Benjamin Harrison - Twenty-Third President of the United States

Benjamin Harrison, Twenty-Third President of the United States
Benjamin Harrison, Twenty-Third President of the United States. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ61-480 DLC

Benjamin Harrison was born on August 20, 1833 in North Bend, Ohio. He grew up on a 600-acre farm given to his father by his grandfather, William Henry Harrison who would become the ninth president. Harrison had tutors at home and then attended a small local school. He attended Farmers' College and then Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He graduated in 1852, studied law, and then was admitted to the bar in 1854.

Family Ties

Harrison's father, John Scott Harrison, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was the son of one president and the father of another. Harrison's mother was Elizabeth Irwin Harrison. She died when her son was almost 17. He also had two half sisters, three full brothers, and two full sisters.

Harrison was married twice. He married his first wife Caroline Lavinia Scott on October 20, 1853. Together they had one son and one daughter along with a stillborn daughter. Sadly, she passed away in 1892. He then married Mary Scott Lord Dimmick on April 6, 1896 when he was 62 and she was 37. Together they had one daughter named Elizabeth. 

Benjamin Harrison's Career Before the Presidency

Benjamin Harrison entered into law practice and became active in the Republican party. He joined the military in 1862 to fight in the Civil War. During his service he marched on Atlanta with General Sherman and was promoted to Brigadier General. He left military service at the end of the war and resumed his law practice. In 1881, Harrison was elected to the U.S. Senate and served until 1887.

Becoming the President

In 1888, Benjamin Harrison received the Republican nomination for president. His running mate was Levi Morton. His opponent was incumbent President Grover Cleveland. It was a close campaign in which Cleveland won the popular vote but failed to carry his home state of New York and lost in the Electoral College.

Events and Accomplishments of Benjamin Harrison's Presidency

Benjamin Harrison had the distinction of serving in between the two presidential terms of Grover Cleveland. In 1890, he signed into law the Dependent and Disability Pensions Act which provided money for veterans and their dependents if they were disabled from nonmilitary causes.

An important bill passed during 1890 was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. This was the first antitrust law to try and stop the abuse of monopolies and trusts. While the law itself was vague, it was important as a first step towards making sure that trade was not limited by the existence of monopolies.

The Sherman Silver Purchase Act was passed in 1890. This required the federal government to purchase silver for silver certificates. These could then be turned back in for silver or gold. This would be repealed by Grover Cleveland because it was causing the nation's gold reserves to be depleted as people turned in their silver certificates for gold.

In 1890, Benjamin Harrison sponsored a tariff that required those wishing to import products to pay a 48% tax. This resulted in a rise of consumer prices. This was not a popular tariff.

Post-Presidential Period

Benjamin Harrison retired to Indianapolis after his term as president. He returned to practicing law and inn 1896, he remarried Mary Scott Lord Dimmick. She had been the assistant to his wife while she was the First Lady. Benjamin Harrison died on March 13, 1901 of pneumonia.

Historical Significance of Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison was president when the reforms were beginning to become popular. During his time in office, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was passed. Even though it was of itself not that enforceable, it was an important first step towards reigning in monopolies who were taking advantage of the public.