Review of Charles W Calhoun’s biography of Benjamin Harrison

Frustration with the secularization of schools? Anger at the restrictiveness of immigration policy? Wrestling over what to do with excessive government funds? Contemporary issues all in our 21st century America. (Except for the excessive funds.)

Issues in 1890’s America as well, the America that Benjamin Harrison governed from 1888-1892 when he was replaced by the man he had beaten, Grover Cleveland. (The school issue was the establishment of secular schools on Indian reservations to the disappointment of Catholics who had been granted the ability to do so for many years.)

Part of The American President Series, edited by Arthur M Schlesinger, Jr. Calhoun, provides a sympathetic survey of our 23rd President who governed an emerging America that was increasingly industrial and in which the sectionalism of North and South was replaced by an East-West sectionalism and the growing power of agricultural and mining. Calhoun portrays Harrison as a family man who refused to give into Republican party bosses with party patronage and was considered by some to be cold and aloof. Yet he causes a split with his children in marrying a niece following the death of his wife and his return to private life.

Calhoun’s work is a good introduction to this President that I knew nothing about except that his name graced, at one time, a military installation in central Indiana. Nor did I realize that he was the grandson of William Henry Harrison, the first President to die in office.  It also provides a good understanding of the increasingly industrial nature of our nation.


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