- Also check our best rated Biography reviews
Benjamin Harrison: The American Presidents Series: The 23rd President, 1889-1893 (American Presidents (Times)) Hardcover – 6 Jun 2005
|New from||Used from|
- Choose from over 13,000 locations across the UK
- Prime members get unlimited deliveries at no additional cost
- Find your preferred location and add it to your address book
- Dispatch to this address when you check out
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
About the Author
Charles W. Calhoun is a professor of history at East Carolina University. A former National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, Calhoun is the author or editor of four books, including The Gilded Age, and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. He lives in Greenville, North Carolina.
Top customer reviews
For a short study, Calhoun's book offers a detailed consideration of Harrison and his presidency. In contrast to the usual portrayal of Gilded Age presidents, Calhoun sees Harrison as an activist who sought to expand Federal power and to reach out directly to the electorate in support of his policies. As Calhoun puts it, Harrison "harbored a philosophy of government that emphasized possibilities more than restraints." Harrison put the matter succinctly himself, during his unsuccessful campaign for reelection. Speaking in Galveston, Texas, Harrison described the Federally financed harbor in the city as an example of the "work which a liberal and united Government could do." Harrison continued, "This ministering care should extend to our whole country. We are great enough and rich enough to reach forward to grander conceptions than have entered the minds of some of our statesmen in the past." In another speech, Harrison spoke of his goal "by every method to enhance the prosperity of all our people; to have this great Government in all that it undertakes touch with beneficience and equal hands the pursuits of the rich and of the poor." With his support for an expansive role for the Federal government, Calhoun argues, Harrison anticipated the modern presidency.
The heart of Calhoun's book considers Harrison's role in proposing and securing a great deal of important legislation during his term in office. Harrison worked closely with Congress and showed a willingness to pursue his programs aggressively and to compromise when necessary. Calhoun devotes considerable space to discussing monetary policy and the support by many people for free coinage of silver. Harrison successfully resisted this pressure while working with Congress to increase the production of silver in what he believed was a fiscally responsible manner. Harrison also supported the traditional Republican agenda of high tariffs to protect American manufacturers, but he also introduced flexibility into the system by provisions for reciprocity agreements with foreign countries that would allow free trade to United States products. Harrison's accomplishments also included the enactment of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and of a Forest Reserve Act, among much else. Harrison approved the first billion-dollar budget of the United States.
Harrison also supported modest but new provisions for Federal aid to education. He worked hard but unsuccessfully to strengthen voting rights for African Americans against the already powerful Jim Crow. In supporting voting rights, Harrison said:
"When and under what conditions is the black man to have a free ballot? When is he in fact to have those full civil rights which have so long been his in law? When is that equality of influence which our form of government was intended to secure to the electors to be restored? This generation should courageously face these grave questions, and not leave them as a heritage of woe to the next."
Calhoun also describes Harrison's important accomplishments in foreign affairs. The president had direct responsibility for many of the achievements of his administration, as Harrison quarreled repeatedly with his Secretary of State, James Blaine.
Calhoun's book is valuable because it takes a fresh look at a president most Americans do not know well and offers a positive assessment of his character and accomplishments. As do most of the books in the American Presidents series, Calhoun focuses upon the valuable traits of his subject and his style of leadership, a course I think is far preferable to tendencies towards deflationary accounts. Calhoun offers a readable, thoughtful presentation of Benjamin Harrison's life and presidency.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The book begins with his youth and his Civil War experience. He was one of the many Republican presidents in the latter part of the 19th century who had served during that bloody conflict. He entered the bar in 1854 and married Caroline. His law business languished; he became interested in politics. Thus began his career, although he was not always successful in his elections. The war intervened, and Harrison became an officer. After the war, his legal career became lucrative. However, politics beckoned and he became a figure in Republican politics in Indiana.
He served in a variety of roles, before being nominated for President in 1888. He won by collecting more electoral votes--but fewer popular votes--than the incumbent, Grover Cleveland. His presidency was a vigorous one--both domestically and in terms of foreign policy. He hewed to a strong tariff policy, but one made more flexible for bilateral negotiation with other countries. He was open toward labor and was dismayed by the withdrawal of voting rights for southern blacks and fought hard (and, in the end, unsuccessfully) to address that and restore voting rights. In foreign policy, with James G. Blaine as his secretary of State, he played a strong hand, becoming very much involved in development and implementation of foreign policy.
He did not triumph in his quest for reelection, as Grover Cleveland won back the presidency. Thereafter, he became once more a high profile attorney. The book does a nice job of depicting his final years and some internal family turmoil.
Another good entry in the series. For me, I prefer longer and more detailed biographies, but this will serve well those who prefer something accessible and brief.
Harrison's election in 1888 had actually been a new model of campaigning, with record amounts of money being raised, primarily from industry, and one of the first and most massive media blitzes launched to stoke interest nationwide in his candidacy. He was also one of the first presidents to launch a so-called front porch campaign from his mansion in Indianapolis. Reporters, well wishers and the American people would have to come to him instead of he to them. Given the uncharismatic nature of Harrison's personality, it was probably a wise choice.
In the first two years of his presidency, Harrison presided over a very active legislative agenda, skillfully negotiating through Congress passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act, The McKinley Tariff Act, and The Sherman Silver Purchase Act, all hot button issues of his day. These ambitious pieces of legislation were in a manner a harbinger of Teddy Roosevelt's activist domestic agenda to come. But Harrison never seemed to be able to get much off the ground in the last two years of his presidency after he lost his Republican majority in the House.
It may seem ironic by today's standards that it was the Democrats who were rallying against an activist agenda. In the first half of Harrison's administration, the Republican Congress was the first to present a $1 billion-dollar federal budget, earning it the moniker The Billion Dollar Congress.
Harrison's downfall came in part at the hands of his own party. He was somewhat of a cold fish, at least in political circles, and seemed frequently overshadowed by bigger than life personalities that surrounded him, most notably, his own charismatic Secretary of State James Blaine. Calhoun provides good insight into this complicated relationship.
Calhoun also does an admirable job detailing the legislative battles surrounding the issue of the gold standard and whether America should embrace a bi-metallism standard with silver. Deflationary pressure on the economy had dropped prices to the point where the agricultural and industrial sectors were both suffering from increasing layoffs and labor unrest. Many Republicans in the West with entrepreneurial interests in silver mining had much to gain by moving to a bi-metal standard, making them strange bedfellows with Democrats who advocated for an inflationary policy to raise prices and ultimately wages.
On civil rights, Harrison was well intended, although he did not accomplish much. He supported legislation that would have granted federal funding to schools regardless of the race of its students. He also endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling in the Civil Rights Cases that in 1883 had struck down much of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 as unconstitutional. The time had not come for such progressive measures to meet with congressional approval.
Grover Cleveland usually shoulders the blame for the Depression of 1893, and deservedly so. But the policies of Benjamin Harrison help set the stage for this economic disaster, much as the policies of Calvin Coolidge in the next century foreboded the disastrous administration of Herbert Hoover. Harrison ultimately succumbed to supporting inflationary policies that came back to haunt the country in 1893. Cleveland only exacerbated the problem by choking the money supply and cutting off the new silver standard at an inopportune time. The result was one of the worst depressions in American history. Just prior to that point, the gilded age had come into full swing as income inequality hit levels never previously seen in America. Now, its policies were coming home to roost.
Harrison had been an ardent supporter of protectionist tariffs. The American people have been told that such tariffs would benefit labor. But when the steel industry, in particular, was hit with layoffs and depressed wages, labor began to understand that there was not necessarily a correlation between protectionism in trade and protecting jobs.
Harrison's administration was not defined by foreign affairs. He was fortunate enough to preside over a time of relative peace with respect to American interests abroad. He did flex his muscles by invoking the Monroe Doctrine, as many of his predecessors had, to keep European powers from expanding interests into South and Central America. But perhaps his most significant step was thwarting German expansion in the tiny South Pacific island of Samoa, believing that it was important for the United States to have a toehold in that region. To stand his ground, Harrison had pledged American support and responsibility for a government beyond its own borders. This policy marked a small step for foreign policy that would accelerate dramatically in subsequent administrations.
By the time the election of 1892 was around the corner, Harrison simply had little fire left in his belly for the fight. Not only did he have only tepid support from his own party to run again, but his wife became gravely ill and died right before the election, basically removing Harrison from the campaign trail at a critical time.
All in all, Harrison is probably most remembered for allowing the economy to begin a downward spiral on his watch. But in all fairness, he should probably also be remembered for taking steps to allow the United States to take its place in the world as an industrial power, a county of entrepreneurs and inventors. He was a decent man, but his integrity was not a prominent enough quality to overcome his other flaws and missteps. Calhoun does an excellent job summing up the man and his presidency.
Some of the biographies in this series on American Presidents can sound like high school term papers, but this one by Calhoun is well written and rich with insight.
Look for similar items by category