Politics was in Benjamin Harrison's blood. His great-grandfather was a signer of the Declaration of Independence; his grandfather William Henry Harrison was the ninth President of the United States. Harrison, a leading Indiana lawyer and a strict antislavery Presbyterian, quickly became a champion of the young Republican Party, even taking a leave from his Civil War service to campaign for Abraham Lincoln.
Harrison was a master on the stump, and his speeches advocating the Republicans' ideals of free labor and upward mobility became crowd favorites. After rising through the state party and claiming a U.S. Senate seat, Harrison, who hailed from one of the two important swing states of the day, was chosen by the Republicans as their presidential candidate in 1888. Despite losing the popular vote, he prevailed over the incumbent, Grover Cleveland, in the electoral college.
With the House and Senate under Republican control, Harrison exemplified the activist president. He worked feverishly to put the party's planks into law, including tariff reform and the landmark Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and approved the first billion-dollar peacetime budget. But with Democrats winning control of Congress in 1890, and Harrison's attempts to please Republican Party bosses with government appointments falling short, the president was left with few enthusiastic supporters during his quiet race for reelection. (The First Lady was ill, and died two weeks before election day.) In the end Harrison's record could not beat Cleveland—and the sectional politics of a still-healing nation—in their unprecedented rematch.
With dazzling attention to the president's life and the social tapestry of his times, Charles W. Calhoun compellingly sweeps away the stereotypes of the Gilded Age and reconsiders Harrison's legacy in the making of the modern presidency.