President Harrison’s single term fell between the
two terms of Grover Cleveland, a Democrat. Cleveland was popular with the people but unpopular with political leaders. Harrison was popular with neither. There was indeed something of a mystery in his being elected at all. He was serious and dignified, not a hand-shaking politician and not a leader of men.On July 1, 1862, Lincoln called for more troops. Harrison went to the governor, who asked him to recruit a regiment. On his way back to his office, he bought a military cap and hired a fifer and a drummer. Then he put a flag out of his office window and began recruiting. When the regiment was complete, the governor commissioned him a colonel, and Harrison set off with his troops. By day he drilled his men; at night he studied tactics. Always he looked after his soldiers’ needs. They called him Little Ben.
General Harrison went back to his work at the Supreme Court and his law practice. He also took over again his large Bible class in the Presbyterian church, where his wife taught Sunday school.
In 1876 Harrison ran for governor of Indiana. The Democrats called him “cold as an iceberg” and nicknamed him Kid-Glove Harrison. The Democratic candidate, nicknamed Blue Jeans, won the election.
Four years later the Indiana legislature elected Harrison to the United States Senate. He served from 1881 to 1887 and won the good will of veterans by supporting the many private pension bills that came to him.
Great was the confusion in the Republican nominating convention of 1888. Senator James G. Blaine, the leader of the party, had been defeated by Cleveland in 1884 and refused to run against him again. The field was therefore open. Harrison was finally nominated with Blaine’s support. Levi P. Morton, a New York banker, was named for vice-president.
Harrison kept aloof from Congress and left lawmaking to its leaders. First on his list was the Dependent Pension Act. This provided money for Civil War veterans who had a disability, no matter where or when they got it. Extravagant appropriations were made also for the Navy and for rivers and harbors. The 51st Congress was the first to spend a billion dollars in peacetime. It easily disposed of the large treasury surplus that had troubled earlier administrations.
Six states were admitted to the Union. Four were Western mining states. Congressmen from these Western states wanted more silver dollars coined to raise the price of silver. Congressmen from the East wanted higher tariffs. The two groups agreed to support each other. The McKinley Tariff Act raised duties on almost every article that competed with American products, thus making permanent the duties enacted during the Civil War.