President Benjamin Harrison
(August 20, 1833 - March 13, 1901)
“Independency of thought is the first requisite of the responsible citizen. Individual independence necessarily precedes community independence. The free man came before the free state; and the free state will not survive him.” - Benjamin Harrison in an address to Stanford University.
Born with a pedigree that practically promised political office, Benjamin Harrison was a descendant of a family in which, for over 250 years, from the arrival of Benjamin “the Emigrant” Harrison in Virginia in 1630, until his own presidency in the late 1800s, an unbroken line of male descendants held political office. The first four Benjamin Harrisons were members of the Virginia House of Burgesses. The fifth, sometimes known as “Benjamin the Signer”, was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, a member of the Continental Congress, and as Governor of Virginia from 1781-1784, turned over to the federal government those portions of Old Virginia which became known as the Old Northwest Territories and which were so prominent in his own son’s life story.
This son, William Henry Harrison, had a long career in the public’s service, a career which included success in the military against the Indians of the Old Northwest Territory and their leader, Tecumseh. He was appointed Governor of the Indiana Territory, a part of the Old Northwest from 1800 to 1813, and was elected to both the Congress and the Senate before being elected President in 1840. But at 68, his long winded inaugural address on a cold, blustery day, may have led to his death by pneumonia one month after taking office. William’s third son, John Scott Harrison, spent most of his life as a gentleman farmer on the family estate at North Bend, Ohio. But he also served two terms in Congress from 1853 to 1857, continuing the family’s unbroken record of public service.
Benjamin Harrison, John’s son, was born on August 20, 1833 in his grandfather William’s house at North Bend and grew up on his father’s nearby farm. It was a time and place in which it was not unusual for him, as he rambled through the woods on the family’s property, to come across a runaway slave who had just crossed the Ohio. His mother, a devout Presbyterian, instilled “in Ben a devotion to Christian principles that was to be very embarrassing to the unscrupulous men who in later years attempted to make the quiet little president their tool. ... Every act of his life was performed with a quiet regard for the Christian principles which he had been taught early in life and to which he clung with characteristic tenacity. An intelligent and inflexible adherence to principle, whether in civil or sacred matters, was perhaps the great strength of his character.” (The Harrisons, by Ross R. Lockridge, Jr., p.95)
At the age of 16, Harrison entered Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He was in love with Caroline Scott, the daughter of a professor there, whom he married after a two year courtship at the age of 20. After two years of his studying law in Cincinnati, the young couple moved to Indianapolis possessing