Presidents of the United States

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Benjamin Harrison

From: Portrait and Biographical record of Rockland and Orange Counties, New York
By: Chapman Publishing Company
Published: 1895


BENJAMIN HARRISON, the twenty-third President, is the descendant of one of the historical families of this country. The first known head of the family was Maj . -Gen. Harrison, one of Oliver Cromwell's trusted followers and fighters. In the zenith of Cromwell's power it became the duty of this Harrison to participate in the trial of Charles I., and afterward to sign the death warrant of the king. He subsequently paid for this with his life, being hung October 13, 1660. His descendants came to America, and the next of the family that appears in history is Benjamin Harrison, of Virginia, great-grandfather of the subject of this sketch, and after whom he was named. Benjamin Harrison was a member of the Continental Congress during the years 1774, 1775 and 1776, and was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. He was three times elected Governor of Virginia.

Gen. William Henry Harrison, the son of the distinguished patriot of the Revolution, after a successful career as a soldier during the War of 1812, and with a clean record as Governor of the Northwestern Territory, was elected President of the United States in 1840. His career was cut short by death within one month after his inauguration.

President Harrison was born at North Bend, Hamilton County, Ohio, August 20, 1833. His life up to the time of his graduation from Miami University, at Oxford, Ohio, was the uneventful one of a country lad of a family of small means. His father was able to give him a good education, and nothing more. He became engaged while at college to the daughter of Dr. Scott, Principal of a female school at Oxford. After graduating, he determined to enter upon the study of law. He went to Cincinnati and there read law for two years. At the expiration of that time young Harrison received the only inheritance of his life-his aunt, dying, left him a lot valued at $8oo. He regarded this legacy as a fortune, and decided to get married at once, take this money and go to some Eastern town and begin the practice of law. He sold his lot, and, with the money in his pocket, he started out with his young wife to fight for a place in the world. He decided to go to Indianapolis, which was even at that time a town of promise. He met with slight encouragement at first, making scarcely anything the first year. He worked diligently, applying himself closely to his calling, built up an extensive practice and took a leading rank in the legal profession.

In 1860, Mr. Harrison was nominated for the position of Supreme Court Reporter, and then be gan his experience as a stump speaker. He canvassed the State thoroughly, and was elected by a handsome majority. In 1862 he raised the Seventeenth Indiana Infantry, and was chosen its Colonel. His regiment was composed of the rawest material, but Col. Harrison employed all his time at first in mastering military tactics and drilling his men, and when he came to move toward the East with Sherman, his regiment was one of the best drilled and organized in the army. At Resaca he especially distinguished himself, and for his bravery at Peachtree Creek he was made a Brigadier-General. Gen. Hooker speaking of him in the most complimentary terms.

During the absence of Gen. Harrison in the field, the Supreme Court declared the office of Supreme Court Reporter vacant, and another person was elected to the position. From the time of leaving Indiana with his regiment until the fall of 1864 he had taken no leave of absence, but having been nominated that year for the same office, he got a thirty-day leave of absence, amid during that time made a brilliant canvass of the State, and was elected for another term. He then started to rejoin Sherman, but on the way was stricken down with scarlet fever, and after a most trying attack made his way to the front in time to participate in the closing incidents of the war.

In 1868 Gen. Harrison declined a re-election as Reporter, and resumed the practice of law. In 1876 he was a candidate for Governor. Although defeated, the brilliant campaign he made won for him a national reputation, and he was much sought after, especially in the East, to make speeches. In 1880, as usual, he took an active part in the campaign, and was elected to the United States Senate. Here he served for six years, and was known as one of the ablest men, best lawyers and strongest debaters in that body. With the expiration of his senatorial term he returned to the practice of his profession, becoming the head of one of the strongest firms in the State.

The political campaign of 1888 was one of the most memorable in the history of our country. The convention which assembled in Chicago in June and named Mr. Harrison as the chief standard-bearer of the Republican party was great in every particular, and on tiis account, and the attitude it assumed upon the vital questions of the day, chief among which was the tariff, awoke a deep interest in the campaign throughout the nation. Shortly after the nomination, delegations began to visit Mr. Harrison at Indianapolis, his home. This movement became popular, and from all sections of the country societies, clubs and delegations journeyed thither to pay their respects to the distinguished statesman.

Mr. Harrison spoke daily all through the summer and autumn to these visiting delegations, and so varied, masterly, and eloquent were his speeches that they at once placed him in the foremost rank of American orators and statesmen. Elected by a handsome majority, he served his country faithfully and well, and in 1892 was nommated for re-election; but the people demanded a change and he was defeated by his predecessor in office, Grover Cleveland.

On account of his eloquence as a speaker and his power as a debater, Gen. Harrison was called upon at an early age to take part in the discussion of the great questions that then began to agitate the country. He was an uncompromising anti-slavery man, and was matched against some of the most eminent Democratic speakers of his State. No man who felt the touch of his blade desired to he pitted with him again. With all his eloquence as an orator he never spoke for oratorical effect, but his words always went like bul lets to the mark. He is purely American in his ideas, and is a splendid type of the American statesman. Gifted with quick perception, a logical mind and a ready tongue, he is one of the most distitiguished improniptu speakers in the nation. Many of these speeches sparkled with the rarest eloquence and contained arguments of great weight, and many of his terse statements have already become aphorisms. Original in thought, precise in logic, terse in statement, yet withal faultless in eloquence, he is recognized as the sound statesman and brilliant orator of the day. During the last days of his administration President Harrison suffered an irreparable loss in the death of his devoted wife, Caroline (Scott) Harrison, a lady of many womanly charms and virtues. They were the parents of two children.

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