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Benjamin Harrison

By

John T. Marck

 



 

 

Benjamin Harrison, His Life, Family and His Homes

 By John T. Marck

The family of the future president has a long history in America, as the Harrison’s were among the First Families of Virginia, with the arrival of an Englishman at Jamestown in 1630, also named Benjamin Harrison.  The man who would become president, Benjamin was born on August 20, 1833 in North Bend, Hamilton County, Ohio.  He was the second of eight children born to John Scott Harrison and Elizabeth Ramsey Irwin, and the great-grandson of President William Henry Harrison. 

Growing up, his early schooling was done in a one-room schoolhouse that was typical of the time.  At the age of 12 in 1845, he was provided with a tutor that assisted him with college preparatory work.  In 1847 at age 14, he enrolled in Gary’s Academy, near Cincinnati, which was a newly built farmer’s college.  Benjamin attended this college for two years, before transferring to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, graduating in 1852.  While at Miami University, Benjamin joined a Presbyterian church, of which he remained a life-long member. After college he started studying law in the Cincinnati law office of Storer & Gwynne, but before he finished his studies, he returned to Oxford to marry his fiancée Caroline.  

At the age of 20, on October 20, 1853, at Oxford, Ohio, Benjamin Harrison married Caroline Lavinia Scott, the daughter of Miami University’s president, Reverend John W. Scott, who also performed the ceremony. The couple would go on to have two children: Russell Benjamin Harrison (08/12/1854 – 12/13/1936) and Mary “Mamie” Scott Harrison McKee (04/03/1858 - 10/28/1930). 

After their wedding, the Harrison’s returned to live on his father’s farm where he completed his law studies. Upon the death of an aunt, he inherited $800 and used this money to move to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1854. Here he was admitted to the bar and began practicing law.  He also worked as a crier for the Federal Court in Indianapolis, responsible for declaring announcements on the street from the court, for $2.50 per day.  

Early Political Life

Politically, Benjamin grew up in a Whig household, and was a Whig supporter in his early life. Upon the formation of the Republican Party in 1856, he joined and then campaigned on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate John C. Fremont.  Meanwhile Harrison won the election to become Indianapolis City Attorney, a position that paid $400 per year.  

Two years later in 1858, Harrison opened his own law firm with another as Wallace & Harrison.  In 1860, Harrison was the Republican candidate for a position of reporter of the Indiana Supreme Court, and although this was not a political office, he none-the-less was an active supporter of the Republican Party platform.  During the election he debated on behalf of the Republican Party against Thomas Hendricks, the Democratic candidate for governor and future vice-president of the United States.  In 1860, upon his law partner William Wallace being elected to county clerk, Harrison opened a new firm with William Fishbank, where he worked until his entry in the US Army.  

The Civil War

In 1862, President Lincoln issued a call for more men to join the Union Army.  Harrison, while visiting Governor Oliver Morton, found him distressed over the shortage of new recruits. Harrison asked if he could help out, and the governor asked him to recruit a regiment, but did not ask him to directly serve. Harrison did as he was asked, and recruited a regiment of men in the northern areas of Indiana.  Morton offered him the command of the regiment, but Harrison refused for lack of military experience, and instead was commissioned as a second lieutenant.  In August 1862, when this regiment left to join the Union army at Louisville, Kentucky, Harrison was promoted to colonel, and his regiment became the 70th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  

They first saw action at the Battle of Perryville, and then they performed reconnaissance duty and guarded railroads in Kentucky and Tennessee. On January 2, 1864, Harrison was promoted as commander of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the XXI Army Corps. He would go on to command at Resaca, Cassville, New Hope Church, Lost Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain, Marietta, Peachtree Creek and Atlanta. He was later transferred to the Army of the Cumberland and saw action at the Battle of Nashville.  On March 22, 1865 Harrison was promoted officially to Brigadier General and marched in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C. at the end of the war.  He left the military on June 8, 1865. 

Political Career

While still serving in the army, Harrison was reelected as the reporter for the Indiana Supreme Court and served as such for four more years. In 1872, he ran in the Republican primary for governor, but did not receive the support of Governor Morton, who favored his opponent.  Harrison lost this bid, but in 1876, he again ran for the nomination for governor and was successful.  While popular as to his polices, he lost the election to James D. Williams. In 1880 he was elected to the United States Senate, and after James Garfield’s victory as president in 1880, Garfield offered him a cabinet post, which he declined in order to serve his term as senator.  He served as such from March 4, 1881 to March 4, 1887, and was defeated in his bid for reelection.  

The Presidency

At the Republican National Convention, Harrison defeated John Sherman 544 to 108 to win the Republican nomination.  In the election of 1888, Harrison was elected President of the United States by means of a notoriously fraudulent balloting in New York and Indiana.  Harrison received 90,000 fewer popular votes that the incumbent Glover Cleveland, but carried the Electoral College 233 to 168.  While Harrison made no political bargains to achieve the election, his supporters had given numerous pledges on his behalf.  

Benjamin Harrison’s inauguration was held on March 4, 1889, and he served until March 4, 1893.  He became known as the “centennial president,” because his inauguration celebrated the centenary of the first inauguration of George Washington in 1789.  

Harrison’s presidential administration is best known for its economic legislation that includes the McKinley Tariff and the Sherman Antitrust Act, and for annual spending that reached one billion dollars for the first time.  Democrats attacked what was known as the “Billion Dollar Congress,” and used this issue to defeat Harrison’s bid for reelection in 1892.  

Life After the Presidency 

Benjamin Harrison’s wife died near the end of his presidential term, of tuberculosis at the White House in October 1892.  Following funeral services at the East Room, she was buried from her own church in Indianapolis.  Upon Caroline’s death, their daughter, Mary McKee acted a hostess for her father in the last months of his term.  

After leaving office, Harrison returned to Indianapolis and on April 6, 1896 married his first wife’s widowed niece and former secretary, Mary Scott Dimmick, in New York City.  As she was 25 years younger than Harrison, his two adult children, Russell, age 41, and Mary, age 38, did not attend the wedding as they disagreed with it deeming it inappropriate.  Benjamin and his second wife Mary had one child, Elizabeth (02/21/1897 – 12/26/1955).  

Benjamin spent his last years working at the First Peace Conference at The Hague, and served as an attorney for the Republic of Venezuela in the boundary dispute between them and the United Kingdom in 1900.  Harrison also wrote a book titled, “This Country of Ours,” about the Federal Government and the presidency, published in 1918 after his death.  

In February 1901, Harrison developed a severe cold and despite treatment of steam vapor inhalation, his condition worsened. He died from influenza and pneumonia on March 13, 1901 at the age of 67.  Benjamin Harrison is interred in the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana, along with both of his wives. 

President Benjamin Harrison Home

The President Benjamin Harrison Home is located at 1230 North Delaware Street in Indianapolis, Indiana.  It is open to the public Mondays – Saturdays 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  On Sundays in July, August and December it is open from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.  Admission is $6.00 for adults, $5.00 for seniors, and $3.00 for students. 

 

As Benjamin Harrison was a successful attorney he purchased a double lot on the west side of North Delaware Street at auction in 1867.  After the Civil War, in 1874, he began construction of his 16-room Italianate style house, a carriage house, a brick drive and landscaping.  The cost for this came to $24,818.67.  Except for periods of time from 1881-1887, when he was in the senate, and 1889-1893 when he was president, Benjamin and his wife Caroline, and their two children lived in the Delaware Street home.       

After his presidency, Benjamin returned to Indianapolis a widower.  He made several changes to the house that included an addition of an English-Regency front porch, electricity, and updated plumbing.  In 1896 he married Mary, and they lived here with their daughter Elizabeth.  It would be in this home that Benjamin died in March 1901.  

Following Harrison’s death in 1901, Mary and Elizabeth lived here until 1913 when they moved to New York.  Between 1913 and 1937, the house was rented to various families and eventually became a rooming house.  In March 1937, the Arthur Jordan Foundation purchased the house and its furniture.  This organization used the house as a dormitory for the female students in the Jordan Conservatory of Music, that were formerly housed in a readapted home on the south adjoining lot.  When the foundation purchased the home, they did so with the provision that the home would also be preserved and considered a memorial to Benjamin Harrison.  

In 1951 the music school housed here moved to Butler University where it continues to be known today as Jordan College.  Pursuant to an agreement with Mrs. Harrison, the Arthur Jordan Foundation Trustees opened the Harrison house to the public.  In 1964 the United States Department of Interior named the home a National Historic Landmark, and in 1966 the Jordan Foundation created the President Benjamin Harrison Foundation to maintain and operate the house. 

The Benjamin Harrison Artifact and Research Collections

The collections held here include several sub-collections and archival categories. The main collection includes the textile, political, historic photograph, documents, fine arts and furniture collections. The library contains the archival and book materials recorded in the library databases.  This includes book, letter, newspaper, microfilm and pamphlet collections.  The Harrison family owned the majority of the books.     

The Library at the President Benjamin Harrison Home houses the largest collection of papers for President Benjamin Harrison than any other institution other than the Library of Congress.  There is also located here a gift shop, and the President Benjamin Harrison Foundation offers many educational programs.

Quick Biographical Facts

BENJAMIN HARRISON

23rd President

Term- March 4, 1889 to March 4, 1893

Republican Party

Birth: North Bend, Ohio, August 20, 1833.

Ancestry: English-Scotch

Marriage: First Marriage: Oxford, Ohio, October 20, 1853 to Caroline (Carrie) Lavinia Scott, who was born in Oxford, Ohio, October 1, 1832. Caroline died in Washington, D.C., October 25, 1892 and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Second Marriage: New York, New York, April 6, 1896 to Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, who was born in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, April 30, 1858. Mary died in New York, New York, January 5, 1948, and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Children: (By first wife) Russell Benjamin (1854-1936); Mary Scott (1858-1930).

(By second wife) Elizabeth (1897-1955).

Home: Indianapolis, Indiana

Education: Private tutoring; attended Farmers College; graduated B.A. (1852) from Miami University.

Religion: Presbyterian

Occupation before Presidency: Lawyer, notary public, soldier.

Military Service: Appointed col. in 70th Indiana Volunteers (1862); resigned as brevet brig. general in 1865.

Pre-Presidential Offices: Commissioner for the Court of Claims; City Attorney; Secretary of Indiana Republican Central Committee; State Supreme Court Reporter; Member of the U.S. Senate.

Age at Inauguration: 55

Harrison Administration: Vice President: Levi P. Morton of New York, Inauguration March 4, 1889, The Capital, Washington, D.C.

Occupation after Presidency: Lawyer

Death: Indianapolis, Indiana, March 13, 1901

Cause of Death: Pneumonia at age 67.

Place of Burial: Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana

Interesting Facts: 

Benjamin Harrison is the earliest President whose voice is known to be preserved.  There is a 36-second recording that was originally made on a wax phonograph cylinder in 1889 by Giuseppe Bettini.

Harrison had electricity installed in the White House in 1891 for the first time by the Edison Electric Company.  However, he and his wife, Caroline, reportedly would not touch the light switches for fear of electrocution and often would go to sleep with the lights on.

Harrison has had many institutions named in his honor that include the Benjamin Harrison School of Law in Indianapolis, a 1942 United States Liberty ship named the USS Benjamin Harrison, and a United States Army post, Fort Benjamin Harrison, established in Indianapolis.  

Copyright © by John T. Marck.  The author would like to thank for their information assistance, The President Benjamin Harrison Home, Indianapolis, Indiana; The National Park Service, Benjamin Harrison Home; Wikipedia, relative to Benjamin Harrison and his home; Museumsusa; and The Association of Indiana Museums.  Thanks also to the National Register of Historic Places; National Park Service – The Presidents.  Information as to biographical facts from “The Presidents of the United States,” by John T.  Marck, and “The First Ladies of the United States,” by John T. Marck, Copyright © 1993-2008 by John T. Marck.

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