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The Benjamin Harrison Administration: 1889-1893

 The Benjamin Harrison Administration (Republican, 1889-1893)

1888 election map

Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of the ninth President of the United States, William Henry Harrison. One of thirteen children, he lived on his grandfather's 600 acre estate in North Bend, Ohio. Family finances became strained and after the death of his mother in 1850, Harrison enrolled at Miami University at Oxford, Ohio. He was admitted to the bar in 1854, moved with his wife to Indianapolis, and soon was working for the governor's son as an attorney, where he became further connected with the Republican Party. He won the elected office of City Attorney before reluctantly joining the Army during the Civil War. Harrison's unit didn't see combat until 1864, and he was frequently called away to do political work for the Republican Party. After the war, Harrison turned down offers to run for congress and invested himself in his law practice, supporting not only his own family, but three brothers as well. Harrison played a leading role in the aftermath of the Ex
Benjamin Harrison
sound Benjamin Harrison, 1889
Parte Milligan Supreme Court case, in which a civilian was suing the government for having been illegally tried and convicted in a military court by Union officers. Harrison was able to get the monetary award reduced to only five dollars. With his reputation growing, Harrison finally agreed to run for governor of Indiana in 1876, an election he lost.
Harrison was appointed Senator in 1881, where he proved to not have the political prowess to successfully navigate the complicated world of backroom deals shifting alliances. He served the party in minor roles, but then was denied a second term after Democrats gained control of the Indiana legislature.

In 1888, the Republicans were in need of a scandal-free candidate to run against Grover Cleveland. Harrison's knack for not taking any clear positions on political issues also made him a suitable candidate. The Republican press then began a campaign to improve Harrison's public image as being cold and impersonal (he was known as, "the human iceberg), while at the same time smearing Cleveland and his record. One Republican trick turned the Irish vote in New York against Cleveland, causing him to lose his home state and the electoral vote. Despite losing the popular vote, Benjamin Harrison was now the president-elect. [1889 inaugural address]
1888 Harrison Campaign Items
Harrison campaign items
"Billion-Dollarism Hole," Puck, 1882
"Billion-Dollarism Hole," Puck, 1882
Issue: The Economy
Harrison believed his victory to be more the work of divine intervention than that of shady political machinations. His inaugural address was most memorable for having been delivered in the pouring rain. He followed the lead of the party bosses who had manufactured his election and in 1890 he signed the McKinley Tariff bill into law, which had a drastic effect on the economy and led to Cleveland's reelection two years later. Harrison also was a supporter of the 1890 Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which required the federal government to buy nearly all of the silver being mine in the United States. Finally, Harrison signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act into law. While this legislation would prove to be an important tool for breaking up trusts under Theodore Roosevelt a decade later, it was hardly enforced under Harrison's administration.
Domestic Agenda
On the other hand, Harrison advocated the conservation of forest reserves. In the area of civil rights for African Americans, Harrison endorsed two bills designed to prevent southern states from denying African Americans the vote, and he appointed the great and eloquent former slave Frederick Douglass as ambassador to Haiti.

Foreign Policy

On the international front, Harrison was the most active president since Abraham Lincoln. He convened the first Pan-American Conference, in 1889. He negotiated an American protectorate over the Samoan Islands, and he continued the work of modernizing and expanding the United States Navy into a world-class fleet. He moved quickly and decisively where American interests were threatened, taking the nation to the brink of war with Chile over an assault on American sailors, and standing firm against Britain and Canada to protect the over-harvesting of fur seals in the Bering Sea. Perhaps most importantly, he saw trade as an essential part of the nation’s foreign policy and negotiated a number of important reciprocal trade agreements that set the pattern for American trade policy in the 20th century. Harrison also advocated U.S. expansion in the Pacific and the building of a canal across Central America.
Later Life
Not surprisingly, the poor economy in 1892, which would turn into a real depression a year later, prevented Harrison from winning a second term. Harrison's wife died only a few weeks before the election from tuberculosis, and Harrison returned to Indianapolis, married his late wife's first cousin (who was a widow 25 years his junior), fathered one child, published his memoirs, and died in 1901 from pneumonia.
1892 Harrison Cigar Box Label1892 Harrison & Reid Cigar Box Label
Harrison Era Gallery
"The Republican Star's Dilemma," Puck, June 5, 1889
"The Republican Star's Dilemma," Puck, June 5, 1889, by Frederick Opper
Populism Cartoon: The West and South feed the country while Wall Street milks it
Populism Cartoon: The West and South feed the country while Wall Street milks it, c.1890
P.T. Barnum Commercial
sound P.T. Barnum Commercial, 1890
1892-93 Columbian Exposition (World's Fair) Souvenir Napkin Ring
1892-93 Columbian Exposition (World's Fair) Souvenir Napkin Ring (4 views)
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Last modified July 21, 2012