HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Benjamin Harrison: The 23rd President, 1889-1893
Author: Charles W. Calhoun
Publisher: Times Books, 2005
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Calhoun, Charles W. Benjamin Harrison: The 23rd President, 1889-1893 (published in 2005 by Times Books, a division of Henry Holt and Company LLC, 175 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY 10010). Benjamin Harrison was born on August 20, 1833, in North Bend, OH, the second of eight children to John Scott Harrison and Elizabeth Ramsey (Irwin). Benjamin was a grandson of President William Henry Harrison and the great-grandson of Benjamin Harrison V, a Virginia governor and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Harrison enrolled in Farmer’s College near Cincinnati, OH, in 1847 and transferred to Miami University in Oxford, OH, in 1850, graduating in 1852. Then he studied law with Judge Bellamy Storer of Cincinnati and marry Caroline Scott on October 20, 1853. They had two children, Russell Benjamin and Mary “Mamie” Scott. In 1854, the Harrisons moves to Indianapolis, IN, where he was admitted to the bar and began practicing law in the office of John H. Ray. The same year he became a crier for the Federal Court in Indianapolis. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for more recruits for the Union Army. While visiting Governor Oliver Morton, Harrison was asked if he could help recruit a regiment. He was initially commissioned as a captain and company commander on July 22, 1862, but Governor Morton commissioned Harrison as a colonel on August 7, 1862. On January 23, 1865, President Lincoln nominated him to the grade of brevet brigadier general.
After the war, Harrison returned to his law practice in Indianapolis. In 1876, Harrison accepted the Republicans’ invitation to run for governor but lost to James D. Williams by 5,084 votes out of a total 434,457 cast. In 1880 he was chosen United States Senator. In the election of 1888, he was nominated as the party’s presidential candidate with Levi P. Morton of New York as his running mate against Grover Cleveland. Although Harrison received 90,000 fewer popular votes than Cleveland, he carried the Electoral College 233 to 168. Four years later, the Democrats renominated former President Cleveland, setting up a rematch. Harrison’s wife Caroline had begun a critical struggle with tuberculosis earlier in 1892, and two weeks before the election, on October 25, it took her life. Cleveland ultimately won the election by 277 electoral votes to Harrison’s 145. Harrison again returned to his law practice in Indianapolis. In 1896, at age 62 hemarried Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, the widowed 37-year-old niece and former secretary of his deceased wife. They had one child together, Elizabeth. Harrison developed what was thought to be influenza in February 1901 and died from pneumonia at his home on Wednesday, March 13, 1901, at the age of 67.
This biography of Harrison is part of “The American Presidents Series” edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger. I picked it up when we visited the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Center in Indianapolis earlier this year. It is short enough for busy readers and simple enough for students, yet authoritative enough for the scholar. Author Charles C. Calhoun, professor of history at East Carolina University, summarizes Harrison’s presidency by saying that he and other Republicans placed greater stress on government activism, especially at the national level, to foster economic development. With this Larry Schweikart in A Patriot’s History of the United States agrees, writing, “Harrison hoped to restrain the growth of government. But his administration overall constituted a remarkable inversion of the parties’ positions.” Benjamin Harrison is a good look at a man who was more than just a caretaker between the two Cleveland administrations. He not only accomplished much for the nation in his four years in office but also set the stage for his later Republican successors to realize the potential of the presidency. “Scholars may regard [William McKinley] as the first modern president, but Benjamin Harrison had clearly pointed the way.”