Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901)

Figure 1.--This photograph was taken on the White House grounds, probably about 1892. Pictured with Whiskers the goat are Benjamin "Baby" McKee and I think his sister Mary Lodge.

Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd president of the United States. He was the only president who was the grandson of a President. He was also one of two presidents who lost in the popular vote, but won in the Electoral College. He championed the rights of settlers, Indians, and Civil War veterans. Harrison presided over an aggresive foreign policy. He also signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the beginning of Federal efforts to control the power of the industrial monopolies in the booming economy of the late 19th Cebtury. He was thevfirst presidentbtomactively campaign


Benjamin was the son of John Scott Harrison and Ramsey Elizabeth Irwin. John Scott Harrison was the son of former president and Indian fighter William Henry Harrison. John Scott lived a relatively uneventful life. He was, however, the only one of the Harrison children to live to an advanced age. He was elected to Congress twice. He was primarily occupied with the family farm in Ohio. He an his first wife Lucretia had three children. With his second wife Elizabeth he had six children. All but one of the children lived realtively short lives. His mother hated slavery on religious grounds. He was their second son of 14 children in all, two of whom were adopted.


Benjamin was born in 1833 on his father's large farm on the Ohio River below Cincinnati at North Bend. John Harrisom was a successful farmer and the children grew up in a relatively affluent environment. Benjamin was an avid reader. His father's farm was located near his grandparents. He was allowed as a boy to use his grand'father's (President William Henry Harrison) library. He was 7 years old when his grandfather died. Benjamin and his wife eventually cared for his grandmother.


Ben attended the log-cabin school that his father built for his children. At the age of 14 he entered Farmer's College near Cincinnati. After 3 years he transferred to Miami University at Oxford, Ohio. There he won a reputation for public speaking and in 1852 graduated fourth in his class.Harrison attended Miami University in Ohio and read law in Cincinnati.


Harrison moved to Indianapolis, where he practiced law and campaigned for the Republican Party. He married Caroline Lavinia Scott in 1853. After the Civil War--he was Colonel of the 70th Volunteer Infantry--Harrison became a pillar of Indianapolis, enhancing his reputation as a brilliant lawyer.

Military Service

The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 interrupted Harrison's promising political career. He helped raise the 70th Indiana Infantry and commanded the regiment as a colonel. Although he had no military training, Harrison became an excellent officer. He served in Kentucky and saw action KennesawcMountain, Peachtree Creek, and Nasville. He took part in General William T. Sherman's march to Atlanta. He was a fearless soldier and took good care of his men, who called him "Little Ben," although his insistence on strict discipline made him unpopular. When the war ended in 1865, he held the brevet (honorary) rank of brigadier general.

Political Career

Considering his family background, it is not surprising that Harrison went into politics. His family were Whigs, traditional opponents of the Democrats. But the Whig Party was breaking up, partly because of the issue of slavery, which divided the country. Harrison joined the Republican Party, a newly formed anti-slavery party, and was elected or appointed to several political posts.

The Democrats defeated him for Governor of Indiana in 1876 by unfairly stigmatizing him as "Kid Gloves" Harrison. Harrison in 1880 was elected to the United States Senate, where he championed Indians, homesteaders, and Civil War veterans. He turned down a cabinent post in the Garfield Administration. He was defeated in a relection attempt in 1886.

Presidential Campaign of 1888

The Republican Party nominated Benjamin Harrison for President on the eighth ballot at the 1888 Convention. Harrison conducted one of the first American "front-porch" campaigns,. His normal procedure was to deliver short speeches to various delegations that visited him at his home in Indianapolis. This was considered an active campaign effort.At the ttime this was considered active campaigning. Harrison was a rather small man, only about 5 feet, 6 inches in heighth. The Democrats derisively called him "Little Ben". The Republican respnse was that he was quite big enough to wear the hat of his grandfather, "Old Tippecanoe. Harrison won in a very close election. He received 100,000 fewer popular votes than Cleveland, but won in the Electoral College 233 to 168. Although Harrison had himself made no political bargains personally, his supporters had made numerous pledges in his name. When political boss Matt Quay of Pennsylvania learned that Harrison ascribed his narrow victory to Providence, Quay exclaimed that Harrison would never know "how close a number of men were compelled to approach... the penitentiary to make him President."


Foreign policy

Preident Harrison was proud of the vigorous foreign policy which he played an important role in formulating. The first Pan American Congress met in Washington in 1889, establishing an information center which later became the Pan American Union. At the end of his administration Harrison submitted to the Senate a treaty to annex the Hawaiian Islands. He was dissapointed when President Cleveland who succeeded him later withdrew the treaty. He later was to have some concern about America's imperial expansion duing the Spanish American War. [Sievers, 3: p. 268.]

Domestic policies

Substantial appropriation bills were signed by Harrison for internal improvements, naval expansion, and subsidies for steamship lines. For the first time except in war, Congress appropriated a billion dollars. When critics attacked "the billion-dollar Congress," Speaker Thomas B. Reed replied, "This is a billion-dollar country." President Harrison also signed the land-mark Sherman Anti-Trust Act "to protect trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies," the first Federal act attempting to regulate trusts.

Tariff policy countinued to beone of the principal domestic issues. The most perplexing domestic problem Harrison faced was the tariff issue. The high tariff rates in effect had created a surplus of money in the Treasury. Low-tariff advocates argued that the surplus was hurting business. Republican leaders in Congress successfully met the challenge. Representative William McKinley and Senator Nelson W. Aldrich framed a still higher tariff bill--the McKinnley Tariff. Some rates were so high that were prohibitive. Harrison tried to make the tariff more acceptable by writing in reciprocity provisions. To cope with the Treasury surplus, the tariff was removed from imported raw sugar; sugar growers within the United States were given 2 cents a pound bounty on their production.

Harrison was a solidly staunch Republican. He defied party leaders bent on extending patronage to supporters. He srongly supported Civil service reform and appointed a then vurtually unknown Theodore Roosevelt to oversee the Civil Service Commission. [Sievers, 3: p. 75.] Because Rooseveky was a serious reformer, this caused of the most bitter disputes during the Harrison Administration. More than any other action impaired his influence within the Republican Party.

Economic trends

Long before the end of the Harrison Administration, the Treasury surplus had evaporated, and prosperity seemed about to disappear as well. Congressional elections in 1890 went stingingly against the Republicans, and party leaders decided to abandon President Harrison although he had cooperated with Congress on party legislation. Nevertheless, his party renominated him in 1892, but he was defeated by Cleveland.

Election of 1892

Harrison was nominated again by the Republicans in 1892. Important Republicans like Mark Hanna and Thomas Platt opposed Harisons renomination. Grover Cleveland running for the third time, defeats Harrison in the election. Labor unrest, especilally the Homestead Strike, wee probably major reasons for Harrison's defeat. Some balmed the McKinnley proective tariff. There weere also third party candidates that adversely affected the Repubnlicans. [Sievers, 3: pp. 245-250.]


After he left office, Harrison returned to Indianapolis, and married the widowed Mrs. Mary Dimmick in 1896. There was some talk of renominating Harrison in 1896, but he was determined to stay out of politics. [Sievers, 3: p. 257.] He was retained by the Venezuelan Government to ague their case in international arbitration against Britain. He traveled to Europe in 1899 with his wife and daughter to argue the case. He died a dignified elder statesman in 1901.


Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison (1832-1892)

The centennial of President Washington's inauguration heightened the nation's interest in its heroic past, and in 1890 Caroline Scott Harrison lent her prestige as First Lady to the founding of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She served as its first President General. She took a special interest in the history of the White House, and the mature dignity with which she carried out her duties may overshadow the fun-loving nature that had charmed "Ben" Harrison when they met as teenagers.

Born at Oxford, Ohio, in 1832, "Carrie" was the second daughter of Mary Potts Neal and the Reverend Dr. John W. Scott, a Presbyterian minister and founder of the Oxford Female Institute.


As her father's pupil--brown-haired, petite, witty--she infatuated the reserved young Ben, then an honor student at Miami University; they were engaged before his graduation and married in 1853.

Family Life

After early years of struggle while he established a law practice in Indianapolis, they enjoyed a happy family life interrupted only by the Civil War. Then, while General Harrison became a man of note in his profession, his wife cared for their son and daughter, gave active service to the First Presbyterian Church and to an orphans' home, and extended cordial hospitality to her many friends. Church views to the contrary, she saw no harm in private dancing lessons for her daughter--she liked dancing herself. Blessed with considerable artistic talent, she was an accomplished pianist; she especially enjoyed painting for recreation.

Political life

Illness repeatedly kept her away from Washington's winter social season during her husband's term in the Senate, 1881-1887, and she welcomed their return to private life; but she moved with poise to the White House in 1889 to continue the gracious way of life she had always created in her own home.

Women's Rights

She is probably best know for being the first president of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was not only a time for patriotic fervor, but also of women's rights. When John Hospkins opened a new hopital, Mrs Harrison refused to lend her support unless women were allowed to practice there.

First Lady

During the administration the Harrisons' daughter, Mary Harrison McKee, her two children, and other relatives lived at the White House. A major effort had to be made to clean out rooms and clean out the White House for the Harrison family. [Sievers, 3:, p. 53.] The First Lady tried in vain to have the overcrowded mansion enlarged but managed to assure an extensive renovation with up-to-date improvements. She established the collection of china associated with White House history. She worked for local charities as well. With other ladies of progressive views, she helped raise funds for the Johns Hopkins University medical school on condition that it admit women. She gave elegant receptions and dinners. In the winter of 1891-1892, however, she had to battle illness as she tried to fulfill her social obligations. The First Lady's illness prevented her husband from campaigning in the 1896 campaign. [Sievers, 3:, p. 241.] She died of tuberculosis at the White House in October 1892, and after services in the East Room was buried from her own church in Indianapolis.

When official mourning ended, Mrs. McKee acted as hostess for her father in the last months of his term.

Mary Scott Lord

Harrison in 1896 married his first wife's widowed niece and former secretary, Mary Scott Lord Dimmick. He was 62 yars old. His children, Mary and Russell, were upset with his deission to remarry. Mary got him much more involved socially, especiall to musical events which she was very fond of. [Sievers, 3:, p. 132.] Mary Scott survived her husband by nearly 47 years, dying in January 1948.

Figure 2.--This photograph was taken in 1894 of the former president with his daughter Mamie and two grandchildren, Benjamon Harrison ("Baby") McKee and Marthena Harrison. The president was especially fond of Baby.


Benjamin Harison had four, a boy and two girls survived to adulthood. The children were grown at the time of Harrison's election, but there were often grandchildren at the White House. The grandchildren had a goat named "Whiskers" who they used to pull a goat cart.

Russell Benjamin (1854-1936)

Russell made his life in Montanna sevrving with the Stock Growers Association and publishing a newspaper. [Sievers, 3:, p. 256.] Russell along with his wife Mary and child Marthena moved in to the White House. He served on his father's staff. A scandal erupted over $0.5 million in railroad stock he was found toown. His wife acted as White House hostess for the ailing First lady. Russell was a major in the army and served in Cuba during the Spanish American War. Later he operated a street car companyb in Terre Haute, Indiana. Russell served in the Indiana state legislature.

Mary (1858-1930)

Mary was known as Mammie. She had married James Rober McKee, but the time her father became president she was a widow. She moved into the White House with her children. Mary also served as White House hostess because of her mother's illness. She impressed Washington society and was considered a glamerous hostess. Her son Benjamin Harrisom McKee, called "Baby" was nearly 2 years old when they moved into the White House. He was a favorite of his grandfather. A daughter May Lodge born on July 4 was not yet 1 year old. The Washington press was enchanted with the children and would report on their antics in the White House. The President's affection for Baaby became the talk of the country. Nellie' Grant's room was made a nursery for the children. At meals, Baby's high chair was placed next to his grandfather's chair. The newspaers made so much of Baby that the Administration had to ask them not to focus on him so much. Americans sent toys of all descripton to the Whit House. Baby received a pony and cart which he would ride daily. Baby's antics received considerable coverage, including the time he dipped state papers into a White House spitoon. [Sievers, 3:, p. 56.] Mary was very displeased when after her mother's death that her father remarried to a woman her own age. Her father tried to bring the two together, but Mary would never acceot her new step-mother and her new step-sister Elizabeth.

Elizabeth (1897-1955)

Elizabeth was the youngest child. She was born in Harrison's second mairrage. She was much younger than his children and even younger than his grandchildren. Elizabeth was one of the very few children to be born to an ex-president. She attended New York University Law School, a considerble achievement for a woman at the time. She married James Blaine Walker a grandnephew of James Blaine (Republican senator who presidential candidate). One of her girls married into the Garfield family. She practiced law and published an investment newsletter.

Children's Clothes


We have very little information on the clothes Harrison's children wore. A painting exists of Russel and Mary. Russel looks to be about 5 years of age. He wears a white shirt and yellowish kneepants and white socks. He has longish, bit not curled hair.


Much more information exists on the clothing the grandchildren wore. A painting exists of Benjamin Harrison McKee known as Baby. He wears a cap, reffer jacket and long pants. A photograph shows him wearing a style of brimless cap that was popularat the time, a reffer javket, and leggings (figure 1). Another photograph shows him wearing a tam or beret, a white kneepants outfit which is difficult to make out, and black long stiockings (figure 2).


Sievers, Harry J. Benjamin Harrison, Vol. 1-3 (Bobbs-Merrill: New York, 1968).

Wead, Doug. All the President's Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Familirs (Atria: New York, 2003), 456p.


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Created: June 25, 1999
Last changed: March 28, 2003