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Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)


There have been five sets of presidents who have shared last names.  For instance, William Henry Harrison (#9) and Benjamin.  Can you name the other four... without looking them up first?  The answers are at the end of this essay.


Politics ran in Harrison's family.  Aside from his presidential grandfather, his great grandfather was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence and a Virginia governor, and his father was a US Congressman from Ohio. (Benjamin Harrison)


Ben was born on August 20, 1833, in North Bend, Ohio, a small town in the extreme southwest corner of Ohio across the river from Kentucky.  (Benjamin Harrison)  Following a fairly idyllic childhood, Harrison attended college, graduating from Miami University in Ohio in 1852 with a degree in law.  Shortly after he graduated, he married his long time sweetheart, Caroline Lavinia Scott, and in 1854, the couple moved to Indiana where Harrison practiced law.  (Benjamin Harrison:  The 23rd President of the United States)


Harrison served from 1862 to 1865 as a Colonel in the 70th Volunteer Infantry for the Union in the Civil War.  Following the War, Harrison returned to Indiana, where he became increasingly involved in politics.  (Benjamin Harrison)  In 1876 he ran for the Governor of Indiana, but was defeated.  He was more successful in his bid for the US Senate, and served as a senator from 1881 to 1887.  (Benjamin Harrison:  The 23rd President of the United States)  Following the Senate, Harrison ran for the presidency.


It's easy for any candidate to complain about corruption during an election, especially without having to actually prove it.  However, the 1888 election had plenty of proof... on both sides.  Both parties, that of the incumbent Democratic challenger Grover Cleveland and Harrison, the Republican challenger, were guilty of paying people to vote.  After all, if you really don't care who wins, why not make a little cash with your vote?  Aside from that, the Democrats were accused of bribery, and the Southern Democrats (who sided with the Republicans) were busy suppressing the Black vote.  In the end, Cleveland won the popular vote by only 90,000 votes, but lost the electoral college (which is all that really matters) 233 to 168.  Four years later Cleveland ran against Harrison once again, winning this time. (Roos)  By the way, five presidents have lost the popular vote, but still won the presidency (and two of those lost both the popular and the electoral vote).  Can you name them?  The answers are also at the end of this essay.


Harrison's presidency was known for... really... not much.  There were the usual problems with tariffs and taxes.  There were various Acts that were signed into law (such as the Sherman Anti-Trust Act).  And there were alliances (such as the Pan American Union) and acquisitions.  Six states were added to the Union under Harrison (North and South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming), more than any other presidency. (Benjamin Harrison)


Mostly, Harrison's presidency was known for corruption, but not from Harrison.  Just everybody else.  (Benjamin Harrison)  Regardless, being honest yourself but being surrounded by people who are not is never going to help you win elections.


If anything, Harrison should be known for his stand on racial equality.  He opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and he was in favour of educating the children of former slaves, believing "...that education was necessary to help the black population rise to political and economic equality with whites."  As well, he sought to pass legislation that would protect the civil rights of Black Americans, in particular, their right to vote in the South.  Unfortunately, not even his own party supported these issues. (Benjamin Harrison)


Even more unfortunate is that Harrison didn't extend, or even try to, civil rights for Native Americans.  It was on his watch that 146 Sioux (if not more) were massacred at Wounded Knee. (Benjamin Harrison) 


Harrison's first wife, Caroline died at the White House while he was in office, probably from tuberculosis. (First Lady Biography)  In 1896, following his presidency, he married Mary Lord Dimmick, who was the niece of his first wife, and nearly 30 years younger than Benjamin.  (Spetter)  Harrison died five years later, on March 13, 1901.



And Now the Answers!


The five sets of presidents that have shared the same last name are John Adams and John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison, Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, and George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.  Of those five sets, all but one were related to each other.  John Quincy Adams (#6) was the son of John Adams (#2).  Benjamin Harrison (#23) was the grandson of William Henry Harrison (#9).  George W. Bush (#43) was the son of George H. W. Bush (#41).  And Franklin Roosevelt (#32) was a fifth cousin (whatever that might be) of Teddy Roosevelt (#26).  It was only the Johnsons – Andrew and Lyndon – who were not related to each other. (US Presidents Who Were Related to Each Other)


However, just because you don't share a last name doesn't mean you're not related.  James Madison (#4) and Zachary Taylor (#12) were second cousins.  And Franklin Roosevelt, aside from being related to Teddy, was related to a total of 11 presidents, both by blood (the Adamses, the Harrisons, and Grant) and by marriage (Madison, Taft, Taylor, Van Buren, and Washington).  (US Presidents Who Were Related to Each Other)


Those presidents who won the presidency but lost the popular vote are John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump.  The last three, Harrison, Bush, and Trump, won by having more electoral votes.  J.Q. Adams and Hayes, on the other hand, not only lost the popular vote, but they also lost the electoral college vote. (Roos)


Little known election stuff:  One does not win the presidency by simply having more electoral votes than her or his opponent (a plurality).  One must also have a majority of the electoral votes – more than half.  So if there are more than two candidates who get electoral votes, it's possible none of them will get a majority.  And if that's the case, then it is left to Congress to decide who, among the top three electoral vote getters, becomes president.  Their decision need not have anything to do with the number of votes the chosen winner originally got, either electoral or popular.  In the case of John Quincy Adams, he lost both the popular and the electoral vote to Andy Jackson, but the House of Representatives chose Adams nevertheless.  Yeah.  You wanna talk about people screaming about corruption. (Roos)


Hayes "victory" was not quite as straight forward.  When the chads had settled, neither he nor the only other opponent, Samuel Tilden, had a majority of the electoral votes.  Tilden was one shy of the majority (he needed 185), and Hayes only had 165.  But there were still three states (Florida.. again, Louisiana, and South Carolina) worth a total of 20 electoral votes where the results were contested.  The final solution was to create a bipartisan Federal Election Commission, which ultimately decided to give all 20 of those electoral votes to Hayes, making him the president, and a lot of other people unhappy. (Roos)




Work Cited


"Benjamin Harrison."  23 Jan. 2021.  Wikipedia.  27 Jan. 2021.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Harrison


"Benjamin Harrison:  The 23rd President of the United States."  The White House.  27 Jan. 2021.  https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/benjamin-harrison/


"First Lady Biography:  Caroline Harrison."  National First Ladies' Library.  27 Jan. 2021.  http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=24


Roos, David.  "Five Presidents Who Lost the Popular Vote but Won the Election."  23 July 2020.  History.  27 Jan. 2021.  https://www.history.com/news/presidents-electoral-college-popular-vote


Spetter, Allan B.  "Benjamin Harrison:  Life in Brief."  2021.  Miller Center.  27 Jan. 2021.  https://millercenter.org/president/bharrison/life-in-brief


"US Presidents Who Were Related to Each Other."  21 Feb. 2017.  Factmonster.  27 Jan. 2021.  https://www.factmonster.com/us/government/executive-branch/us-presidents-who-were-related-to-each-other#:~:text=John%20Quincy%20Adams%20(the%206th,12th%20president)%20were%20second%20cousins.