Presidential $1: Benjamin Harrison
23rd President – 1889 – 1893
Grandson of former President William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison was born in 1833 on a farm by the Ohio River below Cincinnati.
Harrison’s career was as uninspiring as the man himself. He graduated from Miami College and studied law for two years in Cincinnati. In 1853 he married Caroline Scott, a preacher’s daughter. The couple moved to Indianapolis where he took his first job as court crier for $2.50 a day. Later he became city attorney, court reporter and when the Civil War came he was commissioned colonel of an Indiana regiment and rode with Sherman.
After the war he returned to Indianapolis and in 1881 the Indiana legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate where he served 1 term without distinction. Defeated for re-election he left Washington in 1887, convinced that his political career was behind him. In two years he was president.
Life in the White House with Harrison was like his administration, plain and uneventful. There was little entertaining, no glamorous dinners. The systematic President never varied his daily habits: breakfast at eight followed by a half-hour of prayer by the entire family closeted in one room; a 1:00 lunch, early dinner and early to bed.
The new electric lights, installed in 1891, baffled the Harrisons. They let the lights burn all night in the halls and parlors, fearing that if they turned them off they would get a shock. They were extinguished by the White House electrician when he came on duty in the morning. For a long time the Harrisons did not use the lights in their bedrooms.
While Harrison was President, the country suffered its worst peacetime disaster when Conemaugh Dam, twelve miles above Johnstown, PA, broke on May 31, 1889, and a run-away lake swept down the valley submerging the city and outlying towns. About 2,205 lives were lost and the damage was estimated at $10 million.
After the Civil War, during which Harrison served as colonel of the 70th Volunteer infantry, he enhanced his reputation as a lawyer. In the 1880s, he served in the U.S. Senate where he championed American Indians, homesteaders and Civil War veterans. In the presidential election of 1888, he received 100,000 fewer popular votes than President Cleveland, but carried the electoral College 233 to 168.
As President, Harrison was proud of his vigorous foreign policy. 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 a treaty to the Senate to annex Hawaii, but his successor withdrew it.
He also signed important appropriation bills for internal improvements, naval expansion and subsidies for steamship lines and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to protect trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies.” This act was the first federal attempt to regulate trusts. He was re-nominated by his party in 1892 but lost to Grover Cleveland.
A dignified elder statesman, he died in 1901.
Coinage Legislation Under President Harrison
Act of July 14, 1890 – Directing the purchase of silver bullion and the issue of Treasury notes thereon, and for other purposes.
Act of September 26, 1890 – To amend section 3510 of the Revised Statutes of the United States and to provide for new designs of authorized devices of United States coins (included new designs for coins to be authorized every 25 years).
Act of September 26, 1890 – An act to discontinue the coinage of the $3 and $1 gold pieces and 3¢ nickel piece.
Act of February 10, 1891 – To prevent counterfeiting or manufacture of dies, tools, or other implements used in counterfeiting, and providing penalties therefore, and providing for the issue of search warrants in certain cases.
Act of August 5, 1892 – Authorizing coinage of 5,000,000 souvenir half-dollars for the World’s Columbian Exposition.
Edward O. Leech of California was appointed U.S. Mint Director (1889-1893).