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Benjamin Harrison: Grandson

2017-08-07

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  • VOA Learning English presents America’s Presidents.
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  • Today we are talking about Benjamin Harrison.
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  • His family name may sound familiar. That is because he was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison.
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  • That situation is unique in U.S. history so far.
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  • Harrison played an unusually active role as president at a time when most chief executives saw themselves as simply administrators.
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  • As a result, American writer and intellectual Henry Adams said Harrison was the best president since Lincoln.
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  • But most Americans remember little about him, except his connection to the previous President Harrison, who himself died after only a month in office.
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  • Benjamin Harrison grew up on a farm in the Midwestern state of Ohio as one of eight children.
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  • His grandfather was not the only famous political Harrison.
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  • His great-grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence.
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  • And his father had been a congressman.
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  • Young Benjamin Harrison respected these men and believed he had a role to play in history, too.
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  • He received a good education, and even outside of school he read many books.
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  • His hard work and intelligence carried him to Miami University in Ohio, and then to a career as a lawyer.
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  • Along the way, he married a woman he had known since he was a teenager, Caroline Lavinia Scott.
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  • The couple settled in another Midwestern city, Indianapolis, Indiana, and had a son and daughter.
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  • Over time, Harrison steadily built a career as a public official.
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  • But his political path was interrupted by the American Civil War.
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  • Harrison rose to the rank of general in the Union Army.
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  • He fought under General William T. Sherman, and was one of the first soldiers to enter Atlanta, Georgia after the city surrendered.
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  • After the war, he returned home to Indiana and continued his legal and political career.
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  • In 1881, he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
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  • But six years later he lost his seat when Democrats came to power in his state.
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  • Harrison’s loss of his Senate seat soon turned to a victory.
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  • The Republican Party nominated him as their candidate to run against Grover Cleveland in the 1888 presidential election.
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  • Cleveland’s economic policies had become unpopular, and Republicans worked hard to support their candidate.
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  • They succeeded. Although Cleveland won the popular vote, Harrison won the Electoral College.
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  • In 1889, he followed his grandfather’s footsteps all the way to the White House.
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  • Harrison’s election was a major victory for his Republican Party.
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  • In addition to winning the White House, Republicans gained seats in the House of Representatives, held a majority in the Senate, and appointed several Republican justices to the Supreme Court.
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  • Harrison and other Republican lawmakers used their power to take action on issues at home and internationally.
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  • One act was to preserve forests. Harrison identified 17 protected natural areas, and helped create Yosemite National Park in California.
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  • His government also established Ellis Island in New York to make immigration to the U.S. a more orderly process.
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  • Internationally, Harrison’s administration sought to build ties with Latin American countries.
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  • His government established what would, in time, become the Organization of American States.
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  • His administration also increased the United States’ global trade – as well as the country’s navy.
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  • But, for the most part, the most pressing issues of the day were economic.
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  • The federal government at that time had an unusually large surplus.
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  • Some argued that the surplus was hurting business.
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  • In answer, Harrison’s government placed a high protective tariff on imported goods.
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  • The legislation was known as the McKinley Tariff of 1890.
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  • Officials also aimed to limit the power of large corporations to control important markets in the U.S.
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  • Finally, they agreed to require the government to buy silver to use as currency.
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  • These actions pleased some of his supporters.
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  • But, they may have contributed to the severe economic depression that followed Harrison’s term.
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  • And in general, voters disapproved of the amount of money Republican lawmakers were spending.
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  • Although the country was at peace, the 51st Congress appropriated $1 billion.
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  • At the midterm elections, many lawmakers paid for all the spending with their seats.
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  • Two years later, voters turned Harrison out of the White House, too.
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  • They returned Grover Cleveland to the presidency.
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  • Harrison did not express much disappointment.
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  • He had worked hard to become president like his grandfather.
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  • But he found he did not like being the chief executive.
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  • He said when he left the White House, it was like being released from prison.
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  • Among U.S. presidents, Harrison does not have one of the most dramatic biographies.
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  • The facts of his life show an intelligent, disciplined man who tried to live by his beliefs.
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  • But he was not considered passionate about many things, except perhaps his enjoyment of nature.
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  • And he did not have an easy way with people.
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  • Even his staff called him “the human iceberg” because he could be aloof and act coldly toward people.
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  • Yet Harrison’s family brought some warmth to his administration.
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  • His wife, Caroline, was known to be a lively, social person.
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  • She was the first to install a Christmas tree in the White House.
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  • Some of Harrison’s grandchildren also lived in the White House.
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  • Harrison permitted them to play on the grounds with their pet animals.
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  • During Harrison’s term, the family kept a goat, which the children called “Old Whiskers.”
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  • Harrison’s time in the White House saw sorrow, too.
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  • Toward the end of her husband’s term, the first lady became seriously ill with tuberculosis.
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  • For months, Benjamin Harrison divided his attention between his wife and his job, and yet in the end lost both.
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  • After his term as president ended, Benjamin Harrison returned to his home in Indianapolis.
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  • He did some work as a teacher and lawyer, and kept a good public image in his community.
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  • He also re-married.
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  • His second wife was a widow herself, as well as his first wife’s niece.
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  • He and Mary Scott Lord Dimmick Harrison had a daughter together.
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  • The child was only four when Harrison died from pneumonia at age 67.
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  • I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
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