Ranked #33: A great deal of historians suggest that Harrison sleepedwalked through his presidency. He lacked personal passion and never seemed to accomplished anything eventful. He seemed to ignore or was unaware of some of Americas problems during his tenure.
Summary: Harrison was known for his honesty, diligence, intelligence and ability to get things done. Politically speaking, he was a model of decorum. He was also an exceptional speaker. On the flip side, he was not very patient with staff and got pissed if ever there was a hint of disorganization. He didn’t like small talk and you could say that dealing with people was not his strong suit. He had no pizzazz. He had the personality of a block of wood. In his time, he was known as the “human iceberg,” and I have every reason to believe that he really enjoyed that title if he was, in fact, capable of enjoying anything. Even his handshake was described as being like “holding a wilted petunia.”
Bio: He was 5’ 6” with a gut and short stubby legs. He was strong and sturdy. During his time as a brigadier general in the Civil War he developed a irritation on his hands which led him to wear gloves almost constantly. There were also a few occasions when he suffered physical breakdowns due to overwork (even while campaigning for President). He spoke with a soft, high voice, which I imagine didn’t make people like him any better. He enjoyed a good cigar and played billiards. He also liked duck hunting. Other than that, he liked to take a brisk walk or a carriage ride.
He came from the Virginia Harrison family, which included his great-grandfather, Benjamin Harrison V, who signed the Declaration of Independence. His grandfather, William Henry Harrison was the 9th president of the United States and went down in history as “that guy who died,” due to only surviving one month in office. Despite the fact that Benjamin was President for a full four years, his grandfather somehow still overshadowed him in popularity.
When Harrison was elected in 1888, he lost the popular vote but managed to win through the electoral vote. This would be a theme throughout his tenure. That year, he beat Grover Cleveland. However, four years later, America voted him out and voted none other than Grover Cleveland back in, who not only won the popular vote, but secured the electoral vote as well. That should give you an idea of how successful Harrison was. In fairness to Harrison, it was due to the economy at the time, rather than his policies or any lack of accomplishment. During his time in office, he signed into law a program to provide pensions for Civl War veterans. He also did a noble thing by regulating corporations to prevent them from becoming monopolies. He also supported a protected legislation, which eventually backfired when Americans lost their wages and jobs. Not a good combination to win reelection.
He had a better track record with foreign policy. He was not shy about standing up other nations when it came to protecting America’s interests in the world. He also expanded the Navy. Unlike Presidents before him, he actively did things that moved America towards a world empire. This would be a model that future Presidents would follow.
Harrison in some ways was considered a fairly unimportant President. Some say that he sleepwalked for four years. I think because of his lack of spirit and an uneventful time in office, it was hard for Americans to get excited about him. He wasn’t an activist President. There is evidence that he may have been overwhelmed by some of the economic realities of the time. However, there were some areas that he did focus on, including civil rights for African Americans and the conservation of national resources.
Harrison’s first wife died in the White House. After leaving office, he later married the niece of his deceased wife. At the age of 67, he developed a severe cold that transitioned into pneumonia, which proved to be fatal.
Pros: Appointed Frederick Douglas as the Minister to Haiti. Help small businesses at the cost of corporations, (the first president to do this). Signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Help American veterans by signing the Dependent Pension Act.
Cons: Tariff hikes hurt him politically. Jim Crow laws began to get popular in the South during his presidency. Caused the Panic of 1893 with the Sherman Silver Bill.
Born: August 20, 1833, North Bend, Ohio
Died: March 13, 1901 (aged 67) Indianapolis, Indiana
Term: March 4, 1889 to March 3, 1893 (1 term)
Political Party: Republican
Education: Miami University (Ohio), graduated 1852
Marriage: October 20, 1853, to Caroline Lavinia Scott (1832–1892). April 6, 1896, to Mary Scott Lord Dimmick (1858–1948)
Children: Russell Benjamin (1854–1936), Mary Scott (1858–1930), Elizabeth (1897–1955)