession.

Political career up to the presidency

Benjamin Harrison Home in Indianapolis. Harrison lived here from 1874 until his death in 1901, with the exception of his terms as Senator and US President

At that time he was involved in the Republican Party and during the presidential election in 1856 for the candidate John Charles Frémont . In 1857 he successfully ran for the bar for the City of Indianapolis. He also became secretary of the Indiana Republicans Central Committee . In the presidential campaign of 1860 he stood up for Abraham Lincoln . He then became the rapporteur in charge of the Indiana Supreme Court .

During the Civil War , he joined the 70th Indiana Infantry Regiment of the Union Army as a Second Lieutenant in 1862 . Until his departure in June 1865 he made it up to Brigadier General . He commanded a brigade in the battles of Resaca, Cassville , New Hope Church, Lost Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain, Marietta, Peachtree Creek, Atlanta, and Nashville . During the Atlanta campaign , he served under William Tecumseh Sherman , who described Harrison as a foresighted, disciplined, and combative soldier, and was one of the first Union forces to invade Atlanta after the surrender. After the end of the war, he resumed his work as an attorney and reporter at the Indiana Supreme Court . Harrison ran for the Republican candidacy for governor in 1872 without success . In 1876 he was able to prevail with the Republicans, but was defeated in a narrow election to the Democratic candidate , James Douglas Williams . In recognition of his service in the presidential campaign of 1876 , Harrison was appointed to the Mississippi River Commission by President Rutherford B. Hayes . In 1880 he chaired the Indiana delegation to the Republican National Convention . There he supported the presidential candidacy of the still relatively unknown James A. Garfield . From 1881 to 1887 he was a Senator for Indiana in Congress . There he pursued programmatic priorities, such as pensions for veterans of the civil war, the recognition of the Dakota territory as a state, high protective tariffs and the modernization of the navy, which later shaped his presidency. With his opposition to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Harrison removed himself from the mainstream of his party.

Nomination and election

Inauguration on March 4, 1889

At the 1888 Republican National Convention in Chicago, he was only second choice for the presidential nomination behind the favorites James G. Blaine and John Sherman . When the former could not prevail, he supported Harrison with his delegate, who was able to reach the nomination in the eighth ballot. He chose Levi P. Morton as running mate for the position of Vice President . The slogan of his presidential campaign was Rejuvenated Republicanism , or something like "rejuvenated Republicanism". In the elections , his rival Democratic candidate, incumbent President Grover Cleveland, was able to achieve around 90,000 votes more than Harrison, but Harrison was in the lead with the electoral votes, with the state of New York deciding where the Republican candidate had the majority Voices could unite.


Harrison's official portrait in the White House

His inauguration in March 1889 was an anniversary, as it took place exactly 100 years after the first inauguration of George Washington , which, given Harrison's ancestry, gave his contemporaries cause for often unflattering comparisons. In his inaugural speech, one of the shortest in history, Harrison invoked the growth of the American nation based on the influence of religion and education and called on the mining states in the west and the cotton states in the south to strive for an industrial potential like that of the eastern states and announced protective tariffs on. He urged the big companies to honor their obligations so they would have less reason to complain about the hindrance to their business. In the field of foreign policy, he emphasized the Monroe Doctrine as a cornerstone, called for the modernization of the war fleet and the development of a civilian merchant fleet. He committed himself to maintaining international peace through the policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. At the end of his presidency in 1892, with the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, there was another important milestone anniversary, which was only officially celebrated under his successor with the opening of the World's Columbian Exposition in spring 1893.

Benjamin Harrison is the first President of the United States to have his voice recorded with a phonograph drum in 1889 and the last to wear a full beard. During his tenure, the White House was electrified. Also, during his presidency in New York State in 1890, the world's first electric chair execution took place. Harrison moved into the White House with his entire family including his grandchildren. He kept the goat Old Whiskers along with many other pets .

Although he ran for re-election with Whitelaw Reid as running mate, he did not campaign in 1892 because he was looking after his wife, who was suffering from tuberculosis and who finally died two weeks before the election. Harrison's predecessor, Cleveland, won the presidential election in 1892 .

Domestic politics

Although he was president, Thomas Brackett Reed was initially considered the more influential Republican politician. One of the most important decisions of the Harrison presidency was the McKinley Tariff , which raised protective tariffs to almost 50%. In addition, this law provided the president with far-reaching trade policy powers that no longer provided for the participation of Congress. Harrison supported the Sherman Antitrust Act , which should limit the dominant position of trusts and cartels such as the Standard Oil Company . The Senator John Sherman bill was the first of its kind at the federal level in the United States. The Sherman Antitrust Act, however, was too vague and lacked the financial and human resources to have any particular effect. In addition, the sanctions envisaged in it, which provided for a maximum fine of 5,000 US dollars, were very low and hardly dissuasive. Harrison's successors in office gradually tightened the law, thereby limiting the power of the monopolies . The Sherman Antitrust Act is the basis of US competition law to this day .

Foreign policy

In day-to-day foreign policy business, there was a dispute with neighboring Canada over the rich fish and seal grounds around the Aleutian Archipelago in Alaska and with some European countries, especially with the German Reich , which imposed an embargo on American pork for hygienic concerns. In 1891 Chilean- American relations fell into a deep crisis when the US ambassador there, Patrick Egan, interfered too much in the internal affairs of the country by offering refugees shelter in the embassy. The affair (Baltimore Incident) of the imprisonment of a dozen American sailors and the murder of two of them put the two countries on the brink of war. In retrospect, the future President Theodore Roosevelt praised the energetic foreign policy of Harrison and his Secretary of State James G. Blaine . When American planters overthrew the monarchy in Hawaii in 1893 , Harrison, who was very much interested in a naval base, held back and did not react as expected by annexing the islands.

After the presidency

Grave of Benjamin Harrison and his two wives in Crown Hill National Cemetery

After the end of his tenure, he returned to Indianapolis and in 1896 married the widowed Mary Lord Dimmick, a niece of his first wife. Otherwise, Harrison led the life of an elder statesman . He gave a series of lectures on constitutional law at Stanford University and was a senior advisor to Venezuela in its border disputes with British Guiana . He died of pneumonia in his Indianapolis home in 1901. Harrison was buried next to his first wife in Crown Hill National Cemetery in Indianapolis.


His contemporaries initially fondly remembered Harrison after the panic of 1893 , which overshadowed the term of office of his successor Cleveland, but was soon forgotten as a result of the stormy development and the great economic boom that hit the USA at the turn of the century. In the judgment of historians, Harrison was long overshadowed by later presidents such as William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt and was considered colorless and insignificant. Recently, however, his advocacy for civil rights has been highlighted positively. Its foreign policy, especially with regard to relations with Latin America and the Pacific region, is also considered to be a trendsetter.

See also


  • This Country of ours. Second edition. C. Scribner, New York 1897, LCCN  04-003866 .
  • Mary Lord Harrison (Ed.): Views of an ex-president. Bowen-Merrill, Indianapolis 1901, LCCN  01-023276 .


  • Raimund Lammersdorf: Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893): President in the shadow of Congress. In: Christof Mauch (ed.): The American Presidents: 44 historical portraits from George Washington to Barack Obama. 6th, continued and updated edition. Beck, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-406-58742-9 , pp. 234-238.

Web links

Commons : Benjamin Harrison  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b c Benjamin Harrison: Life before the presidency . Miller Center of Public Affairs , University of Virginia, accessed April 18, 2018.
  2. ^ Benjamin Harrison: Campaigns and Elections . Miller Center of Public Affairs , University of Virginia, accessed April 18, 2018.
  3. The Great White House Goat Chase on The Atlantic website ; accessed on March 4, 2016
  4. ^ Benjamin Harrison: Domestic Affairs . Miller Center of Public Affairs , University of Virginia, accessed April 18, 2018.
  5. ^ Benjamin Harrison: Life in Brief . Miller Center of Public Affairs , University of Virginia, accessed April 18, 2018.
  6. ^ Benjamin Harrison: Life after the Presidency . Miller Center of Public Affairs , University of Virginia, accessed April 18, 2018.