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President Benjamin Harrison - page 2 / 5





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only $800, his name, and a determination to succeed. He knew that while his name might attract clients, it was up to his own hard work and intelligence to keep them. To stabilize his financial situation, he accepted a position with the clerk of the State Supreme Court as court crier which paid $2.50 per day.

His family and reputation grew. A son, Russell, was born on August 12, 1854, followed by daughter Mary Scott Harrison on April 3, 1858. In 1857, he was elected to the post of City Attorney, then Reporter of the Supreme Court in 1860. His private practice continued to grow, bolstered by several high profile cases such as the prosecution of the “Cold Springs Murders” and “Milligan vs. the United States,” until, returning to his practice even after his presidency, he was able to earn $150,000 a year as an attorney. Several of his contemporaries, including Chauncy Depew, a leading orator of the era, considered him “by far the ablest and profoundest lawyer among our presidents.”

The Civil War offered Harrison the opportunity to extend his public service and his reputation. In July 1862, while he was still only 28 years old, Governor Morton personally appealed to Harrison to help raise the 70th Indiana Volunteer Regiment. Within two years, with no previous military experience, this grandson of celebrated General William Henry Harrison, had himself risen to the rank of Brigadier General and led his men in various battles. It was a turning point in his life as well as the nation’s. “He went to the war a young and inexperienced lawyer. He returned a hardened soldier, a brigadier general who had won his promotion in battle, a man to command the respect of all. The war taught him the greatness of his country. It quickened his patriotism. It taught him a loyalty to the Constitution and to the flag that could have been learned so deeply in no other way. It hardened his character, made him a man among men. It taught him leadership and decision.” (The Harrisons, p.119)

After the war, Harrison remained active in his law practice, in local politics, his church, and in the State Assembly. In 1876 he was chosen as a last minute Republican Candidate for Governor to replace the original candidate who had to withdraw due to scandal. He was unable to defeat the popular Democratic candidate “Blue Jean” Williams, but he outperformed the Republican Party in general. With the passing of Governor Morton in 1877, Harrison found himself the state’s leading Republican. He was offered a cabinet post by President James Garfield in 1880, but declined it in favor of a seat in the United States Senate which he held from 1881 to 1887, losing it because the Democrats in the state had been able to gerrymander the districts in their favor.

He sat out the 1888 Republican Convention, having no further political aspirations at the time. But to his surprise, due to a sequence of candidate’s withdrawals and other events, he received his party’s presidential nomination on the convention’s 8th Ballot. When he received this word while at his law offices on Market Street, he reportedly said. “I feel much more disturbed now than I did when I thought it would be a defeat; there is too much seriousness about such a position.”

On that same day, June 25, 1888, he began his famous “front porch” campaign by speaking to the more than 5,000 who assembled outside his Delaware Street home to congratulate him that evening. He never left Indianapolis during the campaign, but spoke instead to all kinds of groups, whether laborers, war veterans, businessmen, patriotic groups, women’s organizations, and newsmen that came to hear him speak from a review stand set up in Military Park. (His wife and neighbors eventually asked him not use his real front porch.) Few issues, except the degree to which to use protective tariffs, actually distinguished the platforms of the two parties, and the two men ran an unusually clean campaign, though the election was marred by the shenanigans and vote buying of the various local political bosses of both parties. In the end Cleveland won the greatest popular vote, 5,540,309 to 5,444,337; but Harrison became president with an electoral college margin of 233 to 168.


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