Benjamin Harrison was born August 20, 1833 in North Bend, Hamilton County, Ohio.
He was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison. Benjamin was seven years old when his grandfather was elected President.
Benjamin graduated from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio; married Caroline Scott of Oxford (They had two children.); studied law in Cincinnati; and then he and Caroline moved to Indianapolis in 1854 when he was 21, where he began practicing law.
When the Civil War started, he joined the Union Army, rising to the rank of brigadier general. After the war, he returned to Indianapolis, was financially successful, and built a grand home which can be toured today (Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, 1230 North Delaware Street, Indianapolis, Indiana).
Harrison had joined the Republican Party shortly after its formation in the 1850’s and was very active in it. He was a U.S. Senator from Indiana from 1881 – 1887. He was elected President of the U.S. in 1888, receiving 90,000 fewer of the popular votes than the incumbent President Grover Cleveland, but carrying the Electoral College 233 to 168. (Levi P. Morton of New York was the Vice President.)
As President, he promoted the Dependent and Disability Pension Act of 1890, which provided pensions for all veterans who had served at least 90 days in the Union forces, were honorably discharged, and were unable to perform manual labor.
The McKinley Tariff Act of 1890 was enacted, which raised the average duty on imports to
almost 50%, intending to protect domestic production from foreign competition. As examples, the tariff on tin plate was raised 30% - 70%. All woolen goods were subject to the maximum rate and not just the more valuable ones, which prevented importers from declaring higher quality wool as lower quality. Tariffs were eliminated on raw sugar (domestic sugar growers were given a subsidy), molasses, coffee, and hides. Harrison signed into law the Sherman Antitrust Act, which prohibits certain business activities that the federal government regulators decide are anti-competition.
The author, Senator John Sherman of Ohio, said the Act was “to protect the consumers by preventing arrangements designed, or which tend, to advance the cost of goods to the consumer.” Harrison signed into law the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which increased the amount of silver that the government was required to purchase.
There had been a reduction in people’s incomes due to overproduction for one reason, and this Act was to cause inflation so that debtors could pay their debts with cheaper dollars. He also fought for Civil Rights. The Battle of Wounded Knee took place during his tenure. Despite the massacre, Harrison’s general policy on American Indians was to encourage assimilation into white society, which proved detrimental to them, due to their policy of land ownership.
In 1892, Harrison’s wife Caroline died, and he was defeated in his Presidential re-election bid by former President Grover Cleveland, due largely to the country’s economic woes, caused by high pension outlays, the high tariffs on desired imported goods and overspending of the new money coming in, and depletion of the country’s gold supply. He retired to his home in Indianapolis. In 1896, he married his wife’s niece Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, 25 years his junior, and they had one child. He died March 31, 1901 in Indianapolis, and is buried next to his wives in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. History has given him a reputation for integrity.
By Gay A. Christensen-Dean