Benjamin Harrison


Public life

Occupation 1

American President


NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Age of Steam and Steel (1866-1920)








Twenty-third president of the United States�

[President] Hayes considered Harrison for a cabinet position but instead appointed him to the Mississippi River Commission in 1879�

President Cleveland had defined the major issue in the election of 1888 when he devoted his entire Annual Message of 1887 to a call for tariff reform. Harrison responded with what was recognized as a very effective campaign in defense of the protective tariff�

Harrison served as president during the four years preceding the depression of 1893. He has been criticized for contributing to the collapse of the nation's economy by accepting the agenda of the "Billion Dollar" Congress of 1890, which produced controversial legislation on monetary policy and tariff rates. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act assured silver producers that the federal government would purchase 4.5 million ounces of silver a month, a guarantee perceived as a threat to the gold standard. The McKinley Tariff raised import duties to a record high level, and Democrats lashed out at the legislation as the cause of higher prices. Even if the two laws did not create the conditions that brought about a crisis in the economy, they led the list of issues that contributed to landslide victories for the Democrats in the congressional election of 1890 and in the presidential election of 1892�.

Harrison vigorously pursued three related objectives: construction of a modern navy, control of a Central American canal, and acquisition of naval bases in the Caribbean and in the Pacific.

Harrison provided unqualified support for Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy, who in 1890 convinced the Congress to approve construction of the first three American battleships. The United States had delayed building a modern navy of steel warships until 1883. Through the 1880s Congress had continued to emphasize the defensive character of the navy. The new battleships--the Indiana, the Massachusetts, and the Oregon--advanced naval construction by a generation. Designated "coastline" battleships to appease those in Congress who opposed building a navy that could be used for offensive purposes, the three warships of more than 10,000 tons displacement had the potential to do more than merely defend American territory. Finally, in 1892, Harrison and Tracy persuaded Congress to vote the funds for construction of the Iowa, the first seagoing battleship of 11,400 tons displacement. The president and his secretary of the navy did not try to disguise their belief that the United States should become a legitimate naval power.

Harrison and Blaine failed to convince Congress to guarantee the bonds of the private company that had hoped to build a canal across Nicaragua, and they also failed to obtain the first American naval base in the Caribbean--in Haiti. These failures, however, along with some important firsts, established the foundation for what the United States would accomplish before the end of the decade�

Related Image

external image head6_benjamin_harrison_1888.jpg
Date: 1888
Image Id: 400

Record ID: 376