Benjamin Harrison

04/03/188904/03/1893View on timeline

Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison | Presidential Minute

Benjamin Harrison (August 20, 1833 – March 13, 1901) was an American politician and lawyer who served as the 23rd president of the United States from 1889 to 1893. He was a grandson of the ninth president, William Henry Harrison, creating the only grandfather–grandson duo to have held the office. He was also a great-grandson of Benjamin Harrison V, a founding father who signed the United States Declaration of Independence.

Harrison was born on a farm by the Ohio River and graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. After moving to Indianapolis, he established himself as a prominent local attorney, Presbyterian church leader, and politician in Indiana. During the American Civil War, he served in the Union Army as a colonel, and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a brevet brigadier general of volunteers in 1865. Harrison unsuccessfully ran for governor of Indiana in 1876. The Indiana General Assembly elected Harrison to a six-year term in the U.S. Senate, where he served from 1881 to 1887.

A Republican, Harrison was elected to the presidency in 1888, defeating the Democratic incumbent, Grover Cleveland. Hallmarks of Harrison's administration included unprecedented economic legislation, including the McKinley Tariff, which imposed historic protective trade rates, and the Sherman Antitrust Act. Harrison also facilitated the creation of the national forest reserves through an amendment to the Land Revision Act of 1891. During his administration six western states were admitted to the Union. In addition, Harrison substantially strengthened and modernized the U.S. Navy and conducted an active foreign policy, but his proposals to secure federal education funding as well as voting rights enforcement for African Americans were unsuccessful.

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 midterm elections. Cleveland defeated Harrison for reelection in 1892, due to the growing unpopularity of high tariffs and high federal spending. Harrison returned to private life and his law practice in Indianapolis. In 1899 he represented the Republic of Venezuela in its British Guiana boundary dispute with the United Kingdom. Harrison traveled to the court of Paris as part of the case and after a brief stay returned to Indianapolis. He died at his home in Indianapolis in 1901 of complications from influenza. Many have praised Harrison's commitment to African Americans' voting rights, but scholars and historians generally regard his administration as below average, and rank him in the bottom half among U.S. presidents, though they do not question his commitment to personal and official integrity.

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Published in 28/08/2020

Updated in 19/02/2021

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