Thursday, July 05, 2012

10 Fun Facts About Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States

1. Benjamin Harrison was born near Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1833, to a prominent political dynasty with American roots stretching back to Jamestown in the 1630's.  Harrison's great-grandfather had been governor of Virginia and a member of the Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  His grandfather was the war hero and eventual 9th president of the United States, William Henry Harrison.  His father was a member of the House of Representatives.

2. In the late 1840's, Harrison attended a small Presbyterian prep school in Cincinnati, where he began dating the president's daughter, Caroline Scott.  They married in 1853 and had two children, a son and a daughter.  Harrison also attended Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, and graduated in 1852.

3. Following his marriage, Harrison moved to Indianapolis to begin practicing law.  One of his first jobs there was as a "crier" for the federal courthouse, responsible for walking the streets of Indianapolis and announcing decisions passed by the judges.  He eventually opened his own law firm and also served as a public attorney and law reporter for the Indiana Supreme Court.

4. After the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Harrison offered his services to the governor of Indiana, and was asked to assist in recruiting a regiment of volunteers.  The regiment became known as the 70th Indiana Infantry, and despite turning down the offer initially, he was given command of the unit and commissioned a colonel.  His unit played a front-line role in the final push through the South in 1864 and 1865, and Harrison was eventually promoted to brigadier general.

5. Following the war, Harrison returned to his law practice, and also continued working for the Indiana Supreme Court.  Having joined the Republican Party at its inception in the 1850's, he began gaining prominence in the local party, but resisted calls to run for public office, preferring instead to campaign for others.  This changed in 1872, however, when Harrison made a failed run for governor of Indiana.  He ran again in 1876, and again lost.  In 1878, after one of Indiana's U.S. senators died, Harrison was nominated to replace him, but lost yet again.

6. Harrison's luck finally began to change in 1880, when, after chairing the Indiana delegation to the Republican National Convention, he was again nominated for the U.S. Senate, and finally managed to secure the seat (at this time, prior to the 1913 passage of the 17th Amendment, U.S. senators from each state were chosen by the state legislature, rather than popular vote).  Harrison was also offered a position in the cabinet of newly elected Republican president James Garfield, but opted to take his seat in the Senate instead.

7. Harrison served only one term in the Senate, before losing his re-election bid in 1886.  He returned briefly to his law practice, but announced his intention to run for president in 1888.  A dark-horse candidate, he ended up winning his party's nomination when the delegates to the Republican National Convention could not agree on the two front-runners.  The general election was very close, and was almost completely divided between North and South - Harrison won virtually every northern state, and Grover Cleveland, the incumbent president, won every southern state.  Cleveland actually won the popular vote, but Harrison won by a comfortable margin in electoral votes.

8. Harrison is the first president in U.S. history whose voice exists on an audio recording - a 36-second clip of Harrison reading from one of his speeches.  Harrison was also the first president to install electricity in the White House, though he and his wife were terrified to use the light switches.  

9. In 1892, with the U.S. economy faltering, Harrison ran for re-election, pitted again with former president Grover Cleveland.  This time, Cleveland won by a comfortable margin in both popular and electoral votes.  Just a few weeks before the election, Harrison's wife died of tuberculosis, and his daughter took over the official responsibilities of the First Lady for the remainder of his term - the last time a non-spouse served as U.S. First Lady.

10. In 1896, Harrison married again, to a woman who was not only 25 years younger than him, but who was actually his own niece by marriage.  Mary Dimmick was the daughter of his deceased wife's sister, meaning she was not a blood relation to Harrison, but was a first cousin to Harrison's children.  His children refused to attend the wedding, and the union caused an estrangement between Harrison and his daughter and they never spoke again.  Harrison contracted pneumonia and died in March, 1901.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

FINALLY! :) Although it doesn't sound like he was much of a politician. Of course we have a Benjamin Harrison Room in the building where I work. There is also a Caroline Scott Harrison Room, but no Mary Dimmick Room. No one must have cared about her.

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